Five Things I Could and/or Would Have Asked Chuck Klosterman If There Wasn't a Gap Between My Brain and Spinal Cord.

Posted by Whit Barringer , Thursday, November 20, 2008 12:41 AM

Chuck Klosterman is awesome. Not in the awe-inspiring way a hero might be awesome, but in the happy-accident way that a very seemingly regular guy with great writing talent became a best-selling author through some of the oddest series of circumstances is awesome.

He spoke on Tuesday to a crowded room of people, many of which had books in hand (I had Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs), nodding and laughing at Chuck's sense of humor. He's certainly odd, but oddly fascinating in that he reminds me of one of my good friends in manner and speech, yet he seems so different from anybody I know. I think that reading his book caused me to imprint an unreal image on him (as would reading any book by any author that you had never met previously), but now I can at least say that he's a pretty good speaker.

He read a selection from the section of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs in which he lists 23 questions that he would ask someone and, depending on their answers, decide if he could love them or not. He played this game with the audience, and it was a lot of fun (if long). I don't know that we gave enough good answers that he fell in love with us, but there was plenty of endearment for him on our parts.

After the talk, I thought long and hard about a question I wanted to ask him today (Wednesday), as I was going to participate in a roundtable with him. He was great, again, but I fumbled over all the questions I wanted to ask, remembered vaguely what it related to, and simply said, "Your essay on porn was one of my favorites," referring to such an essay in Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. He nodded and seemed unsure of what to say to that, not because of the subject, but because there was actually no question. No point of discussion. When he was prompted again later by someone else, it became a commentary on the usability of the internet, which is interesting but not what I so feebly tried to dig out of my poor exhausted brain.

So, to make myself feel better, I am going to provide a list of five questions that, if I had the whole day to do over again, I would pick one (or two) questions to ask Mr. Klosterman. Without further ado:


  1. "You seem to be a pretty popular writer just from what I've seen and from your talk last night. By a pretty fair definition, you have become a part of pop culture. I think you're a great writer, but I am curious: do you think you're a good writer? Or do you think that you owe a large part of your success to your positioning of your writing in the spectrum of what is "cool" and what is "pop culture?"
  2. "Concept albums in music are often either grandiose or completely underwhelming -however, they give the bands another way to actually own their music. In your experience with interviewing quite a few musicians and encountering their egos, do you believe that the concept album is more a tribute to the self (musician) or social group (band), posturing for a place in music history, a service to the fans, or to simply intellectualize the music?"
  3. "Last night, you referred to the bleak outlook for the print media because of the technological age (which I feel was a very valid assessment of where things are going), but I was curious on how you think the Web 2.0 movement will affect other media, with the advent of sites like YouTube and Wikipedia and other advances like downloadable TV shows, media critique blogs, photo hosting, and news aggregators (like Digg)? We know our culture will never be the same, but in what way do you believe these things have affected the trajectory of our culture?"
  4. "What one cultural idea, statement, fashion, political ideology, fiction, meme, etc., have Americans adopted as part of their American identity and internalized, perhaps without realizing it? If it makes the question easier, you can look specifically at a generation."
  5. "Judging from your comments last night, you're not a huge fan of Family Guy. I'm just curious as to why it doesn't appeal to you, and whether or not you believe the show has actually raised awareness and perhaps saved some cultural bits and pieces from completely disappearing from memory?"
*sigh* If only. C'est la vie.

Feel free to answer some of the questions! At least someone will have put them to good use.

3 Response to "Five Things I Could and/or Would Have Asked Chuck Klosterman If There Wasn't a Gap Between My Brain and Spinal Cord."

Sarah Says:

Blue jeans are America. They are the ultimate example of how we have this incomparable ability to take the wonderfully mundane, the gritty and the earthy, and make it something glittering and glamorous. Blue jeans are a representation of how we’ve taken the rough—the empty, raw continent that the Europeans first landed on—and have elevated it to a symbol of power and celebrity. America is the world’s celebrity, I think—the ones you see on the front pages of the tabloids. And I don’t mean either of these things in a necessarily good way, but mostly because I have an aversion to the concept of $500 jeans.

Blue jeans are the workman’s clothes. Blue jeans are the rough-and-tumble of grass stains and frayed hems and mud splattered from steel-toed boots and unpatched rips from barbed wire. They’re essential. They’re heartbeat and heartland. But they’re also Hollywood, star-studded, designer brand, the swirling patterns of gems that most people save for their jewellery. The world’s eye waits for the wrong move, waits to see where the paparazzi are going to strike next, and there the stars are, sometimes in their workman’s jeans, ratted and tattered, when they least expect to be photographed, when they’re just working in their gardens or walking their dogs, but when the world sets up a photo shoot—when they expect to be looked at, they’re right there in jeans that look the same—exactly the same—but the rips are factory-manufactured, the fades are from a chemical vat, and the same look’s been produced for a false front, like the plastered-on smiles and fake handshakes over a giant check.

Alright, you can tell I’m in poetry class, because I’m getting wordy. I think blue jeans are the representation of everything that America is—it’s the memory of the plough tilling hard sandy mid-America land while we’re relaxing along the cafes in Los Angeles. It’s something unavoidable, because everyone wears them, but no one thinks about how recently they’ve become popular, or pays attention to how many different degrees of ‘blue jeans’ there are. Blue jeans are our identity. Blue jeans are the companion to the I Love New York t-shirt we’ll all be wearing when we achieve the American Dream. Blue jeans are as casual or as formal as you like, as disastrously dirty or as catwalk clean as you can manage. Blue jeans are America.

Anonymous Says:

I'm going to tackle #5. My students know that sometimes I wander off into a comedy routine within my own mind. A little slips out, and most of the class gives me blank stares which reminds me that my generation is *not* this generation.

I wonder what this generation actually owns? The last memes I can actually remember being touted by students would be 'All Your Base', 'Lightish Red', and 'Another Fist!', which are pretty old when you consider that those jokes came out when the current crop of HS seniors were still in elementary. If you can think of some new, hip line that all the cool kids are saying, lay it on me.

I wonder what cultural gap exists between my generation and the last. Seems every time I talk with someone of a certain age all they can remember is Kennedy, Vietnam, and the Moon shot. None of which they can joke about. You'll notice Family Guy mostly leaves those subjects alone, too. Mostly.

My generation (80s/90s) found indignant humor in practically everything. This continued up until about the time reality TV cranked up. Not that it's related. But there was a palpable change in what students laughed at starting around the turn of the century. With that change, funny became tougher to find.

My students love Family Guy. They can't tell you why; all they know is that they laugh every time Stewie cusses. 'To The Moon' and all other Honeymooners' jokes mean nothing to them, but they still laugh. Any guesses as to why? I'm stumped. Maybe they just don't want to be the last ones to get the joke.

Kids have asked me why they have to study history and English. They can understand the need to grasp math and even science, but the liberal arts don't always light a spark in their souls. I tell them, "It's so you can get the joke." I really say that. Everytime. Then I say, "Did you watch Family Guy last night? Did you get the jokes? Know how to fix that? Pay attention in English!" heh.

However, I one time remember making the most off-handed remark in a classroom and was most surprised when someone actually laughed out loud. A student asked, "What is that?" And I said, "It is green." Ask Jeremy if he remembers that. I do. :o)

Gives me hope that maybe some culture is still oozing forward in the flotsam of self-mediocrity.

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