I like him and I’m gonna tell you why using some concepts spelled out in his new book Eating the Dinosaur.
I thought about titling this post, “I Like Chuck Klosterman and I Don’t Feel Bad About It,” and then I read Chuck Klosterman’s essay comparing In Utero-era Kurt Cobain to David Koresh, and Klosterman talks about how Cobain said, right before recording In Utero, “I don’t feel the least bit guilty for commercially exploiting a completely exhausted Rock youth Culture because, at this point in rock history, Punk Rock (while still sacred to some) is, to me, dead and gone.” Klosterman talks about how when people claim they’re not guilty of something they weren’t accused of being guilty of, they are almost always feeling that guilt they’re denying acutely. So, apparently, I am guilty about liking Chuck Klosterman.
Why? Normally I wouldn’t even bother trying to answer this question. Normally, I would just go on enjoying his books and try not to think about the reasons for – or ramifications of – my liking his essays. Why over-think the joy out of one of the more mindless pleasures? Today, though, I will try and answer this question in an attempt to employ a truth that he sets up in the first essay of this new book. I will pretend I am being interviewed, and then I will make an attempt to answer, even though I’m not sure of the real reason for this guilt. Klosterman recognized that people being interviewed for a publication or a tv show will often make up an answer to a question rather than saying, “I don’t know” or “I don’t want to answer that.” Here goes:
Q: So, Jac, why do you feel guilty about liking Chuck Klosterman?
A: I think it has something to do with his writing not being difficult, that it almost always ends up right where you predicted it would. It’s satisfying in an almost purely entertaining way, similar to the way I love my Lady Gaga and my Rock of Love and my Tetris, because it means I’m letting my brain go on auto-pilot. The guilt might also have something to do with what a smash hit Sex, Drugs & Cocoa Puffs was, and how right around the time that book came out, it became cool in the mainstream to be “indie” and how I’m still conflicted about “indie” because a lot of stuff called “indie” is not actually independent at all anymore, but often still likable, kind of like how in the movie He’s Just Not That Into You (I know, right? OMG) how the Bradley Cooper character asks the Jennifer Connelly character if she can tell which flooring sample is the wood and which is the laminate and she can’t but she still wants the wood because it’s not lying about what it is, and how everyone who says, “I’m not a hipster” is probably actually a hipster.
I like a good challenge as much as the next guy who regularly reads Big Other, but I am still capable of enjoying pretty low brow stuff. I’ve tried to cut out the term ‘guilty pleasure’ from my vocab because it seemed like people were misusing it a lot, calling respectable interests ‘guilty pleasures:’ watching tennis, reading any genre fiction, liking Damien Hirst. Say what?
Klosterman writes, in ‘Oh, the Guilt’ about how the prerelease coverage of Radiohead’s Kid A insisted so completely that “anti-intellectual audiences would not understand Kid A that people were terrified to admit being bored by any of it.” No one’s telling me I won’t like Klosterman; tons of people love him, and so, in some sort of weirdo inverse of that Kid A equation, I feel obligated to react against his books, to find the fault, to not align with the masses of people who put it on the bestseller list and start to shut their minds down with it before bed. I don’t want to feel guilty about liking Klosterman’s nonfiction (I haven’t read last year’s novel, so can’t speak for it or against it), but it’s true that I always feel a little ashamed when bringing it up in conversation, especially with high-brow artsy, literary types.
But, here’s the thing: his essays are so damn talkable. He’s pretty creative in the questions he asks and the connections he makes and he’s pretty good at following up his theories with some well-researched evidence. But most of all, he’s really good at enjoying things people pretend to (or maybe actually) hate because they’re not fancy and intellectual.
I got to meet him once, maybe three years ago, at a reading he did at the bookstore where I worked. He was on the receiving end of questions this time, and he played his part, and answered every query, seeming genuine, good-natured and unapologetic about the approachable, yet serious, consideration he was giving to the pop culture that makes up a nice, relaxing chunk of many of our lives.
And yet I still have this little bit of guilt about liking the guy who’s trying to erase that guilt. Am I trying to protect myself in some way, like, ‘I don’t really like him, but I like him with this distance?’ How do I get rid of this impulse? How do I reset my mind to just enjoy things? Do I want to? Would this qualify as the lazy ‘Middle Mind’ Curtis White talks about in his book of the same title: interested, yet not necessarily engaged? Is it something to resist or something in which to find respite? Why is it so hard to be happy? Merry Christmas.