Friday, August 30, 2013

Bottled up

A bottle's purpose is simple enough: to keep stuff inside it from escaping and getting mixed up with stuff outside it. Not an inspirational mission, although a necessary one. Try imagining the world without it.

For most of human history, bottles weren't exciting. In fact for a long time they were rare -- things were contained in jars. Such bottles as existed weren't fancy. In the ancient world, empresses and prostitutes kept perfumes in simple glass bottles. Glass itself was a luxury.

In fact, as far as I know, it wasn't until the Art Deco era that perfume bottles -- especially those designed by Lalique -- became art objects in themselves.

Beyond that, though, bottling remained in its own stone age. A beer bottle was a beer bottle. Wine bottles were limited to a few cliché shapes. The classic Coca-Cola bottle was a refreshing attempt to break out of the routine, but it didn't start a trend. Who can remember clearly what a Royal Crown Cola or Canada Dry bottle looks like?

Nowadays, though, glass (and even plastic) bottles are enjoying a Golden Age -- well, a Translucent Age. They've become aesthetic pleasures; minor and transient, perhaps, but pleasures.
What has made the difference? Designer water.

A few decades ago it became fashionable, then (for some) a necessity to consume only natural spring water. Tap water was for the poor we have always with us. Gold Card Hippies weren't about to insult their insides by drinking any hydrogenated oxygen other than the ideal Platonic utopian mondo perfecto item.

Merchants saw a bottle ... er, a need and filled it. There was one problem. The Pure Water industry has low barriers to entry. You can import water from Fiji or New Zealand glaciers or 25,000 feet up Mount Everest, but pure is purely pure. Than which there is no whicher.

Which left only one marketing ploy: the bottle.

Hear my confession. I love many of the containers designed for absolute water (not to be confused with Absolut Vodka, as if you could). I've paid too much for water just because the bottle increased my enjoyment of it. The phenomenon is illogical but real. Long may it live.

But will familiarity eventually breed contempt? Will our Green Puritans ban these flights of fancy because much of the human race still must import its water from wells in wooden buckets, or from bacteriologically differently abled streams?

Already there are signs that the designer bottle is reaching its fin-de-siècle, decadent stage. A chap in England named Alan Bennett has created one analogous to a Moebius strip, with neither inside nor outside.

Drinking from it is not recommended. But if you do, give my greetings to the White Rabbit.

1 comment:

YIH said...

That last bottle was just... WOW.
And here's the funny thing, the dihydrogen monoxide in the fancy bottle is often tested only once a year.
The stuff out of the tap? And if it says Dasani (AKA Coke) or Aquafina (AKA Pepsi) guess what? It is! And it will say ''[city] municipal water'' in tiny type somewhere on the bottle.
That stuff's tested more often some weekly, some monthly, some even daily YMMV.
I don't blame bottled water companies, and some of it does actually taste better, and of course if you hear the phrases 'boil water order' or 'salt water intrusion' all bets are off.