Chuck Klosterman (Almost) Wears a Black Hat

In honor of last week’s visit from Chuck Klosterman, woo!

blackhat Chuck Klosterman has worn several hats throughout his career: music reviewer, sports writer, cultural know-it-all, and, as a columnist for The New York Times Magazine, devil’s advocate. Granted, all these caps have been a similar shade of pop-culture-commentator-grey. But even before donning the chapeau of the often-controversial ‘Ethicist,’ Klosterman was already the argumentative sort — in an affable kind of way. In the pages of Esquire, he suggested that a young and totally impenetrable Britney Spears was her generation’s savviest sex symbol. He called Coldplay “the shittiest fucking band ever,” a designation that seemed overly harsh then and now. As The Ethicist, he justified submitting the same term paper to two different professors on the grounds that “the very premise of stealing your own creative property is absurd,” for which the paper’s excitable public editor rapped his knuckles and advised readers not take his column too seriously.

So the stakes would seem especially high for his most recent book, I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined). Here, Klosterman is no longer simply serving up gentle snark about Billy Joel’s depression or Val Kilmer’s many Method eccentricities. He is toying with the notion of evil itself, from ancient history (Niccoló Machiavelli; Judas Iscariot) to today’s headlines (Jerry Sandusky; Walter White). There’s even a chapter on Hitler, natch.

But unlike in his past work, Klosterman can’t seem to offer much in the way of novel theories. O.J. Simpson almost definitely murdered his wife, Perez Hilton is an annoyingly prescient media monster, and Hitler is still the worst person who ever existed. For the first time, the seriousness of the material seems to get the best of Klosterman’s cheerful, devil-may-care contrarian. It’s a totally decent book for fans of Klosterman’s work, and it possesses the same conversational tone that has charmed readers since Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. There are the wonderful snicker-on-the-subway turns of phrase (Texas governor Rick Perry “didn’t scare anyone; sure, he might sentence you to lethal injection, but he also might confuse the potassium chloride with Diet Dr Pepper”) and the disorienting but delightful digressions that never seem to circle back to the point (“I am of the opinion that D.B. Cooper fell from the sky and died on impact.”) But ultimately, I Wear the Black Hat is simply another chance for Chuck Klosterman to riff on what goes on inside the mind of Chuck Klosterman. It is disappointing to learn that the author, whose authority on the subjects of Britney Spears or Billy Joel seems bulletproof, isn’t comfortable wearing the black hat after all.

— Rebecca H.

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