by by Katie Lindstedt

Eating the Dinosaur
Chuck Klosterman
Scribner, 2009

The index of Eating the Dinosaur, Chuck Klosterman’s
latest collection of essays, catalogues the minutiae of
modern culture. A for arrested development; B for
Susan Boyle; C for Hillary Clinton, and so forth. It looks
exactly like the final pages of Sex, drugs, and cocoa puffs,
Klosterman’s first “low-culture manifesto.” This time around,
he attempts again to answer the question of what pop cul-
ture means, responding with his trademark essays that join
bit-sized ruminations on celebrities and news events with
grandiose claims about 21st century life. It’s the same recipe
as before, but the ingredients are new: mad men, the little-
known existential crises of Ira Glass, Barack Obama’s rocky
relationship with Reverend Wright. Or, in some cases, old
but new to Klosterman’s over-critical eye: the voyeurism of
vertigo, the unique genre of ABBA’s music. So long as there
are fresh pop cultural phenomena, Klosterman can continue
to anthropologize for the MTV-generation without apology.
In eating the dinosaur, Klosterman retains his favorite hab-
its—as well as their polarizing effects.
Deep beneath the gross over-analysis that largely charac-
terizes eating the dinosaur lie suppositions about the nature
of reality. Most of them, however, have been posed before—
by Baudrillard, Lyotard, and even Klosterman himself. Klos-
terman’s theses (“[certain media constructions] exist only
because they exist,” not out of any real necessity; “We accept
them, we give them a social meaning,” and they acquire a life
of their own) borrow from the ideas of critical theorists’: the
modern media have constructed a hyperreality that perhaps
conceals the absence of truth in our daily realities. The absur-
dity of reality makes it impossible to distinguish the real from
the fake, and possible for Klosterman’s work to continue.
For Klosterman, this alternative reality is at times a play-
ground, at times an object of analysis—the way he situates
himself in relation to pop culture varies with every essay. And
this variation is itself a resurrected technique, familiar to the
more loyal members of Klosterman’s fan base. As usual, he
is strongest when analyzing preexisting media phenomena,
weakest during moments of speculation in which the argu-
ment falls flat.
In some essays, Klosterman stands in for the spectator,
mythologizing pop cultural icons to hold a mirror up to
the consumer. In “Oh, the Guilt,” an essay comparing Kurt
Cobain to Branch Davidian cult leader David Koresh, the
connection is forced, stale, and too heavily hammered into
the reader’s mind. “The reason we classify [Koresh] as ‘insane’
is because he cultivated those qualities himself,” Klosterman
writes. “But those were also the core qualities of Cobain; the
difference is that they were mostly manufactured by society
(and were therefore real).” Interesting observation yes, but
not quite grounds for an almost 25-page essay. The argument
doesn’t hold water, and Klosterman knows it: “It is unfair to
compare in Utero to Waco. It is unfair to compare Cobain to
Koresh. I know that...Although I’m not sure which one it’s
unfair to.” And the reader isn’t sure of what to make of this
Klosterman is at the top of his game when analyzing
concrete media phenomena—when commenting on con-
nections that aren’t solely based on his interpretation. In
“ ‘Ha ha,’ he said. ‘Ha ha,’ ” Klosterman pays the laugh track
the disrespect it deserves. His faux-Friends screenplay reads:
(small laugh)
(exaggerated laugh)
Later in the laugh track essay, he derides The daily Show’s
audience: “young progressives [who] consciously (and uncon-
vincingly) over-laugh at every joke that’s delivered, mostly to
assure everyone else that they’re appropriately informed and
predictably leftist.” The essay’s humorousness depends upon
the individual’s tolerance for Klosterman’s brand of snark
and self-aggrandizement, but most readers will have some
relation to the evidence. This imbues the essay with the very
relevance that “Oh, the Guilt” lacks.
Critics have long questioned the novelty of Klosterman’s
work. After all, the notion of a media-created alternate
reality is his favorite theoretical thread. But perhaps what
is novel in Klosterman’s writing is this very lack of novelty
itself. For readers already versed in the ideas of Baudrillard
and co., eating the dinosaur is a testament to the timeless-
ness and impermeability of familiar theories. But for those
who don’t consider “simulacra” to be a colloquial expression,
Klosterman’s approach makes these ideas accessible. Love it
or hate it, Chuck Klosterman’s everyman-appropriation of
critical theory permeates every page of eating the dinosaur—
along with the feeling of dejà-vu.
Sex, Drugs, and Katie Lindstedt B’11.