Entries from February 2010 ↓

Symbolic Objects: the boomerang

This boomerang was once owned by Daisy Bates, and was acquired by her at Ooldea, south-east of the Spinifex Peoples‘ lands, some time in the years prior to 1935.

What makes this example distinctive is not so much its connection to Daisy Bates, but how it carries signs of a provenance of another kind. Each side has been carved in distinctively different styles, suggesting that it was owned, traded, and used by more than one desert-dwelling family long before it fell into Daisy Bates’ hands at Ooldea.

In a trade of a different kind, in 1938 Bates gave it to the Carr family in Adelaide, in return for favours rendered.

By contrast, this plastic boomerang was designed and manufactured by Frank Donnellan (“Champion Thrower”) and (apparently) marketed by Stephen Silady (“Champion”) in the 1960s.

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who’s a silly goose? the cuckoo’s nest conundrum

Of course, when you think about it, the cuckoo’s laughing. For starters, one can’t fly over a cuckoo’s nest if they don’t exist. And just how many years has it taken this (Australian) Iconophile to work that one out? According to the all-knowing Wiki, the famous quintuple Academy Award winning film’s title is derived from an (American) children’s rhyme:

“Vintery, mintery, cutlery, corn,
Apple seed and apple thorn,
Wire, briar, limber lock
Three geese in a flock
One flew East
One flew West
And one flew over the cuckoo’s nest.”

This Common Koel (a member of the cuckoo family) doesn’t understand our problem. Let me explain. We have learnt three crucial things about the Koel in the last few months. One is its very annoying wake-up call. The Koel migrates to Canberra in the spring time. One day it starts calling at 4.00 am and then it continues without pause for three months or so. Second, when you are finally of a mind to silence it, it becomes invisible, it resorts to its powers of ventriloquy, and continues to drill its penetrating call right through your semiconscious brainbox, from who-knows-where. Evil to the core, we suspect it uses this capacity to focus a wall of sound to drive other birds from their nests. Then (third point), in its own sneaky cuckoo way, having outsourced its rearing responsibilities to our local wattlebirds (fat baby Koel is peeping continuously in the trees in our front garden as I write this story) the mother hangs around to make sure the foster parents do the right thing! So yesterday we saw the mother in the same bush watching the wattlebirds feed her very chubby progeny. Holidays are over. Handover day is nigh. Time to collect junior.

Sociological Metaphor Tags: Anthropomorphism. Unethical Behaviour. Bad parenting. Cross-species exploitation. Excess sugar in the diet. Childhood training.

when stylists have their way…

Eeek! The quiet and leafy suburbs of Adelaide are easily shocked: in this instance by this chunky 1958 Ford Edsel Citation convertible. The Edsel was produced between 1957 and 1960, and was by all accounts a bit of a flop. Its styling was judged to deliver less than it promised – and the entirely new production line intended to replace the Lincoln in the race against GM misjudged the market entirely. The addition of a dramatic vertical grill to an otherwise conventional lumpy body shape was insufficient to sustain production numbers, and the brand died. Now they’re rare. And especially in original unrestored condition like this example.

Why are collectors attracted to the last of the breed, to lemons, or to examples of 20th century design which disprove the ideology of modernity’s inexorable progress? It’s not just a matter of rarity, but also some sense of being just outside the norm, of (at last) making fun of another generation’s questionable taste and judgement. Thus this great shiny lump of steel, wide enough to seat three abreast, with huge V8 motor, which handles like the Queen Mary, even with enough gadgets to aspire to technological progress, inspires a special appreciation of conspicuous consumption and an aesthetic of excess among baby boomers.

The Ford Edsel is often cited by design historians as the archetypal instance of designers marketeers stylists getting it wrong. The timing was terrible, when the launch coincided with the onset of the 1957 recesssion. Established brands were being closed down in every direction. By the time it hit the market, there was no niche for the Edsel to fill, and so it died, at a reputed cost of $40m. Wiki claims the name itself may have contributed to its demise: “…in honor of Edsel Ford, former company president and son of Henry Ford. Marketing surveys later found the name was thought to sound like the name of a tractor (Edson) and therefore was unpopular with the public. Moreover, several consumer studies showed that people associated the name “Edsel” with “weasel” and “dead cell” (dead battery), drawing further unattractive comparisons.”

But of course we should treasure the remaining examples – especially those which have not been ruined by restoration! They teach us where we’ve been, and show us where not to go. Iconophilia thanks Tony and Olive for the photo-essay.

to restore or not to restore

…is not even a question for Cubans! In that other universe, for the last fifty years, the stock of pre-revolutionary gas guzzlers was (almost) all Cuba had as private transport. If they could afford the petrol. Just keeping them going and refurbished is their automotive industry.

Iconophilia thanks Jan Luedert for these recent photographs of a 1953 Buick being reconstructed in downtown Havana. Jan writes: “the pictures where taken near Trinidad the UN World Heritage City. The shop was set up by two Cubans as a private enterprise. The interesting thing about these vehicles is the way that it represents “true sustainability” as these cars are rebuilt, recycled and always find their way back to the road. What they also do at the shop is install a more modern diesel engine so the while the chassis is old style 50s the engines are usually new and often diesel. It is incredible to watch how without a fair degree of ingenuity and with how few resources a car that would rust away in our world finds its way back to the road. Cars are mostly communal in Cuba and one hardly ever finds a car with less than five people in them.”

More paint than metal, methinks. For more background, read this piece by Tom Miller from the NYT.

But who among you doesn’t feel just a little bit guilty that we in the outside world take such perverse pleasure in observing the fact that Fidel’s Revolution has subjected his country to this technological time-warp? How pictureque is it (still) that Cuban citizens are forced to live out the historical antipathy to the U.S.A. by driving around in these decaying icons of the excesses of the decade of the 1950s? Contradictions abound in such circumstances. For example, what are we to make of this 1948 Cadillac Fleetwood snapped by The Iconophile in the back streets of Tehran in 2007? If it looks somewhat abandoned, consider (a) how difficult it would be to get spare parts these days, and (b) how much more politically incorrect it would be on the streets of Tehran than Havana?

orient yourself towards

lights! action! woof!


Remember the evidenciary significance of the reflection in the eye in Twin Peaks? Well I’m not sharing the backstory here, and neither is The Sailor, whose sees all… (but please remember to turn off your flash if you wish to try this experiment at home).