Does anybody else remember the series of commercials dedicated to eulogizing the greatness of plastic? A shampoo bottle slips out of a woman’s soapy hands. The bottle falls in slow motion and hits the tiled shower floor. Instead of shattering into an infinity of jagged shards, the bottle bounces a few times before it settles, still intact. The quotidian thus resumes without tragedy. Or, there is tragedy. The shower has turned into a hospital in which doctors and nurses rush about. But even here, the tragedy is never revealed. In its place is the synecdochic unfolding of a medical still life: a close-up of a calibrated syringe, a slender catheter, an IV bag. From locker room to emergency room, “Plastic Saves Lives.”
A more ambivalent (and also the most eloquent) meditation on plastic is found in “Mythologies,” where Barthes deems plastic a disgraced material, a movement rather than a substance. He feared that “the whole world can be plasticized, and even life itself since, we are told, they are beginning to make plastic aortas.” Perhaps if he hadn’t been so down on the synthetic, maybe this plastic aorta could have saved him in the emergency room, too. Had he lived, he would have also seen that we are far past plastic aortas and have now moved onto plastic blood capable of mimicking hemoglobin. The posthuman dream moves ever closer to its “poly” realization.
But still it is not close enough. Plastic blood has not yet been approved for human use. So instead of having plastic platelets in our bodies, our platelets can only fill plastic still.
Lately there’s been a lot of hating on plastic, especially in all that recent fuss about the danger of plastic bottles. Just as supple polymers continue to reify male desire in breasts and lips, men now face the threat of rising estrogen levels wrought by the same chemical compounds that once fulfilled sexual fantasies. These slippery inconsistencies of the material make it easy to hate on plastic. Plastic is our doppelganger: it promises to save us, make our lives easier, but then turns its back and threatens to kill and then replace us.
The repeated alignment of plastic with human life, though, reveals how we really envy plastic. The truth of all this talk about plastic is that we really want to be plastic — we all know the real moral fable of “Mean Girls,” We desire plastic; we desire to be plastic; our desire is plastic. It’s time that we stop denigrating our desire for the synthetic. After all, who hasn’t paused to gaze longingly at the carefully crafted Udon noodles suspended so convincingly in solid mirin broth? Synthetic means to relate to synthesis, and more synthesis is, of course, never a bad thing.
When we speak of “modes of living,” then, are we not describing the very nature of plastic’s modular structure? Plastic is always performing a mode of itself. And when we speak of beauty, is not the best kind of beauty plastic beauty? Smooth, supple, water-resistant, the ideal face is described in the very same terms we use to describe plastic. In our fully plastic future, there will be no faces that only a mother could love. Below is a compact case of swatches for an early start to a new and improved you.
Lucite (Poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMAA))
(Also sometimes referred to as perspex or plexiglas.)
Best future use: teeth. Your teeth can never be white enough until they are clear.
Best future use: skin. Our entire body will be one seamless wetsuit.
Best future use: the abject. Just imagine the embarrassment of that cute android catching sight of your coarse Styrofoam thighs. See: cellulite.
Best future use: hair. Those shining golden locks will also be flame retardant and able to withstand those cryogenic deep freeze spa retreats.
PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride also known as Poly(chloroethanediyl))
Best future use: affection. A versatile thermoplastic polymer is all we really need in bed.
My plastic lover, my neoprene dream–eat your heart out. .
Jee Bijan is 2050+.