Rags, Bones, and Plastic Bags: Obsolescence, Trash, and American Consumer Culture

  • Susan Strasser


In his 1968 story “The Daughters of the Moon,” Italo Calvino writes of a “world where every object was thrown away at the slightest sign of breakage or aging, at the first dent or stain, and replaced with a new and perfect substitute … We went out in the crowds, our arms laden with parcels, coming and going from the big department stores that were open day and night, and … scanning the neon signs that climbed higher and higher up the skyscrapers and notified us constantly of new products that had been launched.” Calvino describes “an enormous wrecking yard” at the edge of New York City, composed of “layers of things that had been thrown away: everything that the consumerist city had used up and expelled so that it could immediately enjoy the pleasure of handling new things … Over the course of many years, piles of battered fridges, yellowing issues of Life magazine, and burnt-out light bulbs had accumulated.” The story takes place on “Consumer Thanksgiving Day. This feast came around every year, on a day in November, and had been set up to allow shoppers to display their gratitude toward the god Production, who tirelessly satisfied their every desire … The biggest department store in town organized a parade every year: an enormous balloon in the shape of a garishly colored doll was paraded through the main streets.”1


Consumer Culture Good Housekeeping Utilitarian Product Technological Obsolescence Garlic Juice 
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© Babette B. Tischleder and Sarah Wasserman 2015

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  • Susan Strasser

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