Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Book Report: I Wear the Black Hat

Roger Daltry famously sang once that "no one knows what it's like to be the bad man".  Sometimes it seems like the thoughts, emotions, and motivations of evil people can never possibly be known or understood.  It's often postulated that good people aren't as good and bad people aren't as bad as they seem.  One thought that Chuck Klosterman posits in his book, I Wear the Black Hat, is that good and evil may not even exist because they're based on nothing sturdier or more absolute than values and opinions.

I Wear the Black Hat isn't really an attempt to humanize evil or to even really understand it.  Instead, this series of essays is more interested in what motivates us ad a society to label one person a villain while labeling another a hero.  It questions why some people who do evil things come away as folk heroes while other undeservedly shoulder the role of the antagonist.  The author comes to define a villain as "the one who knows the most but cares the least", but even this definition has exceptions.  In the end, so much depends on the lens one chooses to view the world through.

I'm an unabashed Chuck Klosterman fan, and have been ever since I read Fargo Rock City, his  memoir about growing up a metalhead in small town North Dakota.   He's funny, clever, insightful, and thinks about unimportant things, like pop culture, way too damn much.  I Wear the Black Hat carries much of that over, but it digs a bit deeper, trying to unearth what inside us influences who we view as heroes and villains.  Over the course of this book, I learned the following nuggets of truth:

  • The most evil thing one can do is tie a woman down to railroad tracks.
  • Pop culture has a tendency to give us characters whose lives are define by one single event.  Real life is rarely that way.
  • Batman can only get away with what he does cuz he's a fictional character in a fantasy world.  That shit doesn't fly when real life people try it.
  • Presidents lie.  It's part of the job.  All of them do it.  Not just Obama.
  • Handsome people can get away with villainous behavior, while less attractive people are more easily vilified, even if they're the most decent people in the world.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch is a "sexy British weirdo".
  • Depending on circumstances and motivation, plane hijackers, drugs dealers, and funk narcissists can be both appealing and reprehensible.
  • People may hate you because you don't hate anybody, even though you should.
I Wear the Black Hat hooked me fast and kept me burning through the pages.  I read in about two days.  It's not very long, at two hundred pages, but it's two hundred pages of pretty awesome and thought provoking stuff.  It left me with one reverberating thought: what if I'm the villain in my own story?  If I wasn't having so much trouble sleeping already, I'd definitely be in for some long, lonely nights spent thinking.