Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs

Becoming a pop culture writer is a pretty gutsy move, I think. Everything you write, whether about music or movies or fashion or whatever, will immediately date you. And thus, date your publications. Your work may be cutting-edge when it comes out, but if you endorse the wrong band, in ten years (when everyone knows they were the wrong band) your work becomes giggle-worthy and irrelevant. If you're Chuck Klosterman, though, you embrace that potential and run with it. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, Klosterman's "low culture manifesto" is a little dated now, but it's dated in the best way possible: it reminds you of what it was like to be there, in the late-'90s, early-'00s, and then gives you Klosterman's perspective on how we got there.

What I like most about this collection of essays is how argumentative they are. Klosterman has an opinion on most things, it seems, and he goes on the attack for every one. When you agree with him, it feels a bit like you have a champion in your corner ("Yes! There is relevance to country music! You tell 'em Chuck!"); when you find yourself disagreeing, you find yourself talk to a book ("Well that's a stupid reason not to like Coldplay"). Either way, though, if you have any interest in pop culture (mostly music and TV in this collection), you will be engaged.

A lot of what makes this book so successful, though, isn't the subject matter, it's the writing. Every once in a while I'll pick Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs up off the shelf with a hazy idea of rereading one specific section whose name I've forgotten. So, flipping around, skimming pages for key words, I'll stumble onto something like the essay on Saved By the Bell and end up reading the whole thing - completely abandoning my previous goal.

Incidentally, what Klosterman says about Saved By the Bell is that it's a reassuringly bad show. The audience doesn't expect it to mean anything or make any sense; rather, we watch it because it's predictable and that somehow validates our own ideas about growing up and going to high school, etc. It's when the show tries to be creative, he suggests, that we see through it. But at the same time as he's deconstructing what made the show so bad, he's also admitting that for a period in his life he watched it four times a day and goes on reminisce about episodes in pretty specific detail. Klosterman critiques and comments on pop culture from the inside, taking himself and his nostalgia down with everything else, which is a refreshing perspective.

In between each essay, Klosterman includes a little "interlude." They're short (usually less than one page in length) and meant as a kind of palate cleanser, so you can move from reading about the porn myth to a brief ode on cereal without being jostled too hard (a short piece about socks kind of softens that transition). As a whole, the interludes are probably my favourite part about the whole book. I like punchy little tangents, though, and sometimes I flip through and just read the interludes, skipping all the essays. The book is better as a package, but if I don't have an entire afternoon to indulge my nostalgia, I'll take the little wordbites I do have time for.

And that's what this book does really well. It takes you back and lets you have a nice, nostalgic conversation with someone who cares as much (or more) than you do about whatever '90s or '80s phenomenon you miss. Apparently my generation is experiencing an early nostalgia for our youth (many theories as to why that is hinge on the rapid pace of technological growth and 9/11), and although I'm sure we aren't the first group of people to harken for a simpler time, reading Klosterman sometimes reminds me that it's alright that we've moved on.

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs
by Chuck Klosterman
First published in 2003 (cover image shown from Scribner edition)

1 comment:

  1. As I search the endless folds of my brain for a suitable adjective to describe my great appreciation for this blog post, I can't help but remember how much I loved the book when I started reading it a few weeks ago...oh, and hello from the future! ... Well, not exactly...unless a fragment of your ultimate "self" has been bound to the time this post was written...but that's highly unlikely, although it sounds like something out of Chuck's book, now that I think about it.


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