Our Industrial-Complex Complex

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Fifty years ago today, outgoing President Dwight Eisenhower took to the airwaves to warn of the nation’s burgeoning military-industrial complex. With that, he not only introduced a powerful and still-relevant concept, but also a handy all-purpose suffix for describing ominous-sounding social forces.

Google’s Ngram Viewer shows that in the years following Ike’s 1961 farewell address, usage of the phrase “industrial complex” took off, peaked during the Vietnam War, and has remained fairly constant since. That’s not a scientific measure, since it no doubt includes mentions of unrelated things like this. But it also reflects the spread of Ike-inspired phrases such as the now ubiquitous prison-industrial complex, Michael Pollan’s organic-industrial complex, the celebrity-industrial complex, the Christian-industrial complex, and the sports/athletic-industrial complex.

Not to mention the sex-industrial complex, the baby-industrial complex, the diaper-industrial complex, the birthday-industrial complex, the wedding/marriage-industrial complex, and the divorce-industrial complex.

Who’s behind the industrial-complex complex? Some of the blame must go to neologism-happy journalists like, well, us. Here are a few of Mother Jones‘ recent contributions to the list: medical-industrial complex, political-industrial complex, electoral-industrial complex, academic-industrial complex, housing-industrial complex, credit-industrial complex, tort reform-industrial complex, geoengineering-industrial complex, beauty-industrial complex, cancer-industrial complex, intelligence-industrial complex, security-industrial complex, mini-homeland-security-industrial complex, foreign aid-industrial complex, spelling-industrial complex. Phew. Did I miss any?

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