Thomas Frank

By: Tor Aarestad
March 21, 2013


Recent venues for pundit THOMAS FRANK (born 1965) include extended stints at the Wall Street Journal and Harper’s cranking out consistently perspicacious prose on the sins of the Republican party and Commercial Culture. Peak Frank, though, started in the late 1980s and lasted at least through the 1990s when he was one of the founders of the searing anti-consumer screed factory known as the Baffler (recently revived under different stewardship). The intellectual leader of a group of whip-smart writers who saw America as a street corner filled to bursting with snake-oil salesmen and three-card monte hustlers, Frank was determined to spoil every con, pull out every hidden ace and overturn every table. He was John Brown and his people were slaves to big business hucksterism. In the pages of the Baffler, and in such books as The Conquest of Cool (1997) and One Market Under God (2000), Frank went after business culture and Market theology relentlessly and empirically. He wore his University of Chicago PhD untucked, his writing compelling but not bombastic, sprinkled with unexpected profanities. (Although he railed against the marketing of authenticity, it was hard not to see the suasive power of “authentic” emotion in his cerebral jeremiads.) He had his big hit with the 2004 book What’s the Matter with Kansas?, a eulogy and wistful postmortem on the once-dynamic and revolutionary populism of Frank’s home state. The mix of carefully reasoned and ad hominem attacks on such favorites of the Right as Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh ensured Frank a comfortable sinecure for the rest of his writing days: Lou Reed, if you will, playing the old favorites.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: John Prendergast, Russ Meyer, Slavoj Žižek.

READ MORE about members of the Reconstructionist Generation (1964–1973).


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