The January 2005 Esquire is the annual “Meaning of Life” issue, in which various celebs and individuals of note expound their various philosophies. The list skews heavily toward the Hollywood, and the vapidity of the answers shows—virtually every interviewee offers some variation of the following: “My eccentric father/uncle/grandfather always taught me to be myself,” “I don’t regret a damn thing I’ve ever done,” and “Nothing satisfies like a fine (insert ironically simple pleasure here—hot dog/twinkie/smell of cut grass/et cetera).”
That’s not to say nobody’s worth listening to. Some interviewees, like Jimmy Carter, can sum up an administration—an entire worldview—in a single sentence: “I was able to go through my entire term in office without firing a bullet, dropping a bomb, or launching a missile.” And some, like the Denver Nuggets’ second-year guard Carmelo Anthony, are surprisingly poetic: “Sometimes it can seem like I have green pigment to everyone else. There are times when me and LeBron are green human beings. I’m not light-skinned, I’m green.” But it’s cartoonist Chris Ware who lands the most devastatingly effective emotional wallops of the entire magazine: “Nobody will likely love you as much as your own mother…which you won’t really appreciate until your life is almost half over.” Maudlin? Sure. But you should be calling your mother right now, and you know it.
The rest of the issue is the usual Esquire mixed bag, from the inane—an “Extreme Makeover” garage that features SIX plasma TVs and a coffee table and seating area right next to the parked car—to the fascinating, like the tale of Jumana Hanna, the Iraqi prisoner whose horrifying tales of rape and torture in Iraq’s Loose Dogs prison helped sway public opinion in favor of the Iraqi invasion in 2003. Trouble is, she made every single bit of it up.
Also interesting is a story in which a surgeon and a chef switch occupations—writer Cal Fussman does a fine job of demonstrating the precision and pressure of a five-star kitchen while never losing sight of the fact that it’s nowhere near as important as an operating table. But the best story of the month is Chuck Klosterman’s “Culture Got You Down?”, in which he lays down a simple law: like it or not, popular culture is never wrong—maybe tasteless or misinformed, but no more “wrong” than ray-ee-ain on your wedding day. “Don’t get pissed off because people didn’t vote the way you voted,” Klosterman writes. “You knew that the country was polarized, and you knew that half of America is more upset by gay people getting married than it is about starting a war under false pretenses…You knew this was a democracy when you agreed to participate, so you knew this was how things might work out. So don’t get pissed off over the fact that the way you feel about culture isn’t some kind of universal consensus. Because if you do, you will end up feeling betrayed. And it will be your own fault. You will feel bad, and you will deserve it.”
Preach on, brotha.