Skip to content

Issues

Throughout history, corruption was always held to be the great downfall of Western republics. It signaled the telltale, inevitable moment when public virtues succumbed to rampaging private vices. As institutional rot, avarice, and dishonor continued to spread through the upper reaches of governance, the social order at large would descend into squalor. Keen to embrace any faint semblance of order on the brink of the abyss, citizens would relinquish the hard-won principles of self-rule and rally to strongmen figures—caesars, absolute monarchs, and fascists of all description. In civic-republican thought, the glumly predicable endpoint of this devolution was empire. But since the United States was founded as an imperial republic, the basic terms of this classic diagnosis were hopelessly confounded from the get-go. The American nation was conceived as a territorial empire and a formal democracy, a solemn exercise in Protestant salvation and a raw descent into the capitalist carnivalesque, a slaveholding, native-slaying theater of Anglo race war and a cradle of individual liberty. It’ll take a lot more than hashtag activism and hypocrisy callouts to displace our Gollum-in-Chief, and all he represents, from his bully pulpit. So behold Baffler No. 37, “Power, Corruption, and Lies,” which seeks to lay bare the corrupt forces that simultaneously imbue and make a systematic mockery of the American experiment. Andrew Hartman plumbs the antidemocratic dogma of public-choice theory, as it was bred in the privileged white sanctums of the American right. Adele Stan gives us a glimpse of the Sinclair Group’s monopolistic bid to strip mine the local TV news ecosystem and carpet-bomb it with advertorial content in the MAGA vein. Jason Linkins offers a bracing intellectual portrait of James Bennet, the man who fills the New York Times op-ed section with zombie delusions of sweet neoliberal reason. Meagan Day chronicles the great rolling grift of payday lending, while Ben Davis shows how the art world serves as an obliging front for Trump-era money-laundering scams. Other modes of cultural expression are likewise descending into ossified, moneyed formalism—from the Spotified-and-abandoned music scene, as anatomized in separate accounts by Liz Pelly and Rhett Miller, to the surveillance-addled state of our movie screens and TV streams, per Tom Carson’s suitably rattled survey.
The prospect of bringing human history in for a top-down rehab has always been irresistible to earnestly striving Americans. What is it about the project of dramatically upgrading the quality of our species-being that is so quintessentially American—and why is it so reliably doomed to the most disastrous kind of failure in the execution stage? From Eli Whitney to Elon Musk, Americans have envisioned history as merely the raw material that our restlessly tinkering visionaries employ to deliver the same basic goods in faster, cheaper, more streamlined fashion. In Baffler No. 36, “A Crack in Everything,” we take a more sober look at this amnesiac, binge-drinking approach to social improvement as we imagine it to be foreordained in these United States. Sam Kriss and Ellie Mae O’Hagan explore how all the many worst-case scenarios associated with drastic climate change have poisoned our ability to experience our own humanity as anything other than grim folly. Yasha Levine has an edifying scoop on the ever-widening reach of our surveillance state. What’s more, the traditional American salves of manic self-renovation are coming up empty. Emmett Rensin canvases the new landscape of resistance-themed political consultancy, and finds little more than vacuous sloganeering and New Age flapdoodle—all for a low, low five-figure fee. And Laurie Penny puts her finger on the anxious pulse of the gigged out, debt-ridden, catastrophe-prone twenty-first century, coming away with a sound prescription of prolonged bed rest. For all this abundantly justified pessimism of the intellect, though, your Baffler correspondents share a robust optimism of the will. Zachary Roth has delivered a bracing account of how New Hampshire is now in the vanguard of the right-wing crusade to suppress ballot access among our poorer and more transient populations. Angela Nagle descries the deeper roots of the Trumpist putsch in a revolt against democratic manners—and suggests, in turn, that a recovery of the deeper cultural commitments informing those manners can afford a productive way out of our grim political impasse. It’s true that these might seem, at first glance, like meager foundations for a less toxic American tradition. But it’s also true that you’ve got to start somewhere.
In The Baffler’s frisky nineties youth, we’d designate the liberationist delusions of consumer capitalism under the running designation “New Bad Things.” This casual filing system seemed well suited to an age that was tricked out in every conceivable sort of lifestyle novelty. But the New Bad things have lately mutated out of control. In a few short political generations, Lyndon Johnson’s bold vision of the Great Society has ceded the field to its photographic negative; we are now marooned in the sprawling wasteland of the Bad Society. How did we get here, exactly? That’s what this thirty-fifth Baffler is determined to explain. Starting with our rancid head of state, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw dissects the racist logic behind Donald Trump’s rise to power—a tale in which liberal fables of “colorblindness” play no small part. Adele Stan takes a close look at the networks of private capital that allow our Trumpian overlords to ransack the public weal with impunity. James Livingston chronicles the way that American culture has yoked itself to the work ethic, even at the moment when all the basic conditions of industrial-age labor are obsolescing before our eyes. Perhaps, then, we are at last free to pursue glorious, self-determined leisure of the kind that Marx and Engels extolled in The German Ideology? No such luck, Miya Tokumitsu reports: the American romance with leisure is a rote and joyless affair, resembling nothing so much as the drudgery of the shop floor. Our cinemas and streaming set-top boxes offer no relief, notes Tom Carson: the superhero sagas now stoking the culture industries are studies in social fatalism. And as Ann Friedman reminds us, blue-state secession efforts are only cruel delusions. What, then, is to be done? Far be it from Team Baffler to prescribe a reformist blueprint, but if we were to make a start, we could do worse than to build on the researches of our contributors by resisting the various best-case scenarists still contaminating our civitas. Heed our own chastened editorial history, and remember that bad things can always get worse.
This isn’t shaping up to be the millennium we were promised. The data-bedazzled twenty-first century was to be a time of painlessly enhanced social justice and seamless market accommodation. The arc of history bent unmistakably toward a bigger, shinier Information Age. Instead, America slouches toward this century’s second decade with a lunatic bigot directing our national politics. Fascism is on the march in these United States, and the painful truth is that it’s been feeding on all the social forces we’d naively entrusted to a feckless expert class. In recognition of this dramatically altered status quo, The Baffler gives you Issue 34, “The Snare of Preparation.” Mystified by the counsel of economists who’ve made a punitive fetish of the idea of austerity? Dean Baker dismantles all the errors that make up this profession-wide delusion. Still flummoxed by how fundamentally worthless the polling industry proved to be over the course of Election ’16? Worry not: Sam Kriss has identified the ancient superstitions that explain the follies of political soothsaying in our high-tech civitas. Thomas Frank pierces the dark heart of the liberal cult of curation, while Yasha Levine ventures into the wild frontiers of Russian cyberhacking—and finds that here, too, a body of self-anointed experts is foisting a self-interested boondoggle on our credulous press and battered sense of procedural fair play. If all that hasn’t left you scandalized enough, check out Carey Dunne’s account of the ghastly posture fad known as the Mensendieck System, or Brandon Garrett’s report on the abuses packaged under the professional imprimatur of courtroom forensic science. Meanwhile, Rick Perlstein lays out, in sobering detail, the empty presumptions that inform the cult of smartness across yon political spectrum. How, in the age of Trump, can we begin to reverse the march of credentialed folly? Fortunately, the Baffler business model forbids the publication of anything resembling “solutions journalism.” But even so, Alexander Zaitchik has returned from the occupation at Standing Rock with news of a principled left protest that actually worked—at least until our Orange Mussolini reopened the Dakota Access Pipeline with an executive order. Hey, the only person to tell you any of this might be easy would be a stupid fucking expert.
It may be puckish, or indeed perverse, to invoke the specter of opportunistic virtue at the dawn of the Trump age. In another sense, though, it seems entirely apt to do so. Virtue might be its own reward, but in the grand bazaar of the American business republic, it’s just another biddable brand, subject to all the familiar races to the bottom that have long debauched our public life. Every market-savvy extoller of the American historical mission has a virtue spiel ready to slap onto the urgent cause of the moment, from the privatized schoolroom to our drone-and-data-powered empire. Policy big thinkers, military strategists, and neoliberal nudgers have appointed themselves the permanent guardians of moral uplift and the public good. Squinting through our shot glasses, your despondent Baffler brain trust beheld this uniquely squalid corps and dubbed it “The Virtue Cartel.” Who has produced the Virtue Cartel, and what does it want from us? To find out, we dispatched our crack Baffler team of virtue trackers. Suzy Hansen, our correspondent in Istanbul, peers into the lethal abyss known as the American imperial mission. Yasmin Nair parses the disingenuous rights rhetoric of our neoliberal policy elite, and David V. Johnson plumbs the bottomless self-regard of the omni-explaining journalists at Vox.com. Tim Shorrock dissects the fatal misappraisals of the counterinsurgency establishment, while Gary Greenberg gives a new account of how we have backed our way into a second generation of tail-chasing conflicts over the alleged scourge of political correctness. Yet virtue, properly construed, is much more than a racket for the plugged-in, behavior-monitoring plutocracy. The real tragedy of the Virtue Cartel is that its architects have arrogated to themselves the power to enliven the dry bones of the Federalist-era conception of virtue with their own market-anointed panaceas and snake-oil cures. As Robert Westbrook argues, the tradition of (small-r) republican virtue is our lost civic birthright and might serve as the skeleton key to a broader democratic awakening. In the aftermath of the soul-crushing civic spectacle known as Campaign 2016, this is an oddly uplifting moral to wrest from the ruination of the American polis.
 December 2016
Rare it is that the careworn American public casts its collective gaze heavenward—unless in desperate prayer for debt relief, affordable housing, non-extortionate college instruction, or any of the other fugitive comforts that our grand neoliberal consensus has catapulted into the unreachable empyrean. In the hushed and reverent darkness of the Baffler observatory, however, we hew closely to the counsel of that great socialist bon vivant Oscar Wilde: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” But what is it we see, exactly, when we take the measure of the cosmic vastness that engulfs us? Baffler 32, “Muzak of the Spheres,” is a mystic portal, yielding many strange paeans to unknown worlds. In “Material Issue,” Jackson Lears peers deeply into the Western metaphysical past and rescues a neglected tradition of animistic materialism—an account of physical being that bristles with new possibilities of life and profound implications for how we think about our planet and our pinched allotment of mortal time upon it. Barbara Ehrenreich, in “Displaced Deities,” supplies a puckish headcount of the many gods—greater and lesser—sent rudely packing by the unwavering certainties of scientific consensus. Sam Kriss takes deadly aim at the allied brittle dogmas of the New Atheist set, while Jonathon Sturgeon stalks the wild transcendentalist American raconteur who is forever trying to eat the universe. Astra Taylor delves into the untamed properties of nonhuman personhood, animal, vegetable, and corporate. You’ll even find your humble head Baffler pondering the spick-and-span household gods that lord over the surprisingly totemistic cult of domestic order. Truly, we live in an epoch, and a New World, of many fearful signs and wonders. As R. W. B. Lewis famously wrote in the middle of the last century, “the American myth saw. . . a divinely granted second chance for the human race, after the first one had been so disastrously fumbled in the darkening Old World.” At the same time, the dismal specter of Trumpism is poised to swallow the fragile civic-republican myth of the New World’s promise whole, with corruption, vice, and reality-TV hucksterism spitting out only the rancid poison of Old World imperial decay. For the beckoning American cosmos to translate into anything resembling a usable past, we must resist all manner of authoritarian certainty, from truth-averse Trumpery to the feckless and arrogant bromides of scientism. And that’s why, in very diverse registers of historical argument, Rick Perlstein, Ann Neumann, and Jessa Crispin have all tendered invaluable cautions against the enormous condescension of posterity, be it the present, Trump-inflected quest for an eternally recurring modern political past or the sanitized vision of a predestined American empire. So join us, fearlessly Baffled fellow adventurers, as we stir groggily up from the gutters and scan the ever-shifting scene overhead, wondering all the while at the strange new worlds beneath our feet. Occasionally, we encounter readers keen to acquire actual ink-and-paper copies of our publication. Subscribe before October 25 and your subscription will begin with a copy of “Muzak of the Spheres.” 
Our summer issue is “Memory Holes,” blinking urgent messages from distinctive places and imagined locations. Curious about the once and future role of architecture in effectuating social change, Jacob Silverman sets his sights on a Christian theme park in Florida; Melissa Gira Grant recalls a zone of strip clubs in Boston; Nathan Martin scopes out a fast-privatizing stretch of wilderness in Montana; Astra Taylor visits limbo; James Howard Kunstler advises you not to speculate on the declining cities of the future; and Ola Morris Innset takes the train to the Hotel du Parc in Mont Pèlerin, Switzerland—the original host site of neoliberal economics, now on its way to the ash heap, courtesy of firster, birther, and anti-free-trade fantasists. That the architecture of memory has become so central to identity and revanchist nationalism in Europe isn’t so surprising. But as we learn from Susan Faludi, the espousal of history and tradition on the Hungarian right spins out into a never-ending persecution complex that works to justify the repression of all those outside of history’s charmed circle. As for Americans, gawd luv us, we were always a people who could make the most out of amnesia. Hollywood’s early set-designers, as Tom Carson reminds us, preferred creating nostalgic fake facades over shooting in real locations. Between Emerson’s fabled Party of Memory and Party of Hope, we chose heritage. Prefer to read the old-fashioned way? Subscribe today and avoid disappointment.
 June 2016
While the Dead Kennedys lamented, in the first flush of the punk era, that they were too drunk to fuck, we say that the country, high and low, has now become too scared to think. It writhes in the grip of a collective panic attack, a case of the sweaty palms, a crack-up of faith in the future—a claustral terror that our bipolar political system cannot hope to allay, but can only stoke to greater furies. Scapegoating, xenophobia, and demagogic posturing afflict our body politic, especially in a presidential campaign year. But as fear brews in our culture, there are other ailments too. Please hold our hand as Angela Nagle takes the temperature of the sex hysteria within the 4chan Internet enclave, Corey Pein examines the craze for cryonics, David Graeber diagnoses “despair fatigue” in austerity Britain, Kade Crockford nurses the terminally sick idea of a free and peaceful country, Cosmo Garvin scans the municipal corruption in California’s state capital, and Tom Frank holidays in Martha’s Vineyard. Sober pundits intone, how do we balance liberty and security, freedom and security? We? Balance? The bywords of America in 2016 are more like plutocrats and jittery. Not since the late 1950s has a sense of impending doom so twisted the nation’s mood. Welcome to the panic room. 
 March 2016
Tolstoy’s standby about families and unhappiness is nowhere quoted in The Baffler 29, our unsentimental family issue. True, toddlers in Los Angeles routinely die from abuse, unsaved by California’s squadrons of “family preservation workers,” as reported by Natasha Vargas-Cooper, while dysfunctional families living in the hull of the American dream have to put up with pious social scientists from Harvard telling them to get their houses in order, according to Kim Phillips-Fein. But some families seem pretty darn happy in their very own special ways! Two of the candidates for next year’s presidential coronation are members of the same exceptional dynasties that, between them, have occupied the White House for twenty of the last twenty-seven years. Spend more time with our family issue and it will guide you along the contemporary fault lines of this most sanctified institution, with commentary from Eugenia Williamson about the mainstreaming of 1970s punk rock onto the laps of suburban papas, Lucy Ellmann on nervous teenage girl vloggers posting their “Morning Routines” to YouTube, Jacob Silverman among the ugly fallout from the Ashley Madison hack, Kathleen Geier peering behind overaccumulating fortunes, and Tom Carson on family sitcoms—you have nothing to lose but your youths!
Long before the triumph of Stand Your Ground gun legislation, the overlapping Grand Guignols of the Iraq invasion and ISIS’s rise, or the release of the latest cinematic blood orgy at the multiplex, America’s political id was drenched in blood.  We devised all manner of new American-branded mayhem during our long passage from a frontier republic into, well, a frontier mass republic, as historian Richard Hofstadter notes in a strikingly timely essay abridged in this issue: lynchings, riots, vigilantism, and political assassinations, along with garden-variety domestic knifings, shootings, and bludgeonings carried out on a scale of gruesomeness pretty much unprecedented in the soi-disant civilized West.   In the pages of The Baffler no. 28—“Battle Hymns”—we give the last word to the hapless souls targeted for elimination by our nation of carnage-happy hot-heads. David Graeber goes to the heart of the perverse social contract dictating that deserters and war-resisters be typecast as cowards and finds its deeper psychic antecedents in the casual brutalities of the schoolyard. A. S. Hamrah scopes out the cult of the Zombie Apocalypse and descries a self-hating, consumerist fantasia in its flesh-eating cortex. Heather Havrilesky sizes up the new face of high-tech warfare and finds that it bears a distressing resemblance to the workaday commerce of our gadget-happy world. And Alex Pareene plumbs the disingenuous reveries of social peace plied by our best-known vendors of American mayhem: the producers of cable news. Along the way, there are rumors of dissent in the tightly scripted American war of all against all in Noam Chomsky and Kade Crockford’s unsettling anatomy of the death-dealing trial of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and in the placid muse of the Amish-themed romance novel. Hey, in our fast-unspooling uncivil society, poised as it is to implode at the next carelessly weaponized keystroke, you take your fugitive visions of peace and quiet wherever you can find them.
 July 2015
Look, it’s our first-ever fashion issue! But the work arrayed under the slightly furtive label, “Venus in Furs,” amounts to nothing like the cosmetics kits of upmarket, style-addled journalism. We’re mindful, instead, that the fashion industry’s main proposition—confusing clothing with personal worth—has been a longstanding affront to women, not to mention a handy insignia for encoding and regulating the rules of social class. The general drabness
 of American attire is also something to consider. We strap into the uniforms that come with our corporate cubicles, and on weekends don our baseball caps, flannels, sneakers, and mom jeans—the studied, casual look that hipsters have ironically lifted from the working class and that fashion pundits are wont to call “Normcore.” Ho well, like the boy said (more or less): the empire has nothing to wear. Herein we also give you a manifesto for female supremacy; some bridge-burning recollections of what it meant to be a “Yahoo”; a peek at the mindfulness industry; the torrid love affair between venture capital and the media; the death of tech criticism as we knew it; and remembrances of Joe Bageant, Philip Roth, Karl Kraus, Joseph Brodsky, The New Republic, the city of Buffalo, and the very concept of satire. Oh, and so much more—some crisp and colorful new art, stories, and poems, too. Try it all on for size, why don’t you.
 March 2015
How are you feeling? “Sickness and Pelf” features the perspectives of those stuck in the waiting-forever room of medical culture, dogged by symptoms unassimilable to diagnostic manuals or public policy prescriptions, and baffled by the offerings of both the medical establishment and alt-medicinal quackery. Follow William Giraldi, an uxorious young father who receives paternity leave, only to turn this gift of time into alcoholism. Read Barbara Ehrenreich’s ethnography of the decision-making cells in the human body. Stumble along with George Scialabba through a lifetime of therapy for chronic depression. Marvel at Jerome K. Jerome, the student who opens a medical encyclopedia and catches hypochondria, or June Thunderstorm’s vanguard of acronym-drunk disability-rights activists who sport the latest stylings in class privilege. Learn all about the stupid tech that Steven Poole knows won’t save our faltering bodies and minds. The distinctly American disorder of narcissism comes sharply into focus in several pieces here: Suzy Hansen reviews Lunbeck and Lasch, Astra Taylor and Joanne McNeil reveal the mansplainy underbelly of Tech Dads, and Natasha Vargas-Cooper skewers the rich kids of Instagram. Meanwhile, Chris Lehmann trains his microscope on David Brat, and Jacob Silverman considers the Tayloristic tyranny of crowdsourced labor. As for undigested collective traumas, both those America has inflicted and those it has suffered, we have them covered too. Here’s a field report on occupational health and safety among workers at New York University’s campus in the United Arab Emirates by Andrew Ross, on the profits of American war nostalgia here at home by Andrew J. Bacevich, and a piece by Siddhartha Deb on life in Bhopal, India, after the worst industrial disaster in the history of the world. Feeling amnesiatic? We can prescribe some archives and excerpts from Lisa Dierbeck and Paul Goodman. We’ve also got on offer some fiction by Mikhail Zoshchenko and Paul Maliszewski and J. Wagner, and poetry by Mario Alejandro Ariza, Debora Kuan, Jill McDonough, and Afaa Michael Weaver. Finally, visual art by Brad Holland, Ralph Steadman, Mark Dancey, Shawn Huckins, and Stephen Kroniger will help cure what ails you—well, for a while at least.