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Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto
Release Date: July, 2004
There's quite a bit of intelligent analysis and thought-provoking insight packed into the pages of Chuck Klosterman's Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, which is a little surprising considering how darn stupid most of Klosterman's subject matter actually is. Klosterman, one of the few members of the so-called "Generation X" to proudly embrace that label and the stereotypical image of disaffected slackers that often accompanies it, takes the reader on a witty and highly entertaining tour through portions of pop culture not usually subjected to analysis and presents his thoughts on Saved by the Bell, Billy Joel, amateur porn, MTV's The Real World, and much more. It would be easy in dealing with such subject matter to simply pile on some undergraduate level deconstruction, make a few jokes, and have yourself a clever little book. But Klosterman goes deeper than that, often employing his own life spent as a member of the lowbrow target demographic to measure the cultural impact of his subjects. While the book never quite lives up to the use of the word "manifesto" in the title (it's really more of a survey mixed with elements of memoir), there is much here to entertain and illuminate, particularly passages on the psychoses and motivations of breakfast cereal mascots, the difference between Celtic fans and Laker fans, and The Empire Strikes Back. Sections on a Guns n' Roses tribute band, The Sims, and soccer feel more like magazine pieces included to fill space than part of a cohesive whole. But when you're talking about a book based on a section of cultural history so reliant on a lack of attention span, even the incongruities feel somehow appropriate. --John Moe
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Posted by P. Schulman on 2/1/2009
if you are as much of a pop-culture whore as i, and you've read this fantastic memoir about growing up and being influenced by the 1970s - 90s, then you understand completely why i titled this review "exactly." i read this book several times and have poured over every page; i just can't get over the fact that I didn't write this myself!!!!!!!!!!!!
random fact: i loaned a friend my copy of this book; he never gave it back. i bought another copy, and he insisted that he lost the first, so i let him borrow my new HARD copy; he won't give it back.. he, too, feels as though he coulda written this book.
by the way, all of klosterman's books are fantastic....
A Philosopher for a new generation- seriously!
Posted by Joel Grossman on 8/29/2004
Now, you and I both know that the phrase 'philosopher' gets thrown around much too much these days. Anyone with an idea about life is instantly branded as such, even though they do not really deserve it, which is not to say that there are less intelligent or skilled, they just are not philosophers, people doing battle with man's very purpose and exsisitence and drive (see KRS-ONE). That said, Chuck Klosterman is a philospher. If Socrates had the question "What is justice?" then Klosterman has "What is coolness?" Sure, at first that sounds silly, but think about it: can you actually define coolness? I strongly doubt it (no offense). Is it merely being liked? Is it follwing trends or breaking away from them? Klosterman struggles with these questions, analyzing various aspects of soceity to do so (nothing is too minute or too big for him to take on, be it the Trix Rabbit as a William S. Burroughs/Christ figure, the coolness of born-again Christians, or how the 80's NBA rivalry between the Celtics and the Lakers explains everything that needs explaning). In between each essay (which are, for no stated reason, deemed 'tracks' like they would be on an CD), Klosterman offers little vignettes from his life, some no more than two paragraphs, some a couple pages long. They add to Klosterman's own personal identity. Of course, I've totally ignored his humor up till now. The man is freaking hysterical, no if's and's or but's about it. So in conclusion: but this book. It's the best new writing you'll get your hands on in a while.
Often brilliant, funny, and never dull
Posted by Derrick Peterman on 2/15/2005
This book of various essays on pop culture is nearly priceless. Klosterman finds so much relevance in so many throw away items in items in pop culture at times its astonishing. And hilarious. I never thought Saved By the Bell or MTV's Real World could inspire even an interesting paragraph, but Klosterman finds a way to show the significance of these items at the same time conceding their banality in two excellent essays. It's very impressive.
The essay on breakfast cereal was completely mindless, and completely laugh out loud funny, especially the descriptions of the socialogy and psychology of various cartoon characters in breakfast cereal ads.
Klosterman will take positions you'd never think he'd defend, like describing the brilliance of Billy Joel. I can barely tolerate this artist, but Klosterman has made me reconsider him, and frankly, he was about the last person I'd expect to do this. Nor does he take himself too seriously, as he describes his attendance at a Pop Music Conference for academics and music critics, which he totally skewers, even though he readily admits the conference is made for people like him.
And sprinkled through the book are some very insightful comments and insights about the human experience. And Klosterman clearly exposes his personal weaknesses throughout.
Is it perfect? No. There are moments where Klosterman comes across like somebody drunk or stoned at a party who thinks he knows it all, and clearly doesn't. Not all of the essays are great. A comparison between Marilyn Monroe and Pamela Anderson as the representative sexpots of their generation isn't anywhere near as profound as Klosterman thinks it is, and is about twice as long as it should be. And the chapter slamming soccer is a pointless, claiming that his experience as a youth baseball coach made him realize how soccer has failed in America. Uh-huh.
Let me digress that in the United States, many go to endless lengths to say why soccer in un-American, or fails to capture are collective interest, or will fail as a sport, when the fact of the matter is, the just don't get it. In other countries, people will freely admite they "don't get" baseball or American football, but Americans feel we need to go to endless lengths to avoid saying "I don't get soccer". You might say Klosterman inspired me to write this commentary on his commentary.
But ANYWAY, read this book, laugh a lot, look at the world a different way, and enjoy a few nuggets of wisdom.
Posted by Zelie Nic on 4/12/2008
This is the second book of Klosterman's I've read. The first, and my introduction to Klosterman, was "IV." I like both these books equally and for similar reasons. In here, Klosterman observes seemingly mindless and inconsiquential tidbits and expands upon them in a way that inflates their importance to unprecedented levels; i.e. how "Saved by the Bell" is familiar to anyone in the X or Y generation, but totally alien to anyone outside those specific demographics.
Chuck might have you question the real importance of his subjects, but he is always a fun read (except maybe "Fargo...") and he is, more often than not, and more often than most, insightful and thought provoking.
Cocoa Puffs Never Tasted So Sweet
Posted by Kristen M. Powers on 7/25/2004
Chuck Klosterman's "Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs" is the most culturally precise (and hilarious) piece of literature I've ever read and I suspect it's that way for many other people who read "Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs." I imagine that there are two camps of Klosterman readers; the ones who own up to being caught in the sticky web of cultural relevance and acceptance, and the ones who don't. For the latter, this book will annoy the hell out of you. For the former, you'll be-as I was-relieved to know that one's vast and seemingly infinite knowledge of pop-culture is not denotive of some sort of intellectual deficiency. As Mr. Klosterman, with great hubris, socially dissects some of the guiltiest cultural pleasures to arise in the last 20-30 years while maintaining a pretense that almost guarantees you'll have to refer to a dictionary at least once or twice during a reading.
Covering an expanse of topics that range from Billy Joel's inability to be cool, to housewife pornography, to the Timothy LaHaye's apocalyptic "Left Behind" volumes, Klosterman provides a very personal and perhaps ethnographic view of social trends within the last couple of decades. The book is riddled with a mix of intimate social encounters, cultural inclinations, and philosophical musings, all tied together through the eyes of a really weird guy. He details topics like MTV's hit reality series "The Real World" and interlaces anecdotes about a former roommate with a proclivity for consuming an inordinate number of hotdogs and how they, like the 1992 cast of "The Real World," were consumed by the art of argument. Ostensibly, the material discussed in this book seems rather trite and moreover lowbrow. But it becomes succinctly obvious throughout each essay that while many of us have mindlessly given into the mass appeal of reality programming and Bay Watch babes, there is always room in Chuck Klosterman's brain to tease apart the psychology from the trend. And after he's beaten the proverbial horse of analysis into glue, he makes you laugh with his ridiculously etymological footnotes.
Perhaps the crowning glory of "Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs" is that it captures the irony of a generation - caught in a malaise of confusion, educated, but still caught up in mass consumerism and pop-culture servitude. We have an enormous amount of potential, but we're cramped by emotional insecurity and require a renewable prescription for Zoloft. We do stupid things and adhere to stupid ideas, but we can use big words to qualify ourselves. We're adults, but we still eat flavored cereal. We're complicated and contradictory. This seems to be Chuck Klosterman's message, and it's a message that's delivered with an unparalleled savvy and humor.
An aside: I met Chuck Klosterman at a bookstore reading the other day in Los Angeles. After the reading I asked him to sign my book, and I was incredibly nervous. I wound up saying something about being relieved that I hadn't accidentally spit on him or thrown up. I couldn't help but think about the absurdity of my comments, but I was also thinking about how someone like me had come to revere an author who is renown for his sprawling commentary on stuff on television, the radio, in books, and on the Internet. I am more concerned with pop-culture than I have readily acknowledged in the past. However, Klosterman's insights have made him the savoir-faire for those of us who have been in pop-cultural hiding. I no longer feel like I have to hang my head in shame in discussions where people brag about their neo-ludditism or how their parents never allowed them to watch television as children. I've come to believe that all of those things aren't necessarily bad. In fact, they can be quite thought-provoking conversation pieces with the right set of neural wiring.
-Kristen M. Powers