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