Iowa Art Crisis 2: The Creative Rehabilitation Program

Continued from yesterday’s story: Central Iowa’s arts community continues to roil in the aftermath of the Bad Art Reviews Blog’s (ed. since shut down) violent disregard for the State’s Code of Niceness. In an effort to preemptively ward off an epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorder among the region’s creative caste, the newly-empowered Iowa Ministry of Artistic Compliance has established The Creative Rehabilitation Program to nurse wounded artists back to health. The program mirrors a “Big Brothers/Big Sisters” model, with struggling, disenfranchised artists receiving hands-on mentoring from wealthy arts patrons, all of them hand-selected by Governor Brandstad from among his wide circle of friendly GOP arts enthusiasts. Let’s drop in on a session as Cardinal Mutual Casualty Company’s Chief Operating Officer, Bode P. Chatsworth — a well-known collector of large metal objects and signed sports memorabilia — meets with two artists fished from the wreckage of their heretofore peaceful cultural pond:

whitemanartElliot Gruver, Graduate Student in the Arts: I don’t want to get too heavy on you, Mr. Chatsworth, but I’ve never been more confused in my life.

Bode P. Chatsworth, COO, Cardinal Mutual Casualty Company: What’s on your mind, kid? Go ahead and spill it. You know that we love to be entertained by others’ misery here. That’s what this whole “Big Rich Art Brothers” thing is all about, yes?

Elliot Gruver: Well, I guess you sort of put your finger right on the heart of my problem, Mr. Chatsworth. My issue is that I’m just a little put off by the whole notion of what makes for “good art.” It often seems that “good art” means exactly what you just said: comfortable people getting off on other people’s misery. That makes me think that in order to make “good art” for the people who have the time to appreciate and afford it, then I have to take a vow of misery and angst. But, you know, Mom and Dad are paying a pretty penny for me to be in a Master of Fine Arts program, and I really just don’t have much to be sad about. So is my art worthless? And do I need to find things to be unhappy about if I want it to have value?

Bode P. Chatsworth: Nonsense, kid! You’re just showing your youthful naiveté when you say things like that. Look, back before I became a successful insurance executive and collector of large metal objects and signed sports memorabilia, I was a wannabe artist too, and like you, I thought that my misery made for better art. But when I look at my stuff from back then, it’s generally not better or worse than anything else, it’s just more miserable. Misery doesn’t equal quality. It’s just that when people are miserable, perhaps they invest more value and import in their art than they do when they’re not. The art symbolizes their struggle, and maybe they fight harder for their art because of that. But that’s an issue of promotion, not of quality. And, frankly, sometimes the stuff people do that isn’t based on struggle can be far more profound and less obvious than the more angst-ridden stuff tends to be.

Elliot Gruver: But does angst-ridden art always have to be obvious? Can’t art be angst-ridden and subtle at the same time?

Bode P. Chatsworth: Well, what the hell would be the point of “angst-ridden and subtle”? Sure, you can be angst-ridden in your life, and subtle about it in your work, but who would be able to tell the difference? Would you have to code it into your titles: “Still Life with Fruit and Yarn (Composed While Suffering an Existential Crisis in a Sioux City Squat)” or “Sunrise Over Dubuque (Where Some Immigrant Somalian Babies Suffer from Worms)”? If you believe that suffering leads to angst, which then leads to “great art,” then you can’t make “great art” without such suffering, and you should just move out to a nice cardboard box now and have your folks send your tuition checks directly to me. But that’s a false model. You really don’t have to choose between art and happiness. Comfort level is not tied to how profound someone’s work can be.

Charlotte Mondamin, Working Artist: Oh, I can’t take it any more! Listen to you two go on about angst and art! What a pair of pretentious poseurs you are! And you’re missing the big picture completely. Listen: angst is an emotion that’s exclusive to the privileged class. When you are hungry, homeless, sick or poor, you don’t have time or energy to feel sorry for yourself because you don’t feel like the world understands or appreciates you. So buck up and quit wallowing. Go spend a night in a dumpster without a coat and see how bad your petty boo-hoos feel tomorrow.

Elliot Gruver: Don’t dismiss my feelings just because I’m a child of privilege! I didn’t choose to be born in comfort!

Bode P. Chatsworth: C’mon, Charlotte, you’re not really going to trot out that stale old canard, are you? I mean, sure, we should all be doing cartwheels because we’re not in a labor camp in North Korea waiting for a rat to jump out of the hole in the ground where we shit so we can kill it and eat it, even though we’ll be beaten by the guards for doing so. I’m convinced! Life is suddenly beautiful to me! Thanks for the wisdom!

Charlotte Mondamin: It is not a stale argument, you creep. Life’s what you make of it. If you’ve got a house, a family who loves you, and money for food, then you’re doing better than 90% of the human beings living in the world right now, including me. If you choose to be a spoiled crybaby because nobody understands your art, Elliot, then that’s your problem, not society’s, not your parents’, not anybody else’s. It’s just wrong to try to find things in life to be unhappy about just so that you can make “better” art that allows well-off boobs to feel even better about themselves because they embrace your false suffering. What do your type have to be unhappy about anyway?

Bode P. Chatsworth: Please, Charlotte. That’s just dumb. People with all of those things can be unhappy if their jobs are not fulfilling, their personal lives are in disarray, or their financial futures are uncertain. Having stuff doesn’t make you happy. If it did, celebrity gossip columns would be far more boring than they already are. Do you really think there’s some sort of happiness line, where if you make over a certain amount per year, you’re not allowed to be sad?

Charlotte Mondamin: Look, the more you make, the more you can do whatever you want with fewer and fewer consequences. I’d certainly rather be sad and rich than sad and poor, because sad and poor means that you also have the pressure of basic survival while being unhappy. So, yes, once you have your basic survival needs met, you really shouldn’t be whining about being sad. Your sadness becomes meaningless. You can buy something to make it better. Or you can use your ample spare time to make some art, in which you subtly embrace the fantasy angst that eats at your comfortable, benumbed brains.

Bode P. Chatsworth: Gah, you bore me! Enough! I don’t need all of this misdirected anger and needless confrontation from the likes of you! I’d much prefer to spend time with comfortable people in search of a little angst to fire their creative furnaces. C’mon, Elliot, let’s head over to the corporate canteen and see what they’ve got stashed away there behind the bar, crack a bottle of somethin’ somethin’, smoke a couple of cigars and figure out how best to balance your emotional and artistic aspirations. The keys to the Jaguar are on the end-table there. You can go warm it up for Old Uncle Chatsworth, since it’s a nippy night out tonight. And be careful not to step on any hobos. There’s a good kid. You got a future.


Danny Allamakee’s Iowanferno (Cliff Notes Version)

Iowanferno opens on the night before the Iowa State Fair.

Traveling through a dark corn field, Danny Allamakee has lost his path and now wanders fearfully down the rows. The sun shines on a silo ahead of him, and he attempts to climb up to it but finds his way blocked by three monsters: a disembodied hawk’s eye, an anthropomorphic cyclone, and a panther, which appears to be weak and sickly, and is generally ignored by the other two beasts.

Frightened, Danny returns to the dark corn field. Here he encounters the ghost of Herbert Hoover, the great American President, who has come to guide Danny back to the path toward the silo, atop which Danny’s beloved Mamie awaits with a fresh pork tenderloin sandwich. Herbert says that their path will take them through Hell, adding that it was Mamie who — seeing Danny lost in the corn field — sent Herbert to guide him. Danny says “Let’s do this, bro!”

Herbert leads Danny through the Gates of Hell in Omaha, marked by the haunting inscription “306 Miles to the Illinois State Border.” On the beach beyond the gates, they see the souls who in life could not decide whether to caucus with the Democrats or the Republicans and now must run in a futile chase after a blank Des Moines Register editorial page for all eternity. Danny witnesses their suffering with repugnance, and curses them for their cowardice in life.

The Ferryman Carson then takes Danny and Herbert across the Missouri River into the First Circle of Hell, Limboni, home to the great Iowans from antiquity – including Herbert – who died without ever having the chance to taste Maytag Blue Cheese. After meeting Bix Beiderbecke, George Washington Carver, and Black Hawk, Danny continues into the Second Circle of Hell, reserved for the sin of political lust.

At the border of the Second Circle, the monster Cloris lurks, assigning condemned souls to their punishments. Inside the Second Circle, Danny watches as the souls of the politically lustful swirl about in a terrible storm, desperately trying to visit all of Iowa’s 99 counties. Danny meets Michelle Bachmann and Howard Dean in the Second Circle. Bachmann attempts to manipulate Danny’s power of reason with her crazy eyes while Dean rattles his soul with blood-curdling screams, but Herbert safely guides his shaken charge onward.

In the Third Circle of Hell, Gluttonous Farmers must lie in a hog confinement and endure a never-ending rain of pesticides. In the Fourth Circle, the Insurance Agents and the Bankers are made to charge at one another with giant works of garish corporate art. The Fifth Circle of Hell contains the River Raccoon, a swampy, fetid cesspool in which the Political Fundamentalists spend eternity struggling with each other to diminish the rights of all the other souls in Hell. Danny glimpses Bob Vander Plaats in the muck, and watches in delight as other souls tear him to pieces. The Tea Partiers lie motionless beneath the Styx’s waters, bound tightly in old “Don’t Tread On Me” flags.

Herbert and Danny next proceed to the walls of Dis Moines, a demonic city located within the south central region of Hell. The demons who guard the gates refuse to open them for Herbert, until John Wayne arrives from Heaven leading the full cast of The Longest Day to force the gates open before Danny. The Sixth Circle of Hell houses the Heretics, and there Danny encounters an old rival for Mamie’s affections named Grimes, who blasphemously denies the quality of La Quercia Prosiciutto and praises the Wines of Story County.

A deep valley leads into the First Ring of the Seventh Circle of Hell, where The Violently Friendly and The Aggressively Nice spend eternity in a river of boiling blood. Herbert and Danny meet a group of Agonyaunts, creatures who are half human, half scorpion. Twin Agonyaunts named Abigail and Ann take them into the Second Ring of the Seventh Circle of Hell, where they encounter those who were violent toward their own political careers. These souls must endure eternity in the form of trees. Danny there speaks with Mitt Romney, who explains why he put a dog on the roof of his car.

The Monster Grassley transports Herbert and Danny across a great abyss to the Eighth Circle of Hell, known as The Muscatine, which is divided into a series of ten mud-filled river locks called Keokuks. Each Keokuk features a different sin being punished in a different fashion:

  • First Keokuk: The Social Media Consultants are lashed with frayed wires;
  • Second Keokuk: The Registered Lobbyists lie in a river of their own bullshit;
  • Third Keokuk: The Partisan Cronies hang upside down in hickory-fueled smokehouses;
  • Fourth Keokuk: The Community Development Consultants are forced to walk with their heads backward;
  • Fifth Keokuk: The Fraudulent Nonprofit Directors steep vats of fake Templeton Rye while demons stab at them with cocktail spears;
  • Sixth Keokuk: The Wasteful Sport Hunters walk through endless fields of brambles wearing heavy camouflage vests loaded down with steel dove shot;
  • Seventh Keokuk: The Farm Mortgage Repossessors sit in a pit of weasels, becoming weasels themselves when bitten; to regain their form, they must then bite other Repossessers.
  • Eighth Keokuk: The Political Flacks are trussed and tied with their own power ties, then broiled on their own individual rotisseries;
  • Ninth Keokuk: The Compulsive Trash Talkers walk through a sleeting rain of feces, with wounds like open mouths flapping all over their bodies;
  • Tenth Keokuk: The Child Support Check Bouncers suffer from horrible sores and festering wounds, and none of the other souls will talk to them, ever.

Herbert and Danny finally leave The Muscatine and proceed to the Ninth Circle of Hell through the Giants’ Well, which leads to the massive drop to Quadcytus, a great frozen lake. The convivial giant Andy Williams picks Herbert and Danny up and sets them down at the bottom of the well, in the lowest region of Hell where those guilty of declining Federal subsidies and tax breaks are frozen in the ice forever. A huge, mist-shrouded form lurks ahead, and Danny approaches it.

It is the three-headed giant Terry, plunged waist-deep into the ice. His body pierces to the center of the Earth beneath Iowa, where God threw him on the Seventh Day, frustrated that He could not find an open restaurant. Each of Terry’s mustachioed mouths endlessly chews one of Iowa’s three greatest sinners: Harkin (who opened the gates for Ernst the Castrator), Ferentz (who dared to put on Fry the Magnificent’s shoes), and Willson (who wrote that God-awful Music Man play).

Herbert leads Danny on a climb down Terry’s massive thighs, holding on to frozen tufts of Polyester Sansa-Belt Slacks. Eventually, Herbert and Danny reach El Bait Shop, the river to forgetfulness, and travel downstream from there out of Hell and back into Iowa. They emerge on the morning the Iowa State Fair opens, just before sunrise.

“I’m outta here, Bro,” says Danny. “That Mamie chick is a pain in the ass, yo.”

Iowa Legislature Considers New State Motto

Iowa’s State Motto — “Our Liberties We Prize and Our Rights We Will Maintain” — sounds like it could have been whipped together for a contemporary Tea Party rally, but it actually dates back to 1847, and it reflects the difficulties that Iowa encountered on the road to Statehood.

With over a century-and-a-half of prosperity under Iowa’s collectively expanding Sans-A-Belt slacks, and with statehood safely secured, Iowa legislators are now pondering whether it’s time to create a more meaningful 21st Century motto for the state. Here are ten top contenders (developed by a consortium of Des Moines’ leading marketing and advertising agencies) as the 2015 legislative session gets underway:

Plus Frumenti (More Than Corn)

From Subsidy Springs Prosperity

Castrantur Tyrannus Sicut Solent Sues (Castrate The Tyrants Like Pigs)

In Terry We Trust

Semper In Vertice Missourum (Always on Top of Missouri)

You Flyover, They Drive Through, We Stay Here

Anglicus Quondam, Nunc Hispanicus (Once English, Now Spanish)

Mostly Modest, Always Nice

Ditat Deus, Pauper Obama (God Enriches, Obama Impoverishes)

Thank God for Indiana

Iowa Oral History Project (Part 1)

Alice Kresensky (Recording Ethnographer, Iowa State Antiquarian Society): As we sit here after lunch in the day room at the Silk Tassel Retirement Community in Grimes, we have a great view of the residents’ aquatic therapy center. So let’s open today’s oral history session with stories about swimming. Do any of you like to swim? Do you have any stories or memories about swimming in Iowa?

George Purvis (retired carpenter from Bevington, age 78): Well, there’s a secret public swimming pool in Guthrie County that I know about. It’s hidden and weird. It’s only about ten feet square, and it’s filled with elderly Russians, but it’s basically all mine, except for the Russians. Has anybody else noticed how many old Russian people there are in Guthrie County these days? Anyway, it’s a great little secret public pool to swim in, and I’m sure happy I found it.

Ole Madson (retired tailor from Wiscotta, age 86): Is it off Route F51, out toward Monteith?

George Purvis: I’m not saying if it is, and I’m not saying if it’s not. Where it is isn’t the point. So, what I was saying was: I really like swimming in this secret public swimming pool I found. The first time I went, I got a little nervous about all of the Russians and I almost didn’t go in the water, but my grandson George the third was all in his swim trunks so I forced myself to get in, for his sake. And once I did, it was great!

Ole Madson: That sounds kind of yucky, George. All those old Russian people in there like big geriatric teabags brewing in the sun. Did the water look like tea? I would think that the water would look like tea.

James Laird (retired bank clerk from Viola Center, age 82): I don’t believe I’ve ever been in a public pool. Except maybe once. In Sioux City. They’re too gross for me. Except for once. In Sioux City.

George Purvis: I never can understand why public swimming pools seem all that gross to some folks. Why, even if people peed in them all day long, they chlorinate them so much that any living organism would be killed on contact with the water. Any pee dies as soon as it hits the chlorine, so what’s the difference? There’s dead fish rotting away in the ocean and people swim at the beach, so that’s got to be at least as bad, right?

James Laird: Public pools give you public diseases. Fish don’t. And I’m not so sure that chlorine can kill old Russian people’s germs. Even Chernobyl couldn’t do that. You can go visit that burnt up reactor today and still find bunches of old Russian grandmothers living on nothing except giant turnips ripped from beneath the reactor’s core. And they still get head colds and what have you, so their germs must still be okay. I don’t think chlorine stands a chance against that.

Ole Madson: It’s the smallness of that pool that would worry me, I think. In a big pool, you can pretend that if someone is peeing a long way away, then the pee molecules will be all dispersed and neutralized before they get to you. In a little pool like that one, though, well, you just know that’s not the case. Those pee molecules would surely be all over me in that pool. And my own pee molecules wouldn’t have room to drift away, so that would sort of be like wetting your pants. Only wetter.

George Purvis: Well, gosh darn it, I guess I know what today’s oral history lesson is. It’s to never tell anyone that you get any satisfaction or happiness from anything ever, because they will mess it up for you, on purpose, just to make sure that you are as unhappy as they are.

Ole Madson: That’s right.

[Sound of chairs falling over. Tape ends].


The 2016 Iowa Caucuses Presented as a Masterpiece of Japanese Cinema (With a Disco Soundtrack)

What Happens: It’s boy’s night out at the billiards hall. Ted and Marco vs Hillary and Bernie. All agree to a best three out of five games. Game 1: Bernie sinks the 8-ball way ahead of schedule, so it’s 1-0 for Ted and Marco. Game 2: Ted sinks the 8-ball on schedule, but in the wrong pocket, score’s tied at one all. Game 3: Hillary and Bernie mop the floor with Ted and Marco, 2-1 for Hillary and Bernie. Game 4: Remarkably similar to Game 3; Bernie and Hillary win! Later, in a bitter fit of poor sportsmanship, Ted tells lies about the final results at the bar because he has no integrity whatsoever. Marco grieves for the soul of his team-mate, and cries quietly in his beer.

What Really Happens: Hillary and Bernie sit waiting for Ted to show up. All of a sudden, “Stayin’ Alive” by The Bee Gees starts blasting from the jukebox. Ted walks in just as the line “Well you can tell from the way I use my walk, I’m a woman’s man, no time to talk” comes on. He walks over, says: “Flip the coin. Heads.” The coin is flipped. Heads lands face up. Bernie racks the balls. Ted chalks, blows the extra off and winks at Hillary. Knocks the 8-ball in off the break. “Rack ’em.” Bernie, now noticeably nervous, puts the quarters in and racks them again. The first chorus of “Stayin’ Alive” is playing by this time. Ted twirls his cue and knocks the 8-ball in off the break again. “One more time.” Bernie is too frightened, so Hillary racks the final set of balls. “Thanks sugar,” Ted exclaims as he releases the final cue ball and sinks the 8-ball off the last break. “And now, there’s only one thing left to do. Strut.” Ted walks the sexiest walk ever, even sexier than John Travolta’s, and turns back one more time to wink at Hillary again. By the time the last “Stayin’ Alive” chorus is sung, Ted is out the door. Marco grieves for the soul of his team-mate, and cries quietly in his beer.

What Actually Happens: Ted is rolled in by a crew of twenty handlers several hours before the match begins. By the time Marco shows up, Ted is loudly sobbing at the bar. “I can’t do it, I just can’t,” he cries, as he tries unsuccessfully to lift himself off of his stool. “Don’t worry so much, buddy, I’ll get you a drink,” offers Marco. “Okay thanks, make it a triple Johnnie Black. Here’s some money.” Marco looks at the greasy wad of cash in Ted’s trembling fist and says “Um, no, this one’s on me.” Just then “Stayin’ Alive” by The Bee Gees starts blasting from the jukebox. Bernie and Hillary walk in, wearing red patent leather suits. They stop to pose as photographers snap photos, then head for the table. “We break,” says Hillary. Ted, still wobbling on his stool, says “Okay, sure, just please don’t hurt me, please.” Hillary racks as she laughs in disgust and amusement at Ted’s repeated attempts to stand up. Bernie takes off his coat and knocks the 8-ball into a corner pocket off the break, all in one smooth move. “Your turn,” Bernie says as he passes the cue to Hillary. The first chorus of “Stayin’ Alive” is playing. Marco ambles up with several drinks in his arms. “These are pity whiskeys from everyone at the bar for you, Ted.” Ted greedily grabs the glasses and starts chugging. Marco puts the quarters in and racks. By the time the triangle is off the balls, Hillary has sunk the 8-ball off the break and the second game is won. She blows the extra chalk off the cue and winks at Donald Trump, who is sitting in the corner with John Travolta. She says “You take the last one, Bernie. Pity we can’t embarrass that Harvard dumb-ass any more.” “Yeah, he’ll probably be asleep in a pool of his own vomit by the end of the night,” Bernie agrees, with a laugh. “I gossa be homes ta watchin’ debazze cause I’s a good Christian,” Ted manages to slur as Bernie sinks the third 8-ball off the break in a row. Bernie tosses his cue to Marco, who helps Bernie back into his red patent leather jacket, and Hillary, Bernie, Marco, Donald and Travolta strut out the door together as the final chorus to “Stayin’ Alive” plays. Ted passes out in a pool of his own vomit. No one grieves for his soul.

Iowa History 101

A lot of stuff has happened here in Iowa while most of you were busy flying over us. And it doesn’t all involve corn. Here’s a quick summary of key dates and events to help you better understand the rich history of the Branstad State:

20,000 BC: First human settlers in Iowa. Their children all move to Chicago soon after.

1672: French missionary Branchot LeTerre is the first European to arrive in Iowa. The natives immediately elect him governor.

1803: France sells Louisiana to the United States for $11.3 million, throwing in Iowa and under-carriage protection at no extra cost.

1832: The Black Hawk War, in which Iowa loses to Illinois in the fight for the Northwest Territory’s first hockey franchise, and gets an arena football team instead.

1838: U.S. Territory of Iowa established. Stoat farmer Torrance Burnstodt is elected first governor.

1846: Iowa becomes the 29th state of the Union, as reported on page D-17 (column 6, near the bottom) of The New York Times.

1863: Governor Torbent Bronistodd signs a proclamation formally re-designating “indentured servants” as “young professionals.”

1869: The Transcontinental Railroad is completed; 1.3 million insurance executives relocate to Iowa by 1870.

1920: Chuck Grassley is elected to his first term in the U.S. Senate. Women immediately demand the right to vote.

1935: In the heart of the Great Depression, Iowa’s economy is resuscitated by Maytag’s pioneering blue cheese work.

1984: The Farm Crisis leads to rise of a vibrant new economy, built around federal subsidies and fundraising galas.

2011: Terry Branstad is located by rescuers after six years in the wilderness. Iowans joyfully re-elect him governor.