Category Archives: Book Analyses & Reviews

Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs* (an analysis of an analysis)

Over the past few decades pop culture has constantly evolved or as some may argue has gone through a state of “de-evolution”. It can be difficult to recognize there has been a clear change between the ideologies of past generations and our own. In Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, Chuck Klosterman argues a number of claims about the many pitfalls of society such as the use of power in relationships, the manipulation of truth, the cultural need to be identifiable and the desire individuals have to fit in. Klosterman establishes ethos with by using his own personal experiences, giving his claims more authenticity. He critically analyzes a number of issues and brings in useful comparisons to draw our attention to the social issues our society faces, his analytical tone gives the book a raw feel and his accuracy allows readers pick up on his main arguments.

As a writer and essayist, Chuck Klosterman has written for a number of newspapers and published multiple books and American pop culture. Witty, sarcastic and dangerously blunt, Klosterman has no problem hitting the issues many of us are aware of but choose to ignore. He engages readers by proposing ideological and social questions. Opposed to the classical way for discussing and analyzing societal problems Klosterman offers a playful, raw alternative way to engage oneself in the social problems facing our society. Chuck Klosterman’s book can appeal both to the youth and certainly to individuals who are socially aware. Readers, however, must keep an open mind that Klosterman’s views are not necessarily the only way to perceive these problems, but they certainly a possibility.  Sex, Drug and Cocas Puffs is an accurate analysis of pop culture laced with humor and of course the not too lovely truth about our present society.

In a note to his audience, Chuck Klosterman briefly mentions the ideas he plans on discussing, but more importantly he gives us a quick glimpse of his writing style: “There are two ways to looks at life. Actually that is not accurate; I suppose there are thousands of ways to look at life. But I tend to dwell on two of them”. He starts of by telling us exactly how he views things but at the same time he acknowledges the fact that other people may or not may see things the same way. A vast majority of the book has this same sort of contradictory or at times sarcastic tone to it that makes reading the book all the more interesting. He assures the reader that though his methods may be unconventional, the claims he makes are relevant and are supported by examples. His purpose for writing this, and many of his other non-fiction books, is to share his opinions on culture and his experience with it. For individuals looking to better understand pop culture in a more contemporary sense, Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs is a useful tool to help familiarize oneself with some of the basic arguments concerning pop culture.

Relationships are the basis of a successful society – the interactions we have with those around us, whether good or bad, determine who we are and who we become. One of the most determinant relationships we have would be romantic relationships. The type of person you choose to have by your side reflects the kind of person you are. Klosterman, however, focuses on the claim that the way people currently choose their partners is severely flawed. When Klosterman says, “The problem is that the Harry-Met-Sally situation is almost always tragically unbalanced…Inevitably, one of the people has been in love with the other from the first day they met,  while the other person is either (a) wracked with guilt and pressure, or (b) completely oblivious to the espoused attraction” (9). By saying this he means analyze the way some relationships truly are and how each person is that relationship plays a different role depending on their feelings, comparing that to how a relationship is portrayed in When Harry Met Sally.  He establishes ethos by using his own past relationships as an example of how romantic acts are really just power moves in a much bigger game.  He argues that media influences such as movies like “When Harry Met Sally” have created an environment in which people have absurd expectations about relationships. People are conditioned to believe that as long as they have faith everything will work out, but this is a lie. Of course there are times when two people share mutual feelings which is a beautiful thing, but there are also cases in which one party is bound to get hurt. Because in real relationships the scale is always tilted in one person’s favor. Klosterman makes this claim: “Every relationship is fundamentally a power struggle, and the individual in power is whoever likes the other person less” (9). The media downplays the struggles that occur in relationship because in most cases movies have a happy ending. Reality does not. This is one flaw in American’s mindsets, we consistently believe in happy endings.

It has often been said that history is written by the victors and what they believe to be true ultimately becomes a fact. Every story has more than one side to it, but we have all been conditioned to make it so that the “truth” is what we believe it to be. Klosterman on the other hand attempts to give us a more challenging or versatile definition for “truth” that better fits the context in which it is now used. In Sex, Drugs and Cocoas Puffs, Klosterman states, “Life is rarely about what happened; it’s mostly about what we think happened”. As a result of the multitude of media outlets with varying bias, people’s personal views and interpretations of the truth is obscured. Klosterman focuses on news outlets, along with writers and how they portray the truth. He makes a point to tell us that the truth is not twisted on purpose, it a result of a faulty system.  “It’s not that the truth is being ignored; it’s just that the truth is inevitably combined with a bunch of crap that’s supposed to make news stories unbiased and credible, but really just makes them longer and less clear” (209). This statement, to the rhetorically aware, makes sense because at times the truth can be hard to handle. People do not always want the whole truth because it makes them face too harsh a reality or in other cases it is not interesting enough. However, the greatest downfall of our truth system is that a story can be altered and passed around enough times until it is accepted as the truth.  In a society that shares information and leaves everything up to individual interpretation no complete truth can ever exist.

As children, our parents often told us to always stay true to who we are, but as we grow up we realize that this is not always possible. Colors no longer exists, unique is replaced with uniform, until people can no longer recognize themselves. Klosterman states, “Being interesting has been replaced by being identifiable”. Creativity is no longer valued the way in once was because people can no longer comprehend or accept things that they see as unexpected or out of the ordinary. People are constantly trying to fit in and in doing so everyone is consistently changing themselves to be like someone else until everyone is essentially the same. Being unique and creative is important, that is the problem. Klosterman uses Saved by the Bell, an NBC sitcom that ran from 1989 to 1993 and centered around six high school teens, as an example:  “It’s like I said before: Important things are inevitably cliché. Zack’s relationship with Belding – his niece – was just too creative, and bad television is supposed be reassuring. Nobody needs it to be interesting” (141-142). Klosterman made this argument in 2003, but is still holds true today. People watch reality shows like “Housewives of (fill in blank)” and “Jersey Shore” because they are predictable, you can figure out what is going to happen even before watching; there is no thinking involved. Americans do not like to be out smarted; they like to think that they have control over the things that happen around them.  Therefore, they enjoy predictability, calculability and routine because these things are familiar, they are safe. In maintaining the American ideal of having control over ourselves and our surroundings we have sacrificed our individuality. No one wants to be interesting – they just want be identifiable.

As the need for conformity and a homogenous society grows individuals often lose themselves in the crowd. Throughout Klosterman’s self-proclaimed manifesto he consistently brings up the argument of how authentic people don’t truly exist anymore, some examples would be, “Do you know people who insist they like ‘all kinds of music’? That actually means they like no kinds of music”, “Real people are actively trying to live like fake people, so real people are no less fake” (4-6), “Saved by the Bell wasn’t real, but neither is most reality” (147). In the past few decades, and perhaps even before then, American society has gotten more and more superficial, more “fake”. We have become a people who are vapid and shallow. Because society is not accepting towards individuals who do not conform to what has been deemed as socially acceptable.

Society has a multitude of downfalls, some of which are discussed in Klosterman’s Manifesto, Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs for example the misconception of how power plays into relationships, the alterations of the truth, the loss of individuality and identity for the sake of conformity.

A relative flaw with Klosterman’s book us that though it discusses a number of important issues it does not offer any proposal or solutions to these problems, which is one reason why it seems to fall sort in terms of being a manifesto. The author’s intention seems to focus more on enlightening the masses and encouraging them to become socially aware. In addition, though Klosterman pokes fun at a number of irregularities in society but he does not take a firm side on every, if any, of the issues instead he keeps himself somewhat detached as if to not directly influence the audience with his bias. The only concrete stance he takes is that he is just as guilty as everyone else in terms of contributing to the social and perhaps moral downturns of society. After all he concludes his book with this quote: “I’m hoping all those nuns were right: I’m angling for purgatory, and I’m angling hard” (243). In end Klosterman’s goal is to have us all recognize that society has many issues and we all contribute to them, it is important that we accept the fact that we’re not all that different and that we all share the blame for society’s social decline. It is this level of honestly and directness that allow the book to be effectively raw and insightful. Klosterman books tells it like it is. It is essentially all his claims and “truths” about society completely uncensored.