I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined) by Chuck Klosterman
Genre: Non-fiction, humor, essays, villains, pop-culture, where does this man come up with these awesome parallels?
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Summary: Pop-culture writer Chuck Klosterman’s new book has taken a turn for the evil, exploring villainy in fiction and in real life in order to determine what makes a person a true villain. Whether or not he arrives at a conclusion about what constitutes a villain is a different thing entirely. Featuring Klosterman’s typical brand of wit, humor and penchant for essay-writing into one cohesive thesis, it’s good to see him back at what he does best. Even if his quirky footnotes have been replaced with brackets.
I happened to attend Chuck Klosterman’s reading/Q&A for his new book in Jersey City at an arcade slash bar (Barcade for anyone in the tri-state area) that was held by the eventually to be opened bookstore WORD, an offshoot of the popular New York based bookstore WORD in Brooklyn. Yes, they can only seem to function in hipster central but it was okay, I got to drink some alcoholic pear cider and listen to Klosterman talk with the assurance of a semi-entitled author even though he had a voice you would expect to hear emanating from a closed locker in high school.
And regardless of the $26 cost for a 200 page book and the fact that the signing was such a clusterfuck that I didn’t even take advantage of it, I was glad I went. Despite his hints of arrogance (some of which are deserved), Klosterman is a funny guy. He knows his pop culture, he’s supremely intelligent and even though I disagree that Kanye West will one day be a joke (because he currently is a running joke, see proof in my own writing HERE, HERE, and HERE) I’m in line with the majority of his beliefs. Except about Young Adult being the most underrated Diablo Cody film of the past decade. That would be Jennifer’s Body sir.
The event opened with Klosterman doing a short reading of the last essay in his collection about his childhood nemesis, who through an unfortunate series of events ended up being the first baseball player to take a negative stance against steroid use. I was super stoked about this because 1. it was funny and 2. I wrongly assumed that I had gotten the dreaded sports chapters I always drudge through out of the way. Oh how how wrong I was. After the super short reading, the floor was opened up for a Q&A session.
Within said session Klosterman explained that he didn’t want to cover any topics that were currently evolving (again Kanye West) but I would be curious to see how he would fit the recent George Zimmerman ruling into many of his essays, as well as Edward Snowden, who he referred to as an adult who still likes Luke Skywalker. There’s a pretty interesting point about that which he goes into more depth HERE if you want to read about the three stages in a Star Wars fan’s life.
Now without further ado, onto the evil.
Chuck K postulates that perhaps the most evil thing someone can do is is tie a woman to some train tracks because there is no reason or thought process behind Snidely Whiplash’s antics, he does it just because. Pure evil. (Interesting and frightening side note, apparently this actually happened in 2008.)
Still others get labelled as villains without actually being villains, like Machiavelli, who was just exploring the nature of humanity in his work “The Prince.” Or director Lars Von Trier who admitted he understands Hitler but never mentioned that he agreed with or supported him.
Then there are the real villains, “people who know the most but care the least” like Linda Tripp or Joe Paterno. People who will be “defined by their singular failure” while all the good they do in the world will be forgotten by history. For example, it would be silly to assume that Bill Clinton will not be remembered in the history books long after we’re gone as the guy who got blown in the oval office by his intern and was impeached. Although he is by and large not the villain in this story. As evidenced by his awesome approval rating after the sex scandal went down. He is perhaps more popular today then he was during his presidency.
The most successful villains are the charming ones. Ted Bundy was able to murder all the people he did because he was attractive enough and seemed trustworthy enough to not be a crazy serial rapist and murderer. Hitler rose in power party because of his impassioned public speaking. This idea of the charming villain is explored in American Psycho‘s Patrick Bateman who appears charismatic to the other fictional characters he interacts with but not to the reader who sees all of him.
Klosterman’s writing strengths lie in his ability to look at person, life or situation and compare it to another. There’s a great chapter looking into why D.B. Cooper, who hijacked a Boeing 727 in 1971 is considered a brave hero but suicide bombers are referred to as cowards when in fact both of them stole planes and endangered the lives of many, one man for money, another for his ideologies. Yes, it’s easy to see why one of these people is considered bad, but the more fun thing to look into is why D.B. Cooper is viewed as a good and celebrated folk hero.
This comparing and contrasting shines the most in a chapter about Batman and how vigilantes are viewed in real life version fictional worlds. Klosterman asks the reader to “pretend Batman is real” and imagine we’re learning about him in real time, through anecdotes from friends and as he’s trending on Twitter. FOX uses it as an example for why the Demoncrats are failing the citizens, conspiracy nuts think he was an experiment engineered by the CIA, still others think he’s a viral marketing campaign for an energy drink. You don’t know anything about his back story, all you know is that it’s some dude who dresses like a bat and is a vigilante. In the real world, is he viewed as a good person? Or a lunatic?
To bring his point home, Klosterman compares him to vigilante Bernhard Goetz (who at the time was considered a hero but is now a crazed villain) who in 1984 shot four black teenagers in a subway for asking for/demanding money. Goetz claims they were trying to rob him and he fired five shots. All boys lived. He was only charged with possession of an illegal firearm, despite giving one of the boys brain damage and making him a paraplegic. He would later receive $43 million in a civil case. Going even further, he then compares Goetz to Charles Bronson in Death Wish, looking into why vigilantes are intriguing in theory but not practice.
Another fabulous chapter opens with a nineteen-year-old kid asking Klosterman why he hates Fred Durst (he being the teen), which turns into an exploration of entertainment types who are jerks (i.e. Chevy Chase who was hated by all of “SNL”) and Aleister Crowley who was hated for taking things a tad too far. If only we could have had some Justin Bieber in there, but the tide didn’t start turning against him until after the book was written and at the printers.
And for all you internet lovers out there, there’s an essay that explores the denizens of the internet because “there are no famous bloggers who aren’t hated.” People discussed include Perez Hilton, former MegaUpload owner Kim Dotcom and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange who is played in an upcoming film by, and this is a direct quote, “sexy British weirdo Benedict Cumberbatch.” After reading that I abruptly died.
Other essays within the book include discussions on how television made drug dealers, serial-killers and mobsters sympathetic (i.e. Nancy Botwin, Walter White, Dexter, Tony Soprano), how Hitler was worse than Judas because “nobody ever talks about building a time machine in order to go back in time and kiss Judas,” and exploring O.J. Simpson and his book If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer in relation to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
This deconstruction of villains runs throughout the collection, but Klosterman uses it as a lens to also look at his own choices in life. Does not caring about complete strangers on the street make him a bad person or just self-centered? What if he’s not the protagonist after all? What if the movie of his life is “devoid of meaning?” You could say this collection is an existential crisis masquerading as an exploration of villains as a way to convince himself he’s not a villain, but you’d be missing the point.
-Will simultaneously make you laugh and think
-Crazy out of the box parallels between various events and people
-Perfectly and conveniently relates to a lot of current world events
-Who doesn’t love a villain?
-DU NU NU NU NU NU NU NU BATMAN!
-Seems to have more sports than all the other books (yay. sports.)
For more Chuck K. non-fiction goodness, check out: Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto, Chuck Klosterman IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas and Eating the Dinosaur. In that order. Essays include thoughts on time travel, Zack Morris, serial-killers and Mexican Morrissey fans. No topic is too wacky. Just a warning, there be essays about sports in them there books.