The latest literary sensation to grip the world owes its existence – I am not making this up – to American fast food culture.
That and the deliciously bent instincts of the Taco Bell Quarterly’s Editor-in-Chief, Baltimore-based MM Carrigan – instincts that might be compared to the Tex-Mex chain’s Cinnamon Twist, in their ability to confect sweetness, delight and devilry, served up with a smile.
(A Cinnamon Twist is like a denatured koeksister – the syrupy, braided version, not the more elegant, aniseed-fragranced, coconut sprinkles-graced hot ball of glory that those in the know recognise as the rightful bearer of the name, in all its spellings. But I digress.)
Most South Africans, I hazard, won’t be familiar with Taco Bell. It’s one of the few behemoth American fast food brands that baulked at the trek south. As a result, we are bereft of the cheap but somehow not entirely unacceptable tacos and burritos that the restaurant purveys, not to mention its confusing but tasty menu of Frankenfoods, like nacho fries and Mexican pizza.
The genius informing the Taco Bell Quarterly lies not only in the litmag’s name, or the fact that it publishes an issue each year on 20 April (“four twenty”, as the day is known in the US – basically “Marijuana Day”, with Taco Bell’s niche being a righteous destination for those with the munchies); or that its poems, stories, essays and art, which by mandate all refer one way or another to the fast food chain, move in a kind of music-of-the-spheres way to collectively decode the American present in all its pathos, multiplicity and insatiable thirst for a greenish drink called the BAJA BLAST™. (“Like drinking a real hurricane,” according to tacobell.com.)
These are important elements, don’t get me wrong. But it’s Carrigan’s wholesale adoption of Taco Bell’s slogan, “Live Más”, as the ethos of Taco Bell Quarterly that has driven the magazine to literary celebrity. “Live Más” means live more, and from the start, Carrigan identified this injunction as the key to belletristic progress in modern times.
Because of Carrigan’s foresight, Taco Bell Quarterly has, since the beginning, been several steps ahead in the great literary game. Take The New Yorker, for example, a decided latecomer, only featuring Taco Bell and its cultural moment in its 24 April issue this year.
Carrigan and Taco Bell Quarterly, who both score a mention in The New Yorker’s article, have been tapping the Taco Bell zeitgeist for roughly 175 previous New Yorker editions. That’s potentially a lot of Crunchwrap Supremes® (“the product that wrote, and broke, all the rules”) down the hatch while waiting for the official literary world to catch up.
Carrigan’s appropriation of “Live Más” for his own ends provides the key lesson for anyone seeking to break into said official literary world. Namely, there’s liberation in ignoring it as steadfastly as it’s ignoring you.
There are no rules. Live más! Go ahead and create your own world, start your own scene, publish your own magazine, on any terms you like.
Granted, if you followed Carrigan’s playbook to the letter and involved a prominent brand in your new literary project, then it’s best to acknowledge that in South Africa some names are well-avoided.
No one wants to read the Eskom Schooner, for example – that ship sailed long ago – or FNB+1. But the PERi-PERi Review might make for a lekker poke at the venerable publication which takes France’s capital city for its name, and the Kentucky Literary Concern has a lively ring to it: imagine the joys that come with happening across a “21-piece bucket of bookish bliss”.
On balance, though, I’d look carefully in News Cafe’s direction. News Cafes reek of pathos, after all – one of their signature cocktails is called “Faithful Bitch” – and though the chain’s slogan isn’t fit to be mentioned in the same breath as Taco Bell’s, we must make do with what the South African marketplace provides.
Signing off, then, from the soon-to-be-launched News Cafe Quarterly. “It’s about the vibe.” Now seeking enthusiastic franchisees for all positions on the masthead, including, per the cocktail menu, “Psychopath”. Just to recap, it’s about the vibe. DM/ML