arts and pop culture | July 22, 2013

I Wear The Black Hat: Chuck Klosterman's "Well-Crafted" Take On Villainy

Our constructions of villainy are convoluted, to say the very least. In I Wear The Black Hat, Chuck Klosterman, a noted culture speaker and The New York Times Magazine’s Ethicist, attempts to make sense of how we categorize someone as a villain. If the positive critical reviews are any indication, the author has hit home with his analysis. Klosterman presents an intriguing thesis in the book: A villain is someone who knows the most and cares the least. Understandably, some villains elude this rationale. However, Salon says that the real "pleasure [comes from] kicking [Klosterman's ideas] around." He "hits more than he misses," and he's "always interesting."

The way he tackles a difficult topic so coherently was also praised by other critics. "These unfussy but smart and well-crafted speculative concoctions are another Klosterman trademark," writes The National Post. "His like-ability is based on the way he can de-clutter and still analyze a complex idea in a very readable way." His writing is "astute and absorbing," and he presents his arguments in a "fun and approachable" style. 

In a recent interview, the author and keynote speaker talked to NPR about the role of the vigilante using Batman (the fictional superhero) and Bernhard Goetz (a real man who killed a group of youth because he believed there were going to rob him). This comparison also plays out in his book. Here's what Klosterman had to say:

"Vigilantes are particularly complex scenarios because any sophisticated intellectual person, if you say to them, you know, 'Is vigilante justice good for society?' they will say, 'No.' But when people hear a story about a real vigilante, with very little information — all that they know is that a peaceful person was attacked and responded with force and basically took justice into their own hands because no one was going to help them. In that kind of slightly defined abstraction, people like the idea of a vigilante. It's like Batman. But as soon as that vigilante becomes a real person, as soon as Bernhard Goetz starts saying things about his life and his worldview and we learn details about how he lives and we see what he looks like and we see all these things about him; suddenly then the vigilante becomes very problematic again."

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