Twenty-five years ago Tom Frank and friends started a small journal in Chicago called The Baffler. Like his first book, The Conquest of Cool, the journal limned the many ways cultural authenticity has been co-opted, branded, and regurgitated by corporations and institutions.
There was a lot of subject matter to work with in Millennial capitalist America. The magazine struggled, and even took a break for awhile. But most of the early issues, some of which have been anthologized, stand up amazingly well. If anything, the corporate onslaught has become even more refined and insidious.
Recently The MIT Press picked up distribution of the journal. The Baffler website has been spiffed up, its back on a three times a year publishing schedule, and the roster of contributors just keeps getting better. There’s really nothing like it in the world of cultural and political long-form journalism. And for twelve bucks!
The 25th anniversary edition of the magazine, just out, is fantastic. I highly recommend that you stop reading this right now and go out and get yourself a copy and read that instead, cover to cover. But if you need nudges, here are a few of the sacred cows smashed in this issue:
1) In “Academy Fight Song,” Tom Frank shows “how virtually every aspect of the higher-ed dream has been colonized by monopolies, cartels, and other unrestrained predators. The charmingly naïve American student is now a cash cow, and everyone has got a scheme for slicing off a porterhouse or two… ours is a generation that stood by gawking while a handful of parasites and billionaires smashed higher ed for their own benefit.”
2) “Facebook Feminism, Like it or Not” is a much needed takedown of Sheryl Sandberg’s phenomenally successful Lean In, by feminist scholar and journalist Susan Faludi. “Never before have so many corporations joined a revolution,” Faludi writes. “Virtually nothing is required of them- not even a financial contribution.” The transcript of her attempt to get some questions answered by the Lean In PR department is sad and hilarious. (Example: “Q: Would you encourage a Lean In Circle to picket a discriminatory employer?” A: blah blah blah blah blah.)
3) In “Networking into the Abyss,” a pointed and genuinely Menckenesque critique of the altcult mecca South by Southwest, Jacob Silverstein efficiently eviscerates this trendy marketing event. “During SXSW, Austin becomes a money-soaked mélange of hyper-consumerism and techno-utopianism… the marketing machine doesn’t only want to sell to you; it wants you to sell your own networked persona on its behalf.”
4) In “All LinkedIn with Nowhere to Go” Ann Friedman makes mince meat of the ubiquitous get-ahead site, and its philosophy of wish fulfillment as business model. “The roots of the LinkedIn vision of prosperity-through-connectivity lie in the circular preachments of the positive-thinking industry,” she writes.
5) In “Street Legal: The National Security State comes Home,” Chris Bray makes a bone-chilling case that “the contest between the centralization and decentralization of information is the real culture war of our moment.”
6) The rise of the right-wing think tanks is explored in all its depressing glory in Jim Newell’s “Good Enough for Government Work: Conservatism in the Tank.” “The perpetually aggrieved American right can rest easy: the conservative movement has, indeed, won the war of ideas.”
7) In part, as Ken Silverstein explains in “They Pretend to Think, We Pretend to Listen,” because of the corporate takeover of liberal think tanks!
8) In “A Nod to Ned Ludd,” (worth the price of the magazine alone), Richard Byrne does a huge service by illuminating the true story behind a term we throw around as if we knew what it meant: “luddites.” Just about everything you think it means is wrong.
9) “On Wittgenstein’s Steps” is a surprising and lovely rumination by Croatian writer Dubravka Ugresic on pigeons, sculptures, and the meaning of public monuments in a time of political transformation.
10) And in “Sacking Berlin,” Quinn Slobodian and Michelle Sterling mourn the disappearance of the whimsical, playful, authentic Berlin that emerged post-1989 and its replacement by “branding, clicking, swiping… a privatized Berlin.” They lament that “the monuments of East Germany have been demolished, social services have been sold off, and with them have gone the memory of the city as a place of shared public goods.”
And there’s more! Poetry, stories, cheeky graphics and cartoons, book and movie reviews- 162 pages that will make you laugh and make you a better person. Inquire at your bookstore or see TheBaffler.com for more info.