Cup Day Spew

THE FIRST TUESDAY IN November, Melbourne Cup Day, is marked not by the excessive consumption of food and drink, but rather, by its regurgitation. The race that stops a nation also stops it in mid-sentence (‘um, hang on a minute’), bends it at about forty-five degrees at the waist, puts its hands on its knees, then floor-pancakes its lunch across the footpath, or bus floor, or office carpet. There, doesn’t that feel better out than in?

Consequence follows action, like night from day. We mark the occasion with cold roast chicken, chip packets, and champagne, scoffed from about eleven onwards at work or at parties. As if in anticipation for the starter’s signal, the pressure builds, grey-greening, until some time in the afternoon, the liquid burp emerges as the inevitable consequence of the one-too-many. Urrrrk! It’s off and racing, up the straight!

If you haven’t already watched someone throw up today, you will. A woman on my train threw up at 8.25am, just outside Redfern, a new record for my Novembers. (I don’t think she was actually drunk, but every little bit counts on Cup Day). Barry McKenzie put the sentiment to music, and sang in the film:

I’ve had liquid laughs in bars
And I’ve hurled from moving cars
And I’ve chundered where and when it suited me
But if I had to choose a spot
To regurgitate my lot
Then I’d chunder in the Old Pacific Sea.
Drink it up, drink it up
Have another dozen tubes or two with me…

It worked as comedy then because of the levels of irony: Barry Crocker, ex-crooner and musical straight man, sang in character as drunken yobbo on a world tour, both parodying the counterculture both celebrating and damning Australian philistinism, exporting Australian culture to the world at the same time as it cringed at our boorishness. Later in the film, though, Bazza throws up on a psychologist in an act of symbolic resistance—cop that ya pommy bastard—and all the irony is gone. It’s simply straight slapstick and a celebration of spewing. Laugh all you want, but The Adventures of Barry McKenzie is a reminder that vomiting is central, cultural, fascinating.

Is vomiting unpleasant, hilarious, disgusting, natural, dangerous, infantile? How are we to judge this bodily function? Is the vomiter to be pitied, helped, scolded, ignored, condemned, or just to be moved towards a basin? Is sick on the toes of your shoes a badge of pride or disgrace? When the next edition of Jacobin includes a tendentious take about bodily morality and class mores will the Brooklyn puritans decide drinking yourself sick is Very Problematic or Actually It’s Good?

Throwing up is a dialectic affair, when you really get down to it. The spew is the negation of the meal; your stomach’s antithesis to your appetite’s thesis; the after-drinks chunder is the Revolution’s inevitable Thermidor. Internal contradictions lead to the crisis, which must eventually be resolved. The driver of the porcelain bus has no more control over their direction than the engine driver in the locomotive of history. Once the chuckup is on its way it is an inevitable, necessary, endpoint. Trying to hold it in only accelerates the inevitable conflict.

Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your lunches!

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