The waste makers


One thing that struck me in the Packard reading was how dated it seems – not in the discussion of ‘planned obsolescence’ which sadly is all too true today with our disposable clothing and furniture, computers and phones that are out-dated within a couple of years, the consumers who still “equate newness with betterness”, (p69)   etc…. but in the way women are portrayed.  It clearly reflects the time – 1960s –the post-war years of Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique where women have been pushed out of the work-force and back into the home,  preferably in the suburbs, to be concerned with purchasing new things for the house and buying pretty dresses.

It highlights the way women were viewed as being acted upon as opposed to having a say —  most of the authority figures he quotes are men – the ‘business men’ , the General Electric man, the Remington man,  the ad men;  women are merely the target of the ad campaigns that pushed ‘pyschological obsolescence.’ (p. 65)

“When a woman already has a closetful of good-as-new dresses, the best excuse she can offer her husband (who usually considers himself financially hard-pressed) for further splurging is that every dress she owns is out of style. ”  (p.71)  I hadn’t realized how the advertisers and the fashion and industrial designers collaborated to convince the consumer to follow the latest trends.

The idea of ‘planned obsolescence’ highlights the contrast between post-war US and Europe which was re-building after the years of devastation. Rationing, as an example, continued in England into the 50s and so all the thrifty war-time measures like victory gardens and recycling remained, whereas in the US, the opposite happened.  The economic boom made wasteful practices the norm.

The same advertisers who pushed women (and men)  to follow the latest fashion trends did the same with household goods  (and cars)  fostering  the ‘keeping up with the Jones’ mentality. The exhibit ‘Counter  Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen’ at MOMA shows how the idea of the democratic Frankfurt kitchen from the 1920s, designed, in the leaner years between the wars, to be accessible and affordable to all, became,  in post-war US, the  suburban kitchen of abundance,  with all the latest (throw-away) gadgets and energy-burning devices.   (There are some TV spots from the time which show the wife  ‘tricking’ the husband into thinking it was his idea to get the latest time-saving kitchen device.)

Even with recent recycling developments  (or maybe even because of them – if you recycle the old, you don’t feel so badly about buying the new) we are still being taken in by the hype;  get the newest thing, replace rather than repair and the landfills keep filling.


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