Monday, December 7, 2009

Eating the Dinosaur

Todd contributed this post on Eating the Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman. To contribute a review or other literary musings to Attic Salt, e-mail


According to the copy on the back of Chuck Klosterman's new collection of essays — copy he presumably wrote himself — the "larger theme" of Eating the Dinosaur is "something about reality… most of the core questions dwell on the way media perception constructs a fake reality that ends up becoming more meaningful than whatever actually happened."

Klosterman is a pop culture pundit. He makes his living writing about and discussing various aspects of our modern world that range from politics and the Internet to Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo and the television show Survivor. This is his sixth book, after two memoirs, an anthology of previously published journalistic essays and interviews, a novel and another collection of original essays. I've been following the guy for quite a while now and my opinion of him used to rise and fall by the extent to which I agreed with his opinions on a given film or band.

In Eating the Dinosaur, Klosterman has come into his own as a philosopher for the modern age. While he's previously been indispensible as a thinker and talking head in the consumption and analysis of popular culture, I think he has advanced now to a point where I would say his work is finally "Capital I" Important.

There is an overarching theme here, as stated, that was missing in his previous book of essays, Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs. From the quoted description, you'd think he might just be discussing cable news and the Internet. However, while those certainly come into play here, they are but two of several topics that get strung together in surprising and confounding theses that actually affect a deeper and more complicated engagement with the pervasive culture in which we all have no choice but to inhabit.

In "Oh, the Guilt," Klosterman draws a lengthy comparison between Kurt Cobain in his final days as a rock star and David Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidian sect that was burned alive at Waco. Both men, he posits, were victims of an iconography that they only kind-of asked for and couldn't handle, emotionally. In the final section of the book, "FAIL," he issues a lengthy treatise on the prophetic nature of Ted Kaczynski's manifesto "Industrial Society and Its Future." Klosterman ties this into a feeling, reflected throughout the book, that in the Information Age we have lost control of our technologies and are now slaves running along a superhighway with a minimum speed limit far beyond our reach.

But it's not all as heavy-handed as that summary might imply. At his most serious, Klosterman drops references to pop music and reality television and keeps the tone light and digestable. He also never preaches. As I closed the book I was left with a definite sense of paranoia about the world I live in, but simultaneously my fears were assuaged by Klosterman's optimism and intellectual bonhomie.

At the same time, what makes the book so important is that any conclusions reached about society or popular culture will vary wildly from reader to reader. Klosterman isn't afraid to say "I don't know;" he's merely in the business of asking questions that need to be asked. It's easy to write an essay about the inherent stupidity of the sitcom laugh track; Klosterman asks us to consider the laugh track's relationship to an American's daily dosage of 'courtesy laughter,' and what it says about us as a people that the device perseveres, like a cockroach, to this day.

I generally try to promote discussion of those aspects of our popular culture that generally go ignored by the intellectuals. The high-brow must consider the low-brow, and vice-versa. Survivor may be a bread and circus show for middle Americans condescended by coastal liberals, but it's also a thrilling examination of rat-in-a-maze sociology. At the same time, left-wing hero Ralph Nader must be considered as the swing of the 2000 election that sent America down the rabbit hole. We must consider all sides; we are all, in fact, in this together. In the simple battle to keep a conversation going, Klosterman is my brother-in-arms. Fight the good fight, man.

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