-The Boston Globe
"pieces are readable"
-The Chicago Tribune
0. About the Baffler.
The founding editor of the Baffler is Thomas Frank. Timmy is better known for xher book What's the Matter with Kansas?, which became a bestseller due to its shameless reliance on the red-state/blue-state phrenology that Democrats used throughout the Bush administration to assert their political castration as a foregone conclusion. To my mind, the most important thing about What's the Matter with Kansas? is that in Australia and the UK it was published as What's the Matter with America? And the most memorable parts of the book are the ruin porn vignettes, required of political non-fiction like battle damage on a model airplane, which wail over the collapse of Ye Olde Kansase, conveniently forgetting it never should have existed in the first place.
Whatever, this is really unfair to lead off with. I'm tinging your perception of The Baffler with a review of a completely different work, that is NOT fair! I'm sure Timmy's magazine avoids the incessant pandering and self-satisfaction of that book. (Worth noting: Timmy is one of those "born again" liberals who was a conservative as a young person.) Check out the reserved, modest About page The Baffler presents to the world.
First things first: it is tax-deductible. "As charitable as a church"! The church I live next to gives out canned food and non-perishables to homeless people twice a week by the way. Following this is empty adspeak arranged as a breathless history of the magazine. Does the following portend well for the issue I'm about to read?
They named their magazine as a joke on academic fads like undecidability, then in fashion. The Baffler was born to laugh at the baffling jargon of the academics and commercial avant-garde, to explode their paralyzing agonies of abstraction and interpretation.
No. That put me right to sleep. But fortunately this chained corgi takes notes or gets the length of surgical tubing. Translated: they're gonna beat those five dollar words out of those nerds' dumb faces. Fair enough. For example: they have criticized Scooby Doo.
Look, we gotta fast forward. I don't have time for this nonsense. They jabber on about predictable minutiae of zine history, ("we had some late issues, LOL" and "this one time, we lost some equipment!") before sneering at This American Life (easy target - they should hang on a sign on TAL reading "please do not disturb the gay essayists") and The Atlantic (Timmy writes for Harper's, fucking, thank you). One more line because we are really out of time:
Our recent satires and tearjerkers have gone into French, German, Greek, Italian, Mandarin, Polish, and Spanish, in order to annoy thought leaders in those languages too.
Very well. As an innovator in the area of "thought" I will expect some severe annoyances to my racist, sexist, geocentric preconceptions. Welcome.
1. Nerds on the Knife Edge by Jaron Lanier (well-off white person)
First off, I will not stoop to posting a picture of Jaron Lanier. That would not be fair. This article is Lanier in one-sided "conversation," monologuing at Baffler screwup unknown. Lanier asks "When was the birth of the nerd?" without explaining what a "nerd" might be - again, how unfair of me! We are in conversation here, I shouldn't require that kind of elaboration when I'm just shootin the shit with my main failed computer scientist person Lanier.
After all, our connection goes deeper than language. It goes a fucking lot deeper than any connection in this essay. These paragraphs float freely, moored only to the memes of junk poli sci writers, obsessed with the internet as a potential force for good, rather than a new form of crack cocaine to distract the alienated bourgeois youth (yes, the internet is an anti-riot measure, we all know that). Lines like "What I'm seeing right now is people choosing to be the same rather than different" make me wonder if the conversation took place over a viewing of Edward Scissorhands. Or try this:
Every area of life can have its own startup, of course, but most of them today try to do the same few things. We’ll put sensors in snow cones, aggregate all the data, optimize, and then we’ll know everything about who prefers what kind of snow cone, and we’ll correlate that with their health prospects and their career prospects, and then we’ll sell that data! Fine, I think sensors in snow cones could be great, for public health or whatever. The problem is that...
Emphasis mine. No, you beached Carnival cruise ship, not fine. This is where you take that little productive force and politely squash xher face, screaming, "I'll show you a justifiable use of force, it's not snow cone monitoring, it's this cruel leg lock!"
Lanier could have picked an example from reality, like the people who want to lab up steaks, beating cows at their own game. It's a big waste of everything involved, from the lab equipment to the media attention; we shouldn't be eating red meat because it's incredibly energy intensive to make, within or without the confines of the bovine. It's an idea about as stupid as including pieces of candy in the "Internet of Things" and reasonable people question the point of trying.
But for Lanier, the question is whether the flesh distillery has "culture," whether there is "some little bubble that's not meshed with everything else, within which something can brew." This is the liberalism that believes American universities are a breeding ground for revolution. This is the attitude that Google brought to Mountain View. This is the attitude of Thomas Friedman popular business editorialist. I wonder if, like college-aged Timmy those many years ago, Lanier has reformed from xher reactionary views of 2006, when xhe expressed xher fear of mass-scale online groupthink - as xhe deemed it, "digital Maoism." Don't overanalyze that, we're just having a conversation here.
2. The People’s Republic of Zuckerstan by John Summers (well-off white person)
As a ploy to get me to read every word of a Baffler article, this contest is a miserable failure. The broad strokes of Summers' astonishment reveal the dark truth: politicians are dick riding!!! in 2014!!! I give this article credit for collecting facts and reporting the state of an ongoing problem. Then I take the credit away for reaching conclusions like this:
Partly by design, partly by accident, the corporate consolidation of the housing stock will wind up leaching diversity from neighborhoods by pricing residents out and installing corporate professionals in their place. Innovation means the price of existing goes up.
Welcome to America, white one! You never expected they'd fuck with the set of Legally Blonde, huh?
Summers bounces from pet peeve to sad clown, always too late to be any use. The Kochs already own MIT - check out how out-of-touch David Koch is - Aaron Swartz was a martyr - meanwhile Israel has nuked another Gazan baby food testing facility and Brazilian robot miners install neatly shaped sinkholes under favelas. Yeah bud, it sucks a hard nard when the rich seize land from you.
Not that one place matters and the other doesn't, but the key feature of Summers' piece is hand-wringing about the future of people who want to be in Cambridge and practice "art, literature, music, history, dance, sculpture, painting, philosophy, religion, poetry, or drama, the traditional means by which a diverse community grows conscious and formulates its standards of value." Citation needed. Why is writing - sorry, exploding paralyzing agonies of abstraction and interpretation - absent from that list? You'd think modesty, but Summers reveals truth: writing/exploding will stay safe, because xher landlord is cool, and doesn't jack up xher rent. Whew, I thought there was going to be a sad ending to this one, but everything turns out all right! Close one!
Although Summers manages the tiniest dribble of dick sauce for the working class, they do not really appear in this piece. The homeless get a couple mentions, as an example of the public nuisance created by the corporatization of urban areas. The criticism of tech conglomerates and king idiots Zuckerberg and Dave Koch is the easy part of the piece, a distraction from the main point. That is, a member of the American leisure class - to borrow a phrase from Andrew Holloway, "these bourgeois individualists wrestling with their private visions in lonely studios" - pissed at xher caste's lack of political influence.
This is 2 for 2, by the way, articles that are primarily people mourning the fun quirky MIT of the 70s that was fist-in-latex-glove with the Department of Defense the whole time. Keep it up The Baffler, maybe up next is a takedown of A Beautiful Mind as ignorant to MIT campus geography? An expose about how everyone is drinking Coca Cola products? Can we please have a hint of a program, Summers, because "get a chill landlord who's like, totally old school" is not going to be feasible advice for some of us.
3. What’s the Point If We Can’t Have Fun? by David Graeber (well-off white person)
This could be titled, Obviously We Would Print Anything David Graeber Told Us To. The actual title doesn't have any significance to the essay.
That’s why the existence of animal play is considered something of an intellectual scandal. It’s understudied, and those who do study it are seen as mildly eccentric. As with many vaguely threatening, speculative notions, difficult-to-satisfy criteria are introduced for proving animal play exists, and even when it is acknowledged, the research more often than not cannibalizes its own insights by trying to demonstrate that play must have some long-term survival or reproductive function.
Citation fucking needed! Is considered by whom, are seen as by whom else, I just don't believe this load of shit. On the other hand, and somehow in opposition to the entire panoply of scientists, I have no problem believing cows "play." Maybe I am one of the lucky ones, the bodhisattvas, if so, please buy me weed.
Why do animals play? Well, why shouldn’t they? The real question is: Why does the existence of action carried out for the sheer pleasure of acting, the exertion of powers for the sheer pleasure of exerting them, strike us as mysterious? What does it tell us about ourselves that we instinctively assume that it is?
This is called framing the debate, it's a long-favored conservative tactic, and liberals aren't too good at it yet. They want to be real polite so they use porkfist phrases like "the real question is" to tell you why you were stupid for asking the fake question. I mean, why don't you be careful where you're sticking that anthropomorphized terminology (play, pleasure) because you don't know where it's been and you could cause a metaphorical bestiality or something.
Graeber pounds the old gongs of the history of "smart people" arguing about whether altruism is possible. This essay being a foregone conclusion, the obvious is ignored again and again; this being Graeber, something ("neo-Darwinian evolution") is inevitably dismissed as "full-blown capitalist." Graeber's soft-serve-science attachment to human consciousness clogs up xher own thoughts. Xhe writes, "How do apparently robotic cells and systems combine in such a way as to have qualitative experiences: to feel dampness, savor wine, adore cumbia but be indifferent to salsa?" Maybe it's because they exist in a chemically complex and thermodynamically ordered environment? Creationists try to say the human eye is proof of God's existence because it could not have evolved; for Graeber, a bottle of liquor is proof that humans exist outside evolution, I guess because alcoholism is a spiritual disease.
Graeber continues. It is hard for me to stay so specific when xhe has so little interest in the same. Xhe brings up lobsters, then forgets about them. It has recently been shown that lobsters do feel pain in much the same way we do - that would help your thesis maybe? Or if you could give us examples of lobsters doing something not immediately self-interested, and labelling it Play? Control + F for "lobster" is no use.
Now onto electrons. I absolutely can't be first to the trough against this slop, but keeping in mind that I am pretty stupid, I still am able to understand the statistical impossibility of macro-scale quantum superpositions that forms the horizon of incompatibility between quantum physics and relativity, receding infinitely like Graeber's minimum word count. (Do anthropologists bother to learn statistics?) I gave up here, underlines are mine, see me after class:
I don’t deny that what I’ve presented so far is a savage simplification of very complicated issues... I would just insist that such a perspective is at least as plausible as the weirdly inconsistent speculations that currently pass for orthodoxy, in which a mindless, robotic universe suddenly produces poets and philosophers out of nowhere.
Why did xhe write this? Well, why shouldn't xhe? The real question is, with deep thinkers like this at the helm, why did it take Occupy so many days to utterly smash the corporate slave state?
4. A Thing or Two about a Thing or Two, a.k.a. Science by Barbara Ehrenreich (well-off white person)
I am taking these one at a time, so consider Ehrenreich's opening lines proof of my total prescience. Wherever you see an asterisk, imagine me exclaiming, 'give me a fucking break!' progressively louder each time.
Rationalists tend to frown upon group activities that seem to serve no evident biological or political purpose,* like the drumming and masking so often indulged in by protest movements like Occupy Wall Street. * Or, for a more historically venerable example, consider the reaction of European conquerors and missionaries to the shocking spectacles they encountered during the “age of exploration.” * * *
I suppose Ehrenreich's first duty is to stroke Graeber's wet butt over Occupy. This turns out to be a companion piece to Graeber's essay, restating xher case, with a little more lip-service to the ego of the reader. Knowing how pissed off the reader must have been with Graeber's smarmy ending ("wasn't that fun?" YEAH DAD, REAL FUN TO GO TO THE WATERFRONT BLUES FEST AND GET A SUNBURN), Ehrenreich goes bananas over "agency," a favorite harping point for first world noobs. The one thing you don't wanna be caught without is agency!
Liberals love agency because it's totally unassailable, like nature and nurture, it will never be resolved that agency can't exist. It's extremely comforting to cling to when your entire life and career are administered by environmental factors, which they are. It used to be that we only discussed the agency of fictional characters (before the term leaked into the groundwater from the illegally buried septic tank of literary criticism), because it referred not to free will, but the implementation of free will as a plot device. A character without agency isn't disenfrachised - it's unrealistic. If a real person doesn't have agency it's because the whole story isn't being told.
5. Hoard d’Oeuvres: Art of the 1 Percent by Rhonda Lieberman (well-off white person)
I just can't give too much of myself to this. John Berger and Orson Welles are some recommend white sources for your pop-history needs re: commodified art. Lieberman meets or exceeds state requirements for current content related to the subject of art prostituted by a consumer society gone mental and by stupid rich people being such jerks. However, xhe shares xher fellow Baffler staffers' reliance on the exceptional present to sell xher theme. Lines like "Long practiced in the finer points of destroying companies—and individuals—to loot their assets, finance now plunders public institutions too" and "As Walmart uglifies the country with big box stores..." had me consulting Wikipedia to see if Lieberman is 3, or contracted total amnesia in the last 3 years.
It is widely known that the point of high art, of collector's art, is to launder and hide money, and I have little empathy for Lieberman's separation anxiety over things that were in many cases explicitly commissioned to represent and store wealth. Jeff Koons provides a fun moment of doublethink for Lieberman - why should we give a fuck that billionaires collect Koons' work? Because billionaires shouldn't be able to hoard art, even the bullshit bought-out "art" that is exclusively made for the billionaires. "...the Koons oeuvre creates the overarching impression that all aesthetic value is vaguely farcical and ever contingent." That's supposed to be a complaint, by the way.
6. Play, Dammit by Heather Havrilesky (well-off white person)
I was looking forward, at first, to a little Bob Barker-style disgust with capitalist "leisure time." But Havrilesky's plugging someone's book here, so there is no.... playing around For xher, the main extant American play behaviors are the behaviors of Netflix addicts, the target demographic of The Baffler: watching TV, watching a movie, watching a music video, playing a video game. Holy shit, that's not play, is it? How are we going to learn to play again? Well there's a book Havrilesky read, that involves American adults being "rejuveniled" by joining kickball leagues and baking comfort food. Another suggestion, have a baby, they love to play, a baby could be like, your second chance at childhood! Havrilesky previously wrote a piece for The Baffler called Fifty Shades of Late Capitalism and xhe has 2 babies.
7. Rage Against the Machines by Ian Bogost (well-off white person)
I have nothing too bad to say about this article. It's an okay read for someone who has never played more than one or two video games, ever.
I will say this. There is no need for Bogost to trip all over xher plastic goatee bringing up mass murderers. This is called framing the debate, very poorly. The only legitimate reason to mention Adam Lanza in this article is for search engine optimization.
There is also a classic blind spot of video game workers like Bogost, to never connect games to gambling. Xhe speaks directly to addiction and reward schedules - maybe there would be room for a mention of slot machines, race track betting, scratcher cards, and other time-honored monkeys for the backs of the masses? When we went to Vegas in college we spent hours screaming at each other over free drinks at a bank of slot machines, wasting our tiny pennies grimace after grimace. We were disgusting but I would say that still counts as play. I don't know if Bogost avoids slot machines because they demystify the addictive allure of video games, or just because xhe would have to do actual work discussing a better-understood dominator of people's leisure time.
A cynical person, like myself, might point out that Bogost opened with murderers as a distraction from the real value of people like himself: xhe is on par with the person who made the animation where the clown breaks a piggy bank with an oversized hammer and I get 50 cents.
8. Neoliberalism, the Revolution in Reverse by Chris Lehmann (well-off white person)
The Baffler is not a neoliberal publication. Lehmann uses "neoliberal(ism)" 41 times in this essay against neoliberalism. 10 years ago, when Timmy's book came out, xhe would have used neoconservative 41 times. There is no fucking god damn way I'll read this whole essay, but let me guess, neoliberalism is bad, the free market sucks, and all those racist old piece of shit philosophers who said the free market was awesome? Turns out they didn't ever even say that shit, it's all taken out of context. Sure feels great to be a... progressive? Senior editor? Whatever side Lehmann is on, anyway.
9. Deal Me Out: A stacked deck at the New York Times by Alex Pareene (well-off white person)
Hey, finally a decent article... reminds me why I read Salon in the first place. Again, I have to point out, for those of us on Earth, who already know that the Business section is the place where the Illuminiti puts their coded messages about what pizza chains to bankrupt or whose helicopter is faster or whatever, we find palatable the idea that financial reporters would eat crabs fished from the poisoned hair lagoon of Lloyd Blankfein's asshole. Good job squaring the circle for us Pareene.
10. The Vertically Integrated Rape Joke: The triumph of Vice by Anne Elizabeth Moore (well-off white person)
Another reprieve from the bad writing. Rupert Murdoch should be pronounced clinically evil and peeled like a candy wrapper and Shane Smith should be forced to change xher name to Please Legalize Rape. Memorializing their inhuman wrigglings is a public service by Moore, who is welcome to post here at tHE rHizzonE where there are no libel laws (if xher account is approved). In the future, xhe might not want to pimp xher book with such a tortured analogy about pinning and dying fabric, or at least take it to the next level (ie "yet the sheeple who seem to achieve status as dyed-in-the-wool printers of the cultural fabric may just be wolfles in sheeples' clothing").
11. Bcc: Dridge by Paul Maliszewski and J. Wagner (well-off white person, and ??? while researching this aside, I came across this New Inquiry article about the person I assume must be J. Wagner, and who happens to be a well-off white person)
I will admit I am out of my depth with the fiction portions of The Baffler. A fun thing to do with this piece is to imagine, what if it were a conversation between Christopher Walken and Michael Caine?
12.Learned by Fanny Howe (well-off white person)
Even more out of my depth, I guess. With this one, make sure to shout, "Long live the glorious victory of the people's war" afterward.
13. Concerned Possibly Overly Concerned with the Eagle Warehouse & Storage Company of Brooklyn 1893 by Dara Wier (well-off white person)
Love hurts, my friend. Long live the glorious victory of the people's war.
14. It was the year we turned to dragons by Metta Sáma
Ok, let's get this out of the way. Sáma is the first non-white writer up for review. Is this the place where I accuse The Baffler of tokenism? Of the writers I couldn't review: Gabriel Zaid is Mexican; Airea Matthews, Terrance Hayes, Thomas Sayers Ellis, and Gene Seymour are black; George Scialabba, Erik Simon, Michael Wolf, and Timothy Donelly are white. So there is an argument to be made either way, but I do mean to point out who is in charge of the political/editorial part of the magazine, and who are the guest poets. You racists.
I have read a lot of descriptions of people turning into dragons and this sets a record for fewest genitalia mentioned.
15. Feminism for Them? by Susan Faludi (well-off white person)
This essay turns out to be an ad for the Floyd Dell essay later in the issue. In my little opinion, "XX years later, have we fulfilled this past prediction?" essays are the lowest form of editorialism. Simply because you can mine any kind of ancient, misguided, barely-noteworthy opinion you need on hand to make your broader point. http://thelastpsychiatrist.com has been banging on about this subject for years.
16. Tom Clancy, Military Man by Andrew Bacevich (well-off white person)
What did you think was the point of universal literacy???
17. Decently Downward: An appointment with John O’Hara by William T. Vollmann (well-off white person)
I recuse myself from this one because I fucking hate William T Vollman. When people look at my bookshelf my first instinct is to apologize for Europe Central being on it. Vollman, you will never be John Updike, ever.
18. Feminism for Men by Floyd Dell (deceased, but when xhe was alive...)
This essay is only included so that Faludi can bless xher innocent, ignorant corpse for having it all so right and yet so, so wrong. Cut. Boom in the shot, reset please.
My conclusion is that The Baffler Issue #24 is not a catalyst for immediate and violent global revolution and must itself be destroyed. I have no patience for the various extended whines labelled "content" by the editors. I have always found the line, "write what you know" to be a little suspect, because the result is first-world academics sticking to their pet issues, standing up for America a little bit, you know they're making American women join the workforce these days? That's right, the same workforce that includes the rest of the world's women. Admit your cushy life and die.