Mr. Coffee Mansplains, and Other News


On the Shelf

“This is how a man makes coffee … ”


  • The churlish “alternative facts” coming out of the Oval Office have led to an uptick in sales of 1984, which remains America’s go-to dystopian fiction: whenever our liberties are trampled on, someone’s reaching for the Orwell. Yes, Orwell, Orwell, he’s our man, if he can’t articulate the all-consuming dread of the totalitarian surveillance state, no one can! But Josephine Livingstone argues that there are better metaphors for our times: “When we suspect that we are living in a dystopia characterized by clumsy propaganda, it’s the book we buy from … But there is no in Nineteen Eighty-Four, because it is not a novel about globalized capital. Not even slightly! Nineteen Eighty-Four does not pastiche a world ravaged by capitalism and ruled by celebrities—the kind of world that could lead to the election of someone like Trump. Instead, it depicts suffering inflicted by state control masquerading as socialism.” Better, Livingstone says, to pick up some Kafka, which is right on the money: “In The Trial, Josef K. wakes up on his thirtieth birthday and is arrested. He cannot really conceive of what is happening: ‘K. was living in a free country, after all, everywhere was at peace, all laws were decent and were upheld, who was it who dared accost him in his own home?’ ”
  • But did you ever wonder about what the other side of the Iron Curtain was reading? Before we were oohing and ahhing over Orwell, the Soviet Union was gaga for Ethel Voynich’s The Gadfly, an 1897 novel about “revolutionary zeal, religious devotion, clerical betrayal and romantic love.” Benjamin Ramm writes, “It was in the newly created Communist states of the Soviet Union and China that the book found its most dedicated readership. Arthur, the embodiment of a Romantic tragic hero, was repeatedly voted Russia’s most popular literary figure, and cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova, the first man and woman in space, credited its influence.”

  • I’ve spent hours, one bleary-eyed morning after the next, wondering where Mr. Coffee got its name. I just stand there as the coffee brews, thinking, Why Coffee? The answer is just what you’d expect: sexism. Mr. Coffee’s debut in 1972 was part of a dismissive campaign to rescue coffee from the hands of supposedly incompetent women. Erin Blakemore explains, “At the time, women were households’ primary coffee makers … Coffee ads portrayed coffee-induced domestic abuse and threatened women who made bad coffee with social ostracism and relationship problems. This cultural pressure cooker presented the perfect opportunity for Mr. Coffee … Mr. Coffee included something unexpected in its marketing: men. Not only was it given a masculine name, writes [Rebecca] Shrum, but its marketing suggested that it would produce a man’s preferred brew. The company hired Joe DiMaggio to give his masculine endorsement to the product—adding an additional layer of masculine advice to a product that purported to teach women how to make a better brew.”
  • Christo has mounted what’s arguably the art world’s most prominent protest of Trump yet, withdrawing a fifty-million-dollar plan to create a massive public artwork in Colorado: “ ‘I came from a Communist country,’ said Christo, eighty-one, who was born Christo Vladimirov Javacheff in Bulgaria and moved to New York with Jeanne-Claude in 1964, becoming an American citizen in 1973. ‘I use my own money and my own work and my own plans because I like to be totally free. And here now, the federal government is our landlord. They own the land. I can’t do a project that benefits this landlord.’ ”