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Last Tuesday, while the rest of the George Washington University crammed for finals, MFA students Kenny George and Gina Tibbott pounded down 18 cans of SpaghettiOs Meatballs. The event, dubbed “SpaghettiBros,” consisted of six consecutive games of frat standby Beirut that replaced keg beer with kiddie cuisine. Over the course of three hours, the 27-year-olds collectively vomited more than 10 pounds of vitamin-rich macaroni product, tomato purée, and high fructose corn syrup.
The point of the endeavor? It’s something about combining pseudo-bro performance art and personal bragging rights. “In the ongoing competition of who can do the most dudely shit, Kenny and I are matched pretty evenly,” says Tibbott. “So we wanted to have a direct competition to figure out once and for all who is the bigger bro.” George, known to photographically insert himself into Barbara Streisand covers, and Tibbott, a woman, aren’t your typical frat pledges. At 27, they’re also “too old for this shit,” says Tibbott.
The two teamed up earlier this year under the moniker The Breakfast Meats Art Collective and promoted “SpaghettiBros” through modest on-campus fliering and social networking Web sites; they plan to put out a DVD of the event. That’s just the beginning, they say. “Our events will all stem out of this bro culture and this love for overconsumption, trash talking, and pushing the limits as far as all of us can push,” says George. Says Tibbott, “We’ve discussed something else involving meat.”
Tibbott and George’s first meaty subject is an old favorite. “I’ve worked with SpaghettiOs in the past,” says George, who exhibited a series of photographs of himself sloppily consuming the stuff straight from the can at George Washington University’s Dimock and Brady galleries last year. But SpaghettiOs itself is a throwback: With its day-care smell and cartoonish can, it is a noodly mascot of childhood, a time when the lurching reverse-action of vomiting was a strange and painful experience. Later in life—college, usually—vomiting becomes not only normalized but freely and publicly displayed. In my four years of higher education, I witnessed, heard tell of, or created vomit in an elevator, on government property, while sleeping, in France, at the beer-pong table, and straight back into a beer cup.
Beer, of course, is the leading cause of college vomit. But beer fills another function for the puking undergrad, often referred to simply as a “bro.” In a tricky one-two punch, it allows the bro to suspend his inherent disgust at the very act of vomiting itself and even embrace it as a partying badge of honor, like a win at the flip-cup table or his newfound willingness to take off all his clothes in public.
There was no beer at SpaghettiBros. In its place was irony, which, along with two recruited “pledges” to distribute the food and hold back hair, pushed George and Tibbott through the half-dozen games. The pair was helped along by a soundtrack of such epic bro jams as Blue Öyster Cult’s “Godzilla” and Guns N’ Roses’ “November Rain.” For a while, the music seemed enough to sustain them: At one point, Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades” moved George to jump on the game table and taunt Tibbott through air guitar. She responded by animatedly tossing a cup of SpaghettiOs at his chest.
As the faux-drinking games wore on, though, the SpaghettiOs began sliding more slowly from their cooking-spray-greased cups. George dry heaved, loudly; Tibbott appeared on the verge of fainting. George rested on the floor; Tibbott insisted on a cigarette break. The vomiting became urgent. George began encouraging his gag reflex with his finger. Tibbott vomited through her nose. George poured a large cup into his mouth, only to spew it out instantly, blocking the mess with his hands. Tibbott’s vomit receptacle became so full that it began to splash back on her face as she emptied her stomach into it. The water cup that was meant to cleanse the pingpong balls turned from the sickening yellow of a Miller Lite to the triumphant orange of a Sparks energy drink to, finally, a frothy concoction resembling, well, vomit. By the end, even the pledges appeared weakened.
Of course, the same thing occurs on college campuses every weekend, except with a diluted form of poison that causes people to hurt themselves, endanger their work and family lives, and facilitate urgent and misplaced intimacy among strangers. If SpaghettiBros doesn’t prompt any deep questions about art, it at least asks: Shouldn’t SpaghettiOs be easier to stomach than keg beer?
Somehow, they’re not. The movement of the orange, chunky mess from cups to stomachs to triumphantly weighed vomit pitchers wasn’t just hard on the participants; it was tough on its stone-sober voyeurs, too. Few of the initial 20-some onlookers remained for the entire three hours. Those who did—friends of the contestants, a few curious passers-by, and the hired photographer—oscillated between enthusiastic fist-pumps, polite applause, and criticism. “They should have done this outside during freshman orientation,” said one attendee. “Somewhere where we can see the pitchers full of vomit easier.”
“I’m not sure this is art,” said another onlooker, as Tibbott reached for her vomit pitcher and upchucked too fast for her pledge to move to hold her hair back. “Art is directed at the viewer. I think they’re just doing this for each other.”
This isn’t Tibbott and George’s first finals-week foray into stunt-art. Last year, the pair canvassed George Washington University’s Gelman Library with acid-bright party-anthem posters meant to distract studiers. “We made up a fluorescent orange poster with the lyrics from ‘Panama’ and an image of David Lee Roth looking awesome,” says Tibbott. “As soon as you’d see it, you’d get the song stuck in your head, and be like, ‘Oh, goddamnit!’”
Somehow, Breakfast Meat’s pedigree didn’t keep SpaghettiBros from getting booted from the campus’s Dimock Gallery, where it was initially slated to take place. “At first, they said, ‘sure,’ but then when they heard what it was going to be, they were like, ‘Oh, hell no,’” says Tibbott. “We decided not to make a big deal out of it because we were going to be making a big mess anyway.”
“We explored a number of different venues,” says Thom Brown, chair of the Department of Fine Arts and Art History. Eventually, they settled on an empty classroom in the Smith Hall of Art. “[Tibbott and George] have experimented with many different approaches to making art in a contemporary context,” says Brown. “I don’t think anyone saw this one as a very serious piece, but they certainly have a sense of humor.”
It was through the windows of that classroom that I had to watch most of Tibbott and George’s final act: After three hours of SpaghettiOs pong, the smell of childhood turns rancid. The final score had George with five games won and 4½ pounds vomited, and Tibbott with one game won and 6¼ pounds spewed. It’s still not clear who’s the bigger bro. “You won more games, but you were kind of a pussy about vomiting in the beginning,” Tibbott told George. In SpaghettiBros, it seems, there are no points for dry heaving.
By the end, the smell of vomit—“It still smells just like SpaghettiOs!” Tibbott announced, midgame—was so strong that I was afraid I would vomit myself. When I returned home and looked over my notes, I did. It couldn’t have weighed in at more than half a pound. If there was no winner in this bro-off, there was, at least, a loser.
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