There is a new genre of writing. I call it “intellectual-ish writing about stupid stuff.” Because I don’t know how else to categorize a book that has a definition of “solipsism” (the theory that only the self exists or can be proved to exist) in the front, but then devotes itself to the in-depth analysis of MTV’s “The Real World,” old episodes of “Saved by the Bell,” and internet pornography.
Chuck Klosterman, and he has his detractors, but he is no slouch, either in terms of intelligence or writing ability. He is very cynical, and crass, and at least a little bit smug. But I tolerate smugness in talented people, and I find him hilarious. As when, for example, in talking about dating, he indicates that he has about three and a half dates worth of really good material, which he can pretend to deliver spontaneously, but if the date extends beyond that third and a half date, it’s anyone’s ball game.
He also analyzes the When-Harry-Met-Sally phenomenon, in dating, and whether men and women can ever truly just be friends, or if the ideal relationship is one of these friends first, romance later arrangements portrayed in romantic comedies, but existing only rarely (if at all) in the real world. I have had similar thoughts on friendship between the sexes, and I enjoyed his analysis very much.
There was a section around the middle of the book that was maybe my favorite, wherein Klosterman lays out “[t]he twenty-three questions [he] ask[s] everybody [he] meet[s] in order to decide if [he] can really love them.” All were hilarious, but my favorites were:
- Someone invents a “dream VCR.” This allows you to tape and later watch a whole evening worth of dreams. The catch, you can only watch the tape if you agree to watch it with your family and closest friends in the same room. Would you use it?
- Every person you have ever slept with is invited to a banquet where you are the guest of honor. No one else will be present. After the dinner, you are asked to give a 15-minute speech to the assembly. What do you talk about?
And others, that were at least as random, but also quite humorous. I don’t know whether he literally asks anyone any of these questions, but it’s a funny thought exercise, if nothing else.
He talks about cliche, and the importance of cliche, in the specific setting of the 1990’s series “Saved by the Bell.” How of course it requires you to deny/ignore obvious indications of unreality, but how no one wants to deconstruct “Saved by the Bell” because we like it just the way it is (there is actually more thoughtful discussion on the topic than I am getting into here, regarding developments in art/television, and a television show’s manifest consciousness of its existence as art vs. reality is a relatively new consideration. I found it all very fascinating).
According to Klosterman, “Saved by the Bell” had a huge impact on a narrow group of people’s lives (those born in the mid to late 70s), with those born before that time not caring about it at all, and those born later not even knowing what it is. I fall right in the window, though, where, for a time, “Saved by the Bell” was the center of my television universe. You have to have seen a lot of the show to fully appreciate some of his analysis (e.g. his discussion of the “Tori Paradox”), but if you have, you’ll find it amusing.
He talks about other media from the time: The Real World, Star Wars, Reality Bites. And how those reflect the Gen X mindset. Like I said, it’s intelligent, thoughtful discussion about seemingly superficial material, that is somehow still thought-provoking and enriching.
Which is not to say I agreed with everything he said. For example, Klosterman suggests: “The most wretched people in the world are those who tell you they like every kind of music ‘except country.’ People who say that are boorish and pretentious at the same time.” I don’t agree with this, and not because, as he goes on to accuse, I am a “hipster.” I simply do not enjoy country music. I would never, ever listen to it by myself. I have never once, flipping through the radio stations, stopped on a country music station and left it there. I just don’t enjoy country music. Even the good stuff, I find contrived and sentimental and overly simplistic and depressing. But I guess I don’t fall directly in the group of people he describes, because I don’t particularly enjoy polka either. Or “boy band” music. I feel about jazz about how I feel about baseball: I can tolerate it live, but I would never listen/watch at home or in the car.
I would be curious to know what anyone else thinks of the following:
For the past twenty-five years, culture has been obsessed with making males and females more alike, and that’s fine. Maybe it’s even enlightened. But what I’ve noticed–at least among young people–is that this convergence has mostly just prompted females to adopt the worst qualities of men. It’s like girls are trying to attain equality by becoming equally shallow and selfish.
I will confess to seeing some truth here; it reminded me of the recent flurry of “ban bossy” exchanges. Adopting negative traits men more typically possess would not seem like advancement.
He talks about people liking country music because it kind of champions a simplistic life many feel like they long for. “Most people see their life as a job that they have to finish,” says Klosterman. Ugh, is that really true? Awful.
There is also a fair amount of discussion about cold cereal, drugs, and sex, as the title would suggest.
After finishing the book, I read some reviews, and some people shudder at the thought of Chuck Klosterman being recognized as “the voice of our generation.” I don’t know if he is the voice, but certainly a voice. This collection particularly he himself described as “night writings,” or the rambling thoughts occurring to him just before bed, put to paper. I think thoughts always use as raw materials the influences and conditions they have to work with. Some people think dealing with modern culture or technology cheapens literature. I don’t. Thinking is thinking. We think about what surrounds us, using our immediate culture as material and context. Talking about the impact of the The Dixie Chicks on the feminist movement is no more nor less significant than what the annual rainfall meant for farmers in the early 1800s. Society provides the frame and materials for thought/discussion. What matters is the thinking, not the specific content.
Another Klosterman I have enjoyed; I look forward to reading more.