Author of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs
“Writing about pop culture doesn't get any better than this, or funnier.”—Stephen King, on Fargo, Rock City
Chuck Klosterman is not a detached academic who deconstructs pop culture at arm's-length with a deadening sterility. He’s a regular guy whose intellectual curiosity is insatiable, infectious, and surprisingly insightful. He is the best-selling author of six nonfiction books (most notably Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs and I Wear the Black Hat) and two novels (Downtown Owl and The Visible Man). His ninth book—debuting in its first week at #5 on The New York Times bestsellers list—is But What If We’re Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past. It’s both an earnest attempt to speculate on what, and how, our culture might transform over time, and a rational inoculation against the dangers of assumption.
Visualizing the Far Future (Once “Now” Becomes “Then”)
In this keynote, based on his new book But What If We’re Wrong?, Chuck Klosterman visualizes the contemporary world as it will appear to those who’ll perceive it as the distant past. Throughout, he asks questions that are profound in their simplicity: How certain are we about our understanding of gravity? How certain are we about our understanding of time? What will be the defining memory of rock music, five hundred years from today? How seriously should we view the content of our dreams? How seriously should we view the content of television? Are all sports destined for extinction? Is it possible that the greatest artist of our era is currently unknown (or—weirder still—widely known, but entirely disrespected)? Is it possible that we “overrate” democracy? And perhaps most disturbing: is it possible that we’ve reached the end of knowledge?
Kinetically slingshotting through a broad spectrum of objective and subjective problems, this talk builds on input from a variety of creative thinkers—George Saunders, David Byrne, Jonathan Lethem, Kathryn Schulz, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Brian Greene, Junot Díaz, Amanda Petrusich, Ryan Adams, Nick Bostrom, Dan Carlin, and Richard Linklater, among others—interwoven with the type of high-wire humor and nontraditional analysis only Klosterman would dare to attempt. It’s a seemingly impossible achievement: a keynote about the things we cannot know, explained as if we did. It’s about how we live now, once “now” has become “then.”
Life Through the Prism of Pop Culture
In his talks, Chuck Klosterman discusses how pop culture shapes a person's identity. Why do so many of us define ourselves by the media we consume—the music we love, the movies we obsessively reference, the television we can't stop watching? With inspired leaps of logic and a sense for relatable minutiae, Klosterman shows us how pop culture becomes inextricably linked with our memories, how it helps us understand the world, and what this says about us, as individuals and as a society. Bright with provocation, hilarious non-sequiturs and good-natured debate, an evening with Klosterman will help you see our accelerating world, and the little connections that make it fascinating, in a newly appreciative light.
But What If We're Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past
We live in a culture of casual certitude. This has always been the case, no matter how often that certainty has failed. Though no generation believes there’s nothing left to learn, every generation unconsciously assumes that what has already been defined and accepted is (probably) pretty close to how reality will be viewed in perpetuity. And then, of course, time passes. Ideas shift. Opinions invert. What once seemed reasonable eventually becomes absurd, replaced by modern perspectives that feel even more irrefutable and secure—until, of course, they don’t.
But What If We’re Wrong? visualizes the contemporary world as it will appear to those who'll perceive it as the distant past. Chuck Klosterman asks questions that are profound in their simplicity: How certain are we about our understanding of gravity? How certain are we about our understanding of time? What will be the defining memory of rock music, five hundred years from today? How seriously should we view the content of our dreams? How seriously should we view the content of television? Are all sports destined for extinction? Is it possible that the greatest artist of our era is currently unknown (or—weirder still—widely known, but entirely disrespected)? Is it possible that we “overrate” democracy? And perhaps most disturbing, is it possible that we’ve reached the end of knowledge?
Kinetically slingshotting through a broad spectrum of objective and subjective problems, But What If We’re Wrong? is built on interviews with a variety of creative thinkers—George Saunders, David Byrne, Jonathan Lethem, Kathryn Schulz, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Brian Greene, Junot Díaz, Amanda Petrusich, Ryan Adams, Nick Bostrom, Dan Carlin, and Richard Linklater, among others—interwoven with the type of high-wire humor and nontraditional analysis only Klosterman would dare to attempt. It’s a seemingly impossible achievement: a book about the things we cannot know, explained as if we did. It’s about how we live now, once “now” has become “then.”
I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined)
From New York Times bestselling author, “one of America’s top cultural critics” (Entertainment Weekly), and “The Ethicist” for The New York Times Magazine, comes a new book of all original pieces on villains and villainy in popular culture.
Chuck Klosterman has walked into the darkness. As a child, he rooted for conventionally good characters like wide-eyed Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. But as Klosterman aged, his alliances shifted—first to Han Solo and then to Darth Vader. Vader was a hero who consciously embraced evil; Vader wanted to be bad. But what, exactly, was that supposed to mean? When we classify someone as a bad person, what are we really saying (and why are we so obsessed with saying it)? In I Wear the Black Hat, Klosterman questions the very nature of how modern people understand the culture of villainy. What was so Machiavellian about Machiavelli? Why don’t we see Batman the same way we see Bernhard Goetz? Who’s more worthy of our vitriol—Bill Clinton or Don Henley? What was O.J. Simpson’s second-worst decision? And why is Klosterman still obsessed with some kid he knew for one week in 1985?
Masterfully blending cultural analysis with self-interrogation and limitless imagination, I Wear the Black Hat delivers perceptive observations on the complexity of the anti-hero (seemingly the only kind of hero America still creates). I Wear the Black Hat is the rare example of serious criticism that’s instantly accessible and really, really funny. Klosterman is the only writer doing whatever it is he’s doing.
Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs
Countless writers and artists have spoken for a generation, but no one has done it quite like Chuck Klosterman. With an exhaustive knowledge of popular culture and an almost effortless ability to spin brilliant prose out of unlikely subject matter, Klosterman attacks the entire spectrum of postmodern America: reality TV, Internet porn, Pamela Anderson, literary Jesus freaks, and the real difference between apples and oranges (of which there is none). And don't even get him started on his love life and the whole Harry-Met-Sally situation. Whether deconstructing Saved by the Bell episodes or the artistic legacy of Billy Joel, the symbolic importance of The Empire Strikes Back or the Celtics/Lakers rivalry, Chuck will make you think, he'll make you laugh, and he'll drive you insane -- usually all at once. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs is ostensibly about art, entertainment, infotainment, sports, politics, and kittens, but -- really -- it's about us. All of us. As Klosterman realizes late at night, in the moment before he falls asleep, "In and of itself, nothing really matters. What matters is that nothing is ever 'in and of itself.'" Read to believe.
The Visible Man
Austin, Texas, therapist Victoria Vick is contacted by a cryptic, unlikable man who insists his situation is unique and unfathomable. As he slowly reveals himself, Vick becomes convinced that he suffers from a complex set of delusions: Y__, as she refers to him, claims to be a scientist who has stolen cloaking technology from an aborted government project in order to render himself nearly invisible. He says he uses this ability to observe random individuals within their daily lives, usually when they are alone and vulnerable. Unsure of his motives or honesty, Vick becomes obsessed with her patient and the disclosure of his increasingly bizarre and disturbing tales. Over time, it threatens her career, her marriage, and her own identity. Interspersed with notes, correspondence, and transcriptions that catalog a relationship based on curiosity and fear, The Visible Man touches on all of Chuck Klosterman's favorite themes: the consequence of culture, the influence of media, the complexity of voyeurism, and the existential contradiction of normalcy. Is this comedy, criticism, or horror? Not even Y__ seems to know for sure.
Eating the Dinosaur
Q: What is this book about? A: Well, that's difficult to say. I haven't read it yet: I've just picked it up and casually glanced at the back cover. There clearly isn't a plot. I've heard there's a lot of stuff about time travel in this book, and quite a bit about violence and Garth Brooks and why Germans don't laugh when they're inside grocery stores. Ralph Nader and Ralph Sampson play significant roles. I think there are several pages about Rear Window and college football and Mad Men and why Rivers Cuomo prefers having sex with Asian women. Supposedly there's a chapter outlining all the things the Unabomber was right about, but perhaps I'm misinformed. Q: Is there a larger theme? A: Oh, something about reality. "What is reality," maybe? No, that's not it. Not exactly. I get the sense that 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. Also, Lady Gaga. Q: Should I read this book? A: Probably. Do you see a clear relationship between the Branch Davidian disaster and the recording of Nirvana's In Utero? Does Barack Obama make you want to drink Pepsi? Does ABBA remind you of AC/DC? If so, you probably don't need to read this book. You probably wrote this book. But I suspect everybody else will totally love it, except for the ones who totally hate it.
Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story
For 6,557 miles, Chuck Klosterman thought about dying. He drove a rental car from New York to Rhode Island to Georgia to Mississippi to Iowa to Minneapolis to Fargo to Seattle, and he chased death and rock 'n' roll all the way. Within the span of twenty-one days, Chuck had three relationships end -- one by choice, one by chance, and one by exhaustion. He snorted cocaine in a graveyard. He walked a half-mile through a bean field. A man in Dickinson, North Dakota, explained to him why we have fewer windmills than we used to. He listened to the KISS solo albums and the Rod Stewart box set. At one point, poisonous snakes became involved. The road is hard. From the Chelsea Hotel to the swampland where Lynyrd Skynyrd's plane went down to the site where Kurt Cobain blew his head off, Chuck explored every brand of rock star demise. He wanted to know why the greatest career move any musician can make is to stop breathing...and what this means for the rest of us.
Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North Dakota
Empirically proving that -- no matter where you are -- kids wanna rock, this is Chuck Klosterman's hilrious memoir of growing up as a shameless metalhead in Wyndmere, North Dakotoa (population: 498). With a voice like Ace Frehley's guitar, Klosterman hacks his way through hair-band history, beginning with that fateful day in 1983 when his older brother brought home Motley Crue's Shout at the Devil. The fifth-grade Chuck wasn't quite ready to rock -- his hair was too short and his farm was too quiet -- but he still found a way to bang his nappy little head. Before the journey was over, he would slow-dance to Poison, sleep innocently beneath satanic pentagrams, lust for Lita Ford, and get ridiculously intellectual about Guns N' Roses. C'mon and feel his noize.
Downtown Owl: A Novel
"New York Times" Bestselling Author Chuck Klosterman's First Novel
Somewhere in North Dakota, there is a town called Owl that isn't there. Disco is over, but punk never happened. They don't have cable. They don't really have pop culture, unless you count grain prices and alcoholism. People work hard and then they die. They hate the government and impregnate teenage girls. But that's not nearly as awful as it sounds; in fact, sometimes it's perfect.
Mitch Hrlicka lives in Owl. He plays high school football and worries about his weirdness, or lack thereof. Julia Rabia just moved to Owl. She gets free booze and falls in love with a self-loathing bison farmer who listens to "Goats Head Soup." Horace Jones has resided in Owl for seventy-three years. He consumes a lot of coffee, thinks about his dead wife, and understands the truth. They all know each other completely, except that they've never met.
Like a colder, Reagan-era version of "The Last Picture Show" fused with "Friday Night Lights," Chuck Klosterman's "Downtown Owl" is the unpretentious, darkly comedic story of how it feels to exist in a community where rural mythology and violent reality are pretty much the same thing. Loaded with detail and unified by a (very real) blizzard, it's technically about certain people in a certain place at a certain time...but it's really about a problem. And the problem is this: What does it mean to be a normal person? And there is no answer. But in "Downtown Owl," what matters more is how you ask the question.