FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Politics of Packaging

In the mail today comes a flyer for a new bookstore in my area, complete with coupons for 10 per cent off books and music, free coffee and a free CD opener.

This last gadget provokes me. It heaps me. It makes me want to have a “user experience.”

Don’t get me wrong: I am glad they are giving them away for free, despite the fact that I recently paid a dollar for one. It is the need for the device, not its existence, that churns my spleen. It represents the fact that the recording industry cheerfully admits it has designed a product that the average person probably cannot open without a special tool.

It does not work, by the way. I can get a CD open with it, without hurting myself, but I am still left with the ugly, messy and infuriating task of trying to get the magnetic product tape off the plastic jewel case, not to mention the clingy cellophane that sticks to my fingers like the Enron scandal to the Bush administration.

Once this stuff is on you, you can’t get rid of it until you’ve done some really weird hand jive, danced a little dance and made yourself sorry you went anywhere near a music store.

No wonder people prefer to download music off the Internet. For one thing, they can get what they want. For another, it works (most of the time), giving people a more positive experience than they are otherwise accustomed to getting from computers.

The compact disk has a rich history of packaging ineptitude.

At first CDs appeared in long boxes, for display in old record bins at stores slow to re-fit. Of course, people ripped the mainly empty box apart, clawed their way to the CD within, and threw the cardboard away in the parking lot.

Next, they broke the hinges on the jewel case trying to get the little booklet out, but let’s not go there.

Appalled, or at least embarrassed, by all the wasted cardboard, companies did away with the boxes and began selling CDs as a product reduced to the size of the jewel case, at which point people promptly began shoplifting them.

Just as the long box had been designed not with customers in mind but for the convenience of stores, so was the shoplifting solution: the horrible magnetic tape that renders the product not only hard to steal but even harder to open after you’ve paid for it.

A particularly fiendish component of the design is the tiny little “pull here” tab, which serves no purpose other than to mock you and break your fingernails. If you want to get all the stickum off your purchase, prepare to spend some time with a razor blade and perhaps a scouring pad.

Ever tried to drive while opening one of these babies to pop it in the car stereo?

The original metaphor, CDs are LPs, was simply wrong. The new metaphor, customers are thieves and must be punished, is simply vile.

Many people have obviously put up with the indignity. They wanted the music, and CDs were the source of it. A few hardy souls among us demanded that store employees “filet” the CDs before money changed hands.

Employees, however, preferred teaching us to fish to cleaning our fish for us.

“It’s easy,” chirped the typical clerk, “you just run the spine down the edge of a counter, like this, crack the whole thing open, no, at the other end, break its little back, see, leaving the magnetic tape intact, take out the disk, throw the case away, and store the disk in this handy thingum we have on sale.”

These people grow weary of being asked to open CDs for customers. They have better things to do, like taping the price sticker and the store logo right over the song list or the picture of the artist. The free opener is being distributed for their benefit, not ours.

What does this tell us about ourselves? If we’re thieves who can’t be trusted with music, do they really want to put these CD openers, little box-cutters, into our hands?

What’s the next metaphor? Customers are terrorists? If you don’t think they’re already seen as the Enemy, to be conquered, captured, taken, you haven’t worked on a corporate sales team lately.

Yes, there are some interesting things going on in packaging. The contents are kept air-tight, but the meanings leak out.

It’s not just CDs. I can’t get into bags of cereal anymore either. If I manage to get the cardboard box open without destroying it, the bag inside resists all pulling, tugging, ripping and even teeth-tearing. If I really pull on the bag, with both hands, hard enough to open it, it explodes.

What’s the metaphor here, food’s a bomb? This stuff we eat will blow up in our faces?

On a recent road trip, I bought a pack of cheese and peanut butter crackers. Same thing. The cellophane wouldn’t tear and I couldn’t even bite through it. All this time we’ve been fretting about drivers being distracted by cell phones. We should have been worried about people trying to gnaw through packaging at high speeds.

David Vest writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He is a poet and piano-player for the Pacific Northwest’s hottest blues band, The Cannonballs.

He can be reached at: davidvest@springmail.com

Visit his website at http://www.rebelangel.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He and his band, The Willing Victims, have just released a scorching new CD, Serve Me Right to Shuffle. His essay on Tammy Wynette is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on art, music and sex, Serpents in the Garden.

August 21, 2018
Anthony DiMaggio
Fascist Nation: The “Alt-Right” Menace Persists, Despite Setbacks
Chris Floyd
Dial “N” for Mayhem: Wording Our Way to a New Level of Hell
Creston Davis
The Education Impasse in the USA
Jonathan Cook
In Detaining Peter Beinart, Israel Has Declared it No Longer Represents Millions of Jews Overseas
Kenneth Culton
Trump Supporters: the Joyous Cult Bound by Shared Story and Ritual
Andy Thayer
Why the Chicago ‘68 Convention Matters Today
Simone Chun
Sea of Tears: The Tragedy of Families Split by the Korean War
William Blum
The Russians Did It (cont.)
Manuel E. Yepe
How Capitalism Erodes Mental Health
Doug Noble
Thomas Mountain
Djibouti Faces Dark Days to Come; Eritrean Ports, Pipeline Threaten Ethiopian Trade Lifeline
Binoy Kampmark
Finding Fault and Faulty Infrastructure: Genoa’s Morandi Bridge Disaster
Kary Love
“Suffer Not the Little Children….”
Thomas Knapp
Omarosa Manigault Newman, Public Servant
August 20, 2018
Carl Boggs
The Road to Disaster?
James Munson
“Not With a Bomb, But a Whimper” … Then More Bombs.
Jonathan Cook
Corbyn’s Labour Party is Being Made to Fail –By Design
Robert Fisk
A US Trade War With Turkey Over a Pastor? Don’t Believe It
Howard Lisnoff
The Mass Media’s Outrage at Trump: Why the Surprise?
Faisal Khan
A British Muslim’s Perspective on the Burkha Debate
Andrew Kahn
Inhumanity Above the Clouds
Dan Glazebrook
Trump’s New Financial War on the Global South
George Wuerthner
Why the Gallatin Range Deserves Protection
Ted Rall
Is Trump a Brand-New Weird Existential Threat? No.
Sheldon Richman
For the Love of Reason
Susie Day
Why Pundits Scare Me
Dean Baker
Does France’s Economy Need to Be Renewed?
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Mighty Voice for Peace Has Gone Silent: Uri Avnery, 1923-2018
Weekend Edition
August 17, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Daniel Wolff
The Aretha Dialogue
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump and the Rise of Patriotism 
Joseph Natoli
First Amendment Rights and the Court of Popular Opinion
Andrew Levine
Midterms 2018: What’s There to Hope For?
Robert Hunziker
Hothouse Earth
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Running Out of Fools
Ajamu Baraka
Opposing Bipartisan Warmongering is Defending Human Rights of the Poor and Working Class
Paul Street
Corporate Media: the Enemy of the People
David Macaray
Trump and the Sex Tape
CJ Hopkins
Where Have All the Nazis Gone?
Daniel Falcone
The Future of NATO: an Interview With Richard Falk
Cesar Chelala
The Historic Responsibility of the Catholic Church
Ron Jacobs
The Barbarism of US Immigration Policy
Kenneth Surin
In Shanghai
William Camacaro - Frederick B. Mills
The Military Option Against Venezuela in the “Year of the Americas”
Nancy Kurshan
The Whole World Was Watching: Chicago ’68, Revisited
Robert Fantina
Yemeni and Palestinian Children
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail