Art, Arts & Entertainment, Poetry

Rejection, the meaning of art, and Taco Bell

There’s a cartoon on page 62. Sometime in the future, a robot approaches a hipster and proclaims: “Citizen. My sensors indicate that you have not been living mas. Those who do not live sufficiently mas will be taken to the reeducation centre.”

A woman gives birth the same day she finds out she’s pregnant. Cartoon raccoons look up at the stars and have an existential crisis. There are crunchwrap supremes. Nietzsche. Grindr.

Taco Bell Quarterly—which is not published quarterly—is a literary journal with no word limit, no restrictions on medium, and no pretension. There is one rule, and one rule only: All submissions must, in some way, shape, or form, pertain to the cultural and culinary phenomenon known as Taco Bell. Their forthcoming issue has a 0.86 per cent submission acceptance rate, roughly on par with their foil, and longtime rival, The Paris Review.

Perhaps their Submission Guidelines say it best: “We’re not judgey and pretentious. We’re the Taco Bell fucking Quarterly.”

Their 74-page sixth issue was published earlier this year. Pieces include poetry, short stories, cartoons, watercolour illustrations, and art. One artwork is composed entirely of photos of burrito wrappings and up-close nachos, inscribed with “Live Mas” (with nacho cheese and hot sauce used as paint and a chip as a paintbrush, naturally). Some go all in—Taco Bell is their muse. Some include only a passing reference to a character eating a fiesta potato. Titles range from “Ode to My Mother Pissing into a Mountain Dew Baja Blast Cup” to “Tacorotica: A Fire Sauce Seduction.”

The eponymous Taco Bell has been featured in similarly fantastical media activity lately. The company recently won a legal battle to remove the trademark of the phrase “Taco Tuesday” and had a takeout order stolen by a bear—who later returned to steal their pop. The relationship between Taco Bell and its Quarterly seems to be friendly. As Editor-In-Chief M.M. Carrigan said in a 2022 interview with Chron, “They follow us on Twitter. They don’t sue us.”

Now that the publication’s seventh issue is ramping up, people have started to receive their rejection letters. These rejections have sparked inspirational genius on X, formerly known as Twitter. Due to Taco Bell Quarterly’s personalized rejection letters, people are turning said personalized letters into blackout poetry. 

The lyrical, romantic lines include: “You felt too invested in this. It’s a wonder you try” and “Thank you for submitting to rejection. I enjoy beats. I consider your name out there in the lit world!”

There’s a current climate of seemingly waning public enthusiasm about literature, where a future in writing has become increasingly unattainable and precarious, and increased horror abounds at the prospect of dedicating your life to something only to find out that you’re not that good at it. So, how can rejection be anything but demoralizing, despite being an inevitable part of art? 

But Taco Bell Quarterly has done it: They’ve made rejection fun, even something to look forward to, something to create something else out of. New art.

The other day, my friend recounted a story his professor told in class. He was walking through an art gallery and meandered through rooms full of contemporary art of the experimental sort (A toilet, blank canvases, etc.) before coming to a room with a red ladder leading up to a hole in the ceiling. He stayed and looked, along with others, for a few moments—then the gallery maintenance worker walked in, climbed the ladder, changed a lightbulb, and took the ladder away. 

What makes something art, or even worse, “good” art, when we strip away the walls of esteemed museums or the pages of prestigious journals? 

Blackout poetry on X, rejection letters, poetry, cartoons, contemporary art, coincidentally placed maintenance equipment, and Taco Bell all push the boundaries of what it means to create, inspire, and enjoy. Maybe Taco Bell Quarterly is exactly what the arts need: Absurd, frothy, fun, and literary all at once.

Live más. 

The sixth edition of Taco Bell Quarterly is currently available online. The seventh edition will be released when its editors feel like it.

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