The Right Drink for the Conservative Taste, and Other News


On the Shelf

Drink up your propaganda, kids!

  • Today in farts: there’s a new movie called Swiss Army Man, and it’s full of ‘em. Don’t write it off as stupid. Don’t pretend you’re not seduced by the fusillade of flatulence. There is life in those farts, Annie Julia Wyman writes: “The idea for Swiss Army Man began with a fart joke: a man trapped on a desert island feeds a corpse beans so that he can ride it back to civilization. But a fart joke—like every increment of comedy, however large or small—is a simple encapsulation of Swiss Army Man’s optimism and of the beneficence, the real miracle, which is art … Movies of this kind are highly wrought, spiritually advanced, super-durable versions of the space inhabited by children and old people, by beginners and artists and students, by those of us who are still learning and always will be: that is, by everyone, if they can let the farts in.” 

  • Television changed presidential elections forever—in part because it diminished the amount of neat stuff the candidates had to plaster their names on to gain exposure. A new exhibition, “Campaigning for the Presidency, 1960–1972: Selections from the Museum of Democracy,” reveals the bizarreries of electoral material culture. Andy Battaglia writes, “Highlights from 1964 include bottles of punnily branded Gold Water cologne and aftershave—‘an aftershave for Americans,’ the label makes clear. The grooming products might have resonated as a rebuke to the era’s beatniks and hippies … Voters were encouraged to literally consume the candidates’ messages. Gold Water also served as the name of a canned campaign beverage dubbed ‘the right drink for the conservative taste.’ And a can of lemon-lime-flavored Johnson Juice soda was emblazoned with a bucking donkey logo and a message that belies the sweetened beverage within: ‘a drink for health care.’ ”
  • Michael Heizer is making land art built to last—none of this flashy Lightning Field shit for him. When your goal is duration, cheap materials are your friend: “City is a monumental architectonic work, with dimensions comparable to those of the National Mall, in Washington, D.C., and a layout informed by pre-Columbian ritual cities like Teotihuacan. Heizer started it in 1972, when he was in his late twenties and had already established himself as an instigator of the earthworks movement, a group of artists, including Robert Smithson and Walter De Maria, who made totemic outdoor sculptures, often in the majestic wastelands of the American West. City is made almost entirely from rocks, sand, and concrete that Heizer has mined and mixed on site. The use of valueless materials is strategic, a hedge against what he sees as inevitable future social unrest. ‘My good friend Richard Serra is building out of military-grade steel,’ he says. ‘That stuff will all get melted down. Why do I think that? Incans, Olmecs, Aztecs—their finest works of art were all pillaged, razed, broken apart, and their gold was melted down. When they come out here to fuck my City sculpture up, they’ll realize it takes more energy to wreck it than it’s worth.”
  • This September brings The Complete Orsinia, the first-ever collection of Ursula K. Le Guin’s “historical” fiction. The book’s editor, Brian Attebery, says, “Orsinia does not exist, any more than Middle Earth exists. It isn’t real, though its troubles are. One of the problems it poses is to figure out what kind of lever spans the gap between the imaginary place and the earth that is to be moved: in other words, what genre are we dealing with? … An orientation to the story-world of Orsinia can start from the word alternative, which suggests difference, distance, otherness, and options. Alternative beliefs challenge orthodoxy. Alternative lifestyles de-naturalize social norms. Alternative societies can be utopian and dystopian at once … And alternatives alternate—as readers find themselves alternating between the fictional world and the world of experience. Each Orsinian story flickers between its own historical present and the reader’s own moment, which it alternately illuminates and critiques.”