Back when I was a pirate-radio-producing, weed-eating (not pot), philosophy-obsessed anarchist in Albuquerque in the early '90s, I loved the Baffler. It was somehow like the more intellectual, less pop-y Spy, which I had also loved. It was the only magazine that could have out-Spy-ed Spy, making those guys look like dunces, even when they were at their funniest. Really, in spirit, it reminded me of Thrasher, the great irreverent skateboarding rag—if Thasher was run by anarchist Murray Bookchin.
It was actually run by Thomas Frank. If you are old enough to have felt betrayed, destroyed, and devastated by the stupidity of your country when we re-elected George W. Bush in 2004, then you remember turning bleary-eyed with confusion to Frank's book "What's the Matter with Kansas?" for an answer.
But I had no idea it was the same dude. By 2004, the Baffler was, to me at least, a fond-but-distant memory, like pirate radio. Then about the same time I started working at City Paper, I saw it again—I think at Red Emma's. It was a bit, well, baffling. Could it be the same magazine? It was. It was now run by a group of people in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and . . . it looked fucking good.
I subscribed a little while later (full disclosure). I got the recent issue right before I got on a plane to fly to Greece to cover the economic crisis—and polytheists—there. I'd been reading David Graeber's amazing book "Debt: The First 5000 Years" to help me understand what was going on. When I opened the Baffler on the plane, I found myself confronted with an essay of his analyzing the root of violence. Then there was a reprint of a piece by Richard Hofstader dealing with similar issues. And a poem by the amazing Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert. Finally, I saw Alex Pareene's piece about cable news coverage of violence "Cable News Charnel: Mayhem as a Guide for Living"—and it was all about fucking Baltimore.
We all know what assholes the cable news guys—who showed up with bodyguards waiting for the worst—were. We don't need somebody to tell us. But it is nice to have someone write about it as well as Pareene does—and on a more structural level.
So when I heard that he and Baffler Editor John Summers were coming to Baltimore to talk about race, violence, and media, I started to think of them as the anti-cable news guys. They come to town while it's quiet, for conversation rather than conflagration. When I called Summers on the phone, he said that the crucial point of Pareene's essay is that the cable news "reinforces the status quo," and it has always been the Baffler's goal to upend that same status quo. What better way to do it than come to a cool bookstore, see who shows up, and engage in conversation?
Summers says that he's always tried to do some kind of appearances since the magazine reappeared in 2012. "In this case it seemed obvious that if we're going to have an issue about racial violence, we should bring it . . . somewhere where people are really thinking about this."
Summers and Pareene will appear at Red Emma's on Friday, July 31 at 7:30 p.m.