I Wear The Black Hat, Chuck Klosterman

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“Avoiding villainy is not that different from avoiding loneliness: First, you must love yourself. And if you do that convincingly enough, others will love you too much.”

It ends and begins with Klosterman, it seems.

For last year’s Bookstravaganza, I ended the month with “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs,” which is one of the most interesting commentaries on pop culture I have ever read. It was my first real introduction to Klosterman, having only read short essays and articles by him before. And thus began my love affair.

For Bookstravaganza, I decided to read his most recently published work, “I Wear The Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined).” It did not disappoint. Klosterman begins with Macchiavellian philosophies on villainy (Macchiavelli’s seminal work, The Prince, was inspired by the Borgia papacy) and carries his observations through some of history and pop culture’s most interesting villains, even including a brief blurb on Walter White. What I found exceptionally interesting in Klosterman’s observations were those people in history/fiction that were villainous, bad, and evil people who have been turned into heroes of folklore over the years (such as plane hijacker D.B. Cooper), and, in some cases, who was depicted as a villain in prolific media cases (Bill Clinton vs Monica Lewinsky). He makes commentary on physical appearances, how it is easier to cast as a villain someone visually abhorrent, whereas good-looking people are often given the benefit of the doubt, as was the case in much of the investigations on serial killer Ted Bundy, who was, conventionally, attractive and charming. Resignedly, Klosterman makes one of his final chapters is on Hitler, who he posits exists as a cultural phenomenon to simply be “the worst” and it’s as obvious as that, the villain of all villains to which all evil is to be compared.

But what struck me most was his opening of the floor to self-reflection, to the villains in our lives that we hate both for and without reasons. Musicians, comedians, baseball players, attractive people, ugly people. No one is innocent of placing terms of hatred onto another person, place, or thing. “I hate Sarah Palin,” “I hate Jasper Ave,” “I hate balsamic vinegar.” But do we manifest these hate projections into villains to give meaning to our own lives, to suggest that we are in fact a protagonist in a story that has meaning? “What makes me nervous is a growing suspicion that this movie [of my life] is fucked up and devoid of meaning,” Klosterman says, “The auteur is a nihilist. What if I’m the main character, but still not the protagonist? What if there is no protagonist? What if there’s just an uninteresting person, thinking about himself because there’s nothing else to think about?”

Are we the central characters in a novel, the sidekicks, or the villains themselves?

Everyone – read this book. Read all the Klosterman.

Books Read So Far: 1

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5 responses to “I Wear The Black Hat, Chuck Klosterman

  1. I would love, love to borrow this. My mother and I hunted it down in CrossIron Mills when it first came out, but she hasn’t let me read it yet! (The horror.)

  2. I love the idea that someone might hate balsamic vinegar simply to give meaning to their life.
    (I love balsamic vinegar, I guess my life is devoid of meaning!)

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