I Wear the Black Hat
We have a complicated relationship with villainy. On one hand, villains are the one thing we’re all allowed to hate. Hitler? Of course. O.J.? Depending on what you believe, yes. The Eagles? Sure. But what about the villains we hate without thinking about it too closely, hate because they want us to hate them, hate because we’re supposed to hate them?
In I Wear the Black Hat, Chuck Klosterman explores our concept of villains, delving into why we hate who we hate. In some cases, it’s very clear: Person A does bad things and thusly do we consider them a villain (Hitler, for example). These instances are rare and, according to Klosterman, not that telling. In fact, his principal argument for what constitutes a villain isn't the sum of their ill deeds at all. Rather, Klosterman’s working definition of a villain is a person who “knows the most, but cares the least” in a given scenario.
This revelation is perhaps a better fit with a grown-up idea of villains--those who still hold to the Saturday Morning Cartoon Standard notwithstanding. Having freed us from a rigid interpretation of villainy, Klosterman frees himself to examine its nature by degrees and by definitions. He’s able to consider topics that vary from the various villains of the Clinton scandal (the one with the cigar) to the problems associated with a real-life Batman to the sympathetic villainy of Chevy Chase.
And that’s what makes villainy so fascinating. It’s by turns repugnant, mystifying, and seductive, but it’s always compelling. We want to watch, even if we don’t like what we see. That’s worth considering. And it’s definitely worth reading.
- Danny Williamson