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Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto by Chuck Klosterman

March 10, 2019


It’s probably safe to say that you either like Chuck Klosterman’s writing or you don’t. The specific subject of any given essay is likely more incidental, since the subject is usually just an onramp for him to loosely explore some bigger topic. In this case, the unifying theme of this collection of essays is pop culture, a topic so broad and well-trod that it’s unlikely you’d pick up this book because you’re a fan of “pop culture.”  You’d read this because you’re a fan of Chuck Klosterman.

In the opening, Klosterman posits a tautology (not unlike my opening sentence of this review), that you can see life in one of two ways—that everything is connected, or that everything is not connected. This is a not super helpful framework, perhaps, but he uses it to set up a loose definition of culture—which is that ideas influence us, whether they are born of low culture or high culture.  His preference, in this book, is to examine low culture.

The Sims video game makes us realize how our modern lives are confined by our daily habits. Pam Anderson and Tommy Lee’s sex tape changed sex for millions of Americans. The Real World changed not only television and the concept of celebrity, but the dynamics of our relationships (specifically those of co-habitation) and the very nature of personality.

Other subjects include: Billy Joel’s1980 album Glass Houses, a Guns ‘n’ Roses cover band, the Lakers vs Celtics rivalry, Saved By the Bell, the Dixie Chicks and Van Halen, the Left Behind book series, the Zodiac killer, soccer and the bias of the news media.

This is a 2003 collection of essays, which means they are dated. Delightfully dated, perhaps, if you were born in the late 60s or 70s. I have said this in my other reviews of Klosterman—maybe it’s my age, level of nerdiness or sense of humor (likely all three), but I feel right in the strike zone. Someone who is, say, a generation and a half older, might dismiss him as some hipster, post-modern essayist who writes irrelevant things about irrelevant topics in a snarky, sarcastic, too-clever-for-its-own-good style. But I think he’s provocative, often insightful, usually funny.

Like his observation that Real World celebrity is the worst kind of celebrity—you will be “the kind of person who gets recognized at places like Burger King, but you will still be the kind of person who eats at places like Burger King.” Or his quip that Billy Joel’s best songs all sound like “unsuccessful suicide attempts.” Or his response to the rapture-like event at the beginning of Left Behind, where all the best Christians disappear from the planet: “Sounds good to me.”

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