Saturday, October 14, 2006

Hermits and Holocausts

A local pet store was displaying some new wares in the form of themed vitrines for pet hermit crabs. Arrayed on a shelf was the usual mainstream fare featuring colorful Scooby Doo imagery, Spider Man etc, nothing out of the ordinary in our brand-conscious country. But upon closer inspection I saw that inside the vitrine was the real product: an injection molded plastic hermit crab shell with Spider Man’s face emblazoned across it. Yes, your little pet hermit crab will one day out-grow its shell and crawl into the only available replacement which you have conveniently supplied. Your goddamn hermit crab is going to live inside a man-made hunk of ABS adorned with Wilma Flintstone. The number of criss-crossing vectors in this situation is difficult to disentangle- there’s some ghastly mix-up of branding, aspiration, play, animals, plastic, fun and artificiality.

Somehow, the image of a little crab dragging around a picture of the Hulk on it’s back is all wrong. Return to the notion of aspiration, where kids are assumed to want the product because it makes them feel cool or powerful. But in this case, it’s hard to see how the super-hero traits transfer to the kid rather than staying native to the hermit crab in which case it’s just weird or at best funny.

There are some problems with forcing an animal to inhabit a piece of plastic, but while we’re on the subject, c’mon couldn’t they come up with something better? How about a shell with rivets and armor plate, wings and thrusters, turrets and biohazard logos? What about a little house with molded chimneys and windows? But the larger issue isn’t one of design, but of process. This product didn’t just manifest out of thin air but rather is the result of a series of decisions. At some point in time a bunch of real people sat together in a room and agreed “hey, here’s a worthwhile idea…” Now what the hell were they thinking? Perhaps there’s an over zealous application of branding into inappropriate, or downright irrelevant domains, but hiding here in this silly product is something slightly sinister.

My mind works in funny ways by leaping across gulfs to draw connections between arguably totally unrelated entities. The image of those shells resonated and when mulled- drew
my thinking far, far afield. I can’t shake the image of a meeting of individuals around a table. Anyone by themselves can be deluded into thinking they’re pursuing a worthwhile project, but other people entering the picture should be a system of checks and balances to provide an additional external view of the value of one’s undertakings. I suppose people who work in offices are used to “meetings” where all manner of idiocy gets propagated. Indeed somewhere there must be meeting notes saying “plastic hermit crab shell- APPROVED”. The reality is that somehow groups of humans can collectively agree on terrible ideas as readily as good ideas. Several recent books I’ve read discuss the ethics of allied strategic bombing in WWII. They depict circumstances of decision where individuals sat around a table and arrived at a course of action. Just the type of physical situation I envision resulting in the commitment to make branded snail shells. I’m frankly reminded of the Wannsee conference where a bunch of bureaucrats sat around and planned the extermination of millions of innocent people in concentration camps. In each case one’s assumptions about people providing some degree of oversight of each other have to be abandoned.

Yes, all that from a few shells. People will agree on bad ideas about a living animal as readily as they’ll agree on bad ideas about air fresheners. This line of thinking provides a dim prognosis for our world when natural systems are pitted against groups of people sitting around tables making decisions. That little shell embodies a proprietary relationship to the natural world which will eventually destroy it.


Blogger ribbit said...

Years back when sewage flowed freely into the harbor, King Park was crawling with hermit crabs. They were my favorite playthings, I would wade in and collect as many as I could to play with till it was time to go.
If I were a hermit crab forced to live in a brightly colored, branded plastic shell I think I would lose all will to live.

10:24 AM

Blogger gimpy said...

First and foremost, you must understand, Rupe, that these plastic crab shell hocking fools have made this highly strategic move only to drive YOU up the wall, or should I say all liberal, free thinking non-Bush supporting dissidents.
Jokes aside, there is going to be a moment of revelation for any little boy or girl who decides to buy into the scam that the plasticrabs have so carfully constructed. Like all small children they will neglect their crabs and their crab environments and THIS is when we will see the true, superhuman power of nature. The shell will fade and desipte all of the well documented celuloid proof that the Hulk or Superman or Spiderman can bounce back from anything nature will prevail. This is when the smart kid figures out he's been taken by the plasticrabs
and then we will increase our fold and topple the Republicans and RULE THE WORLD!!!
Time will tell.

6:50 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think a more aggressive approach on their part is needed. They need to begin releasing the 'now plastic branded shell adorned' crabs into urban environments.

At first blush you might think that this is a horrible idea - but come on people - how many views of a branded hermit crab are going to be accrued if the thing sit's in Jimmy's terrarium at home? They need to get the viral component going here.

And lest you think that this be environmentally impactful - think of all the cool ways you could lock that off. You could put a little time bomb in the shell - so that after a period of time, the thing just pops and you don't have to worry about invasive species.

Additionally if the location in which you want to disperse the brand is not biozone friendly to a land crab - you can use your little plastic shell to compensate... Food can be automatically dispensed (for a while at least) to keep crabby fed. If the release zone is too cold, you could have a little heater in there. I'm not really worried about the crabs per se - really we just need to ensure that they live long enough for brand impact on the people living in the geo target.

Maybe you would want to build the shell out of cardboard or even some less stable material so that the brand logo disappears before crabby outlives his usefulness...

On second thought - this is a bad idea. Never mind. ;)

12:42 PM

Blogger Unknown said...

Fairly brilliant leap from the glass bead for branded plasticrabs to the glass bead for organizational groupthink.

This post strikes home for me, in part b.c i'm moving to Finland in a few months. Where the way decisions get made is quite different.

> "In each case one’s assumptions about people providing some degree of oversight of each other have to be abandoned."

Or, we have to ask: what have we lost that once made that oversight functional?

E.g., what if a real poet is at the table? (as per the case with Wavy Gravy on the Seva Foundation board)

(Rupe, you've been to Quaker Meetings in PVD, right? Maybe with Tom Wilson?)

8:20 PM


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