Book review: Eating the Dinosaur

The library gods must have a curriculum for me! Shortly following the fascinating¬†Reality Hunger, I picked up Chuck Klosterman’s latest collection of essays, Eating the Dinosaur.

Klosterman has made a very successful career based on his ability to analyze pop culture and sports and infuse both with meaning and historical context. Why obsess over Britney Spears? Because she was a sixteen-year-old blonde, virginal vessel where we whispered our hopes and dreams, and then punished her when she failed us. Klosterman articulates the absurdity of celebrity worship and provides deeper meaning for our cultural products in an accessible, yet undeniably clever, way. You wish Klosterman could write the script for your late night, boozey arguments on why Twitter represents the inevitable feminization of the internet. Or something. (Plus, his essay on the Sims always makes me giggle).

Now on his sixth book, Klosterman has landed the kind of success that has taken him from one more nerdy journalist, I Love the 80s commentator to being THE most famous and successful nerdy journalist type. In a nutshell, critics are experts on criticizing. Klosterman has moved from acting as critic to being criticized, from writing about people and trends to being written about.

The first essay of the book attempts to work through this transition by examining the rationale of interviewing. Klosterman interviews Ira Glass, host of This American Life, on the pratfalls of interviewing someone who interviews for a living. He interviews Errol Morris, documentarian, on the limitations of interviewing. Throughout the piece, there is a distinct sense of unease. Klosterman admits to lying in interviews, to not seeing the point of doing an interview for a Finnish publication when his work isn’t even translated into that language. Essentially, he undermines the Klosterman of 10 years ago, who made his name conducing the very interviews his present-day self loathes. It’s not a very easy place to be in, resenting the role that gave him his career, and Klosterman is self-aware enough not to bite the hand that created the monster (holy mixed metaphor!).

Reading Eating the Dinosaur so closely after Reality Hunger was an interesting exercise. Klosterman uses many of the same techniques Shields does (quotations from other sources, flipping from theory to personal history) in order to address a very narrow problem in his reality, instead of Shields’ admittedly broad analysis of our treatment of representations of reality. As he writes on the back jacket of the book,

Q: Is there a larger theme?

A: Oh, something about reality. “What is reality,” maybe? No, that’s not it. Not exactly. I get the sense that most of the core questions dwell on the way media perception constructs a fake reality that ends up becoming more meaningful than whatever actually happened.

As a teenager, I used to dream of someday having a celebrity profile written about me. Not to be famous, but because I thought the interview process would be a bit like therapy, and that the profile would be like a written up analysis of ME. Reading it, I would discover my hidden tics, depths and fascinations. How much I would learn!

Today, I would feel so uncomfortable having my brain picked by someone else who then produces a piece that attempts to “decipher” me. So as solipsistic as Klosterman’s problem is, it’s definitely the most compelling piece in the book. The rest of the essays are clever and well-paced, but can’t compare to that first essay, thinking about how odd it must be to suddenly have your study of celebrity refracted back at you, realizing that, all this time, you were only illuminating aspects of yourself, rather than anyone else.