This collection of essays produced a magical juxtaposition in my mind where I was both entertained by Klosterman’s cleverness and really wanted to punch him right in the goddamn face. I’m normally quite wary of quasi-intellectual (or even academic, for that matter) commentary on pop culture. I’m reminded of Don deLillo’s character Jack in “White Noise” and of the absurdly specific pop-art professors he interacts with at the beginning of the novel. But Klosterman wrote a chapter on the Left Behind series, and as someone who grew up in an Evangelical Christian church I really wanted to read it. He was also making fun of Coldplay on the first page I opened in the bookstore, so… points there. Even if it was shooting fish in a barrel, it was an amusing way of going about it.
My biggest problem with the book was Klosterman’s constant need to be clever. This wasn’t always a problem, since he’s a pretty clever guy and about a third of the chapters are funny, making weird but satisfying connections across disparate topics and plotting a new course. The rest of them just felt phoned in. Klosterman writes for magazines, and I feel like it shows. He’s meeting deadlines, not caring if he actually believes any of the crazy connections or the value of even making them. I get why you do that in certain mediums, but a book out from a Scribner seems to warrant more selectivity.
This is what keeps me away from most writing on pop culture (and magazine writing in general). Readers tend to reward the cleverness of an idea far beyond the value they ascribe to the quality of making-any-sense-whatsoever. This is why conspiracy theories thrive, why everyone wants to believe all Quentin Tarantino movies take place in the same universe, and why guys like Klosterman make a good living by sounding clever even when they know how full of horseshit half their points are. I recommend reading each chapter until your bullshit sensor goes off, then skipping to the next.