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Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto - Chuck Klosterman

In Chapter 13 of this book, Klosterman dissects those answers offered by The Matrix, Memento, Vanilla Sky, and Waking Life to the question, “What is reality?” All of these movies follow protagonists whose chief antagonists are their own perceptions of reality, and after a few insights, Klosterman puts forth an answer of his own:


Reality is both reflexive and inflexible. It’s not that we all create our own reality, because we don’t; it’s not that there is no hard reality, because there is. We can’t alter reality-- but reality can’t exist unless we know it’s there. It depends on us as much as we depend on it.


Klosterman’s final claim that, “reality can’t exist unless we know it’s there,” is a shortcoming that plagues many arguments in the book. In another chapter-- “Toby Over Moby”-- he defends the importance of Garth Brooks and Shania Twain, and compares their merit to that of Bob Dylan and Liz Phair, saying that, “they’re less talented, but they understand more people.” Klosterman’s insights throughout the book are not wrong, but they can be stunted. It is true that out perceptions limit us, but we can also track the sophistication of our perception. We bring more of that inflexible reality into focus all the time.


Talented artists help us do this by augmenting our perceptions with their own. By viewing inflexible reality through someone else’s perception we gain little glimpses of the world we may have missed on our own. Klosterman spends much of his time in the book defending artists who remind most people of the reality they already know. At the end of “Toby over Moby,” however, he confesses to having “seventeen Dylan and Phair records and exactly three country records released after 1974.” In the last chapter, “How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found,” he tackles Tim LaHaye’s and Jerry B. Jenkins’s Left Behind series. He points out that, despite the many flaws in the fundamentalist Christianity peddled by these books, its followers are “probably the only people openly fighting against America’s insipid Oprah culture-- the pervasive belief system that insists everyone’s belief system is valid and that no one can be judged.” Klosterman does not, then, appear to disregard critical inspection of art or of people’s beliefs, but he does come off as worn out by the whole struggle of understanding life and everyone’s contributions to it.


Ultimately Klosterman pulls his book out of the almost nihilistic malaise that threatens to overtake it, even if he does so by the skin of his teeth. He does not abandon the pursuit of insights offered by artists possessing the stature of Bob Dylan, but merit can be found in unlikely places as well. Klosterman finds these moments of clarity wherever he can find them.

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