7.14.2011

ON READING: IN WHICH OUR HEROINE DIVES INTO PLASTICS: A TOXIC LOVE STORY, AND COMES AWAY WITH A NEW VIEW OF OUR WORLD


I read an excellent book recently, Plastics: A Toxic Love Story. I call it to your attention because it is not a diatribe against plastic--we've read plenty of those, and have come to expect them. Rather, Susan Freinkel makes the idiosyncratic but extremely wise point that plastic is such a valuable, game-changing material--here to stay--that we should be treating it with more respect, rather than blithely discarding it. It does not biodegrade, so it is always with us, even if it is recycled into another form. We are truly living in a Plasticene Era, as I think of it; it is good to learn about how we got here, and what is means.

Freinkel reports the fascinating history of the development of plastic, telling its story through a series of objects: combs, chairs, lighters, frisbees. Plastic helped save tortoises...Plastic democratized good design...Plastic has inspired artists. Plastic has, at times, made the difference between life and death, that's how amazing a material it is. We learn about how blood bags and threads of plastic tubing have saved the lives of premature infants --but some of that tubing is made with toxic chemicals, which have an impact on the child later. Some hospitals have switched sources to make sure their plastic is nontoxic. 

The writing is lyrical, full of personality and wonder; it is fun to read and really does change the way you see the world around you. The book contains a great deal of old-fashioned (what we used to call shoe-leather before running shoes took over) reporting. Freinkel's blog, Plastica, is not to be missed. Did you know that in 1940 pollsters found that the word "cellophane" was the third most beautiful word in the English language, right behind "mother" and "memory"? 

10 comments:

david terry said...

Okay, Ms. Browning....do I FINALLY get this semester's "Best Student in Class" award?

I wrote about that danged book, on this very self-same blog, at least four months ago. There's a wonderful(informative, AND funny/delightful) interview between the author and Terri Gross on Fresh Air.....stir yourselves up out of your E-Z chairs and go to:

http://www.npr.org/2011/04/19/135245835/our-toxic-love-hate-relationship-with-plastics

To answer your most direct question (which I assume wasn't entirely rhetorical)?....yes, I did know about the popularity of the word (and the thing itself) "cellophane".

If it were possible to send a jpeg on this blog, I'd give you the photograph Cecil Beaton took of his wife (I know....you're exclaiming "Wait?...he had a WIFE?...a real, actually female one?...Goood Lord...poor woman...")

the photograph is titled "Nancy Beaton as a Shooting Star, 1926". Bascially, it's a standard take-off of every portrait of "A Midsummer's Night's Dream" Titania ("Queene of the Fairies!"..which is rather wince-making when you think about the probable facts of her actual marriage) that anyone's ever seen.

She's surrounded and ENVELOPED by yards and yards of cellophane. Apparently, Beaton couldn't get enough of the stuff at a certain time, and neither could any of the entre-guerre, London-based, "society" women whom he sought out to further his career.

In any case, "cellophane" is indeed, a lovely word...if not necessarily a lovely thing in itself or for that matter, when wrapped around a woman. I only recenty learned about the Beaton photograph; I took one look at it and immediately recalled those scenes from the movie "Alien", in which the "Mother" Alien had cocooned her victims in a shiny, viscous, tensile stuff which looked like cellophane. Those movies were never particularly helpful in suggesting which end of the "Mother" (who basically was a two-ton, female praying mantis) produced the material. Basically...she shrink-wrapped folks so her babies could eat them later when they needed a snack. Did you ever see those movies?...

I should say that the last thing I ever intend to do is to let my husband stick a "magic wand" in my hand, slam a tiara on my balding pate, wrap me in cellophane, and then take my photograph as "Queene of the Fairies"...later to be released for public comsumption?.....

Poor Mrs. Beaton....

Level Best as Ever,

David Terry
www.davidterryart.com

Thea said...

perhaps the photo was Mrs Beaton's idea. It's good to be the queen of something...sometimes.

Lisa said...

It may be a relief to know that Nancy Beaton was actually Cecil's sister. Nancy married Sir Hugh Smiley in 1933, and apparently never was forced to pose for her brother again. See her wedding portrait (and others) at the National Gallery's website:
http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/person/mp65429/nancy-beaton-lady-smiley.

Still find the cellophane scary-fascinating!

david terry said...

Thank you, Lisa, for that clarification. I knew of the photograph only from the cover of 2009's "Bright Young People", and I'd obviously assumed (never a wise thing to do) the worst.

It's good to know there's finally an editor in the house.

Level Best as Ever,

David Terry
www.davidterryart.com

Dominique said...

Well you MUST be where I got the idea to actually read the danged book, Rev Terry....You are indubitably the BSintheC

John said...

Ms. Freinkel has come not to bury plastics, but to praise plastics.

Sure thing.

david terry said...

Oh Lord.....I just read that comment by "John".

So?...There's another boy in the class, just when I was about to ask if my parents could get me transferred to a home-room that wasn't all-girls?...

good news, indeed.

Relievedly yours,

david terry

P.S. surely everyone involved in/with this blog knows that Andrew Wyeth (who garnered a fairly enviable reputation/career in the "Art World") was the brother of the somewhat-shy Nathaniel Wyeth (who invented the polyethylene terephthalate beverage container, which can withstand the pressure of carbonated liquids, and thus came to fill all the wall-bins of every Stop-'N-Go gas station you've ever entered)?

Tru Dillon said...

most famous movie to utter the one line "plastics"???
do you know it?

david terry said...

Dear "tru dillon",

I just clicked on your user ID and saw your photograph.

Obviously, you are young, smart, pretty, and...well, young?...

Let me assure you that all of us who are NOT, actually, still young and/or pretty are, nonetheless, fairly-aware of the most famous line from the most famous movie of Our Youthful Days.

This is the second time in a single week that some dauntingly intelligent, young person (that would be you, Miss) has asked for an answer which, I gather, would entail some knowledge of presumably arcane facts.

...and I think "well, doesn;t EVERYONE know the answer to that that question?"

....and then I think:

"Actually...They don't. It really is a 'VINTAGE TRIVIA' question by their standards, and you're getting OLD, Mister...."

More interestingly than questions concerning a decades-old Mike Nichols movie....what's the story behind your "screen name"?

"Tru Dillon" could very well be the name of at least ten really interesting independent-studios...or indy films...or, for thatmatter, indy actors.

Just wondering, while I avoid my actual work (all of which is scorching and wilting outside as I mash these buttons)....


---DCT

Dominique said...

Hey Tru Dillon! Thanks for that quiz, because it made me go back and watch that movie again, and it really is good. And quite radical, really. Much of it had gone right over my head.

John--she isn't only praising plastic, and I hope I didn't give that impression. She is praising what it can do--and I think that's right. Her main point is that this is such a valuable material that we shouldn't treat it as disposable, but rather, as something more precious as a resource. So that we can treat our planet with more care.

Make sense?