It’s nineteen essays of highly literate doom and gloom from some of the left’s heaviest hitters, like Rick Perlstein and Barbara Ehrenreich, representing the best of The Baffler‘s new era. Now, a lot of people were probably introduced to The Baffler via Steve Albini’s epic “The Problem With Music,” but the article that made me a believer was Joshua Glenn’s “I’d Like to Force the World to Sing,” a fanciful, paranoid examination of how OK Soda was a CIA plot to instill conservative values in ’90s youth.
In their impossible quest to conjure up a cadre of conservative youth who’d rebel against a Sixties they’d never known, [William] Kristol and Co., the theory maintains, conspired to dose Generation X with the concentrated essence of what they called “OK-ness.”
Now, as ridiculous as this may seem, I was actually somewhat receptive to this argument. In 1993, I was 10 years old and had just gone to my very first Red Sox game with my father. On the way home, we stopped in a convenience store. The old man behind the counter greeted us and mentioned in passing that he had recently received two new beverages from Coca Cola that were being tested in the Boston market: OK Soda and Fruitopia. He offered me one of each, for free. Only after reading the essay did I consider the sinister undertones of this “free” gift.
Frutopia was fine, but I really took to OK Soda (despite the playground rumor that it was simply a mixture of the runoff of every other Coca Cola drink). I was very taken with the can art, which I would later discover was designed by Ghost World‘s Daniel Clowes. The whole marketing campaign was expertly crafted to appeal to little kids like me, who had an interest in the underground but were far too young to participate or even know where to begin. Hidden in Glenn’s inventive theorizing is a thorough dismantling of that marketing campaign, a great example of how you can effectively merge creative non-fiction and serious criticism.
Now, there’s nothing nearly that entertaining in No Future for You. The tone and style of the contemporary Baffler is much harsher and more downcast. But, you know, so are the times we live in. And the criticism in the book, of our mercenary media, of the Silicon Valley charlatans, and other guardians of entrenched privilege, is as incisive as ever. You can’t blame the magazine for not having as much of a sense of humor about it anymore.