I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined)

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Overview

From New York Times bestselling author, “one of America’s top cultural critics” (Entertainment Weekly), and “The Ethicist” for The New York Times Magazine comes a new book of all original pieces on villains and villainy in popular culture.

Chuck Klosterman has walked into the darkness. As a child, he rooted for conventionally good characters like wide-eyed Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. But as Klosterman aged, his alliances shifted—first to Han Solo and then to Darth Vader. Vader ...

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I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined)

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Overview

From New York Times bestselling author, “one of America’s top cultural critics” (Entertainment Weekly), and “The Ethicist” for The New York Times Magazine comes a new book of all original pieces on villains and villainy in popular culture.

Chuck Klosterman has walked into the darkness. As a child, he rooted for conventionally good characters like wide-eyed Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. But as Klosterman aged, his alliances shifted—first to Han Solo and then to Darth Vader. Vader was a hero who consciously embraced evil; Vader wanted to be bad. But what, exactly, was that supposed to mean? When we classify someone as a bad person, what are we really saying (and why are we so obsessed with saying it)? In I Wear the Black Hat, Klosterman questions the very nature of how modern people understand the culture of villainy. What was so Machiavellian about Machiavelli? Why don’t we see Batman the same way we see Bernhard Goetz? Who’s more worthy of our vitriol—Bill Clinton or Don Henley? What was O.J. Simpson’s second-worst decision? And why is Klosterman still obsessed with some kid he knew for one week in 1985?

Masterfully blending cultural analysis with self-interrogation and limitless imagination, I Wear the Black Hat delivers perceptive observations on the complexity of the anti-hero (seemingly the only kind of hero America still creates). I Wear the Black Hat is the rare example of serious criticism that’s instantly accessible and really, really funny. He is the only writer doing whatever it is he’s doing.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

As the New York Times "Ethicist" columnist, Chuck Klosterman fields questions such "Should I report my ex-wife for sleeping with her patient?" or "Can anyone just claim to be a TV meteorologist?" In this new collection of totally original pieces, he grapples with even bigger questions about evil. Whether he's addressing the appeal of Darth Vader, our fascination with O.J. Simpson, or his own person nemeses, Klosterman shows us that ruminating more closely on cultural issues offers us new insights on news that usually flashes before our eyes and then disappears.

Publishers Weekly
Klosterman’s latest exercise in pop-culture-infused philosophical acrobatics is an exploration of villainy, or rather, “the presentation of material” on the subject. Basically, the premise gives the veteran author (Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs) and current “Ethicist” for the New York Times Magazine an excuse to tackle an array of subjects ranging from Machiavelli (whose biggest crime was turning “an autocratic template into entertainment”) to 1980s N.Y.C. subway vigilante Bernhard Goetz, who could have been a superhero if he had just kept his mouth shut. “Every forthcoming detail about his life—even the positive ones—made his actions on the subway seem too personal,” Klosterman writes. His circuitous arguments are occasionally self-indulgent and too reminiscent of David Foster Wallace, but the writing is always intellectually vigorous and entertaining. According to Klosterman, being the villain is about knowing the most but caring the least, which has as much to do with self-awareness and public perception as the act itself. Agent: Daniel Greenbert, Levine Greenberg Agency. (July)
The New York Times Book Review - James Parker
Chuck Klosterman understands modernity, laments modernity (while enjoying its products enormously) and is acutely aware of himself as a remote and sparkling consciousness that keeps itself busy thinking complicated thoughts about Taylor Swift. There is a flavor of the abyss in his work that keeps even its trivialities piquant.
Kirkus Reviews
Of John Rawls and Keith Richards: Klosterman (The Visible Man, 2011, etc.) returns with a pop-culture–laden meditation on the bad guys of the world and what they mean. Philosophers call it the "problem of evil." Though he holds down the lofty post of ethicist for the New York Times Magazine, Klosterman's take is guided less by the wisdom of the ages than his own gut feeling. In the linked essays here, he's grappling less with supervillains such as Adolf Hitler and Pol Pot (though both figure) than with such less-fraught specimens as Snidely Whiplash, of Dudley Doo-Right fame, and Morris Day, who dared oppose Prince for the love of a righteous woman and top stakes in the battle of the bands. That most of his subjects are from the pop-culture realm, whether Andrew Dice Clay or Chevy Chase or the Eagles, does not diminish the underlying sophistication of Klosterman's guiding questions: Why is it that grown-ups are more comfortable with the grays of a black-and-white world while being drawn to the dark side of the force? Which is to say, why do kids love Luke Skywalker while adults secretly cheer for Darth Vader? Well, not all adults do, of course--just as not all adults will forgive Klosterman his roundabout defense of Newt Gingrich as a Very Bad Guy who doesn't give a monkey's backside for what other people think of him. Still, there are some fruitful exercises in the author's brand of such forgiveness: quantifying, say, who was to blame in the Monica Lewinsky affair ("The larger vilification was ultimately split five ways. Mr. Clinton, of course, was first against the wall") and running through the moral calculus to determine whether, à la Jeffrey Lebowski, we should not all deem the Eagles the most evil band in history--as, it seems, we should. A fine return to form for Klosterman, blending Big Ideas with heavy metal, The Wire, Batman and much more.
DC Spotlight
"Masterfully blending cultural analysis with self-interrogation and imaginative hypotheticals, I Wear the Black Hat delivers perceptive observations on the complexity of the antihero (seemingly the only kind of hero America still creates). I Wear the Black Hat is a rare example of serious criticism that’s instantly accessible and really, really funny."
Los Angeles Times
"Klosterman has a knack for holding up a magical high-def mirror to American pop culture that makes all of our vanities and delusions look painfully obvious. Spend enough time reading I Wear the Black Hat, and you might even start to recognize, in its pages, your own silly assumptions, your snap judgments, your stubborn loyalties and your badly rationalized prejudices….By underscoring the contradictory, often knee-jerk ways we encounter the heroes and villains of our culture, Klosterman illustrates the passionate but incomplete computations that have come to define American culture — and maybe even American morality."
Time Out New York
"Klosterman's prose exhibits the same firecrack fizz and pop, and his endearing/unnerving polemical habits remain in place."
Parade
"Highly entertaining."
New York Magazine
“Klosterman offers up great facts, interesting cultural insights, and thought-provoking moral calculations in this look at our love affair with the anti-hero.”
Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"A gleeful and often funny explanation of villainy, both fictional and real."
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“With the aplomb of a modern Machiavelli surveying our ever shifting moral landscape for examples that prove his point, Mr. Klosterman takes the reader on a grand tour of villainy's outposts in popular culture, sports, politics and American history. "I Wear the Black Hat" is an erudite, provocative and playful survey of the ever shifting face of villainy in the American experience.”
Washington Post
"Klosterman attacks his subjects with intellectual rigor and humor... you should read this thought-provoking book."
Las Vegas Weekly
“[Klosterman’s] best work since Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs….If you’ve ever sympathized with Darth Vader, second-guessed Muhammad Ali or wondered how Bill Clinton got away with what he got away with, you’re not alone. Read I Wear the Black Hat and see for yourself.”
Booklist
“Very much a product of his generation and as plugged into the popular culture as Mencken was antagonistic to it, Klosterman is in that same direct line of cultural critics as Bierce, Mencken, and more recently, P. J. O’Rourke, and his posture is similarly arch and iconoclastic…[I Wear the Black Hat] will amuse and/or outrage but, either way, it should enlarge his audience.”
USA Today
"Klosterman considers how inconsistent, unpredictable and surprisingly elastic the concept of villainy has been in American culture since the 1970s....the entertainment value of his thought processes and the quality of his prose are high."
New York Times
"Highly entertaining...a beach classic."
Library Journal
What, the "Ethicist" for the New York Times Magazine (and best-selling author of books like Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs) is proclaiming a fondness for the villain? Having once sided with Luke Skywalker, he now cheers Darth Vader's embrace of evil. Sharp but funny cultural criticism about where we draw the line between hero and villain—and the meaning of villainy in our society; with a six-city tour.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439184493
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 7/9/2013
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 49,030
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Chuck Klosterman

Chuck Klosterman is the New York Times bestselling author of seven previous books, including Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs; Eating the Dinosaur; Killing Yourself to Live; and The Visible Man. His debut book, Fargo Rock City, was the winner of the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award. He has written for GQ, Esquire, Spin, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Believer, and The Onion A.V. Club. He currently serves as “The Ethicist” for the New York Times Magazine and writes about sports and popular culture for ESPN.

Good To Know

In our interview, Klosterman shared some fun and fascinating facts about himself:

"I think I love onion rings, but I actually don't. Very often, I will purchase onion rings and throw them in the oven, and I'll be very excited about the premise of consuming them. However, when I finally start to eat supper, I realize they're only okay. Somehow, this situation has happened to me at least five times in my lifetime: For some reason, I keep unconsciously convincing myself that onion rings are delicious."

"The original title for Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs was American Minotaur, but everybody turned against me."

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 5, 1972
    2. Place of Birth:
      Wyndmere, North Dakota
    1. Education:
      Degree in Journalism, University of North Dakota, 1994

Read an Excerpt

I Wear the Black Hat


  • One should judge a man mainly from his depravities. Virtues can be faked. Depravities are real.

— Klaus Kinski, super nihilist.

I’m gonna quote a line from Yeats, I think it is: “The best lack all conviction, while the best are filled” . . . oh, no. It’s the other way around. “The best lack all conviction, and the worst are filled with a passionate intensity.” Now, you figure out where I am.

— Lou Reed, super high.

I’m not a good guy. I mean, I don’t hurt anybody. But I don’t help, either.

— Louis C.K., super real.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 13 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 11, 2014

    Brilliant as ever

    Typically hysterical, witty and insanely bright essays on mundane topics. (don't get me wrong, I love the topics)

    Good to see him returning to nonfiction, much as I like his fiction work.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2014

    Interesting

    A good piece that makes you think.

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  • Posted February 18, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    I purchased this book because I had heard so many good things ab

    I purchased this book because I had heard so many good things about Chuck Klosterman. This is the first book of his that I've purchased; however, I have read his Grantland pieces and some other work on pop culture and sports. And this book has a great premise- who are the villains, why are they villains, and how did they become villains. Klosterman answers these three questions, mostly, but the majority of the essays in this collection lack depth. CK scratches the surface on one of his subjects, digresses into discussing other people without a clear transition, and then comes back to the original subject, without meaningfully tying everything together.

    Therefore, this book mostly forgettable. The OJ Simpson and the NWA essays are the most lucid and well-executed pieces.
    You'd be better off checking this out at a library than buying it.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2014

    Clovertail

    Ya id love to

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2013

    Hi. I am singefur and i would like to be deputy!

    PWEEZEPWEEZEPWEEZE!!!!!!!!!!

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2014

    Flowerstar to Clovertail

    Thanks!

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2013

    Klosterman at his best

    You wont want to put it down.

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    Posted November 4, 2013

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    Posted July 14, 2013

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    Posted November 11, 2013

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