Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Vintage Oral Hygiene


On a recent trip to Rhode Island, I stopped off at an antiques market. It was a fairly typical arrangement: a red barn with vintage cars parked out front, and loads of vendors inside. Tables carried the usual country junk popular for decorating beach homes and offered no shortage of stuffed and mounted deer heads.

In the back of the market, I came across a glass case containing tiny, precious objects. On its very bottom shelf I found something that totally blew my mind: a gun toothbrush, for kids.

Now, clearly this toothbrush came from another era—a much more innocent one, fixated on cowboys, Indians, and the romantic side of shooting things. It was basically a form of something we see all the time: a toothbrush that’s also a toy, aimed at enticing kids into maintaining better oral hygiene. Well that makes sense, I thought, I see cartoon character toothbrushes all the time, why should this be any different? Still, this one really set me thinking.

The “Gun Brush” (labeled above the pistol grip) is “Made in the U.S.A.” probably in the 1950’s or 1960’s, and not only is it a brightly colored plastic gun, but is has a functioning trigger! So you can click away while you brush your teeth, eradicating Plaque, and any inhibitions that you may have had about putting the barrel end of a gun in your mouth. Can you imagine a company being able to get such a toothbrush on the shelves in this era of drive-bys and schoolhouse massacres—let alone finding a parent today that would buy a toy gun specifically designed to go, point blank, into their child’s mouth?

But, despite being so incredibly wrong by today’s standards, I am attracted to this crazy thing. I feel invited to play with it, and can’t help myself. The kid in me thinks its “cool!” and wants to know if it comes with a holster, and if it can be loaded with toothpaste too?!

1 comment:

Michael Neal said...

I love it. It’s such a product of another generation, though I don’t know about the era being all that innocent. It makes you think about shifting views of “right” and “wrong.” Every time has its own understanding of appropriateness. Inherently, there is nothing “wrong” with this toothbrush. It’s just a metaphor of a gun. Actually, the “So you can click away while you brush your teeth, eradicating plaque,” is somewhat appropriate to learning about dental hygiene.

Would I give it to a child of my own… ouch, maybe, but probably not. It’s all very contextual. Obviously, parents in the 50’s and 60’s weren’t encouraging their kids to put an actual gun in there mouths, but at that time, as you pointed out, the gun had more of a romantic connotation. Fantasy-world escapism. Since then, through war and social upheaval, our view of the gun has become a little more real, and less playful; like a real life Westworld. But we still (especially children) have that lingering fascination with the gun as “cool.”
What it comes down to is how we and our children learn to deal with and incorporate the symbols of our society into their reality.

The Toothbrush gun is a tool to entertain children and teach them something at the same time. It’s on par with a Dora the Explorer hairbrush. I might even argue that the gun is better since it’s not as much of a subtle brand indoctrination. The trick is that kids need to learn to distinguish between the metaphor of the gun and its reality. After that yee haw! Have a “blast.”