Behind villainy

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First Posted: 8/26/2014

Was there ever a time in your life that you rooted or perhaps empathized with the villain? That one time you hoped or wondered what might happen if the all-too-good guy did not make it out? I did, and so too has Chuck Klosterman. Any reader who has followed Klosterman throughout the years is aware of his status as hovering somewhere between pop-culture aficionado and nefarious critic. In his latest essay collection since “Eating the Dinosaur,” Klosterman unravels the truth behind villainy in “I Wear The Black Hat: Grappling With Villains (Real and Imagined)”.

After first broaching the subject with his publisher, Klosterman notes that his editor gave him a theory as to why the book came to be: “‘I think I know why you want to do this. I think it’s because you’re afraid that you are actually a villainous person.’” Klosterman observes: “I had no response. Much later, I wrote this.”

In 14 critical essays, Klosterman analyzes one villainous act after the next. While the collection varies in format and is somewhat loosely connected, it stays true to its central theme of dissection: “What’s scarier — a villain with a motive, or a villain without one?” The robust breakdown leads to the idea that “[t]he villain is the person who knows the most but cares the least.” The collection then details a wide array of evil — both real and fictional — from the Eagles and Newt Gingrich to Darth Vader and Omar Little.

Much like his previous works, Klosterman comes off as deadpan in his criticism — he hates what he hates and he is going to tell you why in a well-thought out response. Just in case you are wondering, he nails nearly every one. That being said, the collection is not without humility — Klosterman apologies for his sometimes-illogical distain towards the good guy but does not waver in his opinions.

Klosterman has an impeccable style of writing, both swift as it is articulate. The best essays showcasing those abilities include: “Another Thing That Interests Me About the Eagles Is That I [Am Contractually Obligated to] Hate Them,” “Perpetual Topeka,” “Villains Who Are Not Villains,” and “This Zeitgeist Is Making Me Thirsty”.

Whether you believe it or not, some things are black and white, much like our love or hate relationship with Klosterman. In the conclusion of the work, Klosterman finally answers his editor — “And — eventually — a feeling creeps over my shoulders and up my neck. It’s a feeling I’ve felt my whole life, and it’s a feeling I know I will have forever. In my own story, I am the villain.”

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