Sex, Drugs, and the Categorical Imperative: Chuck Klosterman Takes Over As the New York Times' Ethicist

10ethicist-articleInline.jpg
Last week, the New York Times announced that pop cultural essayist/hair metal salvaging rock critic (and author of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs) Chuck Klosterman would be taking over the role of its long-running advice columnist the Ethicist, which purports to offer morally sound guidance to people's real-life dilemmas. Despite the fact that every critic in some way dispenses advice, Klosterman would be the first to tell you he's not qualified for the position, or rather that "some will argue that I am not qualified for this position."

The great thing about Klosterman is that, to use his sort of flip formulation, he's not actually that great. Mind-blower, right? His taste is bad, his sweeping generalizations unsupportable, his logic suspect, and his rhetorical devices hokey. And yet, his writing is often entertaining as hell. (And in fact, his bad taste (or pose of bad taste) and broad generalizations mean he's game to tackle big, mainstream subjects, which he usually re-evaluates with some "shocking" twist.) See this take-down essay by Mark Ames for a more detailed Klosterfuck.

But even at his worst--say, impugning tUnE-yArDs for not living up to gendered ideals of beauty, rather than actually listening to or discussing her music--he's at least reliably provocative, frequently entertaining, and fun to read even when he's wrong. His first column as The Ethicist, though it is certainly full of wrong--dodging the ethical heart of the first question, praising an ill-informed cat theft as humane in another--it's even worse than that: it's merely boring.

Possibly real letter-writers are less fun to tangle with than massive Straw Men, but it doesn't have to be this way. You need look no further than the Weekly's own John Roderick to find an equally unqualified guy giving frequently wrong advice--but which is also funny and entertaining! It can be done! (Elsewhere, there's the Sedaratives column in The Believer, which Roderick has guest-written on at least occasion.) Maybe it's Klosterman aspiring to the authoritative style of the NYT or its previous Ethicists. Maybe it's just dude being in over his head. Or maybe it'll get better as it goes along. But I Kant imagine reading it to find out.

 
comments powered by Disqus

Friends to Follow