Sunday, June 27, 2004

I'm a pop culture nut. So I love to read other people's pop culture musings. A great little book I just finished is Chuck Klosterman's "Sex, Drugs, And Cocoa Puffs." Besides the best title in the history of the cosmos, it's just a fun, frothy and surprisingly insightful little run through the pop culture blender, collecting articles and essays Klosterman's written for publications such as SPIN and ESQUIRE.
Like Dave Eggers or Nick Hornby, Klosterman does a fine job taking the epherma of today's world from Tellytubbies to Pamela Anderson and rambling about them for a few thousand words. Often, books of this nature can be smug and get dated really fast, but Klosterman might hold up a little better than that. Sure, he's snarky as hell, but funny and rarely vicious in his essays, and I particularly like his tactic of taking a reference-filled, name-dropping pop culture rant and giving it a meaningful spin at the end. Some fun words of wisdom from this tome:
* "For upwardly mobile women in their twenties and thirties, John Cusack is the neo-Elvis," on how movies like "Say Anything" make romantic love seem unattainable in real life.
* "The Sims forces you think about how even free people are eternally enslaved by the processes of living," on his addiction to "The Sims" video game.
* A hilarious defense of Billy Joel, a guilty pleasure of mine: "Billy Joel ... is not cool in the kitschy, campy, "he's so uncool he's cool" sense ... He has no intrinsic coolness, and he has no extrinsic coolness. If cool was a color, it would be black -- and Billy Joel would be sort of burnt orange."
* On the suffering nature of cereal cartoon mascots: "Random children endlessly taunt Sonny the Cuckoo Bird with heaping bowls of Cocoa Puffs, almost like street junkies waving heroin needles in the face of William S. Burroughs."
* And from the required "I'm a part of the 'Star Wars' generation" essay, a witty dissection of "Empire Strikes Back": "In a roundabout way, Boba Fett created Pearl Jam."
Now, none of this is terribly deep, but it's funny and Klosterman knows it won't change the world. Other essays touch on a Guns 'n' Roses tribute band, riffs on "Saved By The Bell" and "The Real World," or serial-killer celebrity. Only a few essays about sports kind of missed the mark for me. I don't know if 10 years from now this book will seem as dated as "Generation X" to me, but right now, it's a spunky tonic. The thing is, we're surrounded by pop culture these days, from "American Idol" to "Fahrenheit 9/11," and reality and pop are pretty much indistinguishable. Even our elections become pop events. It still all matters, though, even if we're not exactly sure why or how. "Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs" is billed in its subhead as "A Low Culture Manifesto." Who says Billy Joel doesn't deserve the same serious analysis as Bob Dylan, anyway? This book's worth checking out, now in paperback.

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