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Flu in the Face

A. S. Hamrah   February 04, 2016
Invasion of the Killer Bees. / M&R Glasgow

Anyone who spends time in enclosed public spaces is barraged with images from television news, most often broadcast from the default network, CNN. We glimpse these images, with the sound down, for only seconds at a time as they bounce, germ-like, from corner to corner, chasing us on our way. Fleeting news stories, green-screened behind us as we hustle from place to place, barely register as they seep into our subconscious.

Why are all these TV screens still lurking and hanging around now that our gaze is buried in our phones? They are there to make sure we see advertising right after we find out about the latest disaster that just happened—an explosion, a leak, a crash, then Geico, it’s what you do (the most pulverizing, untrue slogan since America runs on Dunkin’). Between these commercials that destroy meaning, news networks glue one news story to another, attaching them together in symptomatic montages that reveal new meanings. 

In the days leading up to the Iowa caucus, two kinds of hysterical coverage merged into one. The Zika virus, or the news media’s obsession with it, infected the 24-hour political speculation, creating a monster subtext to the anti-immigration rhetoric of the primaries. Once again, a virus linked to American fears of foreign contagion whipped the news media into a spasm of disease-based Othering, this time just as the 2016 presidential race officially began.


Field of Dreams

Chris Lehmann   February 03, 2016

 Because the Iowa caucuses are a perversely puny and undemocratic spectacle, heroic exertions are required to endow them with long-term narrative meaning. Worry not, though: Our media-political complex exists largely to billow the semblance of significance into the decaying husk of our public life, and Monday’s surreal and unhinged caucus balloting was certainly no exception.

Begin with the obvious trends that have upset the orderly progression of candidates through the presidential turnstiles. Primary voters in both major parties are in the throes of populist rebellion. A neoliberal leadership class on the Democratic side collects both its funding and its major policy initiatives via a system of glorified graft; the debt-ridden, not-yet-jaded working-class and youth vote on the left rises up in revolt to erase the 60-point lead formerly held by that class’s chosen administrator. Yet, sure enough, the consensus story is that Hillary Clinton has snagged an important victory from Monday’s caucus vote, and will roll on confidently to her eventual anointment as the savior of the Democrats.

Similarly, Republicans have spent the last six months in thrall to a mediagenic xenophobic billionaire, largely on the grounds that his candidacy permits them to say things that are unsayable in polite (or—horrors—politically correct) society. The ugliness of this license shouldn’t conceal that the inchoate Trump insurgency is also reacting to real economic marginalization—a decline in socio-political standing that easily gets translated into immigrant-bashing, self-dramatizing culture-war scripts and worse. Nevertheless, when Trump came up short in Iowa, this, too, was hailed as a long-overdue moment of vindication for the GOP’s own grown-up class of campaign fixers.


The Iowa Caucus: A Creative Visualization

David Rees   February 03, 2016
Political Cartoons by David Rees

Politics is hard, and we need some straightforward and literal way to handily process the ever-shifting alliances of power in an election season. To that end, The Baffler has employed expert comic mind David Rees to give a visual rendering of the day’s signature political controversies. The only problem is that David can’t draw, so his cartoons are word pictures—which is to say, words. He does, however, warmly urge Baffler readers to submit their own visual interpretations of the scenes he describes, so that we can get away with calling this a cartoon feature, and meet our quota of user-generated content on the Baffler website. 

Of all the art forms, none is more powerful and vital than political cartooning. Simple drawings of donkeys and elephants, with clearly labeled objects representing the issues of the day, can enlighten even the most sophisticated news consumer. When lighthearted caricatures of politicians are added to the mix, the results are even more explosive—indeed, they can change the course of American history. It happens every day.

Here is an idea I had for a political cartoon about recent events.  


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   February 03, 2016
Potato, pot-ah-to. / Wally Hartshorn

• Yesterday, Yahoo announced it intends to lay off 15 percent of its workforce—or approximately 1,700 employees. It’ll also be closing several offices, including those in Dubai, Mexico City, Milan, Madrid, and more. The company’s woes don’t end there; it’s also facing a lawsuit from a former employee over its controversial (i.e., bullshit) quarterly employee review process. Morale, unsurprisingly, is rapidly on the decline, and given Marissa Mayer’s track record (not to mention the company’s current financial situation), we’ll likely see even more cuts down the line. It looks like the company won’t be able to fall back on its usual strategy, which as Chris Lehmann reflected last year, consists of “pumping cash through its purple maw as its senior managers tried to figure out what the company was there for.” 

• With Al Jazeera America tragically on the way out (RIP), its digital team has put together a pretty fantastic collective portfolio showcasing their best work. Props for the excellent coverage—not to mention a creative, collaborative way of dealing with the trauma of mass layoffs. 

• Potatoes—once known for being one of the more cost-efficient ways of consuming calories—now play a central role in the weird art glut supported by the one-percent. Yes, that’s right—this picture of a spud sold for 1 million dollars. Here, Rhonda Lieberman’s words in issue no. 24 still ring true: “As the art world adapts to the neo-Gilded Age by recasting itself as luxury retail, the power of the purse has effectively vanquished the last vestiges of the old art world: criticism, and the aesthetic judgment that informs it.”


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   February 02, 2016
Ted Cruz: Fury Road. / David Holt

• Hey, Iowa—time to revisit Baffler senior editor Chris Lehmann’s words on Ted Cruz, from the LRB last June: “Every phase of Cruz’s launch into national renown has showcased this same barely repressed appetite for self-destruction . . . a man trained in every elite sanctum of the American meritocracy reduced to executing a Mad Max-style campaign of deliberate sabotage against the most basic operations of government.” 

• Today in scraping the barrel: GQ, desperate to prove that “Bill Clinton is Hillary’s Best Weapon,” has reported: “Some of the more ghoulish campaign reporters have even gone so far as to wonder whether Bill might die before November—and to game out just how much of a sympathy vote that would bring Hillary.”

• Over at The Awl, news that Uber recruits “people who have been essentially failed by institutions, mostly public but also private,” such as laid-off Walmart employees, veterans, and teachers. But it’s not because Uber treats them well, indeed “the elegance of surge pricing as a mechanism extends to its ability to neutralize a strike by silently and efficiently enticing scabs to drive for higher fares.”


Twilight of the Superpredators

Natasha Vargas-Cooper   February 02, 2016
Joe Biden, proud superpredator hunter. / Joe Mud

In the early 1990s a conservative criminologist at Princeton, John J. DiIulio, scanned the horizon and predicted that a new superbreed of hoodlums was coming like a demographic tidal wave. Over a twenty-year span, DiIulio forecast, 270,000 juvenile offenders would roam the nation’s streets, looking to rob, rape, or assault law-abiding citizens. Due to the depravation of the drugs ingested by their mothers, these young men would be too neurologically damaged to feel empathy; growing up, they would be “fatherless, Godless, and jobless.” According to DiIulio, these youths would prove to be superpredatory, “more terrorist than criminal.”

In his 1996 essay, “My Black Crime Problem and Ours,” DiIulio later wrote, “Think how many black children grow up where parents neglect and abuse them, where other adults and teenagers harass and harm them, where drug dealers exploit them. Not surprisingly, in return for the favor, some of these children kill, rape, maim, and steal without remorse.” DiIulio’s prophecy was echoed by other respected criminologists like James Q. Wilson, Alfred Blumstein, and James Fox, who christened the future “a bloodbath.” 

The public at large already had an image for packs of feral black teens destined to terrorize civilians: the Central Park Five, a group of mostly black boys from gritty uptown projects who took to the park to swagger, bully, and punk well-to-do locals. When they were (wrongfully) accused of brutally raping and assaulting a female jogger, the images of glowering young black boys saturated nightly news coverage. 


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   January 29, 2016
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. / Robert Scoble

• Brands will be brands, we suppose . . . Pepsi is opening a “baffling” new Brooklyn restaurant called Kola House, offering guests “a premium experience,” that only vaguely reminds them of the company’s flagship beverage. Such “experiences” are popping up across Brooklyn and lower Manhattan, including a Chobani yogurt cafe and a Nike “fitness studio.” But “brand expert” Allen Adamson is skeptical, warning that “while they can buy Super Bowl spots, they can’t buy edge, they can’t buy panache, they can’t buy sizzle.” Hmmm.

• More nostalgia brand than cover band, The Bayside Tigers are making a mint running “Saved by the ’90s events” in half a dozen cities, trading on the guileless commodification of punk rock and its aftermath that contributing editor Eugenia Williamson chronicled in her Baffler no. 29 salvo.

• Google has opened up about shelling out something in the neighborhood of $12,000 to buy back its domain,, after the mega-corporation somehow let its registration slip last fall. The former employee who snapped up the domain for $12 gave the proceeds of his minute-long ownership of the site to the Art of Living India foundation, which operates schools in poorer regions of that country.


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   January 28, 2016
Really, we don't understand why they'd have any trouble selling this stuff. / Michael Saechang

• Former Labour Leader Ed Miliband weighs in on income inequality in the United Kingdom and the United States in the pages of the LRB, even giving a shout-out to the Fight for 15 movement. He considers, among others, Robert Putnam’s Our Kids, dissected recently for The Baffler by Kim Phillips-Fein. We think his advice for the future of Britain’s Labour party could be put to pretty good use in upcoming Democratic debates, too. Writes Miliband, “the deep injustices of modern capitalism compel us to find a better way of living together. The left should approach the coming years with a determination to renew itself but also with confidence in its values.”

• Oh Millennials! They won’t buy houses, they don’t have 401ks, and now, the bastards won’t even eat our fast food. Chains like KFC and Pizza Hut are rebranding to get into the wallets of young spenders, following platitudes that tell them to “offer novelty” and “communicate with a warm, personal tone.” Nouveau Pizza Hut will feature “industrial-style lighting [and] exposed rock walls,” just what twenty-somethings crave along with their mystery meat and trans fats.

• The Indian telecom authorities will rule this week on whether to put an end to Facebook’s controversial plan to offer free, but limited (and heavily branded), internet service in the country. Al Jazeera calls it “a decision that could have momentous implications for the private sector’s role in expanding Internet access in the developing world.”

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