Have you ever thought about why we enjoy watching a good villain onscreen? Or why some people enjoy bands or public figures who go against social norms?
In I Wear The Black Hat: Grappling With Villains (Real or Imagined), journalist Chuck Klosterman examines the concept of villainy and what makes us so interested in villains. According to Klosterman:
The villain is the person who knows the most but cares the least.
Following this definition of a villain, the book continues to look at examples from both real life and pop culture of villains and how the general public reacts to them. It’s written in the format of loosely connected essays.
Mild spoilers ahead.
What I Wear The Black Hat gets right: The quest to understand and analyze human nature is enjoyable to read about. Klosterman obviously did a lot of research (and watched a lot of movies and read a lot of books) to put together these ideas. His tone is often funny, but sometimes he dives into more serious musings that will quickly make you somber.
My favorite essay by far was about Batman and Bernhard Goetz. I would love to see an updated version that includes the movie Joker, as it deals with the same themes of controversial vigilantism.
What I Wear The Black Hat does wrong: There are moments where Klosterman goes off on rabbit trails. He has hilarious examples to prove his points, but sometimes he goes a little too far and forgets what he was originally writing about.
A personal (and completely arbitrary) reason that I disliked parts of the book: Klosterman admits to hating R.E.M. in 1988. As someone who literally still runs an R.E.M. lyrics Twitter account that I started years ago for no particular reason, hating R.E.M. is just unacceptable to me. At least he admits to learning to love R.E.M. and even claiming them as one of his favorite bands now, but still. How could you start off hating them?
Who should read I Wear The Black Hat: People who love a good, complex villain in fiction (and people who don’t understand why anyone would love a villain). Readers who enjoy philosophy, pop culture, history, music, and current events.
Who shouldn’t read I Wear The Black Hat: If you’re not interested in nonfiction essays, don’t pick this one up.
Content note: Acts of villainy are described (including real-life, violent crimes).