Chuck Klosterman’s 23 Questions – Part IV

Chuck Klosterman is the author of numerous books and essays on pop culture. In his bestselling Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs; A Low Culture Manifesto, he had an interlude piece titled “23 Questions I Ask Everybody I Meet In Order To Decide If I Can Really Love Them”. I’ll be answering those questions in a series of posts. Feel free to chip in your thoughts or answers. See also: Parts III, and III.

10. This is the opening line of Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City: “You are not the kind of guy who would be in a place like this at this time of the morning.” Think about that line in the context of the novel (assuming you’ve read it). Now go to your CD collection and find Heart’s Little Queen album (assuming you own it). Listen to the opening riff to “Barracuda.”

Which of these two introductions is a higher form of art?

I haven’t read the novel, unfortunately. Without the context, I don’t really have an answer. Heart’s opening riff is the best part of the song; the imagery is simplistic, the lyrics are wooden, and the singing is frankly shrill. Even the awesome guitar line is repetitive and eventually boring. However the plot description of the novel seems to allude to the same structural flaws. The second person address would seem to wear thin quickly. Do any fans of the book have thoughts?

11. You are watching a movie in a crowded theater. Though the plot is mediocre, you find yourself dazzled by the special effects. But with twenty minutes left in the film, you are struck with an undeniable feeling of doom: You are suddenly certain your mother has just died. There is no logical reason for this to be true, but you are certain of it. You are overtaken with the irrational metaphysical sense that–somewhere–your mom has just perished. But this is only an intuitive, amorphous feeling; there is no evidence for this, and your mother has not been ill.

Would you immediately exit the theater, or would you finish watching the movie?

The only movie I've ever walked out of.

I would finish watching the movie, for several reasons. First, if the intuition is that my mother has died, there is nothing I would be able to do about it. My mother isn’t Schroedinger’s Cat; she is either alive or dead, and the state of her existence doesn’t hinge on my tardiness. Second, I would prefer to be wrong, and at worst, delay terrible news. Third, this kind of intuition, if correct, would be so far outside of my normal frame of reference that I would appreciate time to digest and reflect on it, separate from the emotional chaos and personal turmoil of grief. Reacting immediately would seem to impair such distance or remove. Finally, there’s something about stories that compels me to finish them, to get to the ending. Stories are important, because they are the mechanism we use to shape our lives. We tell ourselves stories all the time, and we learn about other people through the stories they tell of themselves. Somehow understanding stories, both as a form and in their particulars, is important. If my mother died while I was watching a movie, it’s unlikely I’d ever see it again; I tried to watch Eternal Sunshine after a particularly bad break up and have still never made it more than ten minutes deep. Given that the posited movie is ‘dazzling’, and this is likely my only opportunity to finish it, I’d do so.

12. You meet a wizard in downtown Chicago. The wizard tells you he can make you more attractive if you pay him money. When you ask how this process works, the wizard points to a random person on the street. You look at this random stranger. The wizard says, “I will now make them a dollar more attractive.” He waves his magic wand. Ostensibly, this person does not change at all; as far as you can tell, nothing is different. But–somehow–this person is suddenly a little more appealing. The tangible difference is invisible to the naked eye, but you can’t deny that this person is vaguely sexier. This wizard has a weird rule, though–you can only pay him once. You can’t keep giving him money until you’re satisfied. You can only pay him one lump sum up front.

How much cash do you give the wizard?

Like question ten, this is hard to answer without reference to the particular subjective material at issue. So let’s mix up the question’s premise a little bit. Instead of thinking in dollar terms, let’s think about opportunity costs.

It’s easy to look at oneself in the mirror and think “I wish this were different, these soft parts gone, and my stomach were flatter”. What’s standing between oneself and the desired self is nothing but energy, time, and effort. The only thing stopping us from putting in that time and energy is, well, everything. Reading and television and video games and drinks with friends and the joy of indulgent food and the entertainment of a baseball game and the solitude of writing and the birthday cake at the office. Our time is finite, and our energy spent in so many little niggling ways, taken and stolen and freely given every moment of every day. Doing any one thing means choosing to do only that thing, and nothing else. So workouts sometimes (or often) get put aside or half-assed. So what I’d pay the wizard would be equal to the extra hours I should be sweating, the time I wish I had to myself, without sacrificing anything, everything, else.

(Ed – Not to get all inside-baseball here, but as anyone who’s ever read Terry Pratchett or played RPG’s knows, magic has side-effects, and unintended consequences. There’s also the issue of willpower. If I pay more, will I be able to eat shitty foods and still be attractive? Is this a one-time boost, or a continuous effect? God, what a nerd. Please forget you ever read this final note.)

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