There is no doubt that television has had a huge impact on shaping consumer activity; it is a primary function of the medium. Like virtually everything, television can be used for good or bad. TV’s power to shape our culture could have been harnessed to inspire awareness of history, cultivate the ability to discern between quality and crap, and instill an appreciation for both history and quality. However, the television networks have chosen to promote a consumerist platform which emphasizes replacement rather than conservation and continues to do so even as awareness of environmental concerns becomes more mainstream; it is, of course, all about the money and fueling the economy.
The sad irony is that conservation of our resources can also drive the economy; people who protect historic buildings and the environment also make purchases in order to do so. Infotainment television continues to promote the ludicrous notion that the first thing every new homeowner needs is a sledgehammer. It glamorizes the gutting of entire interiors which are no where near the ends of their lifespans by repeating the process ad nauseam in numerous TV programs. As the old saying goes, “They don’t call it programming for nothing!” Americans have been programmed to be indifferent toward their history, remain in ignorance of it, and even pay to replace it with whatever their television convinces them is the next coolest thing to do.
Scenes like the one below are far more commonplace than they once were; I cringe every time I see a dumpster or trailer piled with building materials which have been needlessly discarded – only to add more material to grind into the earth at the local landfill. I drove by this scene yesterday – what was obviously a mid-century modern ranch house of quality design and construction had lost an original bathroom. Probably built in the early 1960’s, the house had a bathroom which featured custom millwork made of birch – a highly desirable hardwood which is too costly to be used extensively today. Along with the discarded millwork were vintage plumbing fixtures – a cast iron sink with porcelain finish and matching toilet. Both were intact, at least half a century in age, and capable of lasting twice that long. The door and cabinet hardware were similarly of high quality.
I’m not alone in my outrage; a fascinating web site, Save The Pink Bathrooms, not only calls attention to this needlessly wasteful phenomenon but also helps to educate people and offers links to resources for people who retain their historic bathrooms. These fixtures, while not Mamie Pink, have been just as disparaged. Despite the growing reach and power of the internet, organizations advocating for conservation and historic preservation are largely ignored. As another old saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink!”
What will this bathroom be replaced with? Given the limited options available today, it will likely be something that looks a lot like a display at the nearest Big Box home “improvement” center – and, not surprisingly, a lot like what one sees on television programs promoting such replacements.
Say “Goodbye” to another victim of aggressive marketing posing as sage advice: