Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Chuck Klosterman's 23 Questions (Yikes.)

I've just subscribed to Elizabeth Friedland's blog at Circle City Snark. Elizabeth is a Smaller Indiana member, and I've grown to admire her willingness to step into the ring to debate politics with any and all (dogmatic, crazy, delusional, whatnot) comers.

It just so happens that the first blog post of hers I saw mentioned Chuck Klosterman's book, "Sex, Drugs, & Cocoa Puffs," in which the author lists 23 questions he asks everybody he meets in order to "find out if I can ever really love them." Having not yet read the book, I have followed Elizabeth's advice and Googled the questions and placed my own answers here. This is a long one -- and a weird one -- so buckle up and let's hit the road. Here we goooooooo!

Chuck Klosterman's 23 Questions (as transcribed by Melanism at Don't Cross the Streams)

1. Let us assume you met a rudimentary magician. Let us assume he can do five simple tricks--he can pull a rabbit out of his hat, he can make a coin disappear, he can turn the ace of spades into the Joker card, and two others in a similar vein. These are his only tricks and he can't learn any more; he can only do these five. HOWEVER, it turns out he's doing these five tricks with real magic. It's not an illusion; he can actually conjure the bunny out of the ether and he can move the coin through space. He's legitimately magical, but extremely limited in scope and influence. Would this person be more impressive than Albert Einstein?

To me, it's a question of whether it's the same rabbit/same coin each time, or whether the magician can manifest coins and rabbits at will, with magic. If he has the ability to manifest millions of dollars in coins and/or millions of rabbits (which he could then sell for millions of dollars in coins and/or paper money) through magic, then I find this far more impressive than Einstein. If not, then I'd say he's about equally impressive.

2. Let us assume a fully grown, completely healthy Clydesdale horse has his hooves shackled to the ground while his head is held in place with thick rope. He is conscious and standing upright, but completely immobile. And let us assume that--for some reason--every political prisoner on earth (as cited by Amnesty International) will be released from captivity if you can kick this horse to death in less than twenty minutes. You are allowed to wear steel-toed boots. Would you attempt to do this?

There is no way in the world I would agree to those terms. I'd probably throw up simply at the prospect.

3. Let us assume there are two boxes on a table. In one box, there is a relatively normal turtle; in the other, Adolf Hitler's skull. You have to select one of these items for your home. If you select the turtle, you can't give it away and you have to keep it alive for two years; if either of these parameters are not met, you will be fined $999 by the state. If you select Hitler's skull, you are required to display it in a semi-prominent location in your living room for the same amount of time, although you will be paid a stipend of $120 per month for doing so. Display of the skull must be apolitical. Which option do you select?

Totally the skull. Turtles are cute, but boring and I'd be afraid that there's something wrong with the turtle that would end up costing me money. I'm wary of the phrase "relatively normal turtle."

4. Genetic engineers at Johns Hopkins University announce that they have developed a so-called "super gorilla." Though the animal cannot speak, it has a sign language lexicon of over twelve thousand words, an I.Q. of almost 85, and--most notably--a vague sense of self-awareness. Oddly, the creature (who weighs seven hundred pounds) becomes fascinated by football. The gorilla aspires to play the game at its highest level and quickly develops the rudimentary skills of a defensive end. ESPN analyst Tom Jackson speculates that this gorilla would be "borderline unblockable" and would likely average six sacks a game (although Jackson concedes the beast might be susceptible to counters and misdirection plays). Meanwhile, the gorilla has made it clear he would never intentionally injure any opponent. You are commissioner of the NFL: Would you allow this gorilla to sign with the Oakland Raiders?

No way. I've seen too many episodes of "BJ & the Bear" and "When Animals Attack" to take the gorilla at his word.

5. You meet your soul mate. However, there is a catch: Every three years, someone will break both of your soul mate's collarbones with a Crescent wrench, and there is only one way you can stop this from happening: You must swallow a pill that will make every song you hear--for the rest of your life--sound as if it's being performed by the band Alice in Chains. When you hear Creedence Clearwater Revival on the radio, it will sound (to your ears) like it's being played by Alice in Chains. If you see Radiohead live, every one of their tunes will sound like it's being covered by Alice in Chains. When you hear a commercial jingle on TV, it will sound like Alice in Chains; if you sing to yourself in the shower, your voice will sound like deceased Alice vocalist Layne Staley performing a capella (but it will only sound this way to you). Would you swallow the pill?

Totally not. I have barely a passing familiarity with Alice in Chains but it doesn't sound all that good to me. Sorry about your smashed bones, soul mate -- but I'll be around to help with the recovery every three years.

6. At long last, someone invents "the dream VCR." This machine allows you to tape an entire evening's worth of your own dreams, which you can then watch at your leisure. However, the inventor of the dream VCR will only allow you to use this device of you agree to a strange caveat: When you watch your dreams, you must do so with your family and your closest friends in the same room. They get to watch your dreams along with you. And if you don't agree to this, you can't use the dream VCR. Would you still do this?

I remember most of my own dreams, so I wouldn't need this machine, but even if I didn't, I wouldn't use it. I think we're all pretty judgmental and I'd prefer not to open myself up to that any more than I already do. (See also: this entire blog.)

7. Defying all expectation, a group of Scottish marine biologists capture a live Loch Ness Monster. In an almost unbelievable coincidence, a bear hunter in the Pacific Northwest shoots a Sasquatch in the thigh, thereby allowing zoologists to take the furry monster into captivity. These events happen on the same afternoon. That evening, the president announces he may have thyroid cancer and will undergo a biopsy later that week. You are the front page editor of The New York Times: What do you play as the biggest story?

I'd go with Nessie, unless I have a credible source who says the president is soft-selling the cancer thing and he already knows he has it, in which case I'd go with that story. Sorry, Sasquatch, you're third-tier, although I'd probably find a way to link the Nessie-Sasquatch stories in a weekend feature.

8. You meet the perfect person. Romantically, this person is ideal: You find them physically attractive, intellectually stimulating, consistently funny, and deeply compassionate. However, they have one quirk: This individual is obsessed with Jim Henson's gothic puppet fantasy The Dark Crystal. Beyond watching it on DVD at least once a month, he/she peppers casual conversation with Dark Crystal references, uses Dark Crystal analogies to explain everyday events, and occasionally likes to talk intensely about the film's "deeper philosophy." Would this be enough to stop you from marrying this individual?

I think marriage would be enough to stop me from marrying her, but if I had decided to marry her, then no, the Dark Crystal obsession would not be enough to prevent it. I'd probably have to watch it again to know what she was talking about, though.

9. A novel titled Interior Mirror is released to mammoth commerical success (despite middling reviews). However, a curious social trend emerges: Though no one can prove a direct scientific link, it appears that almost 30 percent of the people who read this book immediately become homosexual. Many of these newfound homosexuals credit the book for helping them reach this conclusion about their orientation, despite the fact that Interior Mirror is ostensibly a crime novel with no homoerotic content (and was written by a straight man). Would this phenomenon increase (or decrease) the likelihood of you reading this book?

I do like a good crime novel, and considering the whole celibacy thing I've got going on, I'm pretty sure the potential of switching teams wouldn't make that much of a difference.

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?

You already know I have great respect for the written word, and McInerney's opening line is a story in itself. But to me, there's about four stories inside the opening riff to "Barracuda." Heart FTW.

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?

Exit and call immediately. Without question.

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?

I'd give him a dollar. I think we could all stand to be "vaguely sexier." But I'm not a chump.

13. Every person you have ever slept with is invited to a banquet where you are the guest of honor. No one will be in attendance except you, the collection of your former lovers, and the catering service. After the meal, you are asked to give a fifteen-minute speech to the assembly. What do you talk about?

See #9 above. I'd talk about whatever was on the catering staff's mind -- a plan for divvying up all the leftovers, probably.

14. For reasons that cannot be explained, cats can suddenly read at a twelfth-grade level. They can't talk and they can't write, but they can read silently and understand the text. Many cats love this new skill, because they now have something to do all day while they lay around the house; however, a few cats become depressed, because reading forces them to realize the limitations of their existence (not to mention the utter frustration of being unable to express themselves). This being the case, do you think the average cat would enjoy Garfield, or would cats find this cartoon to be an insulting caricature?

Cats would find it insulting, but not surprising. I think cats consider every interaction with human culture insulting. However, I reject the premise that they would be unable to express themselves -- perhaps they can't express themselves verbally, but I imagine they'd find plenty of ways to make their opinions sprayed, clawed, and otherwise known.

15. You have a brain tumor. Though there is no discomfort at the moment, this tumor would unquestionably kill you in six months. However, your life can (and will) be saved by an operation; the only downside is that there will be a brutal incision to your frontal lobe. After the surgery, you will be significantly less intelligent. You will still be a fully functioning adult, but you will be less logical, you will have a terrible memory, and you will have little ability to understand complex concepts or difficult ideas. The surgery is in two weeks. How do you spend the next fourteen days?

I'm not sure I'd actually have the surgery, but the question seems to assume its inevitability, so: I'd spend it laughing as much as possible with my favorite people to laugh with. Like, non-stop shifts of movie-watching, tv-watching and reminiscing. I'd rather lose a leg than my witty repartee.

16. Someone builds an optical portal that allows you to see a vision of your own life in the future (it’s essentially a crystal ball that shows a randomly selected image of what your life will be like in twenty years). You can only see into this portal for thirty seconds. When you finally peer into the crystal, you see yourself in a living room, two decades older than you are today. You are watching a Canadian football game, and you are extremely happy. You are wearing a CFL jersey. Your chair is surrounded by books and magazines that promote the Canadian Football League, and there are CFL pennants covering your walls. You are alone in the room, but you are gleefully muttering about historical moments in Canadian football history. It becomes clear that—for some unknown reason—you have become obsessed with Canadian football. And this future is static and absolute; no matter what you do, this future will happen. The optical portal is never wrong. This destiny cannot be changed. The next day, you are flipping through television channels and randomly come across a pre-season CFL game between the Toronto Argonauts and the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Knowing your inevitable future, do you now watch it?

Screw that. If it's gonna happen, it's gonna happen, but I don't need to hurry it along in any way, shape or form.

17. You are sitting in an empty bar (in a town you’ve never before visited), drinking Bacardi with a soft-spoken acquaintance you barely know. After an hour, a third individual walks into the tavern and sits by himself, and you ask your acquaintance who the new man is. “Be careful of that guy,” you are told. “He is a man with a past.” A few minutes later, a fourth person enters the bar; he also sits alone. You ask your acquaintance who this new individual is. “Be careful of that guy, too,” he says. “He is a man with no past.” Which of these two people do you trust less?

Of the two, I'd say the man with no past, I suppose, because he's clearly got something weird going on (witness protection program, cyborg from the future, etc.). Of all the characters in the question, though, I'd go for the soft-spoken acquaintance, because (a) he's so damned vague, and (b) I think low-talkers are manipulators.

18. You have won a prize. The prize has two options, and you can choose either (but not both). The first option is a year in Europe with a monthly stipend of $2,000. The second option is ten minutes on the moon. Which option do you select?

Europe. Totally.

19. Your best friend is taking a nap on the floor of your living room. Suddenly, you are faced with a bizarre existential problem: This friend is going to die unless you kick them (as hard as you can) in the rib cage. If you don’t kick them while they slumber, they will never wake up. However, you can never explain this to your friend; if you later inform them that you did this to save their life, they will also die from that. So you have to kick a sleeping friend in the ribs, and you can’t tell them why. Since you cannot tell your friend the truth, what excuse will you fabricate to explain this (seemingly inexplicable) attack?

Total denial. "What kick? I have no idea what you're talking about." My real friends already expect this from me. (The denial, not the rib-kicks.)

20. For whatever the reason, two unauthorized movies are made about your life. The first is an independently released documentary, primarily comprised of interviews with people who know you and bootleg footage from your actual life. Critics are describing the documentary as “brutally honest and relentlessly fair.” Meanwhile, Columbia Tri-Star has produced a big-budget biopic of your life, casting major Hollywood stars as you and all your acquaintances; though the movie is based on actual events, screenwriters have taken some liberties with the facts. Critics are split on the artistic merits of this fictionalized account, but audiences love it. Which film would you be most interested in seeing?

Hmm, that's tough. I'd probably be more interested in seeing the documentary of me, to get a real picture of how I'm perceived in the world. I do enough internal self-aggrandizement -- I'd probably be disappointed by the big-budget fictionalized version.

21. Imagine you could go back to the age of five and relive the rest of your life, knowing everything that you know now. You will reexperience your entire adolescence with both the cognitive ability of an adult and the memories of everything you’ve learned form having lived your life previously. Would you lose your virginity earlier or later than you did the first time around (and by how many years)?

Again, this question assumes I'd actually reexperience adolescence, which I wouldn't, but for the sake of the question, I'd say neither earlier nor later.

22. You work in an office. Generally, you are popular with your coworkers. However, you discover that there are currently two rumors circulating the office gossip mill, and both involve you. The first rumor is that you got drunk at the office holiday party and had sex with one of your married coworkers. This rumor is completely true, but most people don’t believe it. The second rumor is that you have been stealing hundreds of dollars of office supplies (and then selling them to cover a gambling debt). This rumor is completely false, but virtually everyone assumes it is factual. Which of these two rumors is most troubling to you?

Haha, I don't think anyone would believe either one. I don't even work in an office! Seriously, though, in the context of the question, I'd say the second one, clearly, would be more troubling.

23. Consider this possibility: Think about deceased TV star John Ritter. Now, pretend Ritter had never become famous. Pretend he was never affected by the trappings of fame, and try to imagine what his personality would have been like. Now, imagine that this person—the unfamous John Ritter—is a character in a situation comedy. Now, you are also a character in this sitcom, and the unfamous John Ritter character is your sitcom father. However, this sitcom is actually your real life. In other words, you are living inside a sitcom: Everything about our life is a construction, featuring the unfamous John Ritter playing himself (in the role of your TV father). But this is not a sitcom. This is your real life. How would you feel about this?

Oh, my gosh, it makes my head hurt to think about the details related to this question, but boiled down to its most essential, this is pretty much how I think of life anyway. I grew up -- and came into adulthood -- with such a TV influence that I already think of the other people in my life in terms of TV: sitcoms, dramas, police procedurals, whatnot. So really the only change would be that it's unfamous John Ritter instead of the unfamous people already in my life. So: meh.

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