This title is only meaningful in context

Malcolm Gladwell is a well-known writer. He became famous with his articles in The New Yorker and then blew up with a series of pop-science books: Blink, The Tipping Point, and Outliers. His formula for each is essentially the same: he takes a number of anecdotes and massages them to form a stunning, profound conclusion… that, usually due to faulty logic, is bogus. (Though the concept might be fundamentally correct, it is usually not supported by his assertions.) In other words, he takes some paper and tries to print cash on it.

Chuck Klosterman is also a well-known writer, though not quite as famous. His schtick is exactly the opposite of Gladwell’s: he comes up with nuggets of wisdom (or entertaining psuedo-wisdom), like

    “Comparing [Kurt Cobain and Axl Rose] is kind of like comparing a black-and-white photo and its negative: They are totally opposite, yet they’re completely the same.”

    “Every relationship is fundamentally a power struggle, and the individual in power is whoever likes the other person less.”

    “You used to be able to tell the difference between hipsters and homeless people. Now, it’s between hipsters and retards. I mean, either that guy in the corner in orange safety pants holding a protest sign and wearing a top hat is mentally disabled or he is the coolest fucking guy you will ever know.”

    “In and of itself, nothing really matters. What matters is that nothing is ever in and of itself.”

    “It was the kind of love you can only feel toward someone you don’t actually know.”

    “If you define your personality as creative, it only means you understand what is perceived to be creative by the world at large, so you’re really just following a rote creative template. That’s the opposite of creativity.”

… whose eventual conclusion is jumbled or non-existent. In other words, he takes some hundos and uses them to wallpaper his apartment.

The end result for both authors is surprisingly similar: books that are basically brain candy, enjoyable for the duration of the read but with little lingering value. I guess you could say, in some sense, that Gladwell and Klosterman are like a black-and-white photo and its negative: they are totally opposite, yet they’re completely the same.


… Though for some reason I have a much better opinion of Klosterman. I suppose it’s because he doesn’t try to achieve too much. Or maybe it’s because his off-hand observations appear to take less effort to produce than Gladwell’s heavy-handed conclusions. And, you know, people who try less hard are naturally better.

I’ll leave you with two of my favorite Klosterman passages, both of which I’ve quoted in an earlier entry. Unfortunately, I won’t link to that entry for reasons that would be embarrassingly obvious in a meta kind of way if you were to actually read it. But here are the passages:

No woman will ever satisfy me. I know that now, and I would never try to deny it. But this is actually okay, because I will never satisfy a woman, either.

Should I be writing such thoughts? Perhaps not. Perhaps it’s a bad idea. I can definitely foresee a scenario where that first paragraph could come back to haunt me, especially if I somehow became marginally famous. If I become marginally famous, I will undoubtedly be interviewed by someone in the media (hopefully Charlie Rose) and the interviewer will inevitably ask, “Fifteen years ago, you wrote that no woman could ever satisfy you. Now that you’ve been married for almost five years, are those words still true?” And I will have to say, “Oh, God no. Those were the words of an entirely different person — a person whom I can’t even relate to anymore. Honestly, I can’t imagine an existence without _______. She satisfies me in ways that I never even considered. She saved my life, really.”

Now, I will be lying. I won’t really feel that way. But I’ll certainly say those words, and I’ll deliver them with the utmost sincerity, even though those sentiments will not be there. So then the interviewer will undoubtedly quote lines from this particular paragraph, thereby reminding me that I swore I would publicly deny my true feelings, and I’ll chuckle and say, “Come on, Mr. Rose. That was a literary device. You know I never really believed that.”

But here’s the thing: I do believe that….

and

As America’s best-loved semipro freelance conversationalist, I am often queried about my brazen humorousity. “How is it possible,” I am asked, “that you are able to extemporaneously lecture so effortlessly on such a myriad of complex topics? What is the key to your incisive, witty repertoire?”

It’s a valid question.

Certainly, there is a formula to being relentlessly dynamic. There’s a shockingly simple equation to being uber-interesting, and it works with every subject imaginable.

The formula is as follows: When discussing any given issue, always do three things. First, make an intellectual concession (this makes the listener feel comfortable). Next, make a completely incomprehensible — but remarkably specific — “cultural accusation” (this makes you thoughtful). Finally, end the dialogue by interjecting slang lexicon that does not necessarily exist (this makes you contemporary). Here are a few examples.

When talking about sports: “I mean, come on — you just know that Rodney Rogers is sitting in the locker room before every game reading Nietzsche, and he’s totally thinking to himself, ‘If Ron Artest tries to step to me one more time, I’m gonna slap jack his brisket, Philly style.’”

When talking about music: “Oh, let’s face it — we all know that if Rivers Cuomo makes one more album about the Cubism didactic, he might as well just give up completely and turn Weezer into a hobo-core three-piece.”

When talking about film: “Everybody in this room has seen Peter Bogdanovich at his worst, and everybody in this room already suspects that he probably sits in his gazebo and beats off to Pet Sounds five nights a week, so I think it’s safe to assume this whole era of the ‘Scarecrow Thriller’ is as dead as the diplodocus.”

When talking about politics: “That crazy Condoleeza Rice — who does she think she’s fooling with all that neo-Ventura, post-Dickensian welfare state pseudo-shit? If that’s supposed to be the future, she may as well stick the Q like the salt queen that she is.”

Do you understand? Do you see the forest through the trees? Do you not see what I am no longer not saying to you? If so — congratulations! Prepare to have sex constantly.

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One Response to This title is only meaningful in context

  1. T-Bone says:

    Boy man but Gladwell is so fun to make fun of! I kinda picture him making a South Park appearance soon.