Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Some Thoughts on the Razor-Blade Arms Race

Hey, everybody. I'm Alex Adrian and this is The Diary of an Atomic Man. This week we're going to talk about something that, while it may seem random during this holiday season, is one I've been thinking about for a while now: Razor blades. Yes, razor blades--or more specifically, the arms race that has developed between Schick and Gillette in recent years over how many razor blades each can fit onto their razor-blade-holding bits. A digression: like most men, I shave, and I prefer shaving soap to shaving cream. The reason is simply one of control. To explain, the following image is offered. Okay, so you've got your shaving brush, your shaving soap, and your unshaven face. You need to get the soap to your face. With the brush-and-soap method one can easily control the lather. No such luck with shaving cream; while many do indeed use shaving cream for convenience's sake, I find it hard to control the amount, dispersal and thickness.


Anyway...Back on topic.
Some History

The safety razor as we know it today was invented in 1901 by K.C. Gillette and patented in 1904; while a similar device dates back to the 1880s, it is immaterial to our purposes. Gillette's razor was unique in that it allowed the shaver to throw out the blade after it got too blunt. With the exception of the invention in the 1950s or '60s--I'm not entirely sure on the date--of stainless-steel razor blades, the industry, consisting by now of Gillette's namesake company, Schick, and the British firm Wilkinson Sword, was mostly dormant until circa 1971, with the introduction of the Gillette Trac II, the first multi-blade razor--in this case a two-bladed one. Slightly later, Gillette brought out the Atra and Atra Plus, which introduced the--at the time revolutionary--technologies of the mobile blade head and the"Lubrastrip" respectively, which massaged and lubricated the male face; the latter could be related to the dawn of "sensitive guys" in the Seventies. (NOTE: I'm serious about this. Might be worth looking into.) In 1974 Bic introduced a disposable razor, which could simply be thrown out entirely (entirely logical; Bic is in disposables: disposable lighters, disposable pens, and so...disposable razors!) Gillette, however, scooped the Franco-Belgian thrower-awayers for the US release of disposable razors with the '76 roll-out of the Gillette Good News, then stuck with its naming patterns for the Lubrastrip (in this case aloe vera rather than polyglcyol chloride)-equipped Good News Plus.
Then, everybody forgot about the arms race for a few decades.

Fast-forward to 1998. Gillette decided that the status quo was boring and introduced the Mach3, a...(Drumroll, please)...GASP...three-bladed razor! At this point the arms race not only kicked back up, it went into high gear. Slightly later, not sure of the date, Schick rolled out the four-bladed (shocking, I know) Quattro. Gillette, shocked at having its place as the elder states-razor company and innovator upbraided (say what you will about corporate personhood as a legal doctrine, it makes for some pretty entertaining prose) released the Fusion, which had, not one, not two, not three, not even four, but five--count 'em, five--blades

Seriously, this is madness on a scale heretofore unknown to mankind

The current tops of the US market are both five-bladers: as well as the Fusion, there's the Schick Hydro 5(pictured below).

You hear me? Madness.

Who knows where this will lead next? Apparently, someone called Pace Shave is making a six-bladed razor; will we soon see the Schick Hydro 6 on drugstore shelves? Surely, it can't get as ridiculous as this:

...but God alone knows. Americans have a weakness for bizarre and seemingly needless gadgets; for corroborating evidence one need only look at the success of the Snuggie (a blanket with sleeves. Jeez, I never knew I needed one!...But that's another rant) and the careers of Vince Offer, Ron Popiel, and the late, lamented Billy Mays, or simply watch late-night basic cable...or Cartoon Network on weekday mornings between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. (I'm serious; there're all sorts of weird infomercials on at that hour. Of course, who except stoners, twenty-somethings with no lives, and families in hotels on vacation--I speak from personal experience--watches Cartoon Network weekday mornings?).

However, remember this: one era's lunacy is another's total normality, and without constant vigilance, this madness (I say it three times) can creep up. It will not end. It will not ever end. Not without--I say again--constant vigilance; to paraphrase a Russian joke: "One hundred fifty-fourth polishes the jawbone". American men will do anything for a close shave...even at their own peril.

--Alex Adrian, 12/14/11

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In Reaction to the Recent Death of Bil Keane

Some Thoughts on the Legacy of the Creator of The Family Circus and the State of American Comic Strips in General

First of all, sorry about the erratic-to-nonexistent update schedule. As you probably gathered from the title, I’m writing this post in response to the recent death of Bil Keane, creator of The Family Circus. Keane died on the eighth of congestive heart failure; he was 89. Keane is survived by his son Jeff and the strip itself, which is now being written and drawn by Jeff, so it’ll continue unabated for the foreseeable future. The Internet’s mockery will, too. And now…on to tonight’s main topic: The sad and sorry state of the modern American comics page. I personally agree with PvP creator Scott Kurtz on this one: American strip comics are a moribund business, drained of creativity and with their golden years long behind them. The closest they ever came to a “renaissance” was during the 1980’s and ‘90s, when the industry was renewed, filled with a sense of purpose that made it grow and swell with pride and optimism. From this time spring some of the greatest works of comic-strip storytelling and art: Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side, This Modern World, and FoxTrot's "golden age" all date back to these years. Sadly, these years of greatness and the earlier blossomings of the 1900's through the 1970's are long behind it, and the average comics reader is left to scavenge through the blasted wreckage. Doonesbury. Stone Soup. Peanuts. Mother Goose and Grimm--on a good day, which are few and far between. Non-Sequitor--although the above caveat also applies. These, my friends, are all that remain of the regularly syndicated quality strips. The rest--the word dreck springs to mind all too readily. Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side both stopped publication about a decade and a half ago, and, it seems, so too went all but a few small vestiges of comic strips’ creativity. Now? Maybe a swift death would be less painful than watching this titan grown sterile slowly fall to pieces. In no particular order, here is a sampling of the comics I would most like see vanish from the comics page forever:
  • Beetle Bailey: I know that Beetle Bailey is a beloved American classic—but so is gender-based discrimination, and I for one would like to see that gone forever. It’s just not funny anymore—and that is the kiss of death for a comic strip.
  • Garfield: the humor ran dry on this ‘un a long time ago, and Jim Davis has just been recycling the same seven or eight jokes ever since.
  • Dennis the Menace: another strip where the humor ran dry years back. Moreover, Dennis hasn’t been actually, y'know, menacing in decades, having long since decayed into harmless sap. End it now, man! END IT NOW!
  • The Born Loser: this is the poster-child for cliched, formulaic storytelling. Once you have read one The Born Loser strip you have, in effect, read them all.
  • Blondie: for whatever reason, this is both immortal and obscenely formulaic. It's just not that good
  • For Better or For Worse: once, this stood as one of the titans of comics.'s just reprinting old strips, definitely for worse.
See ya in the funny papers!--

Alex Adrian