Chuck Klosterman is Coming to Philly to Talk About Villains

The New York Times Magazine's Ethicist will be at the Free Library to discuss good guys, bad guys and his new book, I Wear The Black Hat.

Imagine this: James Buchanan, Newt Gingrich, Kobe Bryant and Taylor Swift are sitting around a pool on a steaming summer’s day, tossing back some beers and idly Googling themselves on their iPhones. “Have you ever thought, just maybe, y’all belong with me?” Swift asks.

So, what does this motley crew have in common, if anything?

A bit, actually. For one thing, they were all born in the Philadelphia area (can you guess which one still cherishes childhood memories of being down the Shore?)

For another, James, Newt, Kobe and Taytay (along with a host of other semi-likables) are now guest-starring in the latest book by The New York Times Magazine‘s Ethicist Chuck Klosterman, I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined) (Scribner). Chuck has been praised for his critical eye, and he uses it here to scrutinize not only himself and a broad cast of anti-heroes, but also the “villain” phenomenon that dogs each of them like a shadow.

Chuck Klosterman I Wear the Black Hat cover

The man with the black hat is scheduled to cast a little darkness upon the Free Library of Philadelphia on Thu., July 25,  7:30 p.m., but meanwhile, here are five bad-boy excerpts from Klosterman’s new tome (so you can say you knew he was trouble when he walked in):

Klosterman On the subjective nature of villainy:

“Here’s a list of anonymous people who — in theory — are bad citizens and social pariahs:
1) Men who hijack airplanes.
2) Con artists.
3) Funk narcissists.
4) Drug dealers.
5) Athletes who use race as a means for taunting an opponent.
Here is a list of charismatic people who – under specific circumstances, and when injected with a high dose of false emotional attachment – can never be villains:
[See same list].” (p. 39)

Klosterman on villains who “know the most but care the least”, as illustrated by JoePa:

“Even while Paterno followed procedure, he totally failed. He was the only person at Penn State truly accountable for the culture that existed there. He was the only person who could have done anything. And what he chose to do was pretend that this problem did not exist…Had Paterno been the actual rapist, he’d still have mild support in central Pennsylvania. But the objective world realized he had to pay. He knew too much and did too little.” (p. 16)

Klosterman on villains and legacy:

“Everyone knows history is written by the winners, but that cliche misses a crucial detail: Over time, the winners are always the progressives. Conservativism can only win in the short term, because society cannot stop evolving (and social evolution inevitably dovetails with the agenda of those who see change as an abstract positive).” (p. 53)

Klosterman on the concept of hero vs. villain, as illustrated by Batman:

“Let’s pretend Batman is real. … The only things you know about Batman are what you’ve heard through gossip or gleaned from the media (so you really don’t know anything). Divorce yourself from the fact that you already believe Batman is a heroic figure. … Don’t imagine yourself as a citizen of Christopher Nolan’s Gotham; imagine yourself as yourself. You don’t know he’s secretly a millionaire. You don’t know what his motives are. … Do you root for this person, or do you want him arrested?” (p. 61)

Klosterman on dodging villainy:

“Is there anything more attractive than a polite person with limitless self-belief? There is not. Avoiding villainy is not that different from avoiding loneliness: First, you must love yourself. And if you do that convincingly enough, others will love you too much.” (p. 57)