The Last Typewriter in America
(or Transparency is the New Black)
For a guy who grew up around typewriters (my father ran an office supply store complete with a typewriter sales and repair shop) I have missed nearly EVERY opportunity to collect examples of these magnificent icons of design. While I still have my first typewriter (Olivetti Lettera 22, classic blue, with racing stripe matching case, designed by Marcello Nizzoli) I didn’t bother to grab a single typewriter when my father closed his store. And when, in a retrospectively ‘undesign’ moment, Pentagram Design trashed its two red IBM Selectrics (full Don Draper style, designed by Eliot Noyes) I stupidly didn’t bother to lug one home. And now I wonder what was wrong with me that I didn’t pick up a Sottsass-designed Valentine when their value bottomed out.
But I leapt into action hours after reading the New Yorker article by Daniel Gross describing the last American typewriter manufacturer, and purchased a New-Jersey-made transparent Swintec. Transparent, because a large part of Swintec’s business is selling typewriters to the incarcerated population. Prisons demand transparency to obviate the hiding places these mostly empty machines would offer. And who could make up the name Swintec for a company making wares for prisoners.
As one of the biggest captive audiences in America (pun intended), incarceration and transparency seem like a growth industry. I don’t understand why “Transparent is the New Black” is not the next Netflix/Amazon joint. I get the orange; escaping prison in an orange jumpsuit is a litmus test for either IQ or creativity (“officer, this is just my Halloween costume”). But hidden weapons are a much more serious incarceration industry problem than Shawshank Redemption style escapes. And Andy Dufresne had the civilian garb covered, although it is hard to understand how a suit that fit a short warden could fit the 6’-5” tall Tim Robbins (n.b. while doing a bit of research I discovered that Bob Gunton, who played the warden, is in fact 6’-1” so I take it back).
The entire transparent fashion moment is so very late 1960’s, but like many objects of desire it can stand a second comeback, and dedicating the transparent revival to the incarcerated is like an inverse appropriation (this is the untied shoelace, saggy pants going backwards). If prisoners can make style stick, then a transparent revival is in your future.
So picture this:
-Cells equipped with transparent inflatable mattresses, clear mylar blankets, clear lucite chairs, a lucite table with a transparent typewriter, a transparent ribbon cartridge (yes), transparent medicine cabinet, even glass block walls.
-Much more mesh clothing, and those transparent sneakers, and lots of those clear plastic raincoats.
-Dinners of cellophane noodles in clear plastic dishes with clear plastic sporks (I mean if we have to use them…)
-Clear basketballs and (of course) glass basketball backboards.
This idea transports every superhero cell, every Hannibal Lechter, Magneto, Raymond Reddington, Sherlock (the new one) and Bond villain into the real world. What could possibly go wrong with that? Wonder Woman had a transparent jet, and what about a transparent automobile? There is an incredible 1940 transparent body Ghost Car made for the 1939 World’s Fair. Fast forward to nearly every modern concept car and they are, similarly, much more transparent than solid. But the most innovative, and safety minded, use of transparency in cars is the future perfect version in which cameras dissolve the body to allow views from the inside out of the entire scene.
Back to the transparent typewriter…if we are going to lock prisoners into ancient technology, let’s make it a fashion statement. Students in some Chicago schools already wear transparent backpacks. And transparent luggage would make air travel so much more interesting, and might eliminate intrusive x-rays. Transparent trash bags are mandated for those violators of recycling laws in NYC. So, there is a precedent for transgressors of society’s rules being relegated to transparency.
And isn’t transparency a great societal ethos? Don’t we demand it in our politicians (and aren’t we glad that our president is, at the very least, transparent)?.
We need more transparency not less, and starting with typewriters is fine with me.