Chuck Klosterman: A Manboy Who Must Be Stopped

Back when Chuck Klosterman’s Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs came out, Mark Ames penned a remarkably vicious review for the New York Press. At the time, I was only familiar with Klosterman’s work for Spin and Esquire. He seemed, like many of the “ironic” and solipsistic hipsters banging out vapid articles for music magazines, relatively harmless and someone I could easily ignore. I just never understand why he was lionized by some as “an incredibly talented yarn-spinner.”

But now that I’ve had the misfortune of reading one of Klosterman’s books, I can identify greatly with Mark Ames’ sentiments. Klosterman’s new book is Killing Yourself to Live. (And, interestingly enough, Mark Ames has reviewed this one as well.) I assure you that any reasonable and thinking person reading this contretemps of lazy writing and outright stupidity may just harbor suicidal thoughts. This book is one of the dumbest and most vile things I’ve read in several years. One imagines a new noun, “Klosterfuck,” being used to describe the nightmarish and earth-shattering moment that occurs any time Klosterman bangs something into his laptop with all the grace and subtlety of a hulking John Tesh staggering over a keyboard.

The book purports to be a road trip across America, the result of a lengthy Spin assignment that had Klosterman shuttling from town-to-town to ferret out the legacies of dead rock stars, arming himself with a rental car (which he calls his “Tauntan”) and loads of CDs to play along the way. It’s an interesting premise, but the hell of it is that Klosterman is too dumb and too indolent a writer to actually do the legwork. He doesn’t bother to call up the Hotel Chelsea in advance to find out what happened to Room 100 (the room where Sid Vicious stabbed Nancy Spungen), let alone track down any of the surviving employees who might have had some insight into how the infamous couple lived. Instead, he berates Chelsea manager Stanley Bard for politely telling Klosterman that the Cheslea didn’t want to be involved with Klosterman’s story (perhaps because Klosterman is utterly dumb, ignorant and tactless in his approach, asking the desk clerk point blank if anyone has stayed in Room 100, a room that was long ago turned into an apartment). So what does Klosterman do? Like a small child denied his second scoop of rocky road, he badmouths both Bard and the Chelsea.

This ADD approach to journalism continues as Klosterman heads to West Warwick, Rhode Island to find out about the kind of people who attended the Station, the infamous nightclub that where the Great White tragedy went down. Klosterman talks with a few people, but instead of allowing their statements to tell the story, Klosterman, being the egomaniacal writer that he is, plants remarkably vapid conclusions such as, “To me, that’s what makes the Great White tragedy even sadder than it logically was: One can safely assume that none of the 100 people who died at the Station that night were trying to be cool by watching Great White play 20-year-old songs.” Right, Chuck. It’s not about pursuing the more nuanced notion of how the Station was a nexus point for the West Warwick community and how it will forever be associated with killing 100 people because of Jack Russell’s stage antics. It’s about how “cool” or “not cool” everyone was. Even more remarkable, Klosterman spends more time dwelling upon the cheap cocaine he snorts in a West Warick resident’s pickup.

I suppose by this remarkably myopic perspective, if Klosterman were covering the Iraq conflict, it would be about how genuine a mother looked just after the moment a bomb wiped out her extended family.

If being dumb and having no sense of context weren’t bad enough, Klosterman is also adamantly anti-intellectual, continuously solipsistic and downright irresponsible. Here’s a small sample of highlights:

I have never read The Merchant of Venice, and I’ll never read it, and I don’t even care what the fuck it’s about. (21)

Don’t ever cheat on someone. I’m serious. It’s not worth it. And I’m not saying this because cheating is morally wrong, because some people have a specific version of morality that doesn’t necessarily classify actions as right or wrong. The reason you should never cheat on someone is because you won’t enjoy it. No matter which person you’re with, you’ll always be thinking of the other one. (26)

When I read Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation in 1995, I remember being impressed that she intended to play “Strawberry Fields Forever” if she ultimately slit her wrists in the bathtub, opting for the Beatles instead of her own personal Jesus, Bruce Springsteen. (50)

Americans seem to know what’s funny, but they don’t know why. (59)

Physically, I almost never enjoy the process of exercise, but I feel naturally tougher when I finish. Most important, running lets me eat anything I want, and it allows me to drink every day (if I need to). (64)

I don’t want to die, but I certainly adore the idea of being dead. I know it’s pathetic to enjoy the notion of your friends calling each other to discuss your untimely demise, but I love it. Maybe Spin would dedicate an issue to me. (66)

The events of 9/11 are often compared to the events of a nightmare. This is a surprisingly avvy analogy, because hearing someone’s memories from the morning of 9/11 is not unlike having someone preface a conversation with the words, “I had the weirdest dream last night.” When someone wants to talk about a dream, you can never say, “I don’t care.” You have to care. (84)

You know what’s the best part about driving by yourself? Talk radio. Talk radio offers no genuine insight about anything, but I always feel like I am learning something; I always feel like I suddenly understand all the people I normally can’t relate to at all. (103)

So here is the big question: Is dying good for your career? Cynics always assume that it is, but I’m not so sure anymore. (121)

This last passage will really floor you. Interestingly enough, this skimpy book has an index, but I found it interesting that there was nothing listed for “Bryant, Kobe.”

The single hottest topic on today’s omnipresent AM chatter was the identity of Kobe’s accuser, and whether her name should be withheld by the media; the staple argument, of course, is that her identity must remain hiden because there’s so much social baggage associated with being a rape vitim. This strikes me as a peculiar line of reasoning. Certainly, there is a social stigma that comes with being raped; however, there’s obviously a far greater stigma with being perceived as a rapist. Bryant’s reputation is destroyed forever, regardless of his guilt or innocence in this case. I also can’t fathom why rape shield laws don’t allow the defense to question the alleged victim’s mental condtion. I mean, what if this women is insane? What if she regularly accuses people of rape? How can that not matter in a court of law?

Yes, you read those sentences right. In the Klosterman universe, it’s the bitch’s fault of course. A rape charge is some byproduct of hysteria and a court of law relies upon hearsay and speculation rather than facts to try a case.

If you’ve read any of these statements, and you were as baffled as I was by the half-formed observations (if they can even be styled observations) and the outright inane generalizations here, you’re probably thinking that they came from a high school student or some hapless LiveJournaler.

But the man who penned these puerile sentiments is 33. Not sixteen, not even in his early twenties. We’re talking about a man already well initiated into adulthood.

If this tone here is intended as a sort of detached irony, I don’t buy it. Because irony relies upon an underlying subtext (such as “Gentleman, you can’t fight in here. This is the war room.”). Here, we have extremely crude observations that are quite explicit about their crude meaning. Thus, Klosterman’s innate stupidity must be taken at face value.

Further, one must marvel over Klosterman’s astonishing superficiality, which seems dictated by crude reactions to the pop culture around him. This is not to suggest that pop culture can’t be written about. I’m only arguing that it be written about at some basic level of intelligence, putting an album, for example, into a broader cultural perspective. With Klosterman, we have none of this, save for cheap dichotomies such as “Pot/Creedence” and “Coke/Interpol.”

I’ve kvetched several other places about the McSweeney’s reliance upon pop culture (and specifically, Dave Eggers’) as a crutch. But at least Eggers’ writing is an earnest effort to ape Saul Bellow — for better or worse. And on ocassion (specifically, his story, “Up the Mountain Coming Down Slowly,” his homage to “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” in the first Chabon-edited McSweeney’s Thrilling Tales compilation), his work has been about something more than references to 1980s sitcoms and Donald Barthleme homages.

But Klosterman’s work is about nothing.

In fact, it’s safe to say that Klosterman’s anti-intellectual, uninformed and just plain unthinking approach to writing extends well beyond the page. Consider his response to Ames’ initial review:

That was just weird. I had never read the NY Press before, I had never met (or even heard of) the dude who wrote that piece, and the whole thing was just sort of befuddling. I’m sure most people who saw that piece undoubtedly had no idea who I even was! All in all, I guess I didn’t think about it very much. It wasn’t all that different than being criticized on some cokehead’s blog. I mean, if the guy who wrote that article was smart OR talented, he obviously wouldn’t be working for the NY Press.

In other words, although Klosterman has not read the New York Press, he is willing to cast an uninformed opinion that anyone who writes for them is neither smart nor talented. Further, there’s the strange inference that any vitriolic blogger is a cokehead.

Since we’re talking low culture here, if Klosterman can be likened to a cultural icon, I’d compare him with Joel Goodsen, the Tom Cruise character from Risky Business. We all associate that movie with the indelible image of Tom Cruise sliding across a hardwood floor in his underwear: the ultimate symbol of rebellion. But this is not pure rebellion along the lines of James Dean. Let’s face the facts: Joel was an irresponsible asshole. He thinks nothing of resorting to adolescent activity when his mother’s Steuben egg and his father’s Porsche are damaged and tries to cover this up by turning the home into a brothel. (This supports another theory of mine which will have to be discussed at length: Tom Cruise only works when he plays a dickhead. But that will have to wait for another cultural musing.)

But Joel Goodsen (and Tom Cruise) is cool. And so is Klosterman. But the hollow shell that is Joel Goodsen (and Klosterman) remains largely unexamined. In fact, it is embraced.

Of course, Joel Goodsen’s behavior was framed within a satirical context. And he was, after all, both a teenager and a fictional character.

But Klosterman is a grown man and, much to humanity’s great regret, all too real. In a just world, he would be pumping gas somewhere instead of being allowed to write. He is, in short, a moronic manboy who must be stopped.

[RELATED: Dana starts up a valuable service: Serial killer or rock critic?]

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30 Comments

  1. I publish Mark and he and I were e-mailing about this then-forthcoming review. The NY Press is going through one of its annual purges and one of the editors leaving, Alexander Zeitchick, wanted to give Mark one last story. I’d been hoping that they’d run an excerpt from the forthcoming book, but they really wanted to let Ames have a go at Klosterman again, because the previous review was one of the most discussed pieces in this history of the newspaper. Sounds like that was a good call!

  2. I’m with you all the way on this one, Ed. I’ve never thought much of Klosterman one way or the other, finding some of his stuff for Spin tolerable, other stuff downright unreadable. This book was pretty much that in book form. At times, the thing that frightened me the most was that Klosterman almost made sense, then I would move on to the next paragraph and find myself back in Klosterfuckville. So you smoke a lot of weed and listen to kitschy music? So you’ve had your trouble with the women and you have a song that represents every important moment in your life? What’s new and original about that?

    That said, I’d rather read nothing but Klosterman than watch one Tom Cruise movie.

  3. Jeff’s right on.

    I read most of Fargo and I think the problem is that CK comes out with a lucid, insightful point every once in a while, leaving one completely unprepared for the next 87 outrageously stupid things he’s going to say. He seems unique among cultural critics in that some of his opinions seem to be objectively false.

    But he’s not going away because he drops a lot of pop culture references and his self-involvement has a train-wreck quality and he regularly–inexplicably–gets the Nick Hornby Pass (aka the George W. Pass: “…he seems like a regular guy…I’d like to have a beer with him…etc”.)

    Also, as I hinted at Old Hag, I think he’s purposefully cultivating a look that is eerily like Corey Feldman’s character in Stand by Me. Which is fucked up.

  4. L.A. EVENTS – ELLIS, KLOSTERMAN

    Well, it’s a week for Authors We Revile in the City of Angels but we are a public service blog, and so we share the details of two readings at which we would not be caught dead: Bret Easton Ellis

  5. I haven’t read a word of Klosterman’s writing, but between you and Dana, Ed, I’m convinced I needn’t torture myself.

    By the way, don’t miss #1 Hit Song’s new “game we can all play”: Serial Killer or Rock Critic? http://www.numberonehitsong.com/archives/001509.php

  6. Rake: the Corey Feldman observation is brilliant.

  7. Have you seen Corey Feldman lately? Man, time has not been good to that kid.
    I’m with Maud. I’ve been ignoring Klosterman for a while now (a girl I loathe really likes him, which made it easier for me to ignore him since she has awful taste) and I am going to continue to do so.

  8. I like the Corey Feldman, but he also looks a bit like a grown-up Cousin Oliver from the Brady Bunch.

  9. Regarding CK somehow getting a pass, this review says it all:

    “And yet despite, or perhaps because of, all this, if you’re a heterosexual woman between 25 and 35, it is almost impossible not to madly adore him.”

    To the ladies who might be follownig ths thing, how? And WHY? I can see perhaps CK appealing to a lady in her early twenties, but by the age of 30, generally a woman has learned a thing or too and has learned to run astray of adolescent manboys.

  10. As a qualifier to that demographic( barely), I can assure you that it is COMPLETELY possible to not madly adore him. In fact, he creeps me the F**K out — more than ever, now that the whole Corey Feldman/ Cousin Oliver bone structure thing has been identified.

  11. The best thing about that review–aside from the fact that it probably sets some sort of record for backhanded compliments per word– is the apropos of nothing title: “Enjoy Klosterman with something frothy.”

    I assume that it’s an oblique reference to beer goggles, as if CK is only enjoyable (in person or print) after one has fought through a twelve-pack. Which, combined with the description therein, more or less makes him the poor man’s/drunk woman’s John Cusack. In the guise of Feldman circa SBM.

    Boo!

  12. This Klosterman guy seems not to have penetrated these precincts. I’m with Maude—don’t know his stuff,don’t want to.

    Glad guys like this exis though—it’s cool to see Eddie boy work out.

  13. You know you could add a preview feature— excuse the above typos in #12.

  14. Ed, I adore you, but you’ve got to stop with the gender generalizing.

  15. Maud: Wasn’t trying to generalize. Besides, I figured the XX crowd here wasn’t interested in Mr. Manboy. But for those who were, I was just asking FERTHELOVEOFCHRIST, why? :)

  16. A fine question, Mr. Champion.

  17. Jesus, you people are a bunch of fucking snobs. I own all of Klosterman’s books, and while I often disagree with him, he’s usually interesting. And I’ve met him at signings and he was more genuinely freindly than almost any other writer I’ve met.

    Plus, Fargo Rock City is a book that had to be written. If only because rock criticism can’t take another “I was a lonely misfit, and them punkrock/techno/Morrisey saved my life…” if only for my own fucking sanity.

    Or perhaps it’s this, now that all you misfits have grown up, you’re perfectly comfortable bullying and shitting all over people who deviate from your party line. Funny how that always comes around.

  18. jonmc: Read my post. It’s not about CK writing about pop culture. As I specified above, I’m happy to read riffs on the culture around us. It’s CK’s stupidity and ignorance that I object to. Sorry, but my party line involves actually having a head attached to your shoulders.

  19. Maud: And in case I failed to mention it, I adore you too. :)

  20. Ed, in the book Chuck specifically says that he could give two shits about “punk rock,” and that he only has the Chelsea on his itinerary at the insistence of SPIN. And Sid has to be the most undeserving icon of all time, since he was a racist moron who never played on any of the Pistols records. My feelings on punk are different from his, but I agree that way too much ink has been wasted on Sid & Nancy. And you’re approaching his work all wrong. He’s not some deep thinker, more of a barstool rambler (and an interesting one). I find him refreshing, quite frankly.

  21. I remember reading Fargo Rock City in high school and being unimpressed.There are a lot of things I should like statistically that I don’t.

    It’s interesting to note that people tend to criticize other people for the very behaviors they exhibit.

  22. I have read a few of CK’s books and found them to be generally entertaining (like watching some TV show that doesn’t have any merit, but is easy to relax with). So, I’m not a CK apologist. I just want to point out how much of your and Mark Ames criticism is based on his looks. I mean, it seems like if he had a different face, a hole would appear in your criticism of him. I really bet that most of you have written your own books and feel much smarter than Klosterman and are jealous of his success. So you feel smart by finding other like-minded failures (who may or may not be smarter) and ripping him up. I also think that you give him more power by taking him so seriously.

  23. You really are stuck up y’know? If people can’t understand another’s reality, leave it to someone else like you to go tear it up. It’s like hurting a poor child, you aren’t going to ruin a child’s dreams are you? I find the book ridiculous, but that makes it even better because I think about the things he says, I take it all and laugh at it because I genuinely respect how this man thinks. So, yeah he’s fucked up. The world’s fucked up live with it or commit suicide.
    oh and by the way, for your information, the thing about 9/11 was hilarious.
    before anyone asks.
    heartless bastard comments appreciated.

  24. mustbethegenerationgap April 17, 2007 at 10:56 pm

    maybe it’s the culture. personally, i think chuck klosterman is like a modern kerouac. he’s writing what he thinks, it’s one person’s experiances and what they’ve concluded from it. if you don’t agree, don’t agree. but that doesn’t make him ignorant or stupid. it just makes him human….and just makes you human. we don’t all learn the same things the same ways….he just illustrates what life taught him and how,…. with a brilliant cynnicism that makes it really fun to read aloud and do monologues of….and that’s what makes his books amazing.

  25. Ed says, “Yes, you read those sentences right. In the Klosterman universe, it’s the bitch’s fault of course. A rape charge is some byproduct of hysteria and a court of law relies upon hearsay and speculation rather than facts to try a case. ”

    I guess it’s safe to assume that you DON’T play lacrosse for Duke University.

  26. […] “Chuck Klosterman: A Manboy Who Must Be Stopped” – Somebody else hates on Chuck. […]

  27. Hrmmm… My husband is a fan of Klosterman’s. Having never read more than a paragraph or two of his, I just got the feeling that he was some huge asshole. I have started Fargo Rock City and am 50 pages in, (don’t know if I will finish or not), but I must say, his musings are at least funny and interesting. I haven’t changed my opinion that he is a huge asshole, but I WAS struck by this thought:
    just about everyone I know & hang out with has, at some point in their lives, sat around obsessing over the minutiae that is pop culture, whether it was TV, movies, or music. Sometimes we did this while drinking, sometimes completely sober. EVERYONE likes to sit around and shoot the shit from time to time, and EVERYONE has their own opinion about what the best song is off whatever album. But not all of us have made an honest-to-god, bill-paying, bank-rolling career out of it. Klosterman has. Good for him, even though he’s an asshole.

  28. You’re so whiny. You take everything Klosterman says and turns into something demonic. You would rather a world where every rape case is an instant guilty sentence? You’re trying to get everyone to stand behind you against Klosterman and thus bring up his most controversial topics and then take it completely out of context. The fact that you call Klosterman “anti-intellectual” is hilarious. Klosterman has more insight into all aspects of life than any other essayist that I’ve read. Maybe you’re just jealous.

  29. I don’t have a problem if Ames doesn’t like the style or content of an author. I don’t have a problem if anyone doesn’t like the style or content of an author, but read Ames’ article on Klosterman, and it comes across like it was written by a four year old after a playground argument. The guy spends almost as much time ripping on what Klosterman looks like than the content of his writings. And the metaphors he employs to this end? Peter North, etc? Are you kidding me? I’m sorry Mark, but you come across like a jealous loser. btw-Downtown Owl smokes the shit out of anything Mr. Ames has written. Ames is nothing but a spoiled little frat boy who ran off to Russia with his trust fund to screw hookers and snort coke because not one publication in the US would give him a job. Even then, upon arriving in Russia to find out that even there no one would give him a job writing, he had to create his own tabloid. And this guy thinks Klosterman is a hack? laughable. Ames, a little advice: spend some time writing something meaningful and maybe you wouldn’t have to spend so much time ripping on other people. Either that, or just go away. I’d prefer the latter.

  30. I’m almost done with Klosterfuck’s “Eating the Dinosaur” and I’ve NEVER been so hell-bent on writing a scathing review of a book due to hating it so much.

    It’s not just that it’s bad writing, or that the manboy is clearly some kind of oddball sissy who just happens by some miracle to have discovered the music and drugs that the cool kids like. It’s that he writes as if wielding a paintbrush, and seems to think that lying, misleading and generally slapping stupid broad strokes of wishy-washy dismissive non-opinions is somehow a new “style” of writing. He isn’t even a writer, never mind a good or innovative one.

    I WILL write that review. It’s my duty.

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