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The Bud Bowl: A Definitive History

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On the subject of the greatest football dynasties of all-time, the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers, 1980s San Francisco 49ers, 1990s Dallas Cowboys and 2000s New England Patriots likely all come to mind. You would be remiss, however, if you failed to mention a less heralded and, uh, less human team that dominated its competition in, quite frankly, unbelievable fashion: Budweiser.

From 1989-1997, the self-anointed "King of Beers" dominated Anheuser-Busch's Bud Bowl, the yearly clash between animated bottles of Bud and Bud Light that was featured in a series of commercials during the Super Bowl. The advertising campaign, which persists today in the form of Bud Bowl-themed packaging and promotional events, remains one of the most popular ever.

The Bud Bowl Architect

Grant Pace wrote the six original Bud Bowl ads that appeared in 1989 while working at D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles. Pace said he developed the ads under the assumption that Bud Bowl would be a one-year phenomenon, but Anheuser-Busch representatives liked the prototype so much that Pace actually changed the original ending to leave open the possibility for a sequel. We interviewed Pace this week—here's a transcript.

More Exciting Than The Actual Super Bowl

bud-light.jpgThe first spots were an instant hit with viewers, as reflected by an amazing 17% surge in January beer sales. This guaranteed a grudge match the following year. As the cost of air time, production and other expenses grew from $5 million in 1989 to $8 million in 1991, so too did sales and Bud Bowl's popularity. Inflatable helmets and other related paraphernalia dominated liquor store and supermarket displays, while fans and sports columnists opined that the annual "Battle of the Bottles" was more exciting than the actual Super Bowl. (Considering that the average margin of victory in Bud Bowl history was less than three points, that notion held more than a little bit of truth.)

Tapped Out

By 1994, when Bud announced a new advertising deal with DDB Needham Worldwide, it was clear that the Bud Bowl idea as Pace and his colleagues had originally conceived it was nearly tapped out. The game took a one-year hiatus in 1996 before making an unsuccessful comeback attempt in 1997. The buildup to Bud Bowl 8 featured a sweepstakes, inviting fans to go online and vote for their all-time favorite Bud Bowl players and moments. Though I was only 13, I managed to score an official football.

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Television spots for the Bud Bowl were abandoned for good in 1998, as Anheuser-Busch brought back the Budweiser frogs campaign, which debuted two years earlier.

Today, the Bud Bowl's legacy endures in stores [photo courtesy of MauryStory]...

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...on eBay...

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...at BudBowl.com...

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...and even in Glendale, Arizona, the site of Super Bowl XLII. Snoop Dogg and Kid Rock will headline the Block Party at

Bud Bowl 2008, while the Budweiser Clydesdales will also make an appearance. Similar events have been held in other Super Bowl host cities in recent years, including a 2006 shindig at Detroit's Tiger Stadium. But while the modern Bud Bowl remains a marketing success, it hardly compares to the stop-action awesomeness that fans came to know and love in the events formative years. To watch every Bud Bowl commercial in its entirety, along with thousands of other commercials, I highly recommend the nominal one-week membership to commercial-archive.com. The fine folks behind that site have granted us permission to use their screenshots.

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Continue reading for a look back at Bud Bowls I-VIII...

Bud Bowl I
January 22, 1989: Budweiser 27, Bud Light 24

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Narrated by Bob Costas and Paul Maguire, the game that started it all unfolded over six spots during Super Bowl XXIII and proved almost as riveting as the Joe Montana-led San Francisco 49ers' 20-16 comeback win over the Cincinnati Bengals. The inaugural Bud Bowl was billed as a thunder and lightning showdown between two beers with contrasting styles. Bud, which boasted the vaunted "Beechwood Backs," favored a rushing attack, while Bud Light's pass first, ask questions later attack was led by a QB with Tom Brady-like numbers (49 touchdowns, 8 interceptions).
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The back-and-forth game featured all sorts of excitement. Bud Light executed a flea-flicker to perfection, while Bud's "Appliance of Defiance," the Freezer, gave Bud Light defenders headaches all night. With two seconds remaining and the game tied at 24, Budsky, Bud's seven-ounce "nip" bottle placekicker, wobbled onto the field to attempt a 42-yard field goal. The kick bounced off the crossbar and left upright before falling through, sending the boozed-up crowd of Bud beer cans into a tizzy, or fizzy as it were.

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Watch Bud Bowl I at commercial-archive.com.

Bud Bowl II
January 28, 1990: Budweiser 36, Bud Light 34

The following year proved no better for the bottles in blue. Bud, no doubt fired up by an emotional pre-game speech that concluded with the line, "You guys are the king, now let's go turn out their lights," earned its second consecutive dramatic win in the series. This one was wrought with controversy.

In snowy conditions at scale-sized Busch Stadium, Budweiser overcame a gritty performance by Bud Light quarterback Budway Joe and scored the winning touchdown as time expired when an offensive player advanced a fumble, which is illegal by NFL rules. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Anheuser-Busch received hundreds of telephone calls about the play over the course of the next week, prompting the St. Louis-based brewery to respond thusly:

"In the National Football League, of course, the offensive team cannot advance a fumble in the final two minutes of a game unless the ball is recovered by the same player who fumbled it. However, no such rule exists in the BFL (Budweiser Football League)."

I was unable to get my hands on a copy of the official BFL rulebook, but there are some other subtle hints that the Bud Bowl wasn't governed by NFL rules. Like, for instance, the fact that its participants didn't have any hands.

Watch Bud Bowl II at commercial-archive.com.

Bud Bowl 3
January 27, 1991: Bud Light 23, Budweiser 21

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By the time the foam settled in one of two Bud Bowls to shun the use of Roman numerals (Bud Bowl 8 was the other), there was a new ruler of the cooler. Don Meredith and Keith Jackson called the action, while Chris Berman handled studio duties for the game. Bud Light scored first, using a bottle opener as a spear to clear a path to the end zone.

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Filling in for the injured Budway Joe, top draft pick Bud Dry staked Bud Light to a fourth quarter lead, but a Longneck caught a touchdown pass with 3 seconds remaining, giving Bud a 21-17 edge and setting up the most memorable finish in Bud Bowl history.

In a parody of "The Play" at the end of Cal's victory over Stanford in the 1982 Big Game, Bud Light used multiple laterals to weave its way up the field and through the Bud band, which had wandered onto the field prematurely to celebrate what they thought was a sure third straight title. Jackson bellowed, "The band is on the field!" seconds before a Bud Light bottle sporting a tuba reached the end zone. Bud fans have lamented the fluke loss to this day, but like their Stanford brethren, can find solace in their team's superior all-time record against its rival.

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Watch Bud Bowl 3 at Retrojunk.

Bud Bowl IV
January 26, 1992: Budweiser 27, Bud Light 24

By previous Bud Bowl standards, this was one to forget. Rather than showing bottles run and throw footballs across a field for a fourth straight year, Chris Berman narrated one fan's quest to retrieve a Bud Bowl sweepstakes ticket that his girlfriend had mistakenly thrown away. (Fans had a chance to win up to a million dollars if the final score of the Bud Bowl matched the score on their game card were a staple of the later Bud Bowls.)

After a predictably disastrous turn of events that involved a trashcan, a police car and a pigeon, the pitiful hero managed to retrieve his ticket and arrived home just in time to catch the final score of the Bud Bowl. Lo and behold, he was a winner! After he put the ticket down to celebrate with an ice cold Budweiser and began recounting his ridiculous story to some friends, the shot panned to an adorable dog that had wandered into the room. You can guess what happened next.
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Watch Bud Bowl IV at commercial-archive.com.

Bud Bowl V
January 31, 1993: Budweiser 35, Bud Light 31

General Hospital heartthrob Corbin Bernsen led Bud Light into Bud Bowl V, while the Bud team and head coach Joe Namath arrived in the Budweiser blimp just minutes before kickoff. Ahmad Rashad and former MTV VJ Karen "Duff" Duffy provided quarter-by-quarter updates of the game, which featured some of the most absurd characters and events in the series' history.

Bud answered a touchdown reception by Bud "Neon" Light with a kickoff return for a touchdown by Namath's secret weapon, the Budweiser Rocket. After Bud built a 35-7 lead, Rashad asked a stone-faced Bernsen, "Coach, is there light at the end of the tunnel?" Help arrived in the form of a runaway Bud Light beer truck, which transformed into the Aluminator, an unstoppable offensive weapon.

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Trailing 35-31, there was no question who would get the ball for Bud Light on the final play of the game. As the Aluminator barreled through would-be Bud tacklers, an improbable, come-from-behind Bud Light victory seemed inevitable. Instead, a conniving Namath signaled to the Budweiser blimp above. A mechanized claw descended from the blimp and snatched the Aluminator into the air, which led to a fumble that Bud recovered to preserve the win.

After the game, Entertainment Weekly wrote, "Bud Bowl V had big-league special effects and bold commentary by MTV's Duff, looking buff in black, but this never-ending battle of the bottles has become a real clinker."

Watch Bud Bowl V at commercial-archive.com.

Bud Bowl VI
January 30, 1994: Bud Light 20, Budweiser 14

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With Marv Albert in the Bud Bowl studio and Mike Ditka and Bum Phillips as the head coaches of Bud and Bud Light, respectively, this game had the makings of a classic. It wasn't. Bud Light took an early lead on a "Naked Reverse" after its quarterback shed his label at the line of scrimmage. Bud countered with a kickoff return for a touchdown by the Basher, a 24-ounce can of aluminum dominance, who was penalized for excessive celebration and then ejected for cursing at the referee.

A windstorm blew into the stadium early in the second half, making things difficult for both offenses. The situation at a nearby bar, where patrons were nearly out of Budweiser, was more serious. Several Bud blimps combined forces to physically lift the stadium into the cozy confines of the bar, leading Albert to deadpan, "I don't know where this game is headed, but this is what I call a beer run!" Predictably, Bud Light scored the winning touchdown after a man in the bar grabbed a Bud defender from the playing field and proceeded to quench his thirst.

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"My biggest problem with the whole Bud Bowl thing is that they never really have any good teams playing," syndicated sports humor columnist Norman Chad once wrote. "I mean, if the Anheuser-Busch bigwigs had any brass at all, they'd get, say, Heineken and Samuel Adams every once in a while. Heck, Bud Lite's (sic) like Notre Dame "“ it doesn't matter what their record is, they're bowl-bound." The Bud Light-Notre Dame comparisons don't end there. Like the Fighting Irish, Bud Light's last bowl win came in 1994.

Watch Bud Bowl VI at spike.com or commercial-archive.com.

Bud Bowl VII
January 29, 1995: Budweiser 26, Bud Light 24

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Anheuser-Busch probably should've sent its bottles to the recycling plant after Bud Bowl VI. Instead, they gave us 60 seconds of Iggy, Biff, and Frank, castaways who watched Bud Bowl VII unfold from a desert island. With Bud trailing late in the game, Iggy was transported off the island and into the game, where he caught a pass and began rumbling toward the end zone. Eighty yards later, following a dream-like montage of press clippings and cereal boxes commemorating his newfound celebrity, Iggy gave Bud its fifth Bud Bowl win.

Watch Bud Bowl VII at commercial-archive.com.

Bud Bowl 8
January 26, 1997

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After a one-year hiatus, Bud Bowl VIII returned with another single, forgettable spot. Howie Long and Ronnie Lott provided coverage, holding Fox Sports microphones no less, from a bar in the Louisana bayou. After a fan stole his microphone and opened a fridge to reveal the Bud Bowl in action, Lott threw him out of a bar window and into a swamp. Lott proceeded to reveal the final score before the spot ended with a familiar refrain from the fan, who was sharing space in the swamp with an alligator: "I love you, man."

How does the Bud Bowl stack up in your hierarchy of greatest Super Bowl commercials? Share your thoughts below, and check out the transcript of Scott's e-mail exchange with Bud Bowl writer Grant Pace.

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20 Facts About Your Favorite Coen Brothers’ Movies
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Gramercy Pictures

Ethan Coen turns 60 years old today, if you can believe it. Since bursting onto the scene in 1984 with the cult classic Blood Simple, the younger half of (arguably) the most dynamic moviemaking sibling duo in Hollywood has helped create some of the most memorable and quirky films in cinematic history, from Raising Arizona to Fargo and The Big Lebowski to No Country For Old Men. To celebrate the monumental birthday of one of the great writer-directors of our time (though he’s mostly uncredited as a director), here are some facts about your favorite Coen brothers’s movies.

1. THE COENS THINK BLOOD SIMPLE IS “PRETTY DAMN BAD.”

Fifteen years after Blood Simple’s release, the Coens reflected upon their first feature in the 2000 book My First Movie. “It’s crude, there’s no getting around it,” Ethan said. “On the other hand, it’s all confused with the actual process of making the movie and finishing the movie which, by and large, was a positive experience,” Joel said. “You never get entirely divorced from it that way. So, I don’t know. It’s a movie that I have a certain affection for. But I think it’s pretty damn bad!”

2. KEVIN COSTNER AND RICHARD JENKINS AUDITIONED FOR RAISING ARIZONA.

Kevin Costner auditioned three times to play H.I., only to see Nicolas Cage snag the role. Richard Jenkins had his first of many auditions for the Coens for Raising Arizona. He also (unsuccessfully) auditioned for Miller's Crossing (1990) and Fargo (1996) before calling it quits with the Coens. In 2001, Joel and Ethan cast Jenkins in The Man Who Wasn't There, even though he had never auditioned for it.

3. THE BROTHERS TURNED DOWN BATMAN TO MAKE MILLER’S CROSSING.

After Raising Arizona’s success established them as more than one-hit indie film wonders, the Coens had some options with regard to what project they could tackle next. Reportedly, their success meant that they were among the filmmakers being considered to make Batman for Warner Bros. Of course, the Coens ultimately decided to go the less commercial route, and Tim Burton ended up telling the story of The Dark Knight on the big screen.

4. BARTON FINK AND W.P. MAYHEW WERE LOOSELY BASED ON CLIFFORD ODETS AND WILLIAM FAULKNER.

The Coens acknowledge that Fink and Odets had similar backgrounds, but they had different personalities: Odets was extroverted, for one thing. Turturro, not his directors, read Odets’ 1940 journal. The Coens acknowledged that John Mahoney (Mayhew) looks a lot like the The Sound and the Fury author.

5. THE COENS'S WEB OF DECEPTION IN FARGO GOES EVEN FURTHER THAN THE OPENING CREDITS. 

While the tag on the beginning of the movie reads “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987,” Fargo is, by no stretch of the imagination, a true story. During the film's press tour, the Coens admitted that while not pinpoint accurate, the story was indeed inspired by a similar crime that occurred in Minnesota, with Joel stating “In its general structure, the film is based on a real event, but the details of the story and the characters are fictional.”

However, any and all efforts to uncover anything resembling such a crime ever occurring in Minnesota come up empty, and in an introduction to the published script, Ethan pretty much admitted as much, writing that Fargo “aims to be both homey and exotic, and pretends to be true." 

6. THEY WANTED MARLON BRANDO TO PLAY JEFFREY LEBOWSKI.

According to Alex Belth, who wrote the e-book The Dudes Abide on his time spent working as an assistant to the Coens, casting the role of Jeffrey Lebowski was one of the last decisions made before filming. Names tossed around for the role included Robert Duvall (who passed because he wasn’t fond of the script), Anthony Hopkins (who passed since he had no interest in playing an American), and Gene Hackman (who was taking a break at the time). A second “wish list” included an oddball “who’s who," including Norman Mailer, George C. Scott, Jerry Falwell, Gore Vidal, Andy Griffith, William F. Buckley, and Ernest Borgnine.

The Coens’ ultimate Big Lebowski, however, was the enigmatic Marlon Brando, who by that time was reaching the end of his career (and life). Apparently, the Coens amused themselves by quoting some of their favorite Jeffrey Lebowski lines (“Strong men also cry”) in a Brando accent. The role would eventually go to the not-particularly-famous—albeit pitch-perfect—veteran character actor David Huddleston. In true Dude fashion, it all worked out in the end.

7. JOEL COEN WOOED FRANCES MCDORMAND ON THE SET OF BLOOD SIMPLE.

Coen and McDormand fell in love while making Blood Simple and got married a couple of years later, after production wrapped. McDormand told The Daily Beast about the moment when she roped him in. “I’d only brought one book to read to Austin, Texas, where we were filming, and I asked him if there was anything he’d recommend,” she said. “He brought me a box of James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler paperbacks, and I said, ‘Which one should I start with?’ And he said, ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice.’ I read it, and it was one of the sexiest f*ckin’ books I’ve ever read. A couple of nights later, I said, ‘Would you like to come over and discuss the book?’ That did it. He seduced me with literature. And then we discussed books and drank hot chocolate for several evenings. It was f*ckin’ hot. Keep it across the room for as long as you can—that’s a very important element.”

8. O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? WAS ORIGINALLY INSPIRED BY THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Joel Coen revealed as much at the 15th anniversary reunion. “It started as a 'three saps on the run' kind of movie, and then at a certain point we looked at each other and said, 'You know, they're trying to get home—let's just say this is The Odyssey. We were thinking of it more as The Wizard of Oz. We wanted the tag on the movie to be: 'There's No Place Like Home.’”

9. THE ACTORS IN FARGO WENT THROUGH EXTENSIVE TRAINING TO GET THEIR ACCENTS RIGHT.

Having grown up in Minnesota, the Coens were more than familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the “Minnesota nice” accent, but much of the cast—including Frances McDormand and William H. Macy—needed coaching to get the intricacies right. Actors were even given copies of the scripts with extensive pronunciation notes. According to dialect coach Larissa Kokernot, who also appeared as one of the prostitutes Gaear and Carl rendezvous with in Brainerd, the “musicality” of the Minnesota nice accent comes from a place of “wanting people to agree with each other and get along.” This homey sensibility, contrasted with the ugly crimes committed throughout the movie, is, of course, one of the major reasons why the dark comedy is such an enduring classic.

10. NICOLAS CAGE'S HAIR REACTED TO H.I.'S STRESS LEVEL IN RAISING ARIZONA.

Ethan claimed that Cage was "crazy about his Woody Woodpecker haircut. The more difficulties his character got in, the bigger the wave in his hair got. There was a strange connection between the character and his hair."

11. A PROP FROM THE HUDSUCKER PROXY INSPIRED THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE.

A bit of set dressing from 1994’s The Hudsucker Proxy eventually led to 2001’s The Man Who Wasn’t There. In a barbershop scene, there’s a poster hanging in the background that featured a range of men’s hairstyles from the 1940s. The brothers liked the prop and kept it, and it’s what eventually served as the inspiration for The Man Who Wasn’t There.

12. GEORGE CLOONEY SIGNED ON TO O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? BEFORE EVEN READING THE SCRIPT.

The brothers visited George Clooney in Phoenix while he was making Three Kings (1999), wanting to work with him after seeing his performance in Out of Sight (1998). Moments after they put their script on Clooney’s hotel room table, the actor said “Great, I’m in.”

13. A SNAG IN THE MILLER’S CROSSING SCRIPT ULTIMATELY LED TO BARTON FINK.

Miller’s Crossing is a complicated beast, full of characters double-crossing each other and scheming for mob supremacy. In fact, it’s so complicated that at one point during the writing process the Coens had to take a break. It turned out to be a productive one: While Miller’s Crossing was on pause, the brothers wrote the screenplay for Barton Fink, the story of a writer who can’t finish a script.

14. INTOLERABLE CRUELTY IS THE FIRST COEN MOVIE THAT WASN’T THE BROTHERS’ ORIGINAL IDEA.

In 1995, the Coens rewrote a script originally penned by other screenwriters, Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, and John Romano. They didn’t decide to direct the movie, which became Intolerable Cruelty, until 2003.

15. THE LADYKILLERS WAS WRITTEN FOR BARRY SONNENFELD TO DIRECT.

The Coens effortlessly jump from crime thriller to comedy without missing a beat. So when they were commissioned to write a remake of the British black comedy The Ladykillers for director Barry Sonnenfeld, it seemed to fall in line with their cinematic sensibilities. When Sonnenfeld dropped out of the project, the Coens were hired to direct the film.

16. BURN AFTER READING MARKED THE FIRST TIME SINCE MILLER’S CROSSING THAT THE COENS DIDN’T WORK WITH THEIR USUAL CINEMATOGRAPHER, ROGER DEAKINS.

Instead, eventual Academy Award-winner Emmanuel Lubezki acted as the director of photography. The Coens would work with Deakins again on every one of their films until 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis.

17. IT TOOK SOME CONVINCING TO GET JAVIER BARDEM TO SAY “YES” TO NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Though it’s hard to imagine No Country for Old Men without Javier Bardem’s menacing—and Oscar-winning—performance as antagonist Anton Chigurh, he almost passed on the role. “It’s not something I especially like, killing people—even in movies,” Bardem said of his disdain for violence. “When the Coens called, I said, ‘Listen, I’m the wrong actor. I don’t drive, I speak bad English, and I hate violence.’ They laughed and said, ‘Maybe that’s why we called you.”’

18. PATTON OSWALT AUDITIONED FOR A SERIOUS MAN.

Patton Oswalt auditioned for the role of the obnoxious Arthur Gopnik in A Serious Man, a part that ultimately went to Richard Kind. Oswalt talked about his audition while appearing on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, in which it was also revealed that Maron was being considered for the lead role of Larry Gopnik (the role that earned Michael Stuhlbarg his first, and so far only, Golden Globe nomination). 

19. THE CAT IN INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS WAS “A NIGHTMARE.”

Ulysses, the orange cat who practically stole Inside Llewyn Davis away from Oscar Isaac, was reportedly a bit of a diva. "The cat was a nightmare,” Ethan Coen said on the DVD commentary. “The trainer warned us and she was right. She said, uh, "Dogs like to please you. The cat only likes to please itself.’ A cat basically is impossible to train. We have a lot of footage of cats doing things we don't want them to do, if anyone's interested; I don't know if there's a market for that."

20. THE COEN BROTHERS PROBABLY DON’T LOVE THE BIG LEBOWSKI AS MUCH AS YOU DO. 

We’re assuming the Coen Brothers are plenty fond of The Dude: after all, he doesn’t end up facing imminent death or tragedy, which is more than most of their protagonists have going for them. But in a rare Coen Brothers interview in 2009, Joel Coen flatly stated, “That movie has more of an enduring fascination for other people than it does for us.”

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‘American Gothic’ Became Famous Because Many People Saw It as a Joke
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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1930, Iowan artist Grant Wood painted a simple portrait of a farmer and his wife (really his dentist and sister) standing solemnly in front of an all-American farmhouse. American Gothic has since inspired endless parodies and is regarded as one of the country’s most iconic works of art. But when it first came out, few people would have guessed it would become the classic it is today. Vox explains the painting’s unexpected path to fame in the latest installment of the new video series Overrated.

According to host Phil Edwards, American Gothic made a muted splash when it first hit the art scene. The work was awarded a third-place bronze medal in a contest at the Chicago Art Institute. When Wood sold the painting to the museum later on, he received just $300 for it. But the piece’s momentum didn’t stop there. It turned out that American Gothic’s debut at a time when urban and rural ideals were clashing helped it become the defining image of the era. The painting had something for everyone: Metropolitans like Gertrude Stein saw it as a satire of simple farm life in Middle America. Actual farmers and their families, on the other hand, welcomed it as celebration of their lifestyle and work ethic at a time when the Great Depression made it hard to take pride in anything.

Wood didn’t do much to clear up the work’s true meaning. He stated, "There is satire in it, but only as there is satire in any realistic statement. These are types of people I have known all my life. I tried to characterize them truthfully—to make them more like themselves than they were in actual life."

Rather than suffering from its ambiguity, American Gothic has been immortalized by it. The country has changed a lot in the past century, but the painting’s dual roles as a straight masterpiece and a format for skewering American culture still endure today.

Get the full story from Vox below.

[h/t Vox]

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