TIME Pop Culture

From Kitsch to Park Avenue: The Cultural History of the Plastic Pink Flamingo

plastic-pink-flamingo
Getty Images

The flamingo has taken a rather tumultuous flight through an ever-changing landscape of taste and class

In 1957, a 21-year-old art school graduate named Don Featherstone created his second major design for the Massachusetts-based lawn and garden decoration manufacturer Union Products: a three-dimensional plastic pink flamingo propped up by two thin, metal legs that could be plunged into soft dirt.

Featherstone’s duck and flamingo ornaments sold in pairs for US$2.76, and were advertised as “Plastics for the Lawn.” They became simultaneously popular and derided in the late 1950s and remain a recognizable species of American material culture.

Featherstone died this past June, but over five decades after he submitted his design, the plastic pink flamingo continues to grace American lawns and homes. While many are quick to label the plastic ornament as the epitome of kitsch, the flamingo has actually taken a rather tumultuous flight through an ever-changing landscape of taste and class.

A product of its time

All three of the ornament’s basic elements – plastic material, pink color and the flamingo design – have a particular relevance to the late 1950s.

The year 1957 was the year of Elvis Presley’s Jailhouse Rock and the ‘57 Chevy, of popular plastic toys like Wham-O’s hula hoop and the Frisbee – all icons of midcentury nostalgia. The late 1950s also witnessed the solidification of a commodity-driven suburban way of life, along with a host of new anxieties over class and status.

In the postwar era, cheap, sturdy and versatile plastics were becoming an increasingly popular material for mass-produced commercial products, from Tupperware to Model 500 rotary phones.

Design historian Jeffrey Meikle discusses how this era was referred to as “a new Rococo marked by extravagance, excess, and vulgarity.” Many design and cultural critics pilloried plastic for its ability to easily depart from established design principles, though consumers and manufacturers kept the craze going.

The fad was clearly waning by the 1960s. In a famous scene from The Graduate, actor Dustin Hoffman expresses disillusionment in the “great future in plastics.”

And then there’s the color pink. Art historian Karal Ann Marling explains that in the 1950s, pink was perceived as “young, daring – and omnisexual.” She points out that popular celebrities like Mamie Eisenhower, Jayne Mansfield and Elvis Presley loved to incorporate pink in their wardrobes, their bedroom decor and – in the case of Elvis – their cars.

Featherstone’s design wasn’t the first time flamingos swooped into American culture, either. In fact, Americans had long cherished the exotic bird, native to the Caribbean and parts of South America, and this love affair came to a head in 1957 with an explosion in popularity of Caribbean culture.

Caribbean-American pop star Harry Belafonte’s album Calypso, which contained the hit single Banana Boat Song (Day-O), dominated the Billboard charts in 1956. And as a 1957 LIFE Magazine cover story attests, Americans were flocking to Caribbean resorts in record numbers.

Jennifer Price wrote the most comprehensive essay on the plastic pink flamingo in her book Flight Maps. She details how 19th-century European and American settlers hunted flamingos to extinction in Florida.

But as the state drew wealthy vacationers in the 1910s and 1920s, resort owners imported the pink birds to populate their grounds. They even named Miami Beach’s first luxury hotel “The Flamingo.” Soon, Florida and these exotic-looking birds became synonymous with wealth and leisure.

As the century progressed, the development of interstate highways and a rise in disposable income made Florida a practical destination for middle-class and working-class families. Vacation spots made accessible by the Interstate Highway System cashed in on the style and flair of the Caribbean fad. The flamingo was now associated with a region that was both exotic and affordable.

Out in the wild

Despite the plastic pink flamingo’s resonance with so many things 1957, the ornament was almost instantly ridiculed as kitsch, which was a particularly damning designation given its habitat: the American lawn.

As one of the few outward social spaces in the privacy-obsessed architecture of suburbia, lawns were (and still are) subject to extreme social pressure. They were perceived as both a symbol of the American dream and a productive way to spend one’s newfound leisure time.

However, “Keeping up with the Joneses” was less about outspending your neighbor than it was about conformity and maintaining appearances. The preferred look of middle class lawns was well-manicured and free of ornament, with flowers abutting the house.

To homeowners’ associations, the plastic pink flamingo’s bright color and synthetic material was an affront to the middle-class yearning for sophistication (though a piece of pink plastic is no less “natural” than a lawn maintained by DDT and Miracle-Gro).

A cultural migration

On the other hand – as Jennifer Price points out – working-class consumers tended to express themselves differently, favoring loud, playful and decorative schemes for their homes and lawn.

Flamingos sprouting from small lawns in Catholic neighborhoods seemed less out of place among concrete Virgin Mary statues and tiny St Francis fountains.

In the 1950s, publications like LIFE propagated a narrowly defined definition of middle class style and taste. So the display of the plastic pink flamingo in the 1950s and 1960s was perhaps not mere unsophisticated kitsch, but rather an overt rejection of the “middle-brow striving for the high-brow” lawn aesthetic.

While cultural critics like Gillo Dorfles have maintained that lawn decorations like garden gnomes and sculptured animals were an “archetypal image conjured up by the word ‘kitsch,’” a younger generation saw the plastic pink flamingo as a rebellion against the “stay normal” pressures of postwar suburbia.

Their camp appropriation of the plastic pink flamingos crossed the boundaries of good and bad taste, making Pink Flamingos a fitting title for John Waters’ 1972 transgressive film about two contenders for the title “filthiest person alive.”

Eventually, this transgressive power began to also wane, and the product faced possible extinction in the early 2000s due to the rising cost of oil.

Luckily the flock has survived (you can still purchase a pair for around $20 on Amazon). Today plastic pink flamingos have even been spotted gracing planters on a brownstone off Park Avenue in Manhattan, illustrating just how far the bird has migrated among American classes and tastes.

This article originally appeared on The ConversationThe Conversation

TIME celebrities

Ariana Grande Apologizes on YouTube for Licking Those Doughnuts

She also regrets saying that she hates her country

Pop star Ariana Grande posted a video to YouTube on Friday in which she expresses contrition for licking some doughnuts on a tray at a southern California shop.

“Seeing a video of yourself behaving poorly is such a rude awakening — it’s like, you don’t know what to do,” she says in the four-minute black-and-white apology. “I was so disgusted with myself. I wanted to shove my face into a pillow and disappear.”

On Wednesday, TMZ released footage, apparently taken from a security camera, that appears to show Grande licking the doughnuts and saying that she hates America. In her YouTube post, she also apologizes for those comments.

“With the advances we’ve made in the past couple months, and all the progressive things that have been going on, I’ve never been prouder of this country, actually,” she says.

Read next: What Ariana Grande’s Donut Scandal Shows Us About Modern Celebrity

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MONEY

These Are the 5 Richest Superheroes

The wealthiest superhero is worth over $90 trillion.

It’s pretty good to be a superhero. As if it weren’t enough to have the awesome fighting powers themselves, the men and women who grace our comic book covers and headline blockbuster action movies also get spiffy outfits, cool names, dashing good looks, and, in many cases, a huge fortune to help fund their crime-fighting adventures. As Comic-Con kicks off in San Diego, we at Money decided to research how much the wealthiest caped crusaders are worth and see which champion is the most (economically) powerful.

 

  • 5. Emma Frost

    Emma Frost
    20th Century Fox—courtesy Everett Collection Emma Frost

    Net Worth: $1-3 billion

    Frost, a reformed villain, now helps lead the X-Men with her psychic powers—and her enormous fortune. As chair of the board and CEO of Frost International, a multi-billion dollar electronics conglomerate, the telepath has considerable financial resources. And while there’s no specific figure placed on her wealth, her liquidated holdings were apparently sufficient to fund the X-Men’s island base for “the foreseeable future.” So that’s probably a lot.

  • 4. Professor Charles Xavier

    Professor X
    20th Century Fox—courtesy Everett Collection Professor X

    Net Worth: $3.5 billion

    Running a mutant superhero team isn’t cheap, so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that two X-Men leaders make the list. Professor Charles Xavier, the founder of the X-Men and Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, is worth $3.5 billion; at least according to Fantomex, who tried to extort Xavier (New X-Men #129). You’d think the same person who can read everyone’s mind might have a little bit more money on hand (he’d only be #497 in the Forbes 500), but Xavier seems to have bigger priorities than acquiring cash.

  • 3. Bruce Wayne

    Bruce Wayne
    Warner Bros—courtesy Everett Collection Bruce Wayne

    Net Worth: $9.2 billion

    Considering Bruce Wayne’s superpower is essentially “being rich enough to afford gadgets and karate training,” it makes sense that the Batman would be pretty loaded. Forbes estimates Wayne’s worth at $9.2 billion, and lists his company, Wayne Enterprises, as having an annual revenue of $31.3 billion.

  • 2. Tony Stark

    Iron Man
    Paramount—courtesy Everett Collection Iron Man

    Net Worth: $12.4 billion

    Tony Stark, otherwise known as Iron Man, narrowly edges out Wayne in the battle of billionaire playboys. Interestingly, while Forbes ranks Stark’s wealth ahead of Batman, the publication lists Stark Industries’ revenue ($20.3 billion) as less than that of Wayne Enterprises. Chalk it up to Wayne’s legendary philanthropy.

  • 1. T’Challa

    Marvel Black Panther

    Net Worth: $90.7 trillion

    T’Challa, the Black Panther, isn’t just the richest superhero. He’s almost undoubtedly the wealthiest fictional character of all time.

    How is it even possible for one person to have this much wealth? T’Challa is the king of Wakanda, a fictional African country with nearly all of the world’s reserves of Vibranium. And Vibranium, being a super-strong metal (Captain America’s shield is made out of Vibranium), doesn’t come cheap.

    According to the comics, the material costs $10,000 per gram, and Wakanda’s Vibranium vaults have 10,000 tons of the stuff (Doomwar #1). A little math and that amount of Vibranium would cost more than the GDP of the entire world.

    Unfortunately for T’Challa, a plot by Doctor Doom to steal Wakanda’s Vibranium forced the king to release a fail safe rending the stockpile inert, and potentially worthless. But on the upside, Black Panther is getting a movie in 2018. So you win some, you lose some.

TIME

Mexico Pulls Out of Donald Trump’s Miss Universe Pageant

Trump's beauty pageants are in deep trouble

Donald Trump called Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “drug dealers.” Now, the country’s pageant organizers have decided they won’t send contestants to Trump’s Miss Universe pageant.

Two weeks after the real estate mogul angered many Mexicans with inflammatory remarks about immigrants to the United States, Mexican media conglomerate Televisa, which sends contestants to the pageant for the country, said in a statement that it would not be taking part in Miss Universe.

But that’s not the only Trump beauty contest losing support from its participants. The hosts of the Miss USA pageant, Thomas Roberts and Cheryl Burke, quit on Tuesday. Burke, a former contestant on Dancing with the Stars, singled out Trump’s comments in a Facebook post:

The latest double blow to Trump’s beauty pageant franchise comes a day after NBC announced it was not going to air Miss USA “due to the recent derogatory statements by Donald Trump regarding immigrants.” Spanish language network Univision announced earlier it too would not air the pageant, for the same reasons.

Trump is now suing Univision for $500 million under the First Amendment for, the suit said, a “politically motivated attempt to suppress Mr. Trump’s freedom of speech … as he begins to campaign for the nation’s presidency.”

Trump said at his campaign launch for the Republican presidential nomination that immigrants coming across the Mexican border were “rapists” and insinuated immigrants were drug dealers; he has proposed building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border that he would make the Mexican government pay for.

And the outspoken entrepreneur does not seem eager to back down. On Tuesday, he took to his Twitter account to reiterate his claims about the country south of the border:

The pageant is set to continue in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on July 12.

TIME movies

Clint Eastwood to Direct Biopic of ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ Pilot

Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger captain of the US Airways flight #5149 that landed in New York's Hudson River in 2009, poses in his office at his home in Danville, Calif on Jan. 10. 2011.
Paul Sakuma—AP Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger captain of the US Airways flight #5149 that landed in New York's Hudson River in 2009, poses in his office at his home in Danville, Calif on Jan. 10. 2011.

Capt. 'Sully' Sullenberger famously landed an Airbus A320 in the Hudson River

In 2011 it was J. Edgar Hoover; in 2014, ‘American Sniper’ Chris Kyle. Now, director Clint Eastwood seems to have found his next all-American protagonist: Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who safely landed an Airbus A320 in New York City’s Hudson River in 2009.

Eastwood is set to direct the as-yet-unnamed biopic on the now-retired airline pilot, lauded as a national hero after the so-called “Miracle on the Hudson,” when he was forced to land US Airways Flight 1549 on water after a flock of Canadian geese disabled both of his engines following its takeoff from LaGuardia Airport.

The film is based on the New York Times bestselling memoir Sullenberger co-authored with Wall Street Journal columnist Jeffrey Zaslow: Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters.

If the film does nearly as well as Eastwood’s American Sniper, which grossed upwards of $543 million worldwide in 2014, it’ll be a smooth landing indeed.

TIME Pop Culture

Watch 100 Years of Filipina Beauty and History in Less Than Two Minutes

The country's rich history has heavily influenced style and beauty trends

The folks over at Cut Video have released the sixth episode of 100 Years of Beauty, taking us not just through a century of beauty in the Philippines, but of Filipino history too.

The video begins with the Spanish-American War at the turn of the century, when indigenous women were adorned with tribal tattoos and shell headpieces.

After U.S. took control of the country, American trends began to heavily influence Filipino beauty. By the 1920s and ’30s, women were inspired by jazz and the silver screen — glamorous updos with heavy makeup became in vogue until Japanese occupation began during World War II.

After the war, the Philippine’s film industry boomed and mestiza (half-Filipino half-Caucasian) actresses set the trend for red lips and rosy cheeks.

America kept influencing beauty trends throughout the ’60s, with big bouffant hair inspired by Jackie O and Imelda Marcos, the wife of Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos, moving to the hippie style of the ’70s.

By the 2000s people turned to Korean music and television for style and beauty trends and long straight hair became popular. As the video fast-forwards to present day, K-pop and American culture still dominate women’s styles with full wavy hair and dark brows.

TIME Pop Culture

Watch Jeremy Renner Sing About His Hawkeye Feelings on The Tonight Show

To the tune of Ed Shereen’s “Thinking Out Loud"

Fighting with a stick and a string from the paleolithic era isn’t much when you’re brawling alongside Iron Man, Hulk and Thor. So last night, during an interview with Jimmy Fallon, Jeremy Renner took to the stage to sing about the very human archer he plays in Avengers: Age of Ultron... promising that he can do more than just archery.

Sitting at a piano adorned with a bow and arrow (and wearing his iconic Hawkeye costume), Renner poured his heart out about being a well-loved but oft-forgotten member of the team. “Will the people believe that I’m not quite as tough? Will anyone even notice me?” Renner sang to the tune of Ed Shereen’s “Thinking Out Loud.” As the actor mused about the simpler things in life—like having a collection of scarves and berets, owning water-resistant socks, and getting free guac at Chipotle—a hilarious assortment of images played on a screen behind him, showing “Hawkeye” doing everyday activities like opening a pickle jar and playing Mario Kart.

Renner closed out his performance by reminding the world, “I’m friggin’ Hawkeye, maybe I’m as super as a star.” You can find out yourself in the next Avengers movie, which hits theaters May 1.

This article originally appeared on EW.com.

Watch the full video here:

TIME Pop Culture

How Well Do You Know Full House?

Can't wait for the Full House remake that's coming to Netflix? See how much you remember about the Tanner family

Read next: 17 Burning Questions the Full House Revival Must Answer

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TIME Pop Culture

Nik Wallenda to Stroll Atop 400-Foot Spinning Orlando Eye

Nik Wallenda Press Conference
Noam Galai—WireImage/Getty Images Nik Wallenda announces his plans to walk on top of the Orlando Eye Ferris wheel on April 13, 2015 in New York City.

A "stunt for the ages"

Daredevil Nik Wallenda announced on Monday that he will take a stroll on top of the Orlando Eye, a spinning, 400-foot tall observation wheel.

Wallenda, a seventh-generation highwire performer who famously walked a tightrope between two Chicago skyscrapers last year, will once again attempt the walk without a harness or a safety net. He plans to perform the stunt on April 29.

“My whole life is about facing death in the eyes,” Wallenda said at a news conference, according to NBC News. “Do I think of death? Often.”

The Orlando Eye’s management celebrated the announcement on Facebook, calling it a “stunt for the ages.”

TIME Pop Culture

Identical Triplets in Brazil Get Married at the Same Wedding

They wore matching dresses too

It’s not every day you see three brides walk down the same aisle in the same dress and same hair style.

And yet, that was the case for Rafaela, Rochele and Tagiane Bini, who all got married at the same time at the Nossa Senhora Aparecida Catholic cathedral in their hometown of Passo Fundo, Brazil on Saturday, according to a BBC video.

The 29-year-old brides didn’t plan to match hairstyles or makeup. In fact, they went to their appointments with the intention of not matching.

“We tried a number of styles, but we all liked the same one,” Rochele told the Daily Mail. “It’s not even worth trying, it always ends up like that.”

The female guests were pleased to have three opportunities to catch the bouquets, which matched the color of each of the 18 bridesmaid’s dresses to the corresponding bride.

The only thing that helped their guests and grooms – Rafael, Gabriel and Eduardo – distinguish between them was their different colored bouquets.

The brides admit to sometimes deliberately confusing their fiancés, said Rafael, who married Rafaela.

But on their wedding day, they didn’t have a problem spotting their true loves.

“Oh yes, I knew which one was mine, for sure. I knew as soon as she entered the church, she was the most beautiful,” Eduardo, who married Tagiane, told the news outlet.

Rafaela met Rafael 10 years ago in college, and a year later Rochele met her future husband Gabriel. After Tagiane and Eduardo got engaged, their parents, Pedro and Salete, suggested that the girls get married together.

When it came time to decide how Pedro was going to walk all three daughters down the aisle at once, it was settled that he would walk halfway down the aisle with all three and then take one at a time to the altar.

Pedro walked Tagiane, the first born, down the aisle first.

“I tried to hold back my emotion, but I couldn’t,” Tagiane admitted. “To see my dad there, at that moment, was a feeling I can’t explain.”

This article originally appeared on People.com.

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