An 1890 cartoon by John Tenniel, in which the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street– the Bank of England, so called for the City of London street where it was and still is located– doles out free money to silly, naughty boys, AKA bankers. The more things change the more they stay the same, and all the other appropriate sayings…
Two nice details: firstly, the boys have been playing at cards (emphasising that they’re just gambling and can lose just as easily as they win, no particular skill involved) and secondly, the Old Lady’s costume is made of money bags and bank notes.
“SAME OLD GAME”
OLD LADY OF THREADNEEDLE STREET. “YOU’VE GOT YOURSELVES INTO A NICE MESS WITH YOUR PRECIOUS ‘SPECULATION!’ WELL – I’LL HELP YOU OUT OF IT, – FOR THIS ONCE!!”
A woman plays a housewife, with a surreal audience pressed against the glass behind her. 1952.
This strange image, which looks like it could be a still from The Twilight Zone, is in fact from a 1952 exhibition in West Berlin: ‘We’re Building a Better Life’ (‘Wir bauen ein besseres Leben’). It was part of the German Industrial Trade Fair; a strange human zoo where the new paradigm of civilian living was played out by two shifts of adult actors playing husband and wife, along with eight pairs of children. In the picture below you can see a bird’s eye view of the house, and of the strange– and disturbing, given that this was less than ten years on from German death camps and the devastation of central Berlin– observation tower with a white-coated narrator. What was the new paradigm? According to the US State Department, who were behind it, the new way of living was to be a “high production, high-wage, low-unit-cost, low-profit margin, high consumption system.” And so it came to pass. One of the actresses playing a housewife was perhaps in the grip of some peculiar combination of Stockholm Syndrome and cabin fever when she said “The house is so perfect that I am afraid we will not want to move out… What will happen if I fall in love with the kitchen too?” A German magazine also described it as a “white paradise”, presumably referring to the kitchen equipment but still demonstrating that sensitivity to political correctness was a long way off.
During its three week run, the simultaneously aspirational and voyeuristic exhibition attracted over half a million visitors, nearly 40% of them from East Germany. It later toured to Stuttgart, Hanover, Paris and Milan.
This stuff is from Cold War Modern, a great book about Modernist design and industry between 1945-1970 and based on the Victoria & Albert Museum exhibition of the same name in 2008. The exhibition was also good, if a wee bit gung-ho and overly gushing about the design aspects while for the most part noticeably glossing over the suffering and poverty of the millions who found themselves arbitrarily trapped behind the Iron Curtain after the Second World War.
Transparent show house at ‘We’re Building a Better Life’. West Berlin, 1952.
The Devil of Usury. From John Blaxton’s pamphlet against loan sharks, ‘The English Usurer’, printed by John Norton for Francis Bowman of Oxford, 1634.
“An Usurer (i.e. a person who lends money at an unreasonably high rate of interest and/or with unfair terms) is not tolerable in a well established Commonweale, but utterly to be rejected out of the company of men.”
Too bloody right. Four hundred years on, little has changed: payday loan companies, Lehman Brothers, toxic mortgage lending, fixing the LIBOR rates, bank executives getting huge bonuses at failed but state-bailed banks, etc. Note also the piggy bankers on the right, the top one saying “Mine is the Usurers defect. To root in earth, wallow in Mire” and the bottom one issuing the refrain we’ve also recently heard many contemporary versions of from bank CEOs, that they can’t and won’t be held accountable for the devastation they’ve caused with their greed: “Living spare me, and Dead spare me.”
PS: Beware, for after a long separation I have been reunited with my beloved library and this blog will most likely live up to its tagline like never before in the coming weeks as I explore it anew. Forthcoming… Japanese monsters, Cold War kitchen performances, telekinesis, Giorgio Moroder robot, a load of intensely nerdy vintage computer stuff, etc.
“When I get out of this thing, you’d better sleep with one eye open. You’re dead, you hear me? DEAD.”
Vicious, volatile lap dog with no impulse control whatsoever? No I don’t mean you, dear reader, although if the shoe fits you can certainly wear it. What I meant is: does your precious fur baby need a muzzle sometimes, but every time you put it on him you can’t help thinking about that BDSM website you “accidentally” clicked on at work last month? Japan has the answer to many problems, including a great many problems that aren’t really problems. Thus, behold the OPPO Quack. Muzzle your dog while also humiliating them by making it appear they’re wearing a duck’s bill: Bobu’s your weird Japanese uncle and his duck-billed dachshund.
It also comes in a chocolate colour which is fine because some dog’s faces are roughly this colour, and in a disturbing fleshy pink that’s actually a bit too much like a dog’s erect penis, always a nightmarish sight. Definitely not something anybody wants to be reminded of at all, let alone colour-coordinating accessories with them.
“As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods. They make us wear duck faces for their sport.”
While we’re in this psychosexual territory, we could also speculate that the apparent Japanese propensity to cartoonise, minimise and kawaii-ify the mouth (along with its obsessive shadow siblings in Japanese anime, manga and porn: the gag and the tentacle or tube in the mouth) perhaps erupts from the national subconscious in some way that’s related to the prevailing cultural norm of honne (本音, true feelings or wishes) being firmly subordinate to tatemae (建前, the façade enforced for the sake of society’s harmony); that one should only open one’s mouth to say something nice– or at least, say something non-confrontational– or metaphorically gag oneself and say nothing at all.
Or you could just look at more pictures of little dogs looking ridiculous at the gallery on OPPO’s site and here, below. Continue Reading
A write-up on this subject has been on my site that deals with my work as an artist and writer, because I’ve been sporadically researching it as a potential new film project. I’m repeating and expanding it here because I think the subject is interesting in its own right. It’s another in my series of Suffolk weirdnesses; see also Ipswich smells like space and my visit to the weapons research facility at Orford Ness.
Part of a Staffordshire pottery set exploiting the Red Barn mania: here Corder is enticing Maria into a ridiculously romanticised version of the agricultural barn where he will shortly afterwards murder her and bury her body.
In May 1827, Maria Marten was shot to death by the father of her child, William Corder, at a farm near Polstead in Suffolk. This was and is a bucolic location whose appearance can be judged from the many paintings done of the area by the Suffolk painter John Constable, he of ‘The Hay Wain’, who focused his attention only a few miles east at Dedham and East Bergholt. The illegitimate child had already been disposed of secretly by Marten and Corder. William buried Maria in a shallow grave in a barn on his tenant farm, where she was found accidentally nearly a year later by her own father after he ”put down a mole spike into the floor… and brought up something black, which I smelt and thought it smelt like decayed flesh.” Corder had fled to London, but was eventually caught and hanged.
“W.CORDER BEFORE THE JUDGE.” (Judge sold separately.)
What makes this typically sordid and revolting murder different from others committed before it is that “The Murder in the Red Barn“ was one of the first whose details were promulgated and elaborated by sensational media reporting of the kind that subsequently became the norm throughout the 19th and 20th centuries and into the 21st, leading to public hysteria and wild overestimations of how widespread murder and violent crime actually are in Britain.* Continue Reading
Or: The horror of Japanese beauty products
Japan is not alone and not a latecomer in being beset by vast and wasteful industries dedicated to manufacturing, marketing and selling pure products, i.e. things that serve no practical purpose other than to separate customers from their money, things meant only be bought, disposed of and then replaced with other equally pointless knick-knacks. Japan is relatively unusual, though, in the sense that it makes virtually no distinction between the matter-of-fact way it markets blow up sex dolls and the matter-of-fact way it markets consumer products that inadvertently make people look exactly like blow up sex dolls.
Say hajime mashite to the Pupeko Anti-Aging Mouthpiece (as seen on TV!), which was apparently invented by “ordinary housewife” [sic] Chikako Hirama. You’re meant to suck and blow through the mouthpiece, and this supposedly firms up your cheeks. Um… yeah. The mind boggles and frankly I don’t even want to know how she invented this in the course of her ordinary housewifery. Ordinary for where, the red light district in Bangkok? Check out the great graphics that go along with it, though: Continue Reading