Swans Commentary » swans.com June 6, 2005  



Decline And Fall Of The Plastic Empire


by John Steppling





Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.

The Graduate (Directed by Mike Nichols) 1967


(Swans - June 6, 2005)  I want to provide a few hyperlinks here, first:

"Chemicals in plastics harming unborn boys" (The Guardian)

"Perinatal exposure to Bisphenol A alters peripubertal mammary gland development in mice" (The Endocrine Society)

And now a side bar sort of issue: "Wolfowitz's Move to the World Bank Presidency and the Sharpening of Economic Policy as a Weapon of Mass Impoverishment" (Commondreams)

When I first read the piece linked above (in The Guardian) on the long term effects of phthalates, several things struck me. Perhaps, firstly, because I had just returned from the market, I was astonished to see that every single item I had purchased was contained in plastic -- in one form or another. Vegetables, meat, water, yogurt, cereal, and even dog food. Every single item. I thought, wait, if I really were to try to commit to no plastic containers I would be reduced to eating a few kinds of local bread and maybe figs, in season.

I tried to remember if it had always been this way, at least in my lifetime. I came to the conclusion that it hadn't, although there were some plastic food containers as far back as I can recall (the 1950s). I remember butchers wrapping my mom's meat in butcher paper, and I remember milk being delivered by a guy in a white uniform, and delivered in glass bottles. I remember bread coming in nothing except its own crust. I also remember that water was what you drank from the garden hose or faucet. It was safe to do so.

Now, I include the above link to Wolfowitz and the World Bank because it brings me back to water. Water is bottled now -- err, in plastic. Rich people never drink from the tap. Rich people don't have their children play on the street in summer, spraying each other from garden hoses. In inner cities, the hoses are usually attached to fire hydrants. The government no longer cares if water is safe -- I mean, it comes in plastic bottles now; or if you're really up-market, in glass. Water is stolen from poor countries a lot these days. Water is also, everywhere, not very clean. Poor countries are in debt to the World Bank and those other Bretton Woods organizations -- and they are able to do little to help their own citizens. Water is big business, now. Here are more links on that.

"Mercury in U.S. lakes; cyanide in India - trust the CEOs!" (ZNet)

"In Iraq, Water and Oil Do Mix" (CounterPunch)

and this site: Waterbank.com.

Water is valuable and our ruling elite really don't much care if the water you or I have to drink is safe or not. The diseases of insanitation are growing all the time in developing countries -- not decreasing. In parts of India, when I was there, whole areas of some states suffered mild dysentery. The only poetic justice I see in any of this is that Evian drinkers are drinking from plastic too, so even they are, in their own way, not safe.

However, this short diatribe is about phthalates. I can see the fall of the Empire now; effeminate men with small johnsons, subtle learning disabilities, and their anuses perilously close to their scrotums. A vision of hell, I think we can all agree. The women won't be taking over because they will all have breast cancer (or deformed mammary glands) ---And so society is brought to its knees by pliable plastic. And perhaps it's a good thing. Perhaps it's a cause for some hope, if not total nuclear annihilation, then inadequate dicks and defective breasts. Dumb girly men will inherit the earth --- in spite of Arnie's jokes, and so, perhaps "something" will survive. There is hidden in all this a suggestion of Malthusian plots --- kill off the poor (rich folks don't drink their lattes in Styrofoam, but have it handed them by unemployed actors). Indeed the poor, of course, suffer the most, and jokes aside, the Developing World (which is NOT developing) is burdened with the tossed off junk of the First World. Crappy products of all sorts, including food, are sent to places like Angola and Paraguay. To Haiti and Cambodia. Crappy products wrapped in plastics. Lurking around some of this is, additionally, bad science. Protect us from germs by making sure nobody handles that baguette. Wrap it in shrink wrap. It's "clean" now, germ free. This sort of irrational anality, this sexually motivated hysteria, has passed itself off as science since I can remember. Read Ed Herman on bad science: "Corporate Sovereignty and Junk Science"; also, "Corporate Junk Science in the Media," Part I, and Part II (ZNet)

By the way, children's toys also contain a lot of phthalates. Makes them spongy and bouncy, and fun to chew on, I guess. Some cosmetics too....so it's possible Paris Hilton won't escape, either. There is in all this surreal, head-spinning research a basic reality. That is this, we don't need plastic. Milk was better in glass. Bread is best right from the oven. Meat was better in butcher paper. Water was fine from the tap. I know that nations are there to protect the privileges and possessions of the ruling class, and I know the entire notion of a "nation" was cotemporaneous with the rise of Capitalism, but at this point it seems that governments around the Western World have entirely abandoned even the most rudimentary protections for its citizens. They openly show contempt for the under class and marginalized. Let them eat cake....well, plastic-wrapped cake.

I don't want plastic anything. I don't want plastic wrapped T-bone steaks and I don't want plastic wrapped lemons. I don't want plastic water bottles nor do I want plastic music or plastic people with plastic silicone tits and plastic hair. I don't want plastic containers of plastic petrochemical-treated cheese snacks and potato chips. I want my fried chicken made with a chicken that didn't eat antibiotics since birth (another cause of feminization in men, apparently) and I want free-range beef too, except only guys like Dick Cheney can afford that. I'll deal with the dirt. Nature is full of dirt, and dirt is just fine. Dirt is cleaner than plastic, actually. So my new credo is give me dirt, hold the plastic. Put those nachos in oil cloth if you have to, but no more Styrofoam, and when you place the plate of leftovers in the fridge....forget the shrink wrap.

This reminds me of something from many years back. I had a garden at a small nursery school where I taught (a long story, that) and the kids and I had produced an astonishing amount of food. We had lettuce and carrots and green beans, and shallots and even garlic. I had far too much to eat myself so one afternoon I placed a box out front for the parents. One mother picked up a turnip, looked at it, and made a face. What's wrong? I asked. It's so dirty, she said.

There you are. I should have put it in plastic.

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Internal Resources

America the 'Beautiful' on Swans


About the Author

John Steppling on Swans (with bio).



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This Edition's Internal Links

Old Set, Establishment And The Rest Of Us - Milo Clark

Have The Meanings Of Words Been Hijacked? - Philip Greenspan

Funding A Rational Treatment For Obesity - Jan Baughman

Saul Bellow In Retrospect - Louis Proyect

Peter Brook At Eighty - Charles Marowitz

Stalin's Dream State - Poem by Gerard Donnelly Smith

A Plea To The US Antiwar Movement - Joe Davison

Blips #20 - From the Editor's desk

Letters to the Editor

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Published June 6, 2005