Of John Rawls and Keith Richards: Klosterman (The Visible Man, 2011, etc.) returns with a pop-culture–laden meditation on the bad guys of the world and what they mean.
Philosophers call it the “problem of evil.” Though he holds down the lofty post of ethicist for the New York Times Magazine, Klosterman’s take is guided less by the wisdom of the ages than his own gut feeling. In the linked essays here, he’s grappling less with supervillains such as Adolf Hitler and Pol Pot (though both figure) than with such less-fraught specimens as Snidely Whiplash, of Dudley Doo-Right fame, and Morris Day, who dared oppose Prince for the love of a righteous woman and top stakes in the battle of the bands. That most of his subjects are from the pop-culture realm, whether Andrew Dice Clay or Chevy Chase or the Eagles, does not diminish the underlying sophistication of Klosterman’s guiding questions: Why is it that grown-ups are more comfortable with the grays of a black-and-white world while being drawn to the dark side of the force? Which is to say, why do kids love Luke Skywalker while adults secretly cheer for Darth Vader? Well, not all adults do, of course—just as not all adults will forgive Klosterman his roundabout defense of Newt Gingrich as a Very Bad Guy who doesn’t give a monkey’s backside for what other people think of him. Still, there are some fruitful exercises in the author’s brand of such forgiveness: quantifying, say, who was to blame in the Monica Lewinsky affair (“The larger vilification was ultimately split five ways. Mr. Clinton, of course, was first against the wall”) and running through the moral calculus to determine whether, à la Jeffrey Lebowski, we should not all deem the Eagles the most evil band in history—as, it seems, we should.
A fine return to form for Klosterman, blending Big Ideas with heavy metal, The Wire, Batman and much more.