In the middle of the new essay and reportage collection A Decade Of Curious People And Dangerous Ideas, pop-culture critic Chuck Klosterman dredges up an article he wrote for a Fargo alternative weekly in the mid-'90s. It's a mediocre puff-piece about the North Dakota alt-rock scene, dressed up with a fresh set of snide footnotes, and in a weird way, it's an inspiring addition to the Klosterman canon, because it shows where he had to come from to get where he is now. Five years after writing that piece, Klosterman released his first book, the sublime heavy-metal reverie Fargo Rock City, followed closely by the hilarious, bracingly insightful Sex, Drugs, And Cocoa Puffs. And that was that. He'd completely made himself over from a hack to a pundit.
Next should come the inevitable decline, but Dangerous Ideas only shows traces of diminished returns. Mostly, it's as keen and clever as ever, as Klosterman takes readers behind the scenes of his guarded encounters with the likes of Val Kilmer and NBA MVP Steve Nash, and details the differences between a "nemesis" and an "archenemy." The personality profiles in Dangerous Ideas' first section are just as analytical as the trend-spotting essays in the second section, because Klosterman rarely pretends to have any more access or insight than he actually does. It's what makes him such an engaging writer. Even when he's in the game, he still gives the view from the sidelines.
That said, it may be significant that Klosterman closes Dangerous Ideas with a fragment of an unfinished novella that he wrote in the late '90s, about the dead-end lifestyle of a young Midwestern film critic who gives every movie he sees two stars out of four. The piece is barely fiction, and it underlines the one critical trait weakening Klosterman's work: He sometimes aggressively tries not to have an opinion. The equivocating tone is welcome when Klosterman gets into political commentary—most notably in an essay where he explains, without undue hyperbole, why the Olympics bring out the worst in our national character. But he dedicates a lot of Dangerous Ideas to explaining why the objectively "bad" is actually better than we think, and the objectively "good" is overrated. By nudging the conventional wisdom through dispassionate dissent, Klosterman tends to level all art to the same mundane plain.