Wednesday, February 5, 2014

I Wear The Black Hat - A Book Review

I was introduced to Chuck Klosterman by a dear young lady (thanks Emily!) and have been a fan ever since reading Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs.  For those unfamiliar with Klosterman, he's an essayist whose waxes philosophical on all manner of esoteric subjects, both profound and trivial, usually at the same time.  Remember the conversations you used to have back in college at IHOP at four in the morning about how weird it was that Kelly and Jessi just disappeared for half of the last season of Saved By The Bell and were replaced by Tori, who then disappeared right before graduation?  If not, you're probably a responsible adult who made something of yourself and not the sort of person who would enjoy Klosterman's oeuvre.

I Wear The Black Hat
is built around a series of essays based around the nature of evil.  Specifically, people who make the choice to be evil versus those who would be defined by society as actual evil-doers and the difference between the two.  Klosterman starts with the popular vision of "the bad guy" as a Snidely Whiplash figure and researches the historical record for women being tied to railroad tracks.  Why?  To figure out how this specific crime - that as far as his research can determine was quite rare and even more rarely involved women as the victims - became the most symbolic act of evil for evil's sake.

From there, Klosterman develops the thesis that evil is knowing the most while caring the least, affirming the old sayings that knowledge is power and power corrupts while ignorance is bliss.  He then moves on to...

* How the gangster rap pioneered by N.W.A. mirrored the bad-boy tactics of the L.A. Raiders at the same time.

* How Bill Clinton cheated on his wife and managed to be the least evil person involved in the subsequent investigation as to whether or not he lied under oath about it.

* The nature of vigilantism and why we view real-world subway vigilante Bernhard Goetz, Charles Bronson's character in Death Wish and Batman differently.  

* The art of hating a band/singer, why we come up with reasons to love/hate an artist ignoring their creative work in favor of their personal life (and vice versa) and why he no longer has the energy to rally against The Eagles.

* How the way O.J. Simpson lived his life following his acquittal on murder charges is the greatest bit of evidence that  he was innocent.

* How Adolf Hitler - undeniably the most evil figure in history according to almost everyone - blows his thesis out of the water since Hitler - by the historical record - cared a great deal about what he was doing while being woefully ignorant about the reality of what was going on in his country and the world at large.

* How his self-declared arch-nemesis from eighth grade has become recognized as an American hero and how his public image files in the face of everything Klosterman knows about said enemy on a personal level.  
Much of what says in this book will be offensive to some.  Some of it will be funny to some people.  It will make you think either way.  For that reason alone, I'm willing to recommend I Wear The Black Hat to anyone.  Books that encourage serious thought while making you laugh are all too rare these days.

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