From the pages of The Baffler, the most vital and perceptive new magazine of the nineties, sharp, satirical broadsides against the Culture Trust.
In the "old" Gilded Age, the barons of business accumulated vast wealth and influence from their railroads, steel mills, and banks. But today it is culture that stands at the heart of the American enterprise, mass entertainment the economic dynamo that brings the public into the consuming fold and consolidates the power of business over the American mind. For a decade The Baffler has been the invigorating voice of dissent against these developments, in the grand tradition of the muckrakers and The American Mercury. This collection gathers the best of its writing to explore such peculiar developments as the birth of the rebel hero as consumer in the pages of Wired and Details; the ever-accelerating race to market youth culture; the rise of new business gurus like Tom Peters and the fad for Hobbesian corporate "reengineering"; and the encroachment of advertising and commercial enterprise into every last nook and cranny of American life. With its liberating attitude and cant-free intelligence, this book is a powerful polemic against the designs of the culture business on us all.
Hoping to tap the youth dollar, in 1968 Columbia Records claimed "The Man Can't Bust Our Music." That same year, a sports-coat manufacturer urged buyers to "Tune in. Turn on. Step out" while so attired. Such ads have become infamous, proof of both capitalism's limitless capacity for co-optation and the counterculture's decline from radicalism to market share. But, as this bristlingly intelligent work documents, the story is a good deal more complicated. Frank, editor of the underground cultural-criticism journal The Baffler, stops short of claiming that advertising invented the counterculture, but he adroitly illuminates the intricacies behind familiar stories about the '60s by revealing how completely these ads, aimed at the hip consumer, harmonized with admen's changing values as well. Indeed, rebellion on Madison Avenue often preceded rebellion on campus. In accessible, muscular prose, Frank traces agencies' revolt against inflated '50s jargon ("Quadra-Power Roadability") and creation of aggressively hip spots that simultaneously mocked consumer culture's empty promises and sold consumption-as-rebellion. Today, that style dominates the marketplace; every ad hastens to preempt viewer skepticism with a sneer of its own--but also assures him or her that "this" product is an exception. Though occasionally repetitive (we don't need to hear every adman's organizational theories), this book is frequently brilliant, an indispensable survival guide for any modern consumer. FYI: Frank and Baffler managing editor Matt Weiland have selected articles from the magazine's first decade in Commodify Your Dissent: Salvos from the Baffler. (Norton, $15 paper 256p ; cloth $25 -04621-4)