I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined) [ebook] by Chuck Klosterman (epub/mobi)

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, July 2013: Name one writer who could drop Eazy-E, Hitler, and Linda Tripp into the same conversation and spark neither rage nor derision. I count Chuck Klosterman and maybe no one else. But that’s what his new collection does: I Wear the Black Hat examines “villains” of all stripes and scale, as well as our varied (and often counterintuitive) reactions to them. For example: If Batman were real, would he be any less reviled than Bernhard Goetz, the 1980s NYC subway vigilante? (Probably not–he’d be a scary freak.) Why would D.B. Cooper, a hijacker who parachuted into the night sky over Washington state with 200 thousand dollars in stolen money, become a legend and a folk hero? (Because he seemed smooth and he wore a suit.) Is Don Henley evil? (That’s a personal decision.) The subject is serious–at first blush there’s nothing funny about murderers, tyrants, and Al Davis–but Klosterman’s pop culture sensibilities and skewed vistas offer interesting angles into what makes some bad guys bad and other bad guys good, while his deceivingly lightweight style keeps things brisk and entertaining. Instead of getting mad at what might seem glib or impertinent, you admire the audacity of the observation and wish that you’d thought of this yourself (or at least that you had written it down).

With characteristically infuriating insight and wit, Klosterman (The Visible Man, 2011) takes on our fascination—and often, indeed, our identification—with villainy. He covers a lot of territory: the antiheroes he discusses include airplane hijacker D. B. Cooper, subway vigilante Bernhard Goetz, rappers NWA, the Oakland Raiders football team, Bill Clinton, and O. J. Simpson. Very much a product of his generation and as plugged into the popular culture as Mencken was antagonistic to it, Klosterman is in that same direct line of cultural critics as Bierce, Mencken, and more recently, P. J. O’Rourke, and his posture is similarly arch and iconoclastic, if more analytical. He is not for everybody (icons clearly have their supporters), and his targets often seem small, which may say as much about our culture as it does about Klosterman. But this collection of related essays, though uneven—for example, his take on Muhammad Ali is particularly strong, but on Chevy Chase, Howard Cosell, or the Eagles, it is inconsequential—will amuse and/or outrage but, either way, it should enlarge his audience. ~ Booklist

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