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.
“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
From Eagle, 1960.
“Ask mother to get Shreddies ‘Skin Diver’ packets” is an almost Dadaist instruction, or like something a schizophrenic person’s head voice might say, even in the context of the early “pester power” advertisement above. Try saying “Ask mother to get Shreddies ‘Skin Diver’ packets” a hundred times.
“Mother, get Skin Diver packets.”
I’m sorry boy, but you do manage to look ludicrous when you give me orders.
No! I will not hide in the fruit cellar! You think I’m fruity, huh? I’m staying right here. This is my room and no one will drag me out of it, least of all my big, bold son!
“I’ll carry you, mother.”
Norman! What do you think you’re doing? Don’t you touch me, don’t! Norman! Put me down, put me down, I can walk on my own…
- Psycho was also released in 1960.
- I love the late Fifties/early Sixties-ness of the jagged, asymmetrical text panels. Almost Saul Bass, too, and in the service of flogging breakfast cereal.
- It’s IMPORTANT that you use only a bottle that has a screw stopper and not a cork. Don’t say you weren’t warned. Mother HATES disobedient boys.