Recently, I've read two very different takes on mid-century design, Thomas Hine's Populuxe and Stephen Bayley's Sex, Drink & Fast Cars. The first is a well researched coffee table book that tends to avoid any social implications of mid-century consumerism (any assertion that white suburbanites were running TO the suburbs for convenience rather than from racist fears should probably be backed up by more than just strong feeling.) The second is a series of essays focusing on automobile design as a function of class expression. So, we have writings on American middle-class and British high society, with both intersecting at the end of the 1950s with the introduction of the Ford Edsel.
Both authors posit the theory that the Edsel was just too "feminine" in design for the intended male target audience. In a world of phallic missile design (perhaps culminating in the early 60s Jaguar), the Edsel struck some viewers as having a design feature reminiscent of the female sex organ.
In a consumer society largely driven by the taste of housewives and their monthly magazines, car buying was probably one of the few bastions of "expression" available to the office-bound husband. As I've said before, one of the themes of the early 20th century was the search for masculinity within a shifting American culture. Once males developed this mid-century world of sports and automobiles, it became fiercely exclusive, keeping everyone in their proper Good Housekeeping roles.
In our new century, there seems to be a tendency to give the still vast female consumer audience "feminine" versions. In the geek world that I work in, there has been a small, but vocal (if not always coherent) group of men who feel threatened by the incursion into the previously masculine world of comics and video games of stories based around female characters. This response seems to be at its loudest when the characters deviate from the traditional male fantasy pulp tradition.
Which brings me to the weirdness of Hasbro's announcement this week of a major push to the "female" Transformers in their toy line. It's meant to be marketed to female fans, but obviously the company is hedging their bets and providing characters that all seem to have 1960s hourglass figures. And, of course, there is a lot of pink involved.
Now, why can't Optimus Prime, or any of the other "male" robots be re-presented as female? Are trucks too masculine a form for a female robot to change into? Or boomboxes? Or automatic weapons and rifles? They can even be pink, if that's what tests well in the market.
Perhaps we should just take it as a matter of progress that they don't turn into pink refrigerators or vacuum cleaners. Though I think macho, gun-toting giant robots, painted in glistening chrome and matte black, that turn into hair dryers or purses would be fun. Let's have some gender-bending Hasbro!
"And if all that isn't peculiar enough, the whole street is lined with good, macho stores, okay? Except that Danny has them all dressed up in fairy lights and lace curtains.
Gentlemen, this street is a shameless transvestite." -- Doom Patrol Vol. 2, #35 (script by Grant Morrison)