The semester is over, the post-semester fling done, and final grades are good. Textbooks are sold, laundry is folded, bags unpacked, and life as I know it is great. I spent the weekend in and around Zion National Park in Utah with friends Bobby and Susan doing normal desert-y stuff like hiking, mountain biking, and lazing around near the river. It was…a perfect end to a tough semester.
My book of the week was Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto by Chuck Klosterman. I don’t care for books that use extensive pop culture references, but I stuck with this one and cherry-picked through the collection of essays and was rewarded with plenty of food for thought. The book is a diatribe on low culture of Gen X-ers and Klosterman is an interesting writer to read. If you can get past the flood of severely-dated pop culture references there is plenty of juicy stuff to wade through.
Klosterman uses logic bombs to de-arm common contradictions:* “If you define your personality as ‘creative,’ it only means you understand what is PERCEIVED to be creative to the world at large, so you’re really just following a rote creative template. That’s the OPPOSITE of creativity.” He mentions how cool Gen X-ers always refer to themselves as religious but not really practicing, as in, “I’m Jewish, but I don’t really go to the synagogue.” And another: “anybody who says they are a good liar obviously is not, because any legitimately savvy liar would always insist they’re honest about everything.” And: *“Do you know people who insist they like ‘all kinds of music’? That actually means they like no kinds of music.”
The book next goes into defining what cool is and what cool embodies—what people do and don’t do in order to be cool. Klosterman admits that analyzing this topic puts him out of the running for coolness. But does anybody even use the word cool anymore? Pop culture books are so dated…give me War and Peace or Les Miz any day. Prejudice aside, here’s a quote from the book: You used to be able to tell the difference between hipsters and homeless people. Now, it’s between hipsters and retards. I mean, either that guy in the corner in orange safety pants holding a protest sign and wearing a top hat is mentally disabled or he is the coolest [..] guy you will ever know.” *According to Klosterman, cool people don’t do interesting things to become cool; due to reality television, they now put the focus on being identifiable. “Being interesting has been replaced by being identifiable.” *The cool topic is covered ad nauseam, and defined with the logical completeness of an intellectual bachelor in his thirties. Which brings me to the next big topic of the book.
Here’s another quote from the book: “*But whenever I meet dynamic, nonretarded Americans, I notice that they all seem to share a single unifying characteristic: the inability to experience the kind of mind-blowing, transcendent romantic relationship they perceive to be a normal part of living. And someone needs to take the fall for this. So instead of blaming no one for this (which is kind of cowardly) or blaming everyone (which is kind of meaningless), I’m going to blame John Cusack.” *Ignoring the pop culture reference (because, technically, I am Gen Y, and not X—and Cusack isn’t sexy anymore, anyway), Klosterman takes several chapters to disprove the common assumption of an existence of perfect, requited love through the application of logic. As in the essays where he examines bases of religions, logical analysis is faulty because truth in these matters is perhaps measured in subjective or situational ethics (yep, another contradictory term), and so logic is of no value in these topics.
*“Though I obviously have no proof of this, the one aspect of life that seems clear to me is that good people do whatever they believe is the right thing to do. Being virtuous is hard, not easy. The idea of doing good things simply because you’re good seems like a zero-sum game; I’m not even sure those actions would still qualify as ‘good,’ since they’d merely be a function of normal behavior. Regardless of what kind of god you believe in–a loving god, a vengeful god, a capricious god, a snooty beret-wearing French god, or whatever–one has to assume that you can’t be penalized for doing the things you believe to be truly righteous and just. Certainly, this creates some pretty glaring problems: Hitler may have thought he was serving God. Stalin may have thought he was serving God (or something vaguely similar). I’m certain Osama bin Laden was positive he was serving God. It’s not hard to fathom that all of those maniacs were certain that what they were doing was right. Meanwhile, I constantly do things that I know are wrong; they’re not on the same scale as incinerating Jews or blowing up skyscrapers, but my motivations might be worse. I have looked directly into the eyes of a woman I loved and told her lies for no reason, except that those lies would allow me to continue having sex with another woman I cared about less. This act did not kill 20 million Russian peasants, but it might be more ‘diabolical’ in a literal sense. If I died and found out I was going to hell and Stalin was in heaven, I would note the irony, but I couldn’t complain. I don’t make the […] rules.” *The above quote is another example of the ranting, rambling manner of the book. The pop references are cumbersome but the book has enough thought-provoking lines to make the few hours spent skimming it well-spent.