When plastic was invented it was seen as a miracle material. A huge amount of the ideology of the day, like Socialism, used plastic as part of its defining element -- plastic was the great equaliser. It came in many different colours, was strong and could be made into intricate shapes using little labour.
Plastic could be considered the foundation of modernism, a new art movement for the common man, where the common man gets the best design — the best being plastic. The reasoning here is that in the past you’d need to use expensive metals or wood, which required a lot of manual effort. By contrast, you could make a million plastic doodads relatively cheaply, as long as you designed it correctly. And it would literally be the best. Everyone would get the best chair or desk or anything else.
Socialists loved it. It was the emancipation of man in bright colours. Plastic was the internet of its day. In many real ways, the use of plastic could be considered a “movement” as using the internet today is considered a “movement” by proponents. Sure, none of the “movements” like modernism or socialism were entirely defined by plastic, but plastic was the poster child, the success story — the great equaliser.
You can see it in the frankly ridiculous furniture in some of Kubrick’s movies, from 2001: A space odyssey to A Clockwork Orange. Bright, gaudy colours and silly shapes were going to revolutionise the way the common man would consume goods. What’s scary is how well plastic succeeded.
It’s funny to contrast plastic as it was seen then compared to how it is seen today, and the concept it is most often connected to: the throw away society, and unbridled capitalism. Strangely, it was actually plastic’s success as a great equaliser that is most responsible for it’s failing in society today.
To understand why, you need to understand that if you throw plastic away regularly, then you’re probably among the richest members of global society today. You are, in fact, the modern bourgeois, the upper class. And just as plastic could have done a lot of good to a huge part of society, it can also be monumentally wasted by the bourgeois, AKA us.
If we contrasted the way plastic is treated by the poor and the way it is treated by the rich, there’s a huge difference. In poor areas, there’s practically no rubbish, and a huge part of that is that there’s organic waste, which can be mulched, and there’s plastic, which just keeps getting re-used. Plastic will constantly get recycled and upcycled, and this includes not just plastic bottles, but also plastic bags which are re-used over and over until they’re riddled with holes, and then they’re re-purposed.
Unfortunately, a lot of this plastic is actually plastic that’s been designed and made for the rich, thrown away by the rich, and then re-purposed by the poor. While plastic gets a bad rap by many, if plastic goods were actually designed and manufactured for the poor, it truly could live up to the hopes that mankind had for plastic when it was first invented.
I also think about the internet today, and all the “movements” that are structured around it, from openness to transparency, and I wonder how the future is going to turn out, and whether it, too, will become the derided and throwaway plaything for the rich.
We use plastic badly today, we mistreat it as a material. Whilst we are common society we are in fact the bourgeois. We need to think about disposing of plastic, we should think about making products out of plastic for struggling economies. We shouldn’t build them out of cardboard, but plastic! And it should be the best thing for the common man.