“the Journal that Blunts the Cutting Edge"
July 23, 2014 11:30 AM   Subscribe

All of The Baffler's back issues are available online, for free.

The Paris Review recommends:
Miracle on Ice
Lotteryville, USA
Making Babies The American Girl Way
The Problem With Music

also, from 1993:
The American Nonconformist In The Age Of The Commercialization Of Dissent
Thirty-five years ago, Norman Mailer first gave voice to the idea that the “hipster,” the young art-appreciating free-spirit alienated from an increasingly repressive society, was the existential hero of the day. In an America terrified by the bomb, grown stagnant from over-organization, cowed into homogeneity and conformity by red scares and the depersonalization of the computer age, the “hipster” was supposed to represent liberty and the affirmation of life. “The only life-giving answer” to the deathly drag of American civilization, Mailer wrote, was to tear oneself from the security of physical and spiritual certainty, to embrace rebellion, particularly rebellion associated with the subculture of jazz and drugs. The distinction between those who resisted mass society and those who collaborated was a clear and obvious one, Mailer insisted: “one is Hip or one is Square . . . one is a rebel or one conforms . . . trapped in the totalitarian tissues of American society, doomed willy-nilly to conform if one is to succeed.”

Today the opposite is true. In advertising, television, and all the other organs of official culture, the hipster is now a figure to be revered. He has become a central symbol of the technocratic system he is supposed to be subverting: a model consumer, a good citizen in a society which demands moral indifference and a perpetual patronage of the new in order to keep its gigantic wheels turning. Rather than resisting the enormous cultural machinery of mediocrity, impoverishment, and stupidity, in 1992 the hipster is its star player.
Previously on MetaFilter:
"The charmingly naive American student is in fact a cash cow" links Academy Fight Song
"The enduring emptiness of our technology debates has one main cause, and his name is Tim O’Reilly." links The Meme Hustler
Mitt Romney is a liar links The Long Con: Mail-Order Conservatism
Steve Almond vs. Jon Stewart and Colbert links The Joke's On You

The Baffler has gone and come back and gone and come back again, even after their offices were destroyed in a fire in 2001.
posted by the man of twists and turns (30 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
I hate to be all "your favorite band sucks", but... now I can go back and cite the article that turned me off to The Baffler forever:
Discovering, after much intellectual twisting and turning, that Madonna is exactly the rebel that she and her handlers imagine her to be, is more an act of blithe intellectual complicity than of the “radicalism” to which the Madonna analysts believe they are contributing.
(Emphasis mine) I'm happy to see critiques of Camille Paglia and similar, but the casual misogyny in that statement just floored me.

On the other side of that, I'd long attributed that passage to another oft-celebrated author, and it's good for me to see that my memory on that front was faulty.

So: Thanks! Even though I'm not a fan, I do think this is a useful cultural resource, because this captures a lot of the zeitgeist of the '90s.
posted by straw at 11:45 AM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think it's technically ~10 freebie articles until you have to subscribe, right? (It's worth subscribing, though. $30 gets you 3 print issues and full access to the past issues.)
posted by naju at 12:07 PM on July 23, 2014

Hannabarbildungsroman: a bizarre early essay from Rick Perlstein about the heremeneutics of Scooby Doo.
posted by jonp72 at 12:09 PM on July 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Baffler: Proving again and again that, if Oscar Wilde were alive and you knew him as a friend of a friend, you'd think of him as more of a pompous asshole than a droll wit.
posted by belarius at 12:11 PM on July 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

I remember reading the Long Con article. It was interesting history.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:20 PM on July 23, 2014

I loved the old Baffler. Even if its sometimes nagging tone of "Why can't you be more like Dwight McDonald?" could induce spontaneous eye-rolling. Maybe my favorite piece was Frank's "New Consensus For Old," a piece which sadly lacks here the (much better) title it carried in the TOC of issue 12: "Cold Kickin' It With The Cult Studs."
posted by octobersurprise at 12:33 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hey straw, I'd like to see how you get from talking about the manufacturing of a rebel image by "Madonna and her handlers" to "casual misogyny".
posted by mondo dentro at 12:37 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Me too.

My guess is the phrase "and her handlers."
posted by notyou at 12:39 PM on July 23, 2014

Why would I need The Baffler, when I already have Metafilter?
posted by happyroach at 12:46 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I knew that "The Problem with Music" was going to be linked in the OP. KNEW it. I'd bet no article from The Baffler has appeared on so many message boards or linked so many times from Mefi. It's like an email meme that grandmother keeps sending you except that your grandma is a music scene hipster.

It's still good, though.
posted by ardgedee at 1:07 PM on July 23, 2014

straw: the casual misogyny in that statement just floored me.
Aptly named, man.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:20 PM on July 23, 2014

Given that the statement fits into the standard narrative that denigrates women artists by considering them products of handlers, "misogynistic" send pretty apt. After all, if that same sentence had been written about Kanye West, you'd have a crowd of posters screaming "Noooo! He is a GENIUS!". But it's OK to pass off women as poached products, not artists.
posted by happyroach at 1:31 PM on July 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Given that the statement fits into the standard narrative that denigrates women artists by considering them products of handlers, "misogynistic" send pretty apt.

That's what I figured. But can't one at least acknowledge that one is projecting something onto the article that might not be there?

Madonna is a no-doubt pop culture genius, as far as I'm concerned. But she still had handlers, right? She created (and appropriated) much, much more of her persona and scene than, say, the Sex Pistols (now those guys needed handlers with a capital H). But she still had handlers.

I can enjoy her music and her persona and still see the cynical manipulation in it. And I say that as someone who loved the politics--faux or not--of her American Life period. I mean, replace Madonna with Bowie (who I think is a similar type of genius, and a white guy, to boot), and it really doesn't change the article at all. Frank is clearly taking a shot at the capitalist star-maker machinery, and Madonna's role as a minion in it. That seems much more apt, to me, given the context.
posted by mondo dentro at 1:45 PM on July 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

I don't want to derail too far away from The Baffler to my own postmodern deconstruction of it, but I guess I already have so:

IAmBroom: Yep, when I chose the handle some 30-ish years ago, that connotation was in my mind; it's a handle that has a built in "don't take this persona too seriously", although the other association I hoped for was "camel's back".

But, to "handlers": Imagine that statement rewritten as "Arnold Schwarzenegger and his handlers".

Collaborators? Confederates? Partners? Associates? Ilk? All appropriate. "Handlers" introduces a clear statement of power dynamic that removes agency, and makes the claim that Madonna is a pawn in someone else's game, not the primary actor in her own narrative.
posted by straw at 2:08 PM on July 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I loved the Baffler and still love parts of the Baffler but their edgy cultural critic stance has predictably with the passage of decades become somewhat curmudgeonly. Like I am still jazzed on the magazine but somehow what with Twitter and Tumblr leveling the cultural diss field they are less outstanding to me personally.

I also think straw is completely right on. People don't talk about Kanye's "handlers" or Bowie's "handlers" the way they talk about Madonna/Lady Gaga/Beyonce's "handlers". It's a deeply entrenched patriarchy thing.
posted by beefetish at 2:52 PM on July 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

I saw this the other day and was really happy to see they did this. You can now go back to discussing hegemony if you wanna.
posted by sleepy pete at 3:23 PM on July 23, 2014

First hit for "kanye's handler's":
The 18-year-old who Kanye West allegedly beat up last week has asked for a ton of money to settle the case without criminal prosecution. The teen’s lawyer contacted Kanye’s handlers and expressed his client’s desire to strike a civil settlement for a price of several hundred thousand dollars.
There are plenty of others, in a variety of contexts and situations, mostly having to do with managing public image.

"Bowie's handlers"

"Arnold Schwarzenegger's handlers"

"Madonna's handlers"

More hits than the others, but the same context -- public image. Since Madonna was arguably bigger than any of the others, that's not surprising. There was more public image to manage.
posted by notyou at 4:37 PM on July 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

I always had the general impression that I liked Thomas Frank but in attempting to peruse some of his writings here I realized something. Frank is the modern H.L. Mencken- he's obviously clever, usually correct, and practically unreadable.
posted by hap_hazard at 4:56 PM on July 23, 2014

Mencken unreadable?

posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:25 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it's common to talk about entertainers' handlers and a huge jump to go from that to misogyny, straw.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:29 PM on July 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Well I always thought that, ironically, he really needed an editor. Hence the similarity. I'm sure that, had he been informed of my opinion, he would have had a rejoinder to the effect that I am an idiot. Fair enough. Except it would have taken him 3000 words and I'd never finish reading it.

posted by hap_hazard at 5:57 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Frank is the perfect replacement for Lapham over at Harper's.
posted by notyou at 6:47 PM on July 23, 2014

Don't overlook the Baffler's newish blog (frequently occupied by Kathleen Geier, who's awesome, and worth reading if Frank's style bugs you). Most recent post.

As to the swipe at Madonna, I'm sure you realize that one thing Frank cannot abide is the political phony. He is utterly consistent on this and I don't think there's anything particularly anti-woman there, although I'm sure many of us would have happily omitted "and her handlers" and felt the point was made. His project is more about pointing out how pop culture emasculated radicalism by appropriating from it, and I don't think you can really fault him for making that point. She's got a record contract. She may be someone that gets more "how high?" responses to "jump" than most musicians can ever imagine, but she has handlers -- if they don't control her they manage and massage her image.
posted by dhartung at 10:04 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

His project is more about pointing out how pop culture emasculated radicalism by appropriating from it, and I don't think you can really fault him for making that point.

"Emasculated," you say.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:39 PM on July 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

Ohhhh...whywhywhy did I click on this when it's already way past my bedtime?
posted by SisterHavana at 1:40 AM on July 24, 2014

I thought "handlers" refers to those who handle things, such as public image, for her. But now I can't unsee it referring to her as a thing to be handled.

But I guess this is a bit of a derail.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 2:56 AM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Handler thing aside I just read like a lot of those Baffler articles last night and some half asleep part of me wants to conflate Baffler articles and suck.com into a greater unified Cornered Rabid Clever Misanthrope thing

The Misanthrope thing gets so old
posted by beefetish at 11:04 AM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Misanthrope thing gets so old

Mr. Flinchy vs. Timon of Athens vs. Tom Frank vs. Ze Frank. FITE!
posted by octobersurprise at 1:52 PM on July 24, 2014

The Misanthrope thing gets so old

Good to see such trenchant criticism. I'll never see a The Baffler article the same way again.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 2:14 AM on July 29, 2014

(And man, I've been a Baffler subscriber in the old days and in the now & don't read misanthropy in it at all. Ever.)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 2:15 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

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