ice skat

The Joys of Consumption

Robert Appelbaum   July 03, 2015
The Cook, The Thief, His Wife,  and Her Mother /  Allarts

In the 1970s, when the New Deal consensus began to erode, something unexpected started to play a role in popular culture. It was the decade after the industry-approved release of The Pawnbroker (1964), the first Hollywood film to show women’s bare breasts, and all the old taboos seemed to have been sloughed off. Sex and violence of the crudest kinds were permissible now in books, magazines, and on the big screens. Someone must have asked, why not cannibalism, too?

Why not, indeed. What has happened in the human world over history and from place to place, what human beings are capable of, what the limits of human cooperation and aggression may be—these are all subjects of importance for just about anyone with an inquisitive mind, even when they touch on that which seems to be inherently disgusting or horrifying. And so films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Cannibal Holocaust (1980) hit the big screen, along with creative, eerie art house works like Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (1999), which concludes, after much vicious hedonism on the part of the rich protagonists, with a cannibal repast. Fannie Flagg’s bestseller novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café (1987)—peddled as an innocuous, feel-good book—was able to finish off with a comic tale of a cannibal barbecue (a grilled baby, no less). And in the grim world of Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho (1991), the only thing more rewarding than eating a person one has murdered seems to be having sex with the corpse. 

Scholars got in on the act as well. Anthropologists, historians, and critics became fascinated not only by the newly current popular cultural phenomenon but also with the history of cannibalism, either as actually practiced, as related in legend (from Herodotus to the Grimm Brothers), or as falsely ascribed to foreign peoples, whose supposed cannibalism was used as evidence that it was okay for Western imperialists to come in, see, conquer and civilize them. I plead guilty myself. I wrote on the subject in connection with Shakespeare, Defoe, and the 1607 settlement of Jamestown. That is why I was invited to a conference at Southampton University recently, where the subject was “Cannibalism in the Early Modern Atlantic.” Among the developments that caused us to gather was the discovery, confirmed by forensic anthropologists but contravening my own earlier beliefs, that in early Jamestown, during the starving time of 1609-10, some early English colonists really did eat their dead.


Bending Toward Real Justice

Scott Beauchamp   July 02, 2015
The Trans-Pacific Partnership represents a great disturbance in the force. / Star Wars

In the moving celebrations that came in the wake of the SCOTUS decision legalizing gay marriage in America last week, the White House and Empire State Building were both bathed in a commemorative rainbow light and the Washington D.C. Gay Men’s Chorus sang a stirring rendition of the national anthem. Social media, of course, had its role to play, as over 26 million people washed their Facebook profile pictures with a foregrounded rainbow flag. It felt like America had coalesced around the celebration of real social progress.

For the most part, that is. Of course those unhappy cranks on the left and right fringes struck their usual contrarian poses, but when reactionary radio host Bryan Fischer compared the ruling to a “moral 9/11,” it landed with all the grace of a pathetic heckle from a team that had already lost the game. These people didn’t have the power anymore. And criticism from the other end of the political spectrum—that marriage is an antiquated and fundamentally arcane social institution that doesn’t need the support of the state—was met with the patronizing silence that popular opinion has always saved for radical party poopers. Those people never had the power to begin with.

Equal marriage rights for gay couples is, of course, progress, a tangible example of the arc of moral universe bending toward hard-won justice. But, not to tire the metaphor, is the timeline of progress so uncomplicated that it bends purely towards justice of every sort, in every way?


The Permanent War on Terror: Only As Old As It Feels

Jacob Silverman   July 01, 2015
David Cameron visiting troops in Afghanistan. /

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the declaration of the Islamic State. The most infamous cult of ultra-violent millenarian revolutionists since the Khmer Rouge celebrated the event in characteristic style: by murdering some people. On Friday, terrorist attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait, and France occurred with a disturbing synchronicity, leading to speculation that IS had some connection to each of them. In the first two cases, that appears to be true. In the French attack, there are suggestions of a workplace dispute gone murderous, with an IS member providing a helpful nudge (the killer beheaded his boss and then sent a photo to a IS fighter on WhatsApp).

The vigorous IS media presence has allowed anyone with a gun and a smartphone to claim to be acting in tribute, if not cooperation, with the Islamic State. Lone wolf attacks may be celebrated or retroactively sanctioned by IS, depending on the circumstances. The organization has also been far more ready to embrace affiliates than Al Qaeda, which under Osama Bin Laden used to vigorously vet potential leaders. All of this contributes to the impression that, despite recently losing ground in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State remains a serious threat to the West.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has leapt to the vanguard of IS hawks. He recently called the fight against IS “the struggle of our generation.” Reacting to the beachside attack in Tunisia, in which as many as thirty Britons died, he wrote, “The man who did this, the smiling gunman with a Kalashnikov hidden in a parasol, demonstrates the level of evil we are dealing with. It’s an evil we’ve seen on Mount Sinjar in Iraq and in shopping malls in Kenya; at magazine offices in Paris and in schools in Pakistan.”


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   July 01, 2015
A car which isn't super enough./ Brian Snelson

• Today in Bespoke: Is your supercar failing to stand out in a sea of supercars? So make your supercar more super still! Herelet us direct you to the manufacturer now catering to that armor-plated circular thinking popularized by the superrich; it offers to “adorn every inch of” your “exotic vehicle” with some replacement carbon bodywork. The job can cost anything between 100k-200k, which, Pistonheads notes, is an astoundingly relaxed estimate, with a range of 100 percent. It would be churlish to refuse!

• Ben Schwartz recently wrote on the Baffler blog that “No one was more surprised to be booed during Vietnam than Bob Hope. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if one day, and maybe one day soon, the same thing happens to Amy Schumer or John Oliver.” 

• And, speaking of prescience, Shingy, AOL’s trend diviner and tech-world prognosticator (title: “digital prophet”), has been at the tealeaves again. Millennials are “freaky for video,” apparently—take note.


The Unbearable Emptiness of Politics as Code

Corey Pein   June 30, 2015
Bland Peter appeared only in cardboard cut-out form

Nothing inspires nihilism quite like physical proximity to a U.S. presidential campaign. Having attended my first pseudo-event of the 2016 election cycle in San Francisco, I must now banish the encroaching numbness by speaking its name. Evil, thy name is campaign hackathon!

The ostensible purpose of this wasted weekend was to harness the skill and energy of the San Francisco hacker scene to promote the presidential candidacy of a certain libertarian scion who is the darling of the hipster-libertarian right. But of course, the real raison d’etre was to lure the hacks of the news media with the tantalizing promise of a “tech angle” (or, in the case of tech reporters, a political angle).

Thus there is only one measure by which to judge this experience: Did it generate press coverage? Indeed it did. You are reading some of it. I and at least five other journalists, including MSNBC’s Ronan Farrow, swallowed the bait and then, to justify our investment of time, wove whatever flimsy narrative threads we could conjure out of the scenea congeries of young American adults typing furiously into a battery of computer screensinto an approximation of newsworthy material. The result is what campaign professionals call “earned media” for the candidate, whose name will inevitably appear in every resulting storyexcept this one.


Show Those Pearly Whites

Charles Davis   June 30, 2015
Blinking Lei

Officially, things have rebounded since Wall Street collapsed and the world’s wealthiest and most rugged individualists turned to Washington for a bailout. Corporate America is now raking in more money than ever before, and unemployment rates continue to fall, inching back toward pre-2008 lows. Look closer, though, and it’s still a hirer’s market. Underemployment remains in the double digits, and the jobs that the unemployed are seeking pay less than the jobs they lost (not even enough to keep up with inflation).

Enter the video cover letter, the latest indignity dreamed up by the sadists in HR. There may not be enough work to go around, but there’s plenty of make-work, doled out to desperate job-hunters in no position to complain. Want to apply? Okay then, but first write, shoot, and edit a video to plead your case.

In the entertainment industry, headshots—black and white, with brick in the background—have long been de rigueur for actor hopefuls. But for most jobs, appearance was not assessed until the in-person interview, by which time the employer had already taken stock of the candidate’s experience and skills. Now, however, more and more employers are frontloading the visual; they’re skipping the headshot and going straight to video, requiring every applicant to be an actor.


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   June 30, 2015
Yeats's work was allegedly inspired by Tinder and Uber, and dedicated to Snapchat. / freeparking :-|

• Got a startup and on the lookout for some seriously dubious career advice to internalize? Try this chunk of wisdom, from the FT: “To defy the startup odds, try pitching like a poet.” The similarity between startup entrepreneurs and poets are, of course, legion: they are both rendered “solitary” by their “vision” and need for “creative freedom,” and both rely on “mentors.” (Perhaps “the normal rules of social engagement” don’t apply to both types, too.) “Practise your 13-second elevator pitch until it rolls off the tongue, like a beautiful sonnet,” the article quips. And hope your magnus opus© is recognized within your lifetime, we might add.

• Over at the LRB, Chase Madar looks at the role of human rights experts in advocating lethal violence, and points out that the work of Harold Koh, Samantha Power, Bernard-Henri Lévy, and others, “legitimated acts of military violence [with] human rights window dressing.”

• As he’s matured, Damien Hirst has stopped flashing art-world types, but he’s still much the exhibitionist Natasha Vargas-Cooper made him out to be in her salvo in Baffler no. 26, aiming to provoke “an aesthetic response that is little more than a fleeting revulsion.” In factto top it allhe’s writing his autobiography. But what we want to know is, will it be an “autocritography”? Or is it “‘self-reflexive, self-consciously academic act’ that accounts for the ‘individual, social, and institutional conditions that help to produce’” Hirst?


The Branded, the Sponsored, and the Native

Niela Orr   June 26, 2015
Sponsored Content: coming to a town near you. / jpellgen

The name of Samsung’s new advertising campaign for its Galaxy 6 and 6 Edge devices coos with the consumer-soothing cadences of a practiced therapist, or masseuse: “The 30-Minute Recharge: Connectivity Without Concern.” In reality, though, the campaign has all the subtlety of a traveling food adventure show hosted by Guy Fieri—only with none of the vicarious guilty pleasures that come with accompanying Fieri into the artery-hardening backways of American cuisine.

Instead, the lifestyle concierges behind the Samsung campaign want to tutor savvy smartphone users in the canons of higher-end hipster travel. They lavish admiring pixels on hoity-toity hotels and the off-kilter tourist attractions of major American cities yearly anthologized in travel guides like Not For Tourists. The content’s form, a series of branded editorials on, might mimic the format of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, and is very obviously low-stakes fare, offering uncritical praise of its host-cities, and barely veiled, conspicuously inserted factoids about the thing it’s selling: “With its flowing waterfalls, lush landscaping, and beaming sunlight, there may be no better place to recharge your batteries in all of Hotlanta.” Or if you prefer the harder sell: “With over 330 Wi-Fi access points, make sure you check-in with your Galaxy S®6 one last time before Turner Field’s final game is played when the Braves move to the suburbs in 2017.”

Yeah, man—the suburbs are for squares—squares with shitty Wi-Fi coverage!

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