When I saw Chuck Klosterman last year he was promoting his novel Downtown Owl but his reading was from the as-yet unpublished collection of essays, Eating the Dinosaur. That was alright. I picked up the novel and waited for the collection to be published. Somewhere along the line I must have gotten distracted by shiny things and forgotten all about the other book. (I’ve noticed that happens to me a lot. The distractions and the shiny things, I mean.) So when I was at the bookstore the other day picking up Rework I noticed that not only had Eating the Dinosaur been published, but it was out in paperback as well. The dinosaurs followed me home.
Along with the essay I heard Klosterman read last year, “The Passion of the Garth”, a criticism of Garth Brooks’ alter ego project, Chris Gaines, Eating the Dinosaur contains twelve other previously unpublished essays about pop culture. And in typical style they run the entire spectrum from insightful to silly. That’s sort of the appeal for reading Klosterman. There is a criticism of laugh tracks in sitcoms, an analysis of time travel that pays particular attention to one of the most interesting science fiction films I’ve seen in a long time, Primer by Shane Carruth. Klosterman covers a huge selection of topics. He writes about basketball, Nirvana, the Unabomber and ABBA. There’s a piece titled, “The Best Response” that imagines what the best response would be to archetypical controversial situations, usually involving some sort of duplicity upon the adoring public.
And then there’s the first essay, “Something Instead of Nothing”. This exploration of the journalistic interview is conducted as a set of interweaving interviews itself, peppered with some reflection. After discussing the difficulties both journalists and subjects have in portraying the truth about anything through an interview, Klosterman spends some trying to discover an answer to the question: Why do it? Why succumb to interviews? The essay outlines several different answers to that question before moving on to what I think is the more interesting question. How does this apply to normal people? People who have no celebrity, the millions of unfamous. Chris Heath a British writer starts with an interesting answer that Klosterman picks up and carries to a telling conclusion:
Heath: We are used to the idea of giving witness to one’s life as an important and noble counterpoint to being unheard, especially when applied to people in certain disadvantaged, oppressed or unacceptable situations. […] I’m not sure that we aren’t seeing the emergence of a society in which almost everyone who isn’t famous considers themselves cruelly and unfairly unheard. [….] And so, the cruelly unheard millions are perpetually primed and fired up to answer any and all questions in order to redress this awful imbalance.
Klosterman: There’s a lot of truth in that last bit. Contemporary people are answering questions not because they’re flattered by the attention; they’re answering questions because they feel as though they deserved to be asked. About everything. Their opinions are special and so they are entitled to a public forum. Their voice is supposed to be heard, lest their life become empty.
This, in one paragraph, explains the rise of New Media.
Naturally, once I had read that exchange, I felt an overwhelming compulsion to write about it in my obscure little blog on the Internet. It was beyond my control.