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.


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