Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Bar Sinister

I Wear the Black Hat (Grappling with Villains Real and Imagined) by Chuck Klosterman (2013): The always entertaining pop-culture essayist Klosterman delivers a book-length meditation on how current American society decides who its fictional and real-life villains are, and why.

Klosterman loves to set up binary and trinary constructions as if they were the only possible ways to approach a problem ("There are two explanations for this..."), which aids in making the book a source of argument and debate. It's a lot like a really good and really rambling discussion one would have in a bar with someone more versed in popular culture than in the philosophy and literature of the past. There's a faint structure here, but for the most part this reads like about 15 essays on one topic, and not a coherent whole.

Many of the topics are fun and interestingly argued. And the occasional shagginess of the structure contributes to the feeling of this being a terrific bar conversation, wandering a bit as all bar conversations do. And the strongest section of the book, an examination of Batman as related to Bernard Goetz, spawns the best relatively new idea for a movie or comic-book representation of Batman that I've come across in a long, long time.

Also fascinating and bizarre is Klosterman's comparison of O.J. Simpson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as public "villains", especially as Klosterman discusses Simpson's bizarre "tell-all", If I Did It, which may be one of the few books in history to belong to a sub-sub-genre completely unique to itself.

Has anyone else in history tried and acquitted of murder subsequently written a memoir in which he or she convincingly and graphically describes the actual murder as a hypothetical in a memoir otherwise presented as factual? And was said memoir taken away from the autobiographicist prior to release and given to the family of one of the murder victims so that they could attempt to raise funds with its publication? Klosterman manages something extraordinary here: he makes me want to read O.J.'s book. Well, almost. Recommended.

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