“These are grotesque times,” say one writer in this assembly of pieces from The Baffler, echoing other contributors as they chronicle the fallout from the New Economy.
The late–20th century wasn’t the first time a culture and economy went bananas—witness tulipmania and the South Sea bubble—but the New Economy was a “cornucopia of absurdity,” and the writers here take great bites from it. The dominions of the New Economy were a “rum bunch of two-fisted boodlers, upper-class twits, and hang-’em-high moralists,” hustlers in an old game of “spectacular booms and crushing busts, wages that go nowhere, shitty health care, unaffordable schools, and ever-widening prison roundup, and a culture in which organs of opinion are prostituted to boosterism.” The Chicago-based Baffler brought, and brings, skepticism, dissent, and critical intelligence. There’s not a rotten apple in these 32 articles, but all have range, depth, and purpose, whether about union-busting at newspapers (of some pugnacious strikers, “one begins to suspect they might be the last of the hardened, rooted, class-conscious species of journalists that defined American literature for most of the twentieth century”), on the growth of the intern (i.e., wage-free) economy, the routinizing of bankruptcy, or the disarming of rock music’s joustings with the corporate music industry: “Indie rock smuggled a sort of star system back into the underground.” There are clawed swipes at some old bugaboos (press junkets, commodified deviance), a few batterings (David Lazare on Hilton Kramer: “One can defend Picasso and even write appreciatively about Julian Schnabel and still be a card carrying member of the loony right”), and some well-drawn, figurative items, such as Ben Metcalf’s portrait of the Mississippi River: “Having taught the midwesterner to freeload, and to lie, and to steal, and to work violence against his brother, the Mississippi now rings its doleful school bell once more.”
Fine muckery, with fingers pointed and blame apportioned. Like being lifted up high, where the air is clear.