A number of un-funny things happened on the way to “Battle Hymns,” The Baffler no. 28. We began our planning in the Spring with a somewhat hifalutin phrase bandying about our brains: “the dialectic of violence and empathy.” Over the jagged months of writing, illustrating, and editing the issue, however, the deaths of Walter Scott in Charleston and Freddie Gray in Baltimore seemed to fill America with more violence than empathy—more menace and mayhem than penance and amen. We wound up with a hard-bitten issue (the largest in our history, incidentally) containing stories, essays, and poems documenting, protesting, and analyzing the coordinates of our country’s worst domestic racial unrest in more than twenty years. Now we bring two of these “Battle Hymns” to Baltimore, a scene of the crime, to talk things over.
Alex Pareene will discuss his “Cable News Charnel” (“right on the money,” says Matt Taibbi), which dissects media coverage of Baltimore’s unrest as a prime example of the exploitation of violence for the cheap spectacle of the status quo. Pareene writes:
The broad contours of the Baltimore coverage all translated, in visual and rhetorical terms, into a crudely effective single message: outraged black people are, seemingly by nature, ungovernable. The pertinent news tropes are now so firmly entrenched that they would likely have reinforced this dictum even if the mourners of Freddie Gray had turned out en masse with a giant scroll of petition signatures and addressed the local gentry with a series of elaborate bows and deferential hand gestures.
John Summers will discuss the surprising relevance of Richard Hofstadter’s “Reflections on Violence in the United States,” abridged and republished in “Battle Hymns.” “Today,” Hofstadter writes (in 1970), “we are not only aware of our own violence, we are frightened by it.” Yeah, no kidding! Summers can only shudder to imagine how the great twentieth-century historian would roll over in his grave if recordings of Wolf Blitzer and Don Lemon were somehow piped into his casket. Hofstadter, writing at the end of another period of racially motivated civil unrest, ascertained the sources of violence in the ruling elites. “The primary precedent and the primary rationale for violence comes from the established order itself. Violence is, so to speak, an official reality.”
Come and join the unofficial reality of The Baffler at Red Emma’s on Friday, July 31, 7:30 p.m. If you purchase a new subscription now, you’ll have the issue before the event.