Corona reads: The Baffler #50

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The Baffler – ‘The Journal That Blunts the Cutting Edge’ – is a long-established American magazine, publishing essays that critique culture, politics and business. So long-established, in fact, that it has its own Wikipedia page (surprisingly rare for a mag). So how does it manage to stay as challenging and relevant as it reaches its 50th edition?

An article that feels pertinent right now is one by Lizzie O’Shea. ‘We Keep You Alive’ is subtitled ‘Unskilled labour does not exist’, and outlines how the word ‘unskilled’ is inherently a misnomer – meaning people like supermarket workers, delivery drivers and farm workers are contracted to work long hours for little pay, partially because their job title denotes inexpertise.

In reality, O’shea writes, ‘“the terms ‘unskilled’ and ‘low skilled labour’ contradict the care and precision with which my co-workers, who have a variety of educational backgrounds and language fluencies, execute their jobs… Once at work, the supervision of unskilled jobs generally combines arbitrary rules with strict consequences, which – again – requires workers themselves to be skillful to survive.’

She continues, ‘of course, jobs are classified as unskilled for analytical reasons. The label usually attaches to jobs that require minimal training and do not require a high school or college degree.’ Interestingly enough, since the coronavirus pandemic – and in the UK at least – many so-called “unskilled workers” are now simultaneously being referred to as “essential” or “key” workers. Classification or not, it’s evident that semantics make a difference when unprecedented emergency situations like this reveal how fundamentally we all depend on the “unskilled” workforce: these jobs are now suddenly amongst some of the most necessary – and the most dangerous.

It’s hard to predict what will happen in the aftermath of COVID-19, but it’s societal injustices like these – ones that have been remarked upon before the crisis escalated, and altered out of necessity during the emergency – that ought not to revert to their previous state. I think O’Shea’s article is a great example of the kind of publication The Baffler is, a mag that challenges inequality in every issue, not just when it’s popular.

And while the mag might not be designed with design in mind – it’s user-friendly by default, black-font-on-white-paper-with-coloured-pull-quotes – one of its best qualities is its sense of humour, often expressed through its brilliant and varied illustrations. It’s unafraid to print viciously funny articles about anything or anyone that takes it/themself too seriously, theming this issue ‘The New Booboisie’, a portmanteau of the Saxon “boob” with bourgeoisie to describe “stupid people as a class”.

It’s my mag of the moment, a must-read for those sick of the quick hot takes incessantly shared all over social media.

Editor-on-chief: Jonathan Sturgeon
Art director: Lindsay Ballant

thebaffler.com


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