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Words, Words, Words

A catalog of my comments and thoughts on books, reading, and writing as well as anything I come across that seems interesting. I used to sell other people's words at an independent bookstore but now I hope to get by on selling my own.

'Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs' by Chuck Klosterman

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto - Chuck Klosterman

Chuck Klosterman is a clever guy. That much I can say unequivocally, everything else is up in the air.


Here is the thing. Mr. Klosterman is willing to take on some weird questions    How is Pamela Anderson a reflection of our changing attitudes about sex? How has The Real World changed how Americans view themselves? Can you write 6,000 words about Saved By the Bell?     and it is mostly fun to watch him consider these things. But if I sound underwhelmed it is probably because my expectations were high. This looked like a perfect match, the idea of Mr. Klosterman seemed directly in my wheelhouse. I have been told I look like the guy and I probably write like him a little too . I read an essay he wrote about an unofficial goth day at Disneyland and laughed, but Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs felt just a little flat to me.



Mr. Klosterman worries in the introduction that all the work will become immediately dated by the pop culture references, which will probably happen unless Saved By the Bell enjoys a major comeback, but what looms most now is the rise of the think piece. He may have been groundbreaking at the time, admitting how he watches the Pam Anderson/Tommy Lee sex tape    but not that he derives anything but intellectual stimulation from it     and writing about TV shows through a strange and personal lens, but everyone is doing that now. Kanye West doesn't change T-shirts without a dozen blogs ruminating on what it means that a rap atrist wears $120 cotton tees. It is hard to come at Mr. Klosterman with fresh eyes after 10 years of the 24-hour churn cycle.


What got me, however, is that the questions were generally the most interesting parts of the essays. As he got into the weeds he either digressed or stopped making sense. In fact, here is the one most interesting passage in the book:

...When discussing any given issue, always do three things. First make an intellectual concession (this makes the listener fell comfortable ). Next make a completely incomprehensible  but remarkably specific— "cultural accusation" (this makes you insightful). Finally, end the dialogue by interjecting slang lexicon that does not necessarily exist (this makes you contemporary). 


He follows with some examples. These are his tips for being — or at least projecting yourself as — interesting in conversation, but they might be his tips for writing too. While I probably can't find a statement that exactly fits the formula, it is definitely the recipe for this whole book, a swirl of unexpected conclusions from very specific pop references, self-deprecation and a fresh turn of phrase for garnish.


That realization might have been fatal if I didn't think he realized that himself. Like how Mr. Klosterman enjoys tweaking the very people he knows are his probable readers. He is clever enough to see these features in himself but being meta isn't the same as being good. At parts Cocoa Puffs felt like that first day at college where some professor blows your mind by suggesting there is no such thing as truth, or that porn makes no sense because there is nothing pleasurable to a woman about licking her own tit, but he doesn't want to really get at the answers. The answers are boring and technical and we were having a lot of fun just watching Tommy Lee steer a boat with his dick together and all the ways that is weird. So maybe it is just me, maybe I ruined Chuck Klosterman.