Sometime between the early and mid-1990s, the prevailing media wisdom concerning twentysomethings did an about-face. They went from being labeled as underachieving slackers to can-do dot com titans.
Writing in The American Prospect, Nicholas Confessore weaves an analysis of Dave Eggers critically-acclaimed memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, with an exploration of the 90s cultural milieu that informs its sensibility. This period, says Confessore, produced a bumper crop of small-circulation journals, started by people in their twenties, that were equally attuned to the cultural moment, and dedicated to challenging the media stereotypes that defined, and redefined, their generation.
The magazines he discusses, the late Might, co-founded by Eggers, The Baffler, and Hermenaut, founded by former Utne Reader editor Josh Glen, while somewhat different in their approach, all shared a sense of the basic problem at hand: 'Commerce has thoroughly colonized culture: real dissent--cultural, political, artistic--is being replaced by, as The Baffler's editor Tom Frank once wrote, 'soaps that liberate us, soda pops that are emblems of individualism, and counter-hegemonic hamburgers.''
The Baffler, says Confessore, tends toward the polemic, 'favorite targets are the 'alternative' music industry, Fast Company and Wired,' while Hermenaut is 'a sort of freelance department of philosophy, minus the jargon and tweed,' and Might, when it was around, 'had a more satiric, prankster sensibility.'
While steeped in ironic consciousness, or what Eggers refers to in his memoir as 'the thinking about the thinking,' Confessore says that these magazines' writers, 'like most people of a certain age, tend to be intimate with the mundanery of American pop culture, comfortably situated in its mutterings even while criticizing it ferociously. There is plenty of irony to go around, of course, but it is the redemptive kind: a means, not an end.'