Absurd capitalist dystopias and trampolines
I’m devoting the post festive period to catching up on some light reading – specifically the fine print on the toys my four year old received for Christmas.
The back of her model butterfly painting kit is particularly strange and hallucinogenic.
“Colorized Scalewing of Flutter is a new product congregated with toy and DIY together, using your both hands to portray and assembled beautiful colorized scalewing,” it reads. “[S]et free your polychrome dream in the play.”
Now there’s an enticing invitation – not to mention an A-grade example of that underrated art form known as Manglish.
Another trademark of modern instruction sheets are their over-instructionality, with the makers of Colorized Scalewing of Flutter leaving absolutely nothing to chance.
Their elaborate “Playing Method” guide includes illustrated, arrow-assisted advice on how to unscrew the lids off paint tubes.
Just as well they explained. I was going to try to egg-beat them off.
Equally educational is the user’s manual for my daughter’s new Christmas trampoline.
Apparently children older than six should not bounce while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. (There goes my plan to serve vodka kinder shots during the next play date.)
Also: responsible trampolining should not involve clothing with drawstrings, hooks or loops. (No word on the safety status of the torn tutu or the fraying buttonhole.)
It’s all very interesting. But while I am keen on the idea of being a responsible trampoline owner, further inspection of these bouncy by-laws reveals that this is far from occurring in real life.
Fact: we do not carefully inspect the trampoline or trampoline enclosure prior to each use.
Fact: we have not learned “fundamental bounces and body positions” thoroughly before trying more advanced skills.
Fact: we have used the trampoline while wet, attempted somersaults and employed the assistance of a partially deflated soccer ball that is not a manufacturer-approved accessory.
In short, we have flouted the rules and used our new vertical spring structure solely for the gaining of illicit amounts of enjoyment.
As such, there is no way my presence represents “mature and knowledgeable supervision” as demanded by the trampoline makers – or at least by the trampoline makers’ lawyers.
Yet I suspect that their flamboyant warnings of paralysis and death seem less a concern for the integrity of jumpers’ vertebrae and more a prophylactic against litigation.
It’s a cynical scenario reflecting the tension between manufacturers’ desire to pump toys out as cheaply and nastily as possible, and consumers’ desire to find someone to blame (and ideally someone to extract money from) when things go wrong.
Both these urges are understandable.
But imagine a world where companies avoided producing paralysis-friendly toys not because of the threat of law suits but because it’s unethical to do so.
And imagine if customers accepted that accidents happen; sometimes because of bad luck and sometimes because we engage in hijinks – trampoliney, somersaulty hijinks – that are stupid or contrary to the laws of physics.
Apart from anything else, it’s impossible to anticipate and warn against every possible mishap that may occur when combining the danger of objects and the silliness of humans.
There is nothing, for instance, on our trampoline’s big, red, look-out! label cautioning against bouncing while juggling knives or igniting vats of kerosene.
What happens if we do these things in the mistaken belief that they constitute normal trampoline usage?
Will we be entitled to compensation in the event of hemorrhage or detonation?
And if legal action against the jumping kingpins is not an option, can we at least sue society for our immature and unknowledgeable assumption that legal action is a reasonable replacement for personal responsibility?
A delightfully absurd take on the excesses of customer dissatisfactions, the limits of consumer items and the surreal syntax of corporatese can be found in the other reading I’m doing these holidays.
It’s a short story called I CAN SPEAK! – by American satirist George Saunders – which takes the form of a letter of response to a letter of complaint about a classy new product from KidLuv Inc.
I CAN SPEAK! is a computerised rubber mask which encases babies’ heads and generates witty, self-possessed and occasion-specific phrases such as “Fruit, isn’t that one of the major food groups?” and “It is very possible that we still don’t fully understand the import of all of Einstein’s findings”.
Its aim is to increase infants’ self esteem, stimulate parental love, and prevent the childless from being repulsed by infants whose idea of conversational pizzazz is to glub while examining their faeces.
Mrs Ruth Faniglia, mother of six-month-old Derek, is not impressed. She is, however, lucky enough to receive personal correspondence from Rick Sminks, a heartbreakingly earnest Product Service Representative who notes that his company requires employees to purchase I CAN SPEAK! and use it on their own children and/or senile relatives.
“[In] your letter…” Sminks writes, “you state that the I CAN SPEAK!… takes on a ‘stressed-out look when talking that is not what a real baby’s talking face appears like but is more like some nervous middle-aged woman’.
“Well, maybe that is so, but with all due respect (and I say this with affection), you try it! You try making a latex face look and talk and move like the real face of an actual live baby!
“And as far as what you said, about Derek sort of flinching whenever that voice issues forth from him? When that speaker near his mouth sort of buzzes his lips? May I say this is not unusual? What I suggest? Try putting the ICS on Derek for a short time at first, maybe ten minutes a day, then gradually building up his Wearing Time…”
As Saunders’ tragicomic vision of consumer culture illustrates so exquisitely, there is a Dada-ist melancholy in the interplay between sellers, buyers and economic objects.
The craft kit aimed at DIY-ers includes a step-by-step guide to taking the lid off a basic paint tube. The fun trampoline makers insist on usage restrictions that are incompatible with having fun. And Sminks’ son, Billy, has built up his wearing time to the point where he now sleeps in his latex gimp-wear.
The good news is that these capitalist dystopias are also chock full of absurdist goodness.
One small but sublimely weird example is the conclusion of the instructions for Colorized Scalewing of Flutter. “Hang the small colorized scalewing after was finish,” it clunks. “That will have a distinctive gout… and you will feel very complacent.”
Mmmm… nothing like complacency congregated with a distinctive gout – particularly if you also happen to be setting free your polychrome dreams at the time.
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