Book Reviewed: Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto, by Chuck Klosterman
I am a huge pop culture nerd. I spend a good chunk of my free time reading book, music, and movie reviews. I troll pop culture-related blogs and websites for at least an hour a day. I'm pretty sure I know more useless information about meaningless stuff than most people know about important stuff. It's an addiction I can't stop. Occasionally, I meet someone else who cares about meaningless things as much as I do. Relationships formed over pop culture have been known to lead to lasting friendships for me, and pop culture has formed a major building block in the bond between my younger brother and me as we've grown up. Like junkies, us pop culture nerds seek each other out and inform each other's bad habits.
Which is why I knew I needed to read some Chuck Klosterman. Klosterman is a major presence in pop culture writing. Over the last fifteen years, he's been a music and film columnist, a sportswriter, and a pretty famous essayist. His books are basically required reading for everyone who believes that stupid stuff means more than we realize. People like me. Really, it's amazing that I haven't read Klosterman before. With all his books at my disposal in the library, I now feel it's my duty as a pop nerd to read all of them.
I decided to start with the most logical choice: Klosterman's most famous book of essays, 2003's Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. I read the book in only two days, as I find nonfiction to read really fast for me. At first, I was surprised by how many disagreements I found myself having with Klosterman. I didn't really agree with half his opinions and ideas. But I still liked the book a lot. Compulsively readable and almost always fun, the essays took on such a variety of topics that I found it hard to be bored. Despite not always getting along with Klosterman, I respected his thoughts quite a bit, and I knew I found a literary soulmate in all his ruminations about useless things. As I mentioned earlier, us pop culture nerds need each other.
When I read the book's second essay, "Billy Sim," I felt like Klosterman could read my thoughts. Here it was, an essay about the video game The Sims that basically spoke about all my complicated feelings regarding this supremely weird pasttime. By the time he kills his own character by ignoring him, I was laughing pretty hard. The same goes for "Sulking with Lisa Loeb on the Ice Planet Hoth" (about how the Star Wars movies are both extremely overhyped and yet capture the angst of an entire generation) and "The Awe-Inspiring Beauty of Tom Cruise's Shattered, Troll-like Face" (about Klosterman's inability to understand why film critics are so obsessed with depictions of reality in film, which is particularly interesting to me since I've become obsessed with Inception). As a fellow Midwesterner from a ridiculously small town, I "get" Klosterman quite often. In "Toby over Moby," Klosterman argues that popular, overly-sentimental country music is actually more genuine than the kind of gritty, indie-type country music that critics and hipsters love, an argument with which I wholeheartedly agree.
For me, though, the best essay in this collection is "Being Zach Morris," which is about Saved by the Bell. I've actually never watched that particular show, but his thoughts on the subject of a certain kind of Saturday-morning-esque show for adolescents is surprisingly astute. The end of the essay argues that the show's later episodes - in which two of the lead girls left the show for awhile, got replaced, then came back while the replacement disappeared - are more lifelike than most television programs. Klosterman argues that that's how actual high school and college memories work. We think of a particular group of people and imagine they were with us all the time. It's only if we dissect our memories that we realize certain people disappear for long stretches or that people we hardly remembered we actually hung out with quite a bit. I found myself surprisingly moved by Klosterman's funny opinions on a show I don't even care about.
And in the end, that is all you can ask from good pop culture writing. So, even if I wasn't always in love with this book or its writer, that hasn't stopped me from wanting to read more of Chuck Klosterman's work. In fact, I have another one of his books on my desk right now....