Friday, November 20, 2009

Is The Baffler Back?

The Baffler, which was founded in 1988 by Thomas Frank and Keith White in Chicago, was a magazine of cultural criticism. It spawned two essay/article collections (Commodify Your Dissent: The Business of Culture in the New Gilded Age, 1997, and Boob Jubilee: The Cultural Politics of the New Economy, 2003) and helped turn Frank into a respected cultural and political commentator.

But The Baffler ran into problems around the time its offices in Chicago burned down in mid-2001. It all but ceased publication in 2003. Its 17th issue was released in 2006.

When I posted a nostalgic reference to The Baffler yesterday, I got a quick comment from someone who said that it had been revived, along with the e-mail address, My message to that address bounced back, and the website,, has little information beyond that e-mail address and the announcement that it is in fact back.

It might be. In June this year, the New York Observer reported that Frank was bringing it back and that some of its former writers and some prominent new ones had agreed to write for it. Its new publisher, the Observer reports, will be Conor O'Neil, who started an ambitious lecture and arts group while an undergraduate at Northwestern. The Observer said the first new issue was scheduled for October.

The Baffler also seems to have a Facebook page, and as recently as November 9, the page was updated to say that new issues would be available in bookstores and newsstands later in the winter.

In the meantime, here's another excerpt from a favorite article from The Baffler, circa the early 90s. The article was called "Harsh Realm, Mr. Sulzberger!" and it was about a hoax played upon the New York Times by an annoyed former Sub Pop records employee named Megan Jasper.

In November, 1992, the Times' Style section ran an article about the "grunge" scene in Seattle, and included a list of grunge jargon. That list was completely made up, as The Baffler revealed later:
"Convinced that 'all subcultures speak in code,' the Times went looking for some colorful argot from the Seattle rock scene and Ms. Jasper was only too happy to oblige them with some of the most inspired fake slang outside of Monty Python. Thus the Newspaper of Record dutifully repeated her comical assertions that youth in the Pacific Northwest regularly refer to their torn jeans as 'wack slacks,' platform shoes as 'plats,' people they don't like as 'Lamestain' or 'Tom-Tom Club' or 'Cob Nobbler,' and that they often spend time 'Swingin on the Flippity-Flop.'"
The icing on the cake was that Seattle band Mudhoney started using some of those terms in interviews to help perpetuate the hoax.

Here, from the November 15, 1992 edition of the New York Times, is the full list of grunge slang terms.

All subcultures speak in code; grunge is no exception. Megan Jasper, a 25-year-old sales representative at Caroline Records in Seattle, provided this lexicon of grunge speak, coming soon to a high school or mall near you:

WACK SLACKS: Old ripped jeans

FUZZ: Heavy wool sweaters

PLATS: Platform shoes

KICKERS: Heavy boots


BOUND-AND-HAGGED: Staying home on Friday or Saturday night

SCORE: Great



DISH: Desirable guy


LAMESTAIN: Uncool person

TOM-TOM CLUB: Uncool outsiders

ROCK ON: A happy goodbye
Jasper worked for Sub Pop, not Caroline -- the Times got that one wrong too. Read the rest of the story in Commodify Your Dissent.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A & R

When a friend used the term A&R in conversation to refer to a record company's talent scout, we realized that neither of us knew what the A and the R actually stood for.

"Artists and Repertoire," says Wikipedia. Scrolling down, I see that this particular page has been vandalized by someone who doesn't like American Idol. Right below the heading for the job description, someone entered:
But scrolling down further, I see a reference to an old article from The Baffler, a great but now defunct periodical out of Chicago that was started by Thomas Frank, the author of "What's the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America".

The article, called "The Problem With Music," is by Steve Albini, a musician who's been in bands like Shellac and Big Black. He's also an audio engineer and a producer.

This excellent (but depressing) critique of the music business, circa 1993, starts like this:
Whenever I talk to a band who are about to sign with a major label, I always end up thinking of them in a particular context. I imagine a trench, about four feet wide and five feet deep, maybe sixty yards long, filled with runny, decaying shit. I imagine these people, some of them good friends, some of them barely acquaintances, at one end of this trench. I also imagine a faceless industry lackey at the other end, holding a fountain pen and a contract waiting to be signed.

Nobody can see what’s printed on the contract. It’s too far away, and besides, the shit stench is making everybody’s eyes water. The lackey shouts to everybody that the first one to swim the trench gets to sign the contract. Everybody dives in the trench and they struggle furiously to get to the other end. Two people arrive simultaneously and begin wrestling furiously, clawing each other and dunking each other under the shit. Eventually, one of them capitulates, and there’s only one contestant left. He reaches for the pen, but the Lackey says, “Actually, I think you need a little more development. Swim it again, please. Backstroke.”

And he does, of course.


Quote of the Day: Sarah Palin

"If God had not intended for us to eat animals, how come He made them out of meat?”
That, according to a number of sources, including the Los Angeles Times and The Atlantic Monthly, is the wisdom of "rogue" ex-governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin.

She apparently posed the question in her new book, "Going Rogue: An American Life".

I think I have the answer to Ms. Palin's question. I've been thinking about this for some time, and I really think I've got it: God obviously intended for us to eat animals, which are made of meat, because he made vegetables out of vegetation. I mean, it's like how people aren't made of meat. Because we don't eat people, right?

Take that, haters.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Friday, November 06, 2009

Fake AP Stylebook on Twitter

Usually, the twits who tweet on Twitter seem less like super-networked representatives of tomorrow's technology today and more like a small group of middle-aged ego-maniacs endlessly updating each other on daily minutiae while a story-starved media "reports" on the finer bits.

But, as in poetry, there are occasional gems. Like the Fake AP Stylebook. As a writer reluctantly bound to follow the Associated Press's thin and vague style guide, I found this quite helpful. Here are some choice examples:
Avoid the archaic term "lunatic." Specify whether the subject suffers from Hulkamania or Macho Madness.

Replace "situation deteriorated/worsened" with "shit [just] got real." Ex: On day three of the hostage crisis, shit got real.

While it’s tempting to call them ‘baristi’ because of the Italian roots, the plural of ‘barista’ is ‘journalism majors.’

Use ‘student’ to refer to college attendees, and ‘coed’ to refer to really hot students.

Robots should only be referred to by gender-neutral pronouns, no matter how sexy they may be.

If you cannot find the source of a quote, make one up. Nobody's reading your story anyway. Get over yourself.

When describing the subject of a story's "assets," be sure to make the next sentence, "You know what I'm talkin' about."

The plural of "vagina" is "vaginas." The plural of "penis" is gross, nobody wants to read about that.

Always capitalize 'Bible.' You don't want to get letters from those people.

Dates should be formated as MM/DD/YY except for the years 1990 through 1992, which should be denoted in 'Hammer Time.'

Use the quintuple vowel to transcribe the utterances of small children, "Daaaaaddy, I waaaant a Pooooony!"

Since the 1986 edition, the plural of McDonald's is officially McDonaldses.

The word "boner” is not capitalized, regardless of size.

Use quotation marks to express skepticism: Cher’s “Farewell Tour,” Creed’s “Best Album,” Jay Leno’s “comedy.”


Quote of the Day: Hank Pantier

"If you stuff five pounds into a two-pound container, it doesn't make the five pounds smaller. It just makes it stranger-looking and uncomfortable."
Colorado man Hank Pantier, 35, is talking about his wife, 40-year-old yoga instructor Mary Pantier. She's one of thousands of American women who pack themselves, sausage-like, into modern-day spandex corsets from Spanx.

The Wall Street Journal discussed the ins and outs of Spanx -- which has been endorsed by Oprah -- in a recent article featuring some horror stories. For example, women find themselves trying to secretly ooze out of these products before one-night stands; others find it difficult to use the bathroom. Hank Pantier tells his wife she feels like a tire when she wears Spanx.


Tuesday, November 03, 2009

It's Election Day

Both New York City and Minneapolis have mayoral elections today. But who to vote for? Here are a few of the candidates you may not have heard enough about.

New York City
Jimmy McMillan of The Rent is Too Damn High Party: McMillan, who looks like a black Hulk Hogan, has a simple platform -- "There Is Nothing Else To Talk About!" he says of the City's high rents. His website is a collage of articles, images, clipart and animated graphics bearing the message, “We apologize for the bad grammar. But... your rent is still too damn high.” Yes, it is.

McMillan, who has run for mayor (unsucsessfully) before, made news recently when the damn Board of Elections made him shorten the name of his party. McMillan argues that the longer name wasn't a problem when he ran in 2005, and that the Board is trying to censor him on religious grounds.

McMillan told New York Magazine:
"I had a hell of a day, man. I would love to put on my website that the Board of Elections can suck my dick, I would love to do that, but I got little children going to my website, I can't do it, the motherfuckers. I would love to, before every one of them go to bed at night, suckin' my damn dick. That's what I'd love to put on my website. Every fuckin' one of them, you know."
So he was forced to change the party name on the ballot to: "The Rent is Too High Party."

His website is full of odd quotes and anecdotes, like this one, next to an animated graphic of a man running:

"Slow down Jimmy
I cant People are getting evicted like crazy.
We gotta do something Rent is too damn high.
Help us stop this 'High' Rent madness. Please, HELP Us..."

McMillan is running against incumbent Mike Bloomberg and Democrat Bill Thompson.
John Charles Wilson of the Edgertonite National Party: "In May 1982," writes Wilson on his homepage, "I saw my first vision of Laura Ingalls Wilder, who told me that She is God, I was right to be a Communist, and that she would give me a message to preach to the world. I realised this wouldn't endear me to the traditional Communist Party USA, so I planned to start my own political party."

And so the Edgertonite Party was born. Wilson, who calls himself an Author/Minister/Politician/Transit Historian, says he was "a political prisoner in the mental 'health' system from 1983 to 1987."

The Edgerton he refers to is "The Nation of Edgerton," which is a 240-mile radius of Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Edgertonite party website explains:
"We are a non-traditional Communist party, based on the ideology of Lauraism: the belief that Laura Ingalls Wilder is God, Communism (public ownership of business) is the best form of government, age of consent laws should be repealed, public transit should be returned to the routes, fares, and schedules of 18 September 1970, the Nation of Edgerton should secede from the United States as a Lauraist homeland, and all people, including children, deserve as much personal liberty as possible consistent with public safety and the rights of others. Capitalism is a per se violation of people’s rights by exploitation."
As creative and amusing as that is, one begins to suspect Wilson may be a little too interested in the freedom of children. In a bad way.

Joey Lombard is Awesome: Lombard explains his party's name on his blog:
"People tell me it's sad that I chose to use 'Is Awesome' as my political idea. They seem to be under the impression that I think simply being awesome will be enough to win an election. That's not the case at all. While I think it's awesome that I'm the first person in Minneapolis' history to be officially designated as 'awesome' and have since decided that being notarized awesome is enough to RUN for office, I know it's not enough to win. I'm not stupid. The reason I said I'm awesome is because I'm on a limited budget. I can't afford to put tens of thousands of dollars into yard signs and mailings. I wouldn't anyway because that's horribly wasteful and I'm a hippy."
That post is signed, Joey Lombard, Practically the mayor. Lombard graduated sub cum laude from Patrick Henry High School in 2005, according to his website.

Wilson and Lobard are running against incumbent RT Ryback and a large pool of others.
Site Meter