Thursday, October 27, 2005

42. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs

by Chuck Klosterman

I remember a few years back, Chuck Klosterman was named one of the fifty most annoying or exasperating or some-such-adjective New Yorkers. At that moment I was ashamed of my Klosterman-love. But then I remembered that those kinds of lists are usually made by people who haven’t made it in the business anyway and what do I care what their opinions are? Because I do love Chuck Klosterman and I don’t care what anyone thinks of that.

I first started reading Klosterman in my Esquire, where he writes a pop culture column entitled, “Chuck Klosterman’s America.” Right from the beginning, with the nature of the column, I couldn’t have failed to love him. Someone who believes that The Real World has valuable things to say about…well…the real world is not someone I can go around hating. The effects of advertising ploys, the way we revere celebrities, what our musical tastes say about us…that stuff is near and dear to my heart. Klosterman’s column is one of the first things I read when I get a new Esquire in the mail.

It should be no surprise, then, that I’ve wanted to read Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs for some time. Not just since Seth Cohen picked it up, as I’d guess that scene spawned a fury of interest in the book. Happily, it delivered just as I had expected it would.

Let’s look at an essay, say… “Billy Sim.” Here Klosterman ponders on the meaning of the Sims computer game. What does it say about us that we spend hours in front of a screen trying to recreate the life that we’re already living? How can doing nothing mean everything? Why is spending and consuming the only way to make our Sims doppelgangers happy and what happens when there’s nothing new to buy? More importantly, why does SimChuck need a bed to be happy when RealChuck gets by just fine with his “self-styled nest in the corner of [his] bedroom”? “What makes the Sims so popular,” Klosterman theorizes, “is its dogged adherence to the minutiae of subsistence, and that’s where we’re supposed to feel the realism. But the realism I felt was the worst kind; it was the hopeless realization that I was doomed to live in my own prison, just like the singer from Creed.”

Another essay, “The Lady or the Tiger,” takes a look at breakfast cereal over the course of time. Mainly, he looks at those things that sell the cereal, the mascots that adorn the boxes. From the “Rastafarian elves” of Rice Krispies to the Sisyphusian efforts of the Trix Rabbit to the “most tortured member of the advertising community,” Sonny the Cuckoo Bird, Klosterman waxes on what each of these means to cereal consumers, mainly that bland cereal equals cool, while sugared cereal equals not so cool. “Cereal mascots are generally associated with sugared cereals – while a box of Wheaties might feature anyone from Bruce Jenner to Michelle Kwan, Count Chocula sticks with its mischievous vampire…this is more proof of cereal’s overlooked relationship to American cool: Being cool is mostly ridiculous, and so is sugared cereal. That’s why we like it.”

You could say that most of what Klosterman covers in his book is meaningless. It’s not going to stop any wars or cure any diseases to compare the noble qualities of Luke Skywalker to the debonair efforts of Han Solo, and following around a Gun N’ Roses cover band wouldn’t exactly make for good thesis material, but look around you! This is the world in which we live! Doesn’t some of it say something about some of us? And shouldn’t somebody try to find out what that thing is? This culture is important; why should Klosterman be derided because he earns his keep writing about it?

A few weeks ago an acquaintance was attempting to flirt with me by offering a cupcake. “Oh, you have a sweet tooth!” he said, upon my acceptance. “Now I know the way to your heart.” I didn’t respond, but I thought, Actually, you’d fare better with a thorough knowledge of Seinfeld and a healthy appreciation of pop culture. Sweets I just like. They’re not going to get you anything. It’s true. Bring me a guy who knows about the Junior Mint and you’ll have me weak in the knees. These are the things with which I surround myself, the things that I love. I have great affection for Klosterman because he so perfectly understands that.

Post Script: I Googled Chuck Klosterman in effort to find his Esquire articles online. Instead I found this. Hoo boy, does that dude not like the CK! But Claire does and I hers is an opinion I trust.

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