Published on September 4th, 2013 | by Craig Silliphant0
I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined)
The guy with the job (and the respect) that the rest of us useless pop culture writers can only wish for, Chuck Klosterman, throws us another collection of essays, this time on the idea of villainy. “A villain is someone who knows the most, but cares the least,” he postulates, asking why we identify with, or are at least fascinated by, certain hand-wringing characters (both fictional and non-fictional).
Why do we identify with anti-heroes and in some cases baddies? Klosterman notes that when you’re a little kid, you want to be like heroic Luke Skywalker, but when you get a little older, loveable rogue Han Solo is the character you fixate on. And as a cynical adult, he argues, it’s really all about Darth Vader. He ponders why we love vigilantes like Batman or Charles Bronson in Death Wish, yet we eschew some real-life vigilantes like NYC subway gunman Bernhard Goetz.
I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined) is an amusing, well-researched read, full of ‘did-you-know’ stories that tackle some heavier subject matter than Klosterman usually does. It’s refreshing that he’s not afraid to alienate himself by unpacking some shadier characters like Hitler or OJ Simpson, while giving his honest opinion (or, meta-honest, as it were). He also wonders if our fascination with evil means that we contain such evil ourselves, or rather; he wonders about the level of his own sociopathic nature, whether he’s someone who feels less than ‘normal’ people. I’m sure the bulk of his readers identify with his ruminations. And in fact, part of reading Klosterman, is reading Klosterman himself. His trademark insights and rapier-like wit are always great, but you connect with Klosterman because he personally connects with what he’s writing about.
All this blowing sunshine up Klosterman’s arse aside, the book could have used some fleshing out (it seems much shorter than usual). While the essays are great, he doesn’t really deliver on the promise of constructing a cohesive larger argument. It feels like an outline for a larger book. He jumps around in subject and ideas, tying things together loosely. Was it just a fun idea he ripped through? Was it rushed to production to get another book on the shelf? Does Klosterman know the most, but care the least?
Naw, Klosterman isn’t a villain by any stretch of the imagination. I Wear the Black Hat may not change the way you think about too many of these villains, but it’s an enjoyable read. New Klosterman readers should start with something like Fargo Rock City or even Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs (avoid his fiction like the plague), but tried and true fans should pick up this book for a funny, brainy distraction.