Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Chuck Klosterman: Sex, Drugs, And Cocoa Puffs

Chuck Klosterman is primarily a cultural critic, but he's also a diarist of sorts, open to sharing his long-distance and close-up relationships with celebrities and celebrity wannabes. His "low culture manifesto" Sex, Drugs, And Cocoa Puffs comes packed with confessions along the lines of "I'm secretly ashamed to be attracted to Pamela Anderson… it's like admitting that, sexually, you have no creativity." And then there are observations like the one he makes about a Guns 'N Roses tribute band, which sounds so authentic that when he goes to the bathroom at one of its gigs, he imagines, "This is how it would have sounded to urinate on the Sunset Strip in 1986." As he extrapolates wider meaning from his own experiences, Klosterman proves he's a rarity among young pop commentators: He has both a thorough worldview and a way of expressing it without smugness, equivocation, or excessive complaint. The connective tissue for Sex, Drugs, And Cocoa Puffs is the idea that modern life's blending of entertainment and reality has led the media to prompt human behavior rather than record it. But Klosterman isn't clucking his tongue over the situation. Aside from complaining that he'll never be able to please a woman because most of the under-38s he meets are in love with John Cusack (specifically his character from Say Anything…, whom they all presume to be "the real Cusack"), Klosterman is content as a reporter, not a proselytizer. When he notes that "the producers of The Real World aren't sampling the youth of America—they're unintentionally creating it," he provides evidence to back up the claim, but he's not interested in arguing that everyone should unplug the TV. Sometimes his pop saturation sandbags him, as he makes assertions about Internet porn and entertainment reporting that assume everyone in America is as fame-obsessed as he and his media colleagues are. And too often, he goes in the other direction by playing his "I'm a small-town Midwesterner" card as a way of assuring that he knows more about real people than coastal hipsters do. But even in his missteps, Klosterman earns a lot of leeway, because he seems to be honestly searching for an understanding of how low culture affects everyone. He has strong, well-reasoned opinions, which confound conventional notions of cool—like advocating the relative value of Billy Joel and Saved By The Bell, and insisting that Trisha Yearwood is more relevant than Lucinda Williams. His take on popular culture is funny but unironic, and because he never puts jokes ahead of insight, Sex, Drugs And Cocoa Puffs stands out as one of the brightest pieces of pop analysis to appear this century.


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