The heck with Virginia Quarterly Review. The hell with n+1. And screw McSweeney’s. (No, not really––I like Eggers and company, I swear!) Still, my introduction to serious but jargon-free discourse about art and popular culture and how capitalism sinks its teeth into it came from the long, much-missed Baffler. Thomas Frank’s infrequently published journal targeted all tenets of the Dot Com, “New” Economy, and established a tone––erudite but conversational; Leftist but working-class; engaged with business and pleasure in equal measures, and in how the two converged; and viciously funny.
If The Baffler were a person, I imagine it would be a woman I could take to a White Sox game, and talk over beer with her about the best baseball literature, Babe Ruth’s lifetime stats as a pitcher, the ethics of keeping Pete Rose out of the Hall of Fame, and how ridiculous Moneyball is as a concept… without breaking a sweat. (I made The Baffler female pointedly, since it seemed to actually publish intellectual work by women. Does n+1 do the same on a regular basis? Or is Keith Gessen’s All the Sad Young Literary Men as unintentionally keen a title as I think it is?)
The Baffler had its pulse on arguments about high and low culture but mostly was uninterested in the distinction. While its design wasn’t as visually impressive as McSweeney’s, it paved the way for culture-crit journals that gave a damn about layout and art. All of the aforementioned publications have tried to mimic its editorial tone, as have a horde of literary and political bloggers. Its writers have been picked up by everyone from Slate to The Wall Street Journal.
And now it’s BACK. Let’s let Frank––now that he’s famous and a genuine cultural/political influence instead of just a razzer on the sidelines––give City Journal and The New Criterion some much-needed competition on the small-journal front, and show Eggers, Gessen, and the rest how liberal-left cultural criticism should be done. A new dawn of bare-knuckle boxing has begun, and not a moment too soon.