Pop culture, in all its distracting glitz, isn’t just entertainment. It is culture—American culture. And our most insightful guide is Chuck Klosterman. In his bestselling, culture-defining books, he’s pinned down modern America like no one else. And in fun, funny talks, he not only cuts to the bone of our media-saturated moment, but makes it the site of our shared, unlikely commonality.
“Writing about pop culture doesn’t get any better than this, or funnier.”— Stephen King on Fargo, Rock City
One of the most exciting cultural critics of our time, Chuck Klosterman is not a detached academic who deconstructs culture at arm’s-length with a deadening sterility. He’s a regular guy whose intellectual curiosity is insatiable, infectious, and surprisingly insightful—showing why “pop” is a conversation that anyone can join in on, and capturing what it feels like to navigate our weird, wired, pop-obsessed moment right now. He is the bestselling author of nine nonfiction books (most notably Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs and I Wear the Black Hat) and three novels (including Downtown Owl and The Visible Man). Klosterman’s most recent work The Nineties: A Book is “a fun and funny romp” (John Harris, founding editor, Politico) through a decade that changed everything—covering topics from pre-9/11 politics to the battle between Gen X and the Baby Boomers in his usual acerbic style.
Klosterman’s earlier book Raised in Captivity, is a collection of surreal short stories “so true they had to be wrapped in fiction for our own protection.” The Washington Post calls it an “engagingly sardonic collection that will leave you, like one of Klosterman’s own bewildered characters, ‘relaxed and confused.’” Another collection, Chuck Klosterman X, compiles and contextualizes the best of his essays from the past decade, with pieces written on everything from Taylor Swift, Jonathan Franzen, and Charlie Brown, to Mountain Dew and steroids. His previous book—debuting in its first week 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. It dispels the “casual certitude” of our era by imagining what culture might look like 100, 300, or even 1,000 years from now.
“One of the brightest pieces of pop analysis to appear this century.”— The Onion on Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs
Klosterman has written for The Washington Post, The New York Times, SPIN, Esquire, GQ, The Guardian, The Believer, Billboard, The AV Club, and ESPN. He served as The Ethicist for The New York Times Magazine for three years, where he dispensed uncommon wisdom on moral conundrums, and appeared as himself in the LCD Soundsystem documentary Shut Up and Play the Hits. He also created the web site Grantland with Bill Simmons.
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, or time? What will be the defining memory of rock music, 500 years from today? How seriously should we view the content of our dreams, or the content of TV? 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.”