Tom Frank, "The Great Grunge Hoax," and The Baffler


Thomas Frank (Ph.D., University of Chicago, 1994) rose to prominence as editor of The Baffler, an influential journal of cultural criticism. Started in 1988 by Frank while he was an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, The Baffler moved with him to the University of Chicago as he pursued a doctorate in American History under Neil Harris.  While The Baffler  is famous for rekindling popular interest in the Frankfurt School , it is also often remembered as the journal which broke "The Great Grunge Hoax" story.  A November 15, 1992 piece in the New York Times  explored the then recent phenomenon of "grunge" and included a sidebar discussion entitled "Lexicon of Grunge: Breaking the Code," which defined the hip new "grunge speak, coming soon to a high school or mall near you." The lexicon purported to translateterms current in the youth subculture of grunge, including "wack slacks" (ripped jeans), and "lame stain" (an uncool person).

Unfortunately for the New York Times , the slang was pure invention.  The information on which the paper based their story was part of an elaborate prank perpetrated by Megan Jasper, a Sub Pop Records employee in Seattle who had similarly duped the British magazine Sky.  When The Baffler revealed the hoax, theTimes demanded an apology from Frank and his fellow editors, but received instead a surly response which read "(W)hen The Newspaper of Record goes searching for the Next Big Thing and the Next Big Thing piddles on its leg, we think that's funny." After news of the story hit Seattle, tee-shirts featuring the word "lamestain" in the Times ' famous font appeared in the city. 

Beyond The Baffler  and the two books used in this courseFrank's writings have appeared in The Washington Post, Harper's, In These Times, and The Nation.