Sex, Drugs & Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman

For months I kept picking Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs off the shelf of my local Barnes & Noble because it has a funny title and an eye-catching cover, but since two of the three items in the title were of no interest to me, I always put it back. Smash cut to my non-fiction book proposal class, and one of my classmates who raved about Chuck Klosterman, and this book in particular, which she explained is a collection of essays on pop culture. From her description, it sounded right up my alley, so I added it to my Kindle.

One of the convenient things about this book is that it’s a collection of essays – which means if there’s a topic that doesn’t particularly grab you, you can skip over a chapter without worrying that you’ve missed something relevant to the rest of the book. For example, I didn’t particularly care to read Klosterman’s musings on porn, so I skipped the essay titled, appropriately enough, “Porn.” Of course, not all the essays are so clearly labeled.

My biggest complaint with Sex, Drugs & Cocoa Puffs would be in the organization. What is supposed to be “a low culture manifesto” exploring avenues of pop culture does indeed start out that way, but towards the last third or quarter of the collection, it drifts away from that premise – though I suppose that has a lot to do with individual interpretations of what makes ‘pop culture.’ I felt a lot of the humor is piled in the beginning, and the more thought-provoking pieces weigh down the end. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does feel unbalanced.

A mark of a good book is what you remember of it later, and the essays that have stayed with me include his exploration of how the character of Lloyd Dobler from Say Anything ruined relationships for his generation (“This is Emo”), his musings on the voyeurism of The Sims (“Billy Sim”), and his essay about the inherent fascination in knowing people who have known serial killers (“This is Zodiac Speaking”). Though I disagree with his conclusion, and think that it dates the book, I also enjoyed his explanation of why Pamela Anderson is this century’s Marilyn Monroe (“Ten Seconds to Love”).

The essay “What Happens When People Stop Being Polite,” which is focused around the author’s addiction to MTV’s The Real World, shows that I don’t need to be familiar with the subject matter to enjoy the essay – in fact, I got an education from that particular piece, having never watched an episode of The Real World in my life. (Of course, you can’t have grown up in the 90s without at least being aware of it.) I think my enjoyment of this essay is why the last few essays in the book were disappointing. They didn’t cover topics I was particularly interested in, but they also didn’t strike me as self-aware. Whereas Klosterman writes about knowing how awful The Real World was and not caring, the last two essays in the collection felt more judgmental – he acted more as an observer than a participant.

Overall it was enjoyable, though it does lose steam. This was definitely a good book for the Kindle, as it was easy to pick and choose what I really wanted to read out of it.

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