CULTURAL FLUFF MASQUERADING AS PHILOSOPHY 101

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POSE AS PROSE

 

I am always a sucker for amusing titles. I was at a Borders Bookstore in Center City when I came across a book titled Sex, Drugs, And Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman. The subtitle of the book was A Low Culture Manifesto (Now With a New Middle). This sounded amusing to me. Being as munchies did sometimes result in consumption of Cocoa Puffs I was intrigued.

 

This seemed like a book that I should read. I have often been a harsh critic of pop culture so it seemed fair to let a spokesman for pop culture give a rebuttal. I was anxious to read the book and see what Klosterman had to say. He covers a broad range of subjects like the Celtics/Lakers rivalry and Guns and Roses cover bands. He covers subjects such as the internet and pornography. He reveals his fascination with the internet game The Sims. He adopted the moniker Billy Sims and writes of his "experiences" as a Sim.

 

He also does a piece on Pamela Anderson as the true sex symbol of the era. The comparisons to Marilyn Monroe may offend old timers but he does make a good case. He writes of how Pamela and Marilyn are alike and also how they fit into the times in which they live. This is one of the better pieces in the book. He reflects on how Monroe and Anderson represented the sexual mores of their era. His views on the Pam Anderson sex video are quite amusing. The book was published in 2003 so I am left to wonder what he thinks of Angelina Jolie. Maybe he didn’t feel she had emerged as enough of a sex symbol for the piece.

 

The subtitle is apt. He does very often dwell on low culture. I guess I am revealing my age but I have a hard time excepting The Real World or Saved By the Bell to be significant cultural products. He does make some good arguments, though.  Saved By the Bell has been shown on syndication for many years. It was also shown on multiple channels simultaneously. He noted that at one point it was possible to watch the show four times a day on different channels. It’s just that when he broads over two characters disappearing for twelve episodes and then reappearing for graduation, I just can’t feel his pain. I am inclined to wonder why he even cares.

 

The obsession with The Real World is also confusing to me although he does point out that only the first season was truly authentic. This is a notion that I found myself agreeing with. He contends that the first crew had no idea how to act or what to do. After the first season, the cast members began to fall into roles based on the characters from the previous casts. He gets into how the characters tend to become one dimensional. The gay guy will be nothing more than the “gay guy”. The black chick will be nothing more than the black chick etc. If you get the impression that this guy spends way too much time thinking about these things, I would have to agree with you.

 

The essay on the Lakers-Celtics rivalry is one of the better pieces in the book. He tries to use the rivalry as a dividing line in America. He draws political and racial analogies in this piece. The Lakers represent the black and liberal democrats while the Celtics represent the white and conservative republicans. I wonder if Barney Frank knows about this. I wasn’t really buying his argument but I found it to be compelling reading. He also gets into the individual distinctions between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. This can also be funny commentary. He tries to break all facets of American life into the Lakers-Celtics matrix. Tarantino’s notion of Beatles people vs. Elvis people is funnier anyway.

 

Another great essay is Toby over Moby. Here he writes on why a lot of country artists are selling so many discs. He breaks it down to artists being better able to deliver on the human condition. Toby Keith wrote a song (or songs) that people were able to relate to on a very visceral level. An artist like Moby simply does not express things as well. The millions of fans are not blithering idiots. They are just responding to music they can relate to. This is a valid point even if some might view it as an oversimplification. There is a lot of elitism among music fans. I’m sure we all know the person that&#146s so cool or hip with their music taste that they have to drop a band as soon as they sell more than 50 discs. Klosterman argues that these trendsetters are often the ones that are out of step.

 

Where Klosterman falls short is that he is trying to be intellectual and present intellectual arguments for non-intellectual culture and entertainment. My own view has always been that people like what they like. You can&#146t make people like something just because you decide it has more cultural significance than what they are already watching or listening to. But that being said, I do feel that there is a difference between mere entertainment and art. He does admit that he is a “supergeek who enjoys 40 minute conversations about three sides of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music album” but then goes on to rip the music media and music geeks. I think he wants to have his cake and eat it, too. Of course, since that expression existed before The Empire Strikes Back, he may not accept it.

 

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs is a funny and interesting read although I often found myself wanting to punch Klosterman in the face. He often does the Seinfeld thing and goes on and on about nothing. It still makes for entertaining reading and I did have to rethink my position on a number of things. I did often end up right back where I started but it is healthy to question one’s own views from time to time.

 

 I think Klosterman is an exceptionally talented and funny guy. He wears his intelligence on his sleeve even as he tries to downplay it. It would be interesting to see how he would handle more intellectual subjects. Of course he is simply excusing his intellectual laziness by pretending that these television shows and musicians are the equivalent of “high culture” art. There is still virtue in what he has done. I never thought I would spend so much time contemplating Saved By the Bell or The Real World but there I was. I also have to admit to being handicapped because I haven’t watched very much of either show. Guess I’m revealing my age because if he switched Saved By the Bell to The Brady Bunch, I likely would have remembered all the different episodes.

 

This is a fine book for those who want to hear an intellectual defender of low culture. He might aggravate you at times but he will make you think. He can also be very witty in his writing. I think the book will probably have its largest appeal to geeks and nerds who are too intellectual to fit in with mainstream culture but haven’t really embraced a lot of more “serious” art. Those interested in the low culture of the 90s might be curious about what he has to say on a variety of shows and entertainers.

 

 

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allets's picture

Always Too Long A Read

I go: Huff! then read the first few lines and I'm hooked. Your take was a hoot on the cocoa-puff saga. Well writ and appreciated--substitute series "osivuro w9u9sef" I can't remember the 90's. :D


 

 

georgeschaefer's picture

I still prefer Lucky Charms

I still prefer Lucky Charms myself