I Wear the Black Hat by Chuck Klosterman(4 out of 5)


I fear I may wear the villain cape this time around. I did really enjoy this book, which I could not say for the last few I read- ie Downtown Owl and Eating the Dinosaur. Downtown Owl was his foray into fiction, and it’s a foray that should not have happened. It’s like James Patterson writing erotica(shudder. Shudder. Shudder). Klosterman is a pop culture mafioso of pop culture meets sports meets intelligence. The world needs more of him. Or needs Bill Maher to write more books. Or both.

This is about the concept of a villain. Society’s guidelines. Klosterman’s rules and thoughts. As usual, you find many different angles. As usual, Klosterman uses history and pop culture tabloidism(in parts, he really doesn’t need to resort to that tired and true avenue of exploration and discovery throughout the whole book. It’s not a Kirk Cameron religious fiction title, after all.) What makes a villain? What makes a villain believable? What makes a villain human? What makes this a great book? What bothered the hell out of me?

Things that bothered me: the labeling of Muhammed Ali as racist and a villain. Yet OJ seems to get somewhat of a pass to ride the great white whale on Silver Mountain. WHAT? That rotten son of a bitch murdered his ex-wife and mother of his children, but he gets nary a slap on the wrist, while Ali is driven over the coals worse than Paula Deen at a butter bath fountain party(?). The book begins as historical facts being retold and discussed at great length, but by the end of it Klosterman caves to the tabloid academy tactics of celebrity bashing and it gets trite. He really had me until right before the end- maybe 30 pages, and he lost me. That’s why the 4 star rating, not 5. I just can’t get over how that. Not only that, Klosterman, but if you want to term someone in the sports arena a bastard, let’s start with Lance Armstrong, Sammy Sosa and other sterioid abuser liars who made millions of dollars off of unsuspecting baseball fans, or even better, the Miami Heat basketball team. Ali wasn’t a saint, but by no means does he deserve to be designated a villain in your piece.

Okay, our token villains do make the cut in Klosterman’s book- OJ and Hitler. He does rightfully say Hitler is beyond any classification of the word. However, the George W. Bush administration gets somewhat of a pass. No one mentions Jar Jar Binks(aka Dick Cheney) or Genghis Khan(aka Osama Bin Laden) or even Mata Hari(Condoleeza Rice). How this got by Klosterman when is a mystery to me. I can also think of worse villains than Wilt Chamberlain(Wilt the Stilt fucked 10,000 women. If not for the STD’s and AIDS epidemic, he would be called a hero among most adult men, who envied his prowess. He also happened to be one hell of a basketball player. How the hell is he a villain?). I can think of worse villains than Andrew Dice Clay, who despite the fact that his ego-filled jelly donut machismo personality lands him here- is really just a failed comedian at heart. Come on, we all know one. Some of us have worked with them, or went and seen acts like this in a comedy show. Sometimes it takes a man like Klosterman to show them the way, by being brutally honest and saying “Dude, your act sucks.” Dice gets the knife in this book, and you can’t stop yourself from shaking your head and going “There must be worse.” Oh yes- there is- Dan Ackroyd(sorry, I don’t get it), Chris Elliot, Colin Quinn, Chris Kattan, and the biggest mustache-twirling bastard clown of “comedy”, Mr. Will Ferrell. But Dice gets nailed here. What gives, Chuck K? I want to know how he based his perimeter of suck, and if he had a Wheel of Suck that he spun to decide who was going to get the eternal gong. Who knows? That, in itself, could be a great afterword for this book.

Things that I enjoyed: As usual, Klosterman’s rapier wit and unlikely comparisons between this heroes and villains. He never loses the ability to pull you into whatever case he’s ruminating on at that point in time. I dig the cover. I dig the essay in which he discusses Bernard Goetz’s brand of justice vs. Batman. Batman! No one else but Klosterman could make it stick, and more importantly, make it work. Also noteworthy are the chapters of the evil of Bill Clinton Vs. Don Henley. Anyone worth their weight in butter knows that I despise Don Henley(his music, is, at best, subpar and saccharine, minus the dead lab rats). Everyone and their walker knows that I LOVE Bill Clinton- to see them discussed in this forum as to whom the bigger villain was- fascinating. Also very, very funny. For no matter how many sidewalks he takes on his way to an answer, he is always very funny. I had to go back and re-read several chapters, for I was afraid that I honestly missed something there. I did miss a few things, and one of them was that no matter how serious of an essay it is(and there is always the underlying thought that, yes, Chuck wants us to seriously think over some of these essays he’s graced us with.). And I did. But I also laughed my ass off. And got inspired. As usual, stellar work.

Overall, though, this book, more than the last three he’s written, managed to pull me back in. I’m taking a half-week of vacation, and my personal goal is to read 10 books this week. 3 down, 7 to go before next Monday. I highly recommend it to anyone who questions the process of what goes into deciding good vs. evil, intelligence vs. pop culture tabloidism. I think he lost a little of me with the Ali-bashing and the fact that he seems to gloss over OJ a bit..and the Bush administration in the wake of pre- 9/11. If anything symbolizes villain to me, it’s knowing that the CIA has put reports on your desks that clearly state there is a definitive threat to the country from Al Queda, and not only managing to cover that up, but to summarily dismiss it as “hyperbole”, well, that bugs me really bad. (Apologies in advance for I am AGAIN re-reading the 9/11 Commission Report so that has no doubt re-energized my dislike of certain administrations). So Chuck K, what are your perimeters for classifying as evil? And I would love the fuck out of it if his next book ends up being responses to this one. Why hasn’t he done that yet? It’s time, Chuck, it’s time.


~ by generationgbooks on July 10, 2013.

One Response to “I Wear the Black Hat by Chuck Klosterman(4 out of 5)”

  1. I think we’re going to have to be the ones to write the Paula Dean skewering book.

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