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Spotlight on: Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman

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Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman Chuck Klosterman, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto

In my review of Chuck Klosterman's article "6557 Miles to Nowhere" (as included in the music journalism anthology Da Capo Best Music Writing 2004), I said that "by making the article as much about himself as his subjects, [he] comes up with something that is better than it had any right to be." Klosterman's Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs -- subtitled "a low culture manifesto," follows much the same path, focusing as much on Klosterman himself as on the popular culture he covers. It is less about pop culture itself than about pop culture's effect on Chuck Klosterman.

Ironically, though, the essays in Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs with the most Klosterman content, ounce for ounce, are the ones that are the least effective. He's much more entertaining when he steps from behind the curtain to make only the occasional comment on the proceedings. For example, "Ten Seconds to Love," his treatise inspired by his annual Christmas viewing of the "Pam 'n' Tommy" sex tape ("my version of It's a Wonderful Life") on Pamela Anderson as the stand-in for modern America (in the same way Marilyn Monroe represented the post-war era) is much more compelling and informative than his attempt to create a doppelganger of himself in The Sims to figure out what's wrong with his life ("Billy Sim"), though they all have an appreciable level of humor within (inexplicably, the phrase "ill-fated trousers" made me laugh out loud, which did not endear me to my fellow morning commuters, most of whom were asleep).

Popular entertainment is truly his forte, which is why reading his theories on why the Saved by the Bell level of fake, predictable reality suits television better than the real thing ("Being Zack Morris") or how "Luke Skywalker was the original Gen Xer" ("Sulking with Lisa Loeb on the Ice Planet Hoth") is infinitely more entertaining than a journal describing his attendance of Seattle's Experience Music Project, a conference with other music writers ("I, Rock Chump"). He's an acclaimed music journalist (see his books Fargo Rock City and Killing Yourself to Live), so his focus on Guns N' Roses cover band Paradise City ("Appetite for Replication") works as long as he stays out of the way, but his deconstruction of Billy Joel's greatness ("Every Dog Must Have His Day, Every Drunk Must Have His Drink") goes awry once he admits to seeing himself in the Piano Man's music. (Of course, this criticism is especially ironic coming from me, since this review is less about Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs in and of itself than about what I thought of it. But even Klosterman himself says that "nothing is ever 'in and of itself'.")

But ANYWAY (using the prototypical Klosterman segue), don't think that Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs is just any collection of music-journalism-cum-memoir. At its best, it is an interactive experience! I don't just read Klosterman's words; I think about what they mean. Why, if I choose, I can infer from "George Will vs. Nick Hornby" that I would be a more confident adult if I had played soccer ("the only sport where you can't fuck up") as a youth. Or I can make gross generalizations about people based on whether they supported the Celtics or the Lakers in the 1980s ("33"). There's even a questionnaire included on page 1:26 (the book's running-time pagination is a clever conceit until something breaks the pattern and begins on, say, page 1:74) that I can answer if I want know if Klosterman could "truly love" me. (Twenty new questions comprise the extent of the "new middle" advertised on the cover.)

Klosterman has a unique voice that makes all his work pleasant reading. It is very recognizable voice, insofar as I recognized it as the voice of a pop-culture-saturated, unambitious thirtysomething with intellectual aspirations and a dry sense of humor (in other words, my own voice). Plus, he is eminently quotable. In fact, the first draft of this review was a veritable Bartlett's of Klosterman (and I'm not sure it wasn't an improvement). Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs is not meant to be profound or earth-shattering, just entertaining. Its best use is simply as a diversion, to be taken as needed.

This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on The Green Man Review. Copyright 2005. Reprinted with permission.

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