The barely distinguishable personalities who explain the meaning of every event are growing ever chattier—about wars and mobs. Their rhetorical sleights, which tactically defer arguments made by the powerless, unmoneyed, or truly dead, are hallmarks of the media-size filter bubble we call, in Baffler no. 53, the Consensusphere.
In the opening essay, James Pogue finds in the unfortunate Harper’s letter the same strategy of “mob” containment used by the propertied class in advance of the American Revolution. And Thomas Geoghegan, in “Abolish the Senate,” likewise looks back at American history to show how the Constitution and the U.S. Senate obstruct the representative power of the people. They should now be done away with, he argues, in a series of considered steps.
Maybe it’s all this confusion about American foundations that led us to build and tolerate Confederate monuments while forgetting our literature. Terrance Hayes, on that note, has thankfully corrected literary history, or what’s left of it, with a selection of writings and drawings recovering black poets. Delving into another corner of foolishly overlooked writing, Michael Hofmann muses on his “discrete and, on the face of it, unlikely interest in the work of the old, or very old.” Elsewhere in the culture spheroid, our film critic A.S. Hamrah registers his untimely selection of the best films from the year 2000, while Stephen Kearse looks at how ratings systems, a relic of 1920s and 30s movie studio censorship, now permeate streaming media.
On another surprisingly placid front of the culture war, Andrew Marzoni dives into Sarah Milov’s history of the cigarette and posits that “on both sides of the aisle, the twenty-first-century smoker cuts a transgressive figure, as was the case prior to World War I, when cigarettes became a mechanism of American expansion, a slicker instrument of chemical warfare than mustard gas.” Smoke ’em if you’ve got ’em, but remember that you’ve already been relegated to the dregs of history.
With their penchant for broad strokes of child scrawl, members of the Consensusphere prefer to crowd out historical nuance or committed research. In “The House That Queer Theory Built,” Matt Brim takes a hard look at what he calls the discipline’s class problem, and suggests that queer scholars have “the chance to recognize class warfare in the university as a largely unspoken but field-defining trouble of its own.” Elsewhere in the academy, Bruce Robbins finds in Fredric Jameson’s Allegory and Ideology a continuation of the critic’s pursuit of a politics rooted in “a single great collective story.”
In Maia Hibbett’s “Who Keeps Us Safe?” a retributive streak crops up in recent #MeToo activism, which retains mainstream feminism’s historical preference for the harsh penalties of the punitive state. Perhaps this is why, as Tracy O’Neill writes in “Outside the Man Box,” research on the rehabilitation of domestic violence offenders is disturbingly underfunded and unheeded.
This violent American program, ranging from the systemic to the intimate, continues to play out all over the world without much effective dissent among our top dogs and talking heads. In her dispatch on a year of violence and calamity In Iran, journalist Habibe Jafarian writes,
I am a forty-four-year-old woman who has lived forty-one years of her life under varying degrees of economic sanctions. I grew up with the sanctions; I went to school with them; I learned to read and write with them hovering over my head; I fell in love, and began my career as a journalist, and have stayed alive, all under sanctions from the United States of America. Sanctions have been a part of my life like the weather. Like the bombs for those children. They are the air that I breathe and the food that I eat.
Angling to pilot this same destructive foreign policy juggernaut is the weatherproof corpse of Joe Biden, perpetually if haltingly animated by browbeaten Democratic consensus. Is there any light outside of this tunnel-vision?