Regardless of the stated topic, Chuck Klosterman’s voice is the real draw of every book he’s written. His non-fiction works (as well as two novels to date) have recognizable recurring tics: dilations on perceived reality, an argumentative insistence that frequently derided pop-culture objects are, in fact, great (assertions more or less in favor of the Eagles), segues from one seemingly unrelated topic into another.
I Wear The Black Hat is ostensibly a series of essays considering how a nebulous “we” think about villains, but the object seems to be is to allow Klosterman to riff at will on whatever happens to be on his mind: Wilt Chamberlain, the Monica Lewinsky scandal, serial killers (a return to territory explored in Sex, Drugs, And Cocoa Puffs). Some juxtapositions make sense: A chapter on ’80s subway shooter Bernhard Goetz is interspersed with musings on Death Wish 2 and Batman. Yet others strive for impossible synthesis: Another chapter serially considers Fred Durst, Chevy Chase, Howard Cosell, Aleister Crowley (another re-examination of a topic covered in his debut, Fargo Rock City), and Sarah Palin. The individual points stand up reasonably well on their own, but no broader point emerges.
Klosterman’s at his best when he’s obviously engaged by his material, and increasingly, that means anything sports-related: His musings on how Muhammad Ali’s more questionable ’70s actions (such as smearing Joe Frazier as “the other kind of Negro… he works for the enemy”) are clear and concise. A chapter considering the ethos of the Los Angeles Rams is funny and satisfying, with amusing tidbits culled from obscure player memoirs, but it’d be much better if Klosterman didn’t waste half the chapter trying to make the Rams a mirror image of N.W.A. via a series of tenuous, jokey overlaps.
One of the better sections plausibly compares gossip blogger Perez Hilton, piracy champion/Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s statements of self-justification to consider what their actions and rationales mean for the future of privacy and technology. Most of the topics, though, are safely settled and untimely, and there’s a distinct sense of Klosterman spinning his wheels while digging through his mental archives for rants he hasn’t had a chance to use in print yet. Still, it improves on the similarly disorganized Eating The Dinosaur, whose prose was joylessly stiff and authoritarian. This effort is engagingly light reading, suitable for mindless unwinding.