Elements of villainy in television programs and films have taken over the American psyche. There is a cavalcade of mystery, crime, horror, suspense, science fiction, paranormal and dramas given to shows that now must have aspects of villainy. There are too many shows to mention; from the crime dramas that are popular on CBS and other networks, to the current cable network shows like “Power,” “Ray Donavan” and “The Divide” – all have details relating to villainy. What does this tell you about what the American viewer now accepts to watch?
More of the villain’s role was talked about in depth July 7 on the PBS and Bloomberg program “Charlie Rose” when novelist and radio host Kurt Andersen interviewed Chuck Klosterman on his book called “I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined),” a collection of essays now in paperback.
Andersen asked the author the question: Why is villainy so desirable in American culture now? Along with the question Andersen mentioned television shows like “Breaking Bad” (the Walter Whites) along with popular crime drama series programs “The Wire” and “The Sopranos.” Klosterman responded with identifying the culture as “the way various mediums have changed” using the anti-hero as the case in point.
Klosterman also used examples of real life people like Kanye West and Lebron James, stating about James that he “didn’t really like him but wanted him to succeed.” He thought West is “an amazing figure” and stated he was doing everything like everyone else but added his own creativity. He further continued by saying if West puts out something that failed (assuming a single or CD), he would be fascinated by the reaction. The two examples he gave on these two successful and rich black men sounded a bit off key – while not actually explaining why they would be villains – but could his comments be due to his ominous view like many in his race think of black men? O. J. Simpson is also mentioned in the book.
Klosterman presented former president Bill Clinton as one in the villainous category; describing him as the star that came out on top despite his unethical act in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Despite Clinton’s lies, denials and infidelity against his wife, Klosterman added Clinton still received high approval ratings.
Klosterman describes the villain – the anti-hero, the person who knows the best but cares the least, a person often detached, intrigued in periods at their lowest point, or other depictions he uses – does show he is grappling with this character who is fascinating and hard to figure out.
The book has received many reviews. Here is one that summarizes its plot from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette –
“With the aplomb of a modern Machiavelli surveying our ever shifting moral landscape for examples that prove his point, Mr. Klosterman takes the reader on a grand tour of villainy's outposts in popular culture, sports, politics and American history. “I Wear the Black Hat" is an erudite, provocative and playful survey of the ever shifting face of villainy in the American experience.”
The conversation on Chuck Klosterman’s I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined) on Charlie Rose can be seen on the video in its entirety (approximately 15 minutes).