Archive | September, 2016

Ugly Watches

12 Sep

About one month ago, I first became aware of a watch for sale on Watch U Want. It is a watch created by the watchmaker Christophe Claret for the Guy Ellia watch company. I am always looking at listings for complex watches, and that probably has something to do with why an ad for this watch appeared on my browser. The watch originally retailed for nearly a million dollars, but it has been marked down to $250,000. For some reason, the internet robots that place these ads on my web pages aren’t able to ascertain that I am incapable of buying a million dollar watch.

This watch is as ugly as it is useless. It is too large to wear comfortably in almost any occupation. It has to be hand wound, so it would be a constant burden, and even an extremely wealthy person would feel uncomfortable wearing it almost anywhere for fear that it might get damaged:

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Yet, I absolutely love this watch. If I had a net worth of not less than $250 million I might even consider buying it. For a detailed explanation of what this watch is and what it can do, I recommend viewing this video posted by Watch U Want:

Like many pragmatic people, I am tempted to ridicule this watch. It is far less useful than the Samsung Gear watch I wear all the time. My Samsung watch is also my telephone. However, it can be used as an alarm, navigation, texting, a timer, and several other functions…most of which hold no interest for me. I am reminded of how I used to look for watches with lots of functions. For a while I wore a Casio Databank that was designed to be used as a calculator, but that I mostly used just for its alarm functions. I still use that watch as my main alarm clock, but I never wear it.

Half a century ago, before watches became electronic and digital, watches that had lots of “complications” were mechanical marvels. The pinnacle of these watches were the so-called automatic watches that were supposedly self-winding, although they were (and are) so inefficient that their users had to buy expensive winding stations and/or spend a substantial amount of time pumping their arms to keep their watches wound.

Like I said, I am tempted to ridicule this watch, but that is the wrong way to look at it. If you go to YouTube and look at some videos of watch making and watchmakers, you will quickly realize that the making of these watches is not just a monetary enterprise. The people who make these watches are extremely proud of their work and view themselves more as artists than as merchants. The correct way to view a watch like this is as a work of art.

I cannot afford this watch. Yet, I still get enjoyment from it. It pleases me to know that a watch like this exists. It pleases me to look at the video posted by Watch U Want and marvel at its mechanical monstrosity. Like I said, it is not an attractive watch. Yet I love it. The person who made this watch was obviously in love with machinery. He had the same mentality as people who see a race car and want the hood opened to inspect the engine. To most people, engines are ugly, but to someone who loves machinery, they are beautiful.

This watch is expensive because of the craftsmanship, knowledge, and effort that went into making it. However, it would never have been made if there were no people rich enough to buy it. Watchmakers could not afford to make watches like this if there were no people who could both afford to buy them and were willing to shell out the money.

For that reason, I must also love the people who have that much money and are willing to spend it on this kind of watch. I may feel, in passing, that their money would be better spent on more charitable pursuits, but what if it was? Then this watch would never have been made and I would never have been able to look at the pictures of it, watch the video about it, and marvel at its aforementioned mechanical monstrosity.

The same is true of most of the famous paintings that are now displayed in museums. They would never have been painted if not for the rich merchants that commissioned them. The artists who painted them could not have afforded to spend the time if no one was willing to pay for the painting. I suspect that watches like this will eventually find their way into museums, where they will be admired and appreciated by generations to come.

So, let us all appreciate the extravagant watchmakers of the world and the extravagant watch buyers of the world. If not for all of them, there would be no ugly-beautiful watches like this one, and there would be no ugly-beauty in the world to appreciate…if only on museum walls and in YouTube videos.

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My Own Bild Lilli Doll

1 Sep

I collect interesting and unusual toys. For example, I have all of the Micro Machines Star Trek ships, and I have 1:64 scale die cast replicas of all the most famous automobiles. Recently, I added a toy to my collection that I am extremely proud of. It is an original Lilli doll:

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I put her in this cheap dollar store dress while I am waiting for a nicer dress to arrive in the mail. I have wanted a Lilli doll for years, ever since I learned about her remarkable history. I acquired one just recently from a seller on eBay. It was embarrassingly expensive.

For those of you who do not know, Lilli was the precursor to Barbie. She began with a cartoon that appeared in the Bild German newspaper in 1952. A cartoonist, Reinhard Beuthien, was asked to draw a picture to fill a space in the paper. He originally drew a picture of a baby with a large forehead and big eyes, but the editor did not like it, so he ordered Reinhard to come up with something else. Reinhard used the same drawing, but transformed it into a beautiful woman named Lilli. The whole history of Lilli can be read in the Wikipedia entry for the Bild Lilli doll.

So, Barbie began with a drawing of a baby that was transformed into a woman with infantile features. The cartoon was a hit. Eventually, the newspaper contracted for a doll based on the cartoon that was intended as a kind of pornographic gag gift for men. However, she became popular with young girls who liked to dress her and play house with her.

During a trip to Europe, Ruth Handler acquired three of these Lilli dolls and copied them to create Mattel’s now famous Barbie. If you ever wondered why Barbie looks the way she does, keep in mind that she originated with a pornographic cartoon about a baby-faced gold digger from Post-war Germany.

Never before in history had it been seriously considered that young girls would want to play with an adult-aged 11½ inch doll. It was only through the curious historical accident of a baby being transformed into a cartoon and this cartoon being transformed into a gag gift for men that the discovery was made. But there she was, Barbie, the apple in the eye of nine year old girls around the world.

I should know. My own sister, nine years older than me to the day, had to have one. As my mother tells it, my sister saw Barbie in a department store window and cried until my father, who didn’t have much money at the time, drove several miles back to the store and bought one for her. My sister acquired her first Barbie doll in 1959, the year I was born.

Barbie’s face has changed quite a bit over the years, but her body has remained mostly the same. She has always had those same large breasts and that same pinched waist. From her inception, there have been complaints about her unrealistic figure. Just recently, A Daily Mail article declared that “If Barbie was a real woman she’d be forced to walk on all fours and would be physically incapable of lifting her over-sized head.” Most complaints have centered on her large breasts and tiny waist. The claim is repeatedly made that if she were a real woman, she would have too little body fat to be able to menstruate.

I have always found these complaints to be frustrating and misleading. People who criticize Barbie’s figure notice only the characteristics they wish to criticize and never notice that everything about her is unrealistic and ridiculous. What about the fact that she is made of plastic and is frozen in time like someone who has used far too much Botox? They say that if a woman actually looked like Barbie she would be unhealthy. However, the evidence from women who have attempted to look like Barbie suggests that she would also be freakishly unappealing:

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That is not even the most significant misunderstanding. Since dolls are small, they must have exaggerated features so that their features stand out. If Barbie had a realistic face and figure, she would not look like a miniature person. She would look utterly featureless. She would look like a bar of soap.

Recently, sales in Mattel’s Barbie have been tanking. Personally, I think it is just because Mattel has saturated the market with so many holiday Barbies and specialty Barbies that their clientele cannot absorb the inventory. My brother used to buy every Holiday Barbie for his daughter. They are sitting in storage now, never removed from their original boxes, and no one knows what to do with them. I own a Star Trek Barbie. I gave an X-files Barbie to a friend who was an X-files fan and swore he would never own a Barbie. Recently, I bought a Barbie that is a copy of a vintage Barbie portraying a student teacher. I am a math teacher and found this edition to be particularly amusing:

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I have considered buying one of these for my female team-teaching partner, but I am not sure she would appreciate the joke.

To increase sales, Mattel is releasing a new line of Barbies with more realistic and diverse figures. These include short Barbies, tall Barbies and fat Barbies:

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However, I think they are missing the point. Young girls, influenced by fantasy films like Twilight, have become interested in dolls like this one that has green skin, giant eyes, and legs so long and skinny they are almost insectoid:

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Talk about an unhealthy body image!

Hyper sensitive people give Mattel a hard time for making a doll with unrealistic features, but they completely ignore the true nature of children’s fantasies and fetishes. Barbie’s flaw has never been that she is too unrealistic. Her flaw has always been that she is too realistic. Consider these other dolls that have wings and can fly or have tails and swim like fish:

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Children do not want reality. Reality is boring to children. Normal children who grow into normal adults are no more inclined to hold onto their hope of having a body like Barbie than they are to hold onto a desire to fly like a fairy or swim like a mermaid. Children’s stories and toys have always featured ridiculous things. For some reason that is a part of childhood. It must be a good idea or society would have given it up millennia ago. They would have given up Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, giants, witches, wizards, myriad talking animals and everything depicted by Dr. Seuss. Recall that Lilli was originally based on a baby-faced comic character that the toy makers apparently attempted to copy in all her unrealistic glory. She was the realization of a cartoon. Barbie is the reincarnation of a realized cartoon.

So what is the lesson in all of this? I will leave that to the reader. If I were here to teach a lesson, I would probably tell you to buy a fat doll or something like that.

But my Lilli doll is a thing of great beauty…and I will cherish her forever.