Monday, September 20, 2010

Eating the Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman

Title: Eating the Dinosaur
Author: Chuck Klosterman
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2009)

I truly have no idea how to summarize Eating the Dinosaur so I'm going to borrow a line from the jacket copy - "It's amateur anthropology for the present tense, and sometimes it's incredibly funny." I think this does a pretty good job. I'd add that between the laughs you might find yourself saying, "That is so true" or "That's how I feel" or "What is he talking about?" All of which ends up making for a fun little read.

Topics addressed in this "anthropology for the present tense" book include Nirvana, football, ABBA, voyeurism, laugh tracks, Ted Kaczynsky, and a host of other random bits of pop culture and current events. One of my favorite things about the book is the Q&As between each chapter. I guess these are actual Q&As from his journalism career but it's not really explained. Either way, they are hilarious.

The book is well-written and, though tending toward over-statement, Klosterman fills it with very nice turns of phrase. For instance:

Take the wolf, for example: I suspect it's unbelievably stressful to be a wold. The world would bean endlessly confusing place, because a wolf has limited cognitive potential and understands nothing beyond its instinct and is own experience. Yet the world is more engaged with the experience of being alive.

Music that skews inauthentic is almost always more popular in the present tense. Music that skews toward authenticity has more potential to be popular over time, but also has a greater likelihood of being unheard completely.

And this is football's interesting contradiction: It feels like a conservative game. It appeal to a conservative mind-set and a reactionary media and it promotes conservative values. But in tangible practicality, football is the most progressive game we have - it constantly innovates, it immediately embraces every new technology, and almost all the important thinking about the game is liberal.

He also has a healthy sense of the fact that not every topic will appeal to every reader. (Evidenced by a footnote that includes "And if you didn't already know that, I am pretty fucking impressed you're still hanging with this [topic].") And it's true, not every topic kept my interest. That was fine with me as there's no reason why you can't skip to the next chapter. Each is self-contained so if your interest is waning a couple pages into a chapter then flip to the next one, no problem.

I do have a couple nits to pick. First, there was this odd tone of sexism that would crop up from time to time. Examples: he's describing a media/star relationship with what I interpreted as a derogatory tone for the announcers because of their "girlish worship." Why is "girlish" worship bad? Is it different from "boyish" worship? Is worship gender dependent? Would it have been better to say "adolescent?" For me, the answer is yes as it would have conveyed more meaning. "Girlish" has little meaning for me in this context because I don't personally find it to be a derisive term (no matter how many times I see people trying to use it that way). I get that it's supposed to be derisive from his tone but that's bad form in my opinion and, again, bad word choice. In another instance, he's talking about his wife hating football and adds "as wives are wont to do." Hunh? Again, what is the information that you're trying to convey? Wives are such a drag due to their apparently universal football hating ways? I'm a wife and I love football. I know a lot of wives that love football. And, anyway, even if I didn't love football how is that relevant to my husband (as the context of this paragraph is making clear that it is)? If his hobby was football and I didn't share it, what is the big fucking deal? So he watches football and I do something else. Is it such a big deal to pursue separate hobbies?

The second is actually better left to its own post as it's long and addresses a topic near and dear to my heart: the Internet. However, a quick mention that it has to do with the last chapter which is about people's relationship to technology. But I'll leave the details for another day.

All in all, this one is worth picking up for a random trip through someone's mind as he relates to the world around him. You probably won't agree with everything he says, or even find all of it interesting, but you're sure to get some laughs and some moments of "I know exactly what he's talking about!"

rating: 3 of 5 stars


  1. *sigh* sexism
    perhaps one of the most frustrating forms is the insidious, creeping kind, perpetrated by someone who doesn't even realize what he/she is doing.

    was helping my grade 8 boy to complete a mega assignment, one part of which was an article on his favorite sport, and in the lengthy paragraph talking about talented players advancing to the professional field etc. etc. he used the word 'he' exclusively. didn't even occur to him that a girl might grow up to become a professional, never mind that he's played on mixed teams, never mind that in canada girl enrollment in child teams is at near parity with boys.

    his face, when i pointed this out, was both priceless and kind of saddening. still, i have hope for him.

  2. I think the creeping kind is the worst kind as so many people don't want to recognize it. I actually prefer blatant sexism because at least the perpetrator is being honest (stupid but honest). When people refuse, or are unable, to recognize institutional denigration of a group it makes it all that much harder to change the problem.

    I bet your son will be fine. :) If anything, the sad part is that our socialization in "advanced" countries is still riddled with inequality. Worse, inequalities so insidious that they are not even recognized. He's lucky to have a mama like you (as are we all) who is committed to helping him see that every group is deserving of dignity through equal opportunity.