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By Chuck Klosterman. Scribner, $25.
Who—or what—is a critic that swears off hate? Possible answers include: a pacifist boxer, an apathetic Buddha, a rudderless ship—in other words, something boring, indifferent or aimless. Early on in I Wear the Black Hat, pop-culture writer Klosterman confesses that in 2003, he determined that he could not detest the Eagles—despite “Take It Easy”—and subsequently learned to forgive a phalanx of evildoers he presumed he’d hate forever; in doing so, the Eat the Dinosaur author takes a risk, yielding a tried-and-true critical weapon—ire, and with it all of the titillating explosions it engenders—in order to understand those our culture has chosen to vilify.
In this new essay collection, Klosterman wanders into that gray area like a malicious mastermind announcing to his good-natured nemesis, “We’re not so different, you and I.” In fact, he weighs the deeds of vigilantes fictional (Batman) and actual (Bernhard Goetz). He also considers villains who one might say were born (Hitler), made (N.W.A) or had villainy thrust upon them (Monica Lewinsky). While conceding that Andrew Dice Clay was (or is) not funny, Klosterman argues that he is also not unimportant.
Despite his transformation from barstool antagonist to philosophical gadfly, Klosterman’s prose exhibits the same firecracker fizz and pop, and his endearing/unnerving polemical habits remain in place (e.g., proposing moral quandaries as if they were party games). And though these arguments are about the perceiver more than the perceived, readers will still be mulling over O.J. Simpson later. Perhaps Klosterman has matured or, as he says, “mellowed”; in any case, humanizing abstracted fiends can’t be a bad thing.