Book review: Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs

A comedic essay collection that puts low culture on a pedestal

(Scribner)

(Scribner)

Chuck Klosterman’s “Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto” is a collection of funny essays about pop culture. It is not, as the title suggests, a manifesto, but rather a chronicle of philosophical musings that were more than likely thought up while smoking chronic.

Klosterman uses his observations of low culture to analyze the mentality of Generation X and himself. What makes it work is that Klosterman is aware that he is a low culture aficionado who acknowledges that the things he loves are not generally things you want to brag about at dinner parties.

Klosterman talks sex tapes, Billy Joel, reality as explained by existential movies, the Dixie Chicks, the Lakers vs. Celtics rivalry, Star Wars, MTV’s The Real World, children’s cereal mascots, The Sims games and many other topics most of us probably haven’t thought about in depth.

As well as commenting on media products, the author also includes some unique firsthand experiences. Klosterman describes what it was like be a groupie for a middling Guns N’ Roses tribute band. He interviews people he knows who have had brief interactions with people who were later found to be serial killers. These stories break up the narrative and provide reprieve from the cerebral headspace of the other essays.

The collection of stories is at once both a celebration and a condemnation of the guilty pleasures of yesteryear’s pop culture presented as if the chapters were tracks on a CD.

Klosterman is hilarious, self-aware and incredibly clever. Even if you don’t agree with his opinions, of which he has many, his arguments are compelling and backed up by his personal experience. Klosterman revels in his own bias, which is inspirational in a self-indulgent way.

A downside is that some sections can become dry when Klosterman delves deep into academic- sounding scrutiny. Since Klosterman is reading into those elements of pop culture that most of us don’t consider worthy of a second glance, there are times where it feels like he’s going deeper than necessary, but even so, his findings are amusing and thought-provoking.

In reading this book it helps to be familiar with the guilty pleasures of Gen Xers. If you are not familiar with Zack Morris or Pamela Anderson, you won’t enjoy this book as much as someone who is.

While Klosterman has written several other pop culture analysis books, they are more focused than this one. We have yet to see a wide-ranging study in common culture in the current generation, but I certainly look forward to it.