Saturday, December 19, 2009

This Is All So Crazy, Everybody Seems So Famous...

Book08: "Eating the Dinosaur" by Chuck Klosterman

I love Chuck Klosterman, but at this point, I’m not sure if I love him because I agree with what he writes, or I agree with what he writes because I love him. I’ve been following Klosterman’s work for around four years now, and it all started on a whim. I randomly picked up “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto” and became enamored with how he could take (what seemed to be) the shallowest parts of pop culture, pick it apart so insightfully, and in the end tie it all back up and deliver commentary that seemed to speak hidden truths about our society. Klosterman returns to form in “Eating the Dinosaur”.

Eating the Dinosaur” is Chuck Klosterman’s sixth published book, and harkens back to the format of “Sex, Drugs…” as a collection of unpublished essays. As such, the chapters of “Eating” do not exactly flow together like other BOOKS. In fact, every chapter focuses on a different subject entirely. In the first chapter, Klosterman comments on the nature of celebrity interviews, tangentially mentioning Jennifer Aniston and her “Friends” and Prince’s image-marketing prowess during the 80’s and 90’s; in the second, he jumps to a comparison and contrast of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana’s album “In Utero” to David Koresh and his Waco Branch Davidians. Reading the chapters (or even the smaller sectioned essays within the chapters) as lone entities unto themselves leaves them just as they are: separate essays and ideas and thoughts that Klosterman wrote, perhaps, over an expanse of time, independent of each other. That alone would make them interesting enough. After all, who wouldn’t be interested in the relationship between Rivers Cuomo, Ralph Nader, and “Friday Night Lights”? However, I think Klosterman’s writing has reason beyond that, and it may in fact define the purpose (if I can call it that) of pop culture commentary.

At its foundation, Klosterman’s ideas (whether it be why sports enthusiasts have a particular distaste over the bust of Ralph Sampson’s career or why the Wildcat formation is the current flavor of the week for football teams at every level) are an explanation of pop culture’s relationship with us, society. In every example, it seemed like Klosterman was defining the relationship between society and pop culture (whether it be ABBA or laugh tracks), and then looking at how each party’s intent and reactions shaped each other. His formula seems to be 1) pick a subject, 2) talk about what society typically thinks about subject, 3) delve into what subject really meant to be or wanted to be or actually was, 4) talk about why that did/didn’t happen because of how society reacted to subject, and 5) conclude. Now, that outline is simple and in no way does justice to the work or incredible insight Klosterman has on our society, but I think it simply explains why we (maybe just me) care about pop culture. We care about that relationship we have with pop culture. Fads and celebrity and fame don’t come about out of thin air, on a whim, or solely as a result of the work/intent/will of the subject. We are in a give-and-take, symbiotic relationship with pop culture. We shape it and define it, and in return, it does the same of us. And Chuck Klosterman draws out and discusses that relationship better than most anyone else I know.

Eating the Dinosaur” is essentially more of what I love about Chuck Klosterman’s writing. Pop culture is somewhat of a guilty pleasure where “Top Gun” and “Lost” and Miley Cyrus are not (OF COURSE) considered with the same weight as other, more intellectual works. But that’s what I love about Klosterman’s work. His writing gives me the guilty pleasure of shallow, useless pop culture (in fact, he seems to roll around in it as much, if not more so, than I do), but presents it and discusses it in an intelligent and insightful manner that makes me less guilty over my infatuation and, sometimes, makes me feel smarter for reading it.

And if I incorrectly used words (i.e. “novel”), then FCK YOURSELF.

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