Where do I begin? His worldview is fascinating, even if it occasionally leads to philosophical non sequiturs, solipsistic dead ends, and tasteless theses. The average reader will need to get used to Chuck’s cryptic essay structure. Tim Rogers’ style is vaguely similar to his, but this guy is a lot easier to withstand and relate to. Klosterman hangs juicy, symbolically vague questions in the air, describes pseudo-meaningful things which turn out to be the emotional crux of an essay, buries themes in detail and tangents and sometimes swims against the current of popular opinion just to see what will happen. He does this all to examine our relationship with media and culture, and see how they influence and inform each other. He can be detached in his writing, but with such a loaded, broad topic, you’d have to be to keep any sense of identity and journalistic integrity. Sure, sometimes he sounds like an annoying hipster, but his ruminations are so often brilliant and witty that that’s easily forgiven. (I often have just as much fun seeing through and picking apart his less effective and sensible work as I do absorbing his trenchant arguments.)
Chuck’s personality is weird and secretive, his sense of humor is dry and quirky (a very rare combination) and his knack for absurd-yet-true declarations keep me hooked every time as he delves into our collective generational garbage and realizes, for example, that Britney Spears used to be the most perfectly marketed and universally likeable product ever, or that the Tommy Lee/Pamela Anderson sex tape remotely created an insatiable, impossible desire for perfection in America, or how the bleak ending of The Empire Strikes Back is emblematic of a bittersweet cultural zeitgeist which influenced Gen-Xers to be as wary and listless as they were.
Klosterman isn’t infallible, but perhaps the best sign of his greatness is that even his logical missteps are intriguing and airtight in and of themselves. For example, an essay dividing all of humanity into either Lakers or Celtics fans both belies his unnatural sports obsession and is patently untrue, though one senses he understands that and makes a formidable case anyway. Even if his topic is something you wouldn’t normally care about and his focus is too wide and formless, he still makes every essay interesting without fail by moving briskly from point to point. Oh, that’s another thing. His ideas can be long-winded (with shameless amounts of epistemological/philosophical jargon), but his sentences never are. Thank God. That just makes me want to read them again.
Recommended reading: “Oh, The Guilt’”, from 2009’s Eating the Dinosaur
Todd VanDerWerff is an outstanding prose writer with a keen understanding of theme and character, an insanely knowledgeable professional critic, and a warm, relatable internet personality. In contrast to some of the more fearsomely pedantic and detached persons on this list, he is fantastically forthcoming, giving his work universal resonance with well-done philosophizing and personal anecdotes. But he can also be extremely incisive about what makes TV work well and the details that contribute to every success. His aforementioned encyclopedic (verging on disturbing) familiarity with decades of TV affords him a ton of perspective and endless comparison points, resulting in work that’s informative about the show itself, the industry, and the human condition in general. He is the editor and high priest of the AV Club’s formidably huge TV reviewing branch, which includes one of the coolest, wittiest commenting communities on the internet. He’s also very consistent, which is nuts because he writes so much content for the AVC. However, his review of the entire run of the Sopranos is especially well-done and aesthetically pleasing (with a shout-out to his Community reviews, a couple of which are among the most popular criticism articles ever posted on the internet). Here’s to Todd VanDerWerff. May he have six seasons and a movie.
Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw is a common sense kind of guy. He writes (and speaks) in an extremely direct, comically irritable, critical-but-fair way about the obvious flaws in the video game industry, and about specific games’ design and immersion. His main media platform is the great weekly animated web show Zero Punctuation (so named for his rapid-fire, quippy narration style, which is pretty easy to acclimate to).
With typical British wit, he manages to be descriptive and cartoonishly silly all at once. If Tim Rogers is too much for you (which is roughly 99% of the world’s population, let’s be honest) Yahtzee is your go-to video game journalist. Beyond his rhetorical credentials, his web series distinguishes itself by having excellent production values, with great editing, sound and highly entertaining gag-packed animation. There’s also his weekly column, Extra Punctuation, about random topics in the gaming community, also definitely worth reading.