The Flip-Flop King

Nov 11 2014 | 11:49 AM

    Klosterman is, quite simply and almost literally, an ass. His soft, saggy face bears a disturbing resemblance to a 50-year-old man’s failing, hairless back end. His tiny, red mouth is a sphincter twisting to a pained close 40 seconds after taking a brutal pounding from Peter North. To round it out, he has a mop of ironically uncombed, dyed-yellow hair and thick-rimmed glasses that look like they were placed on the ass as a frat prank, like a wig and sunglasses thrown on an old jack-o-lantern.

    All of which might lend Klosterman some pathos if he didn’t brag so much about his heterosexual conquests and quasi-cynical manipulation of scores of alleged girlfriends. More disturbing are his obsessions with teen and pre-teen pop culture, as exemplified by a creepy essay on Saved by the Bell.

    Turning again to his dust-jacket photo, one sees the Chuck Klosterman saggy ass-head attached to a torso wearing a loose, white t-shirt–a t-shirt that looks suspiciously as if it had been stretched in a struggle. I would bet that when that picture was taken, Klosterman was wearing nothing other than that stretched, white t-shirt…and perhaps a pair of black socks.

    In other words, he looks like a sex offender. And sentences like "I can’t watch a minute of professional soccer without feeling like I’m looking at a playground of desperate, depressed fourth-graders…"–or "When I say ‘my guys,’ I am referring to a collection of scrappy, rag-tag, mostly unremarkable fourth- and fifth-graders…"–don’t help.

    Coming off as a sex offender is one thing. But Klosterman is worse than that: He’s a one-man prose polluter, a living WMD employing the dummy ass-head as a delivery system. And I will forever hate this ass-creature for the pain and suffering he has caused me.

    Klosterman’s newest book is all the proof you’ll ever need of the existence of Klosterman’s WMD prose. The cute title alone should tell you to arm yourself and U-Haul it to Idaho: Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, with the added asterisked footnote: "A Low Culture Manifesto." He’s not throwing a curve ball here. The content is really just as disgustingly cute–or "snarky," to use one of Klosterman’s favorite mainstream-alternative 90s neologisms–as the title suggests.

    But "low culture"? I didn’t know intellectuals, even Beigeist morons like Klosterman, could get away with using phrases like "high" and "low" culture anymore. Even ironically.

    Klosterman and his type are one of the reasons why I went into exile (I’m writing this from Moscow). I wanted out of a paradigm in which his type dominated the narrative when in fact his type should be rotting in a death camp, begging for a clump of grass to suck on. I understood 10 years ago that fighting against the Klostermans in America is utterly pointless: Klosterman is the metaphor, the designated heir of everything horribly American, precisely because he’s stupid, shameless and hokey.

     

    KLOSTERMAN IS DESTINED to succeed, and he knows it. That’s why his "Manifesto" is overflowing with a sunny confidence that is in perfect inverse relationship to the famine of originality and intelligence in its content. Even his fake self-deprecating asides are reflections of this confidence. His self-deprecation is clearly insincere, but he knows it’s required in order to sound "hip" or "postmodern," as he mistakenly calls himself.

    The Cocoa Puffs manifesto doesn’t start off subtly. In his one-and-a-half-page forward, there’s a concentrated sample of what’s to come: bad wholesome humor as wince-inducing as a Wonder Years voiceover, lame flip-flops on contemporary cliches and flat-out lies, such as this one about how his book came together:

    "It was written in those fleeting evening moments just before I fall asleep…The subjects in this book are not the only ones that prove my point; they’re just the ones I happened to pick before I fell asleep."

    In other words, Klosterman didn’t really study for his test.

    This account of the book’s anti-inspiration is as fake (and silly) as its flip-flop, the Romantic-era poets’ lie that their poetry was conceived in the heat of passion. Even if Klosterman is merely being ironic, it’s an incredibly dated irony appropriated from late-80s grunge cliches about anti-inspiration and sleepiness. The horrible truth is that he’s doing both–lying and being ironic–and somehow, somewhere, there’s a publisher (Scribner), an editor (Brant Rumble) and a readership (most likely you or someone you know, as this book is already a rapid seller on amazon.com) that’s lapping it all up.

    Klosterman’s anti-inspiration lie is quickly followed by the first of many flip-flops on conventional cliches that he thinks give his essays depth: "In and of itself, nothing really matters. What matters is that nothing is ever ‘in and of itself.’" [Italics Klosterman’s]

    Are you scratchin’ your chins over that one, Gen-X- and Gen-Yers? I dunno–my forefinger and thumb are getting pretty raw; I need a special chin-scratching machine to help me through all the thoughts that one inspires. There’ll be nothing but bone and tendon hanging from my lower jaw by the time I figure it out.

    Klosterman thinks he’s really onto something with his flip-flops, and nearly every essay has one:

    [D]espite their best efforts at being grumpy, a self-described cynic is secretly optimistic about normal human nature.

    [The Real World] was theoretically created as a seamless extension of reality. But somewhere that relationship became reversed; theory was replaced by practice.

    What’s compelling about the idea of the Monroe-DiMaggio relationship…is not the idea of them being together. It’s the idea of them not being together.

    We don’t need Pam[ela Anderson] to know where she is; she helps us understand where we are.

    And so on. As you can see, if Sean Penn’s retarded character from I Am Sam had read Baudrillard, you’d get Chuck Klosterman. Or rather, one of many vile facets of his literary persona.

    Every page delivers a one-two knock-out of flip-flopped cliches and stupid lies, lies such as calling Steely Dan "more lyrically subversive than the Sex Pistols and the Clash combined." It’s time to note that Klosterman is a rock critic for Spin. He doesn’t mean the Steely Dan comment on any level at all. It’s an entrepreneurial move to position himself as ironic, original and harmless–and thus increase book sales to other ironic, original and harmless people. It’s not so much a lie as a posture, the way all assholes of my generation posture without ever committing to anything but their career advancement.

    Among his many postures is the one that he’s "crazy" or "insane," as he repeatedly describes himself without a shred of evidence. If anything, he only proves how utterly common and bourgeois he is, such as in this infuriating comparison:

    The best relationship I ever had was with a journalist who was as crazy as me, and some of our coworkers liked to compare us to Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen. At the time, I used to think, ‘Yeah, that’s completely valid: We fight all the time, our love is self-destructive, and–if she was mysteriously killed–I’m sure I’d be wrongly arrested for second-degree murder before dying from an overdose.’ We even watched Sid & Nancy in her parents’ basement and giggled the whole time. ‘That’s us,’ we said gleefully.

    In other words, Klosterman and his girlfriend would be as crazy as Sid and Nancy if they were shooting smack on a stained mattress in the Chelsea and not sitting in their parents’ basement watching tv, giggling and drinking chocolate milk.

     

    WHILE KLOSTERMAN'S ain’t-I-crazy posture is laughable, it’s not nearly as Goering-esque as his hick posture, a stance that requires him to remind us over and over that he’s from North Dakota, that he really likes hair-metal bands from the 80s and that he’s very, very heterosexual, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. He says of his North Dakota college days:

    We would sit in the living room, drink a case of Busch beer, and throw the empty cans into the kitchen for no reason whatsoever, beyond the fact that it was the most overtly irresponsible way for any two people to live.

    I suppose this must go over well with his Manhattan handlers, who just love "authentic" hicks who can write roughly the same Beigeist-intellectual drivel as they while still keeping to their "roots." Here Klosterman is the hick equivalent of an Oreo, the pre-Civil Rights blacks who won over white Northern liberals by imitating their locution and tame politics. Only in this case, rather than imitating modern Manhattanite culture critics, Klosterman is imitating the very type of reified hick he knows Manhattan publishers want to see: red-necked on the outside, solid Beige on the inside. A cherry-flavored Tootsie Pop. In more ways than he’s aware of.

     

    EVERY CHAPTER OF Klosterman’s book is an essay that makes a point–usually a flip-flop chin-scratcher followed by a hokey moral–and in just about every subject he tackles, he’s just plain wrong.

    How anyone can completely misread pop culture, particularly its most obvious elements, is beyond me, but Klosterman accomplishes this feat. For the most part it’s because he hyper-postures over simple things that are too obvious to hold up to even mild posturing.

    Examples:

    "The desire to be cool is the desire to be rescued."

    Wrong. The desire to be cool is the desire to get laid and dominate.

    "Amateur pornography grounds us in our reality."

    Wrong. Amateur porn makes nerds think they have a chance of fucking the object.

    "Billy Joel is great."

    Wrong. And someone should pick up a chair and crack it over Klosterman’s head for writing this.

    "Being interesting has been replaced by being identifiable."

    Again with the chair, this time cracking it repeatedly.

    And then there’s this classic example of Klosterman’s total idiocy, which crosses over into unexpected reactionary Christianity in its complete misreading of reality:

    What’s most disturbing is the amount of internet porn that has absolutely nothing to do with sexual desire and everything to do with cartoonish misogyny, most notably the endless sites showing men ejaculating on women’s faces while the recipients pretend to enjoy it; this has about as much to do with sex as hitting someone in the face with a frying pan.

    Doesn’t get more stupid than this, folks. Not just stupid, but Klosterman here sounds more like the Church Lady than the beer-pounding, headbanging heterosexual from North Dakota he’s made himself out to be. But that’s Klosterman’s squeamish little soul unexpectedly laid bare, stripped of all posture, for a fleeting moment. It is, I believe, the one sentence in the entire book in which he is true to himself, only without even being aware of it.

    When it comes to Klosterman and women, Klosterman is at his most disturbing, and his most un-self-aware, if such a thing can be imagined by now. This is evident in the first chapter, the snarky subject of which is the women Klosterman dates. In substance and style, it’s as hokey-vile as an episode of Friends, only with signature Klosterman riffs just to make sure that what you read is as painful as bamboo straw under the fingernails: "No woman will ever satisfy me," he starts. "Should I be writing such thoughts? Perhaps not. Perhaps it’s a bad idea. I can definitely foresee a scenario where that first paragraph could come back to haunt me, especially if I somehow become marginally famous."

    Even Bob Hope would have considered that opening statement too tame; for Klosterman, it’s right out there on the edge. Almost Steely Dan-esque.

    And we’re only on page one. I found myself screeching, throwing the book down, and, if this was indeed an interrogation, willing to name all the names he wanted. Just to stop the pain. But Klosterman was just getting started.

    His reason for voicing such an "edgy" opinion about women comes down to this: "I once loved a girl who almost loved me, but not as much as she loved John Cusack."

    Rather than blame his own loathsome personality or ass-esque face for his failure with women, Klosterman tries to generalize his problem: "It appears that countless women born between the years of 1965 and 1978 are in love with John Cusack."

    And finally, desperately fleeing from self-examination like a retreating peasant army, he switches the whole frame to fashionable Beigeist media criticism, anything to get as far away from Chuck Klosterman as possible: "When they see Mr. Cusack, they are still seeing the optimistic, charmingly loquacious teenager he played in Say Anything..."

    Underlying this lame point of media criticism is the false notion that other people, not Chuck of course, are incapable of distinguishing media fictions from reality–a stupid premise that was marginally interesting long ago in the hands of Barthes, Baudrillard and Gitlin, but deserving of a milkshake on the head in the case of Klosterman. Only hack media critics believe that "regular" people are somehow more susceptible to the pop culture bacillus than they are, probably because they don’t spend time among these "regular" people.

    Sick thing is, Klosterman, as a proud North Dakotan hick, spent all too much time with "regular" folks. He knows their presumed susceptibility is a lie, but also knows that this lie is what the coastal Beigeocracy wants to hear. He’s only too willing to sell them all out in order to please his Manhattan masters, who have their own set of cliches that they expect to read. Hence, this gem of a media-crit cliche: "The mass media causes sexual misdirection: It prompts us to need something deeper than what we want."

    He then goes from blaming Cusack to blaming Coldplay: "That girl who adored John Cusack once had the opportunity to spend a weekend with me in New York at the Waldorf-Astoria, but she elected to fly to Portland instead to see the first U.S. appearance by Coldplay…"

    Dontcha get it, Chuck!?! These girls would do literally ANYTHING to get away from you!!! Even fly to Portland to see a shitty band!

    Rather than inspiring any sort of sympathetic self-examination, the Coldplay episode allows Klosterman to indulge in a repetition of the word "fuck," a word that has been completely stripped of all its danger. Using "fuck" today is as shocking as belly-button piercings, which is why Klosterman lifts his t-shirt up and flashes the reader: "Coldplay is absolutely the shittiest fucking band I’ve ever heard in my entire fucking life… I hope Coldplay gets fucking dropped by fucking EMI and ends up like the Stone fucking Roses, who were actually a better fucking band, all things considered."

    Gee, ya think? Yes, definite-fucking-ly.

     

    KLOSTERMAN IS MORE than just an idiot. He takes everything down two whole notches, a place where too many people in my generation are willing to follow. To cite but one example, the Onion recently ran a fawning review.

    Though he claims the entire spectrum of contemporary culture–from mainstream trash to the cult margins–his aim is really to gut the avant-garde and make it safe for himself and his readers. He’s leading the gentrification of alternative culture to its most destructive stage yet, which is why he namedrops Lou Reed, Kim Deal, Guided By Voices, David Lynch, Sid and Nancy and other hallowed figures of the avant-garde–and dumps them for excessive homages to Billy Joel, GNR and Saved by the Bell. He’s aware of the avant-garde, he knows their names, but in the end, as a Populist Middle-American, as the Jimmy Stewart of college radio, he rejects it in favor of mainstream crap on the guise that his posture is both kewl and ironic, in a supposedly uncool, authentic, hick sort of way.

    I’m not sure if Klosterman was ever interesting enough to make the turn from being on the genuine margin to a posing Top Ten culturist. I suspect he was always just a mediocre boor who happened upon the sellout type after being exposed to coastal American twentysomething culture, and so he merely panders to them. He’s positioned himself as the sellout’s spokesman, as well as the spokesman for all the other Gen-Xers who never even had the brains or guts to wade into the margins in the first place. He comforts them with his familiar posturing, his heart-warming sentimentality and his empty boasting.

    It’s not just Klosterman. There’s the entire culture where this man is taken seriously and blown in journals that really should know better.

    He and his kind have won. God knows, I’d love to fight the bastard, because I do believe that the sword is mightier than the pen. And I’m not posturing, I really mean it. But Klosterman would probably win–he describes himself as "six-foot-two" and he’s a good five years younger than I. But I’d do it. I really will do it.

    Until then, I’ll stay safely out here in Moscow–one of the northern hemisphere’s last safe havens from his toxicity and all that it represents.