Chuck Klosterman and Narrative

Yesterday, I had the extreme privilege to meet and speak with author Chuck Klosterman, who has written things such as Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs and The Visible Man. I’ll

Chuck Klosterman

have to say, he was pretty much exactly how he is in his books. Down to earth, very funny, and very conversational. Klosterman was in San Antonio at Trinity to give a lecture on pop culture and reality. It was really fascinating and it’s got me itching to ditch my homework and read all of his books. I thought that some of the things that he spoke about related quite nicely not necessarily to ARGs, but certainly to the idea of storytelling and media and technology, and how storytelling and narratives are changing with new media.

He talked a lot about television narratives and how television is at its peak– television has never been as good as it is right now. We had shows like Lost and right now we have really fantastic “high end” television shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and other AMC and HBO shows. He discussed how the way that television shows are structured, they allow for such depth and right now that is being taken advantage of in these “high end” television shows, shows that have the ability to spend more time on their characters and plots than say network television shows (even though shows like Lost did prove that was possible). Because television can show the subtle, slow character development due to its long, drawn out nature, television shows are replacing reading, especially reading deep literary fiction. This is a new storytelling medium that is finally being capitalized on. Television in the 70s and 80s was something to simply just be watched to pass the time; it has now evolved into this must watch phenomenon, where if you miss an episode, you actually catch up with it.

He also discussed how television was interested in this concept of realism– how “real” could this be? Can I as a viewer believe that this is real? He wasn’t necessarily talking about the plot or context of the show– it wasn’t being debated if cowboys in space was realistic. Rather, he was talking about the relationships within the show– how real were they? How much of the audience could watch the show and say, “Yes, that is realistic, that could totally happen in my life, I see myself in that relationship.” We have turned television into this reflection of ourselves; we like to see ourselves mirrored in our shows. This is because we create our self-identity through media. We are able to see relationships with friends, family, significant others, coworkers in television because we use media products to help us construct how we see ourselves. Therefore, shows, or at least these “high end” shows,  have really been focusing on their attention on character development and the realism of relationships within shows because that is what seems to captivate modern audiences.

This is a completely different goal that audiences today are seeking than did audiences of ten or twenty years ago. Then, they were looking for pure escapism. Now, we are looking for meaning, something that reflects how we see ourselves in the world with others around us.

He discussed many other things in his lecture and in his talk to my class, but one other thing that really stuck with me was his discussion of popular culture in general. When he started his writing career, Klosterman said that most of the things being written were about these high end books and movies, but there was not a lot of discussion on popular culture. Then, soon enough as more people like Klosterman became unsatisfied with this and did begin to write about pop culture, it became suddenly okay to do. He said that there is absolutely nothing wrong with talking about these “lower end” cultural items and that you can make it meaningful and powerful as long as you talk about what it means to you and how it has meaning to you. If you can make that connection, you can write about anything, even if it’s Britney Spears or Grey’s Anatomy. Making that connection is what transforms something from low culture to high culture.

It was a great day, and it was wonderful to be able to listen to Klosterman speak about his ideas. He’s made his entire career on just discussing his ideas and observations about the world. It’s really a fantastic aspiration. To end, I’ll just leave one of my favorite of his quotes from his talk to my class. “Two people I knew had email addresses when I went to college. That’s it. And they’d only email themselves, the fucking Batman symbol back and forth to each other.”

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