What do Darth Vader, Walter White, and Bill Clinton have in common? No, it’s not that their sons all have issues (good guy Luke finds out he was sired by the very synonym of evil, Flynn’s dad went from Chem teacher to drug dealer, and Bill Clinton’s love child will probably never get to call him daddy) nor is it their battle with diseases (lung cancer, Parkinson’s) or in Vader’s case his crumbling psyche (Darth was diagnosed with borderline and narcissistic personality disorder—who didn’t see that one coming?).
As Chuck Klosterman will tell you in his new book I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined) these three men all earned special places in our hearts because of their villainy. They’re evil, but we love them anyway. Darth Vader pretty much slaughtered all the Jedi, yet he’s still most people’s favorite character. The Breaking Bad fandom is still piecing together their broken hearts over Walter White’s death in the finale. In a surprising twist, Bill Clinton’s approval rating with women went up after the Lewinsky scandal broke out.
What is it that makes us love certain villains, but despise some good guys like Batman wannabe Bernhard Goetz? Why were we more disgusted by what O.J. Simpson did after he murdered his wife? What is it about Taylor Swift that makes us collectively cringe whenever we see her face on another magazine cover? Why is D.B. Cooper, an airline hijacker, considered a celebrated folk hero?
These are just some of the quandaries New York Time’s Ethicist Chuck Klosterman weaves through in his latest collection of essays on the makeup and maladies of villainy. The pop-culture critic extraordinaire stays true to his comic philosophical style and takes readers on a labyrinthine journey through the shifting faces of villainy. The collection is a winding, somewhat dizzying walk with surprising turns and sometimes dead ends, but Klosterman’s unexpected juxtapositions (Fred Durst and Sarah Palin, Sidney Whiplash and the Eagles) and his wry self-analysis will seduce and entertain his readers.
Klosterman is as polarizing a figure as most of the villains he writes about and I Wear the Black Hat will either be beloved or hated by its readers.