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Chuck Klosterman visits Pittsburgh for a reading and book signing

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Meta-media darling Chuck Klosterman certainly isn’t the only journalist to think critically about the odds and ends of our mass culture — whether it’s hair metal, Saved by the Bell, the Celtics or Britney Spears’ un-self-awareness. But few exhibit his level of autobiographical detail and nebbishy humor, a voice which has engaged a mass audience, and made Klosterman himself the subject of criticism. One reason is that, after reading one of Klosterman’s four books, you feel smarter. It’s not necessarily that you’ve absorbed all this new information so much as that you inevitably take some of the credit: You’ve, like, totally had that idea for years. Depending on which volume you pick up, you may also find yourself getting drunk at home on cheap beer while listening to Skid Row, and feeling totally OK about it. Because Chuck says it’s OK … which means you really knew it was OK all along.

Your writing frequently questions the notion of “guilty pleasures.”

I’ve just never thought it mattered what kind of artistic idiom you were interested in — it’s how you think about it. People want to think critically about things they like. And if they like Nickelback more than Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation, they’re kind of in this impasse … it doesn’t seem like there’s any mechanism to apply sort of abstract deconstruction of this one entity. Because no one does it. So I just basically write about whatever I’m interested in, kind of all in the same way: I like the Sopranos, I like Lost, and I like kind of the Road Rules/Real World challenges. And certainly, yes, they’re different levels of quality, in an aesthetic sense. But you can think about them and find ideas in them in the same way.

In Pittsburgh you’ll read from your anthology Chuck Klosterman IV. Is it your “greatest hits”?
It’s more like a b-side collection. Like Oasis’ The Masterplan. You can kinda look at all my books in the sequence of the Oasis catalogue.

You’ve written for several magazines — do you make allowances for different audiences?
It’s impossible to really visualize who the Spin reader is, or who the Esquire reader is, or who the New York Times Magazine reader is … So I just use the parameters of the publication. When I was writing for Spin, I would realize that well, OK, the voice of this publication is sort of built toward this kind of imaginary music super-fan who’s probably in their second year of college. And that manifests itself basically through the language you can use in Spin, the length of the articles, the depth of the analysis, you know. When I write for the New York Times Magazine, your ideas can be a little slower and more complex — you can go broader. But at the same time, you have to say who Oasis is, and explain it in a paragraph.

You’ve written that proliferation of choices in media is a bad thing — that we don’t have these common cultural experiences like The Johnny Carson Show. Is that a real problem?
It’s a real problem, but there’s no solution. Every technological advance has a short-term benefit, and a long-term detriment. This applies to everything: Internet, television, radio — probably back to the gramophone. Every time somebody kind of creates a new way to experience media, it opens up people’s lives to all these experiences they couldn’t normally have, but it further separates them from the experience of being alive. Over time, it definitely sort of erodes the concept of humanity.

Would we be happier in a totalitarian state with more controlled media?

Would we be happier now, as a society, if all of the sudden we had one television station that had all the programming? Of course not — we would hate it. But that’s mainly because we’re aware of the possibility of what television can be. A person in 1870 did not miss not having a microwave. It’s not like they thought to themselves, “I wish I could make food instantaneously, and warm up hot dogs in 30 seconds.” It wasn’t part of their paradigm, so its distance from their life didn’t make them depressed.

Speaking of depression, in Fargo Rock City, you start out by discovering Mötley Crüe at a young age; by the end, you’re trashed at home, listening to hair metal and about to be evicted. It’s that High Fidelity question: Does pop music make you miserable, or do you listen to pop music because you already are? Does media wreck your life?
It certainly doesn’t wreck my life. The ability to experience and think about culture has basically allowed me to create a life I could never have imagined having. Because my livelihood is based around thinking about culture, I have a greater awareness of it. Probably heightened awareness in any context tends to make people less happy. The more self-aware you are, the more you’re going to focus on the realities of life, which some people might find very satisfying. But if this thing that you’re using as your vehicle to find self-awareness is this constructed culture, it probably does make a person unhappy.

Is one pop-culture writer interviewing another pop-culture writer … a sign of the apocalypse?
It’s kinda fucking insane that I now give many more interviews than I conduct in a given year. I used to be a journalist, but now I do very little journalism. So for me it’s weird, but in the world at large, there are a lot weirder things than this conversation.

Chuck Klosterman reads from Chuck Klosterman IV. Q&A and signing follow. 7 p.m. Wed., July 11. Joseph-Beth Booksellers, 2705 E. Carson St., South Side. Free. 412-381-3600 or www.josephbeth.com
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