SEX, DRUGS, AND COCOA PUFFS by Chuck Klosterman


A Low Culture Manifesto
Email this review


Cultural arguments for people fascinated by the implications of their sugar-cereal dependencies.

Spin magazine senior writer Klosterman (Fargo Rock City, 2001) prefers to “figure out what it means to be alive,” he explains, in the context of “Pamela Anderson and The Real World and Frosted Flakes.” Generally speaking, his m.o. is to explore what a “trivial” or purportedly overlooked mass-cultural element tells us about the presumably insight-hobbled greater American populace (e.g., that racial or cultural differences as exploited in popular media can be clarified via the eternal Lakers-Celtics debate). It’s a strategy reminiscent of Joe Queenan’s superior Red Lobster, White Trash, and the Blue Lagoon (1998), although Klosterman’s shrill advocacy of junk culture lies closer to Quentin Tarantino’s. The author is certainly democratic in his obsessions, yet they all tend toward lowest common denominators: many of his long argumentative riffs, such as those regarding John Cusack’s appeal, the Pamela Anderson–Tommy Lee video, the enduring celebrity cult around serial killers like J.W. Gacy, and the righteousness of Reality Bites and the Gen-X stereotype, seem dated and unprovocative. The occasional piece rises above this minor-key white noise: a sharp, affecting portrait of life on the road with a Guns ’n’ Roses cover band (written for the New York Times Magazine); a provocative exploration of how the befuddling world of online porn actually serves as metaphor for the Internet’s promise generally; and a genuinely cynical chapter on media realities that reads like Muckraker Lite. Klosterman’s literary strength seemingly lies in an ability to salvage discussion of the genuinely trivial via an often charming, ramshackle voice; yet elsewhere, he takes tedious, unconvincing swipes at the usual array of “elite” cultural tropes, including Seattle’s Experience Music Project, punk rock, indie rock, rock journalists, Björk, “postmodern” writers like poet Robert Pinsky, Lucinda Williams, alt-country, and so forth. He seems unaware that Jim Goad, Donna Gaines, and Ian Christe have already beaten the ersatz-populism thing to death.

Humorous, slick, aggressively forgettable.

Pub Date: Aug. 26th, 2003
ISBN: 0-7432-3600-9
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2003


NonfictionCHUCK KLOSTERMAN X by Chuck Klosterman
by Chuck Klosterman
NonfictionBUT WHAT IF WE'RE WRONG? by Chuck Klosterman
by Chuck Klosterman
NonfictionI WEAR THE BLACK HAT by Chuck Klosterman
by Chuck Klosterman


NonfictionTELEVISION by David Thomson
by David Thomson
NonfictionWHEREVER YOU GO, THERE THEY ARE by Annabelle Gurwitch
by Annabelle Gurwitch
NonfictionTRIPPING WITH ALLAH by Michael Muhammad Knight
by Michael Muhammad Knight