The Baffler

I love this magazine.

Example: The I, Faker article.

I was a staff writer at The Business Journal of Central New York, and my job was slowly driving me crazy. When called upon, I drafted special sections on annuities, offered tips on executive gift-giving, and wrote brightly about business prospects in Syracuse–whose economy had been in freefall for the last decade. I was a hack and I knew it. What’s more, I had come to see my hackwork as not just flimsy and inconsequential but insidious. One article on a welfare-to-work program was 100 percent free of interviews with any actual workers; the publisher praised it for being balanced. Like Onondaga Lake, located just upwind from where I wrote, my articles not only smelled a little peculiar, they polluted the air around me. They were toxic.

So he started inventing fake personas to write Swiftian letters to the editor, parodying his boss’s pro-capital economic views. The boss loved them so much they took over the opinion section, bumping his boss’s column.

The highlight:

Believing that satire requires a certain amount of intentional mislabeling, I set out to translate the text of a torture manual used at the School of the Americas into the language and rhetoric of a manager’s how-to. With very few changes–substituting “employee” for “subject,” for instance–the piece began to look more and more like an advice column. Now published and with nothing whatsoever to announce it as satire, it lies in wait, looking and reading like just another article. In The Business Journal it is oddly at home.

T. Michael Bodine, “Don’t Get Caught Being a Weak Manager,” The Business Journal, November 10, 1997.

have been suggesting some possible actions for the weak manager. In some cases, perhaps only the threat of action is enough. I always tell the managers in my courses to internalize the difference between threats suggested and threats enacted. Remember a rule I call, “Follow-through is up to you.” The threat of coercion usually weakens or destroys resistance more effectively than coercion itself.

Just as an example–the threat to inflict pain can trigger fears far more damaging than the immediate sensation of pain. And sometimes pain causes a sense of hopelessness, nihilism, and despair that is too bleak even to be useful to managers who are experts in these techniques. A reminder: this example has nothing to do with actual conduct in the workplace.

On the subject of coercion, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my experience with hypnosis. I have had some indescribable personal success with the hypnotic arts. Though it’s true that answers obtained from an employee under the influence of hypnotism are highly suspect, as they are often based upon the suggestions of the manager and are distorted or fabricated, hypnosis does have its clear benefits and I remain one of its vocal champions.

The Baffler was required reading in philosophy graduate schools for most of the mid- to late 90s. The I,Faker is a good one, but not the best the journal has done. Sadly, the journal and the website have not been given the attention they deserved ever since a fire burned down their Chicago offices.

Anyone who thinks of themselves as a progressive intellectual needs to read:

Commidify Your Dissent

The Conquest of Cool

Boob Jubilee (which contains the I, Faker essay)

One Market Under God

What’s the Matter with Kansas

and this book…

Nation of Rebels: Why Counterculture became Consumer Culture

The last book isn’t by Thomas Frank or a Baffler contributor, but is a work by Joseph Heath, a U of Toronto political philosopher who has a little more rigor than many of the Baffler authors. And they are all worth reading in my opinion.