Monday, March 05, 2012

The Future Stinks

I don't wish to alarm you, but I believe I've uncovered a massive conspiracy to change the very substance of the future, and it's going on right under our noses. Not just the path of the future, but the substance and savor of it, the very chemistry of our air. Their agents have been subtly tagging the world for decades, and I can only believe that their goal is the chemical control of our psychology (possibly working synergistically with fluoridated water), probably for engineered complacency. I mean, no one knows who Mr. Clean really is, but the signs of his agenda are there in plain sight. I bought some of his eponymous product last month, and it says right on the cover that he's now in league with "Gain," which you may have long assumed, like I did, was nothing more than a second-tier laundry product, but I now realize is a secret organization dedicated to remaking the world in its own stench. The Gain mafia is everywhere, laying the moon landings over with an artificial miasma, freshening up suspicious suicides, laying a scented cloud over the ruins of downtown Manhattan.

I bought some of the stuff for an experiment, what has so far passed for science in the new job, a quickie study to acquaint the ("senior scientist") noob over here with some of the materials and tests. It pitted me against the agents of Gain in a small enclosed room, and I had no chance over it. I left dizzy, sore-throated, and ready to do what they told me. (Gain has taken over air fresheners too, and there was a can of next to the toilet when I got home.) I've noticed it in other name-brand (not-Gain) laundry detergents too, and the smell of "clean" has clearly changed since I last remember accidentally slipping into the world of name-brand home scents. There's something more thin and acridly (instead of sweet and cloyingly) floral about it. More hops going on, and less lilac. More raw, wet wood and less sun-warmed dead plant matter. And yet even if it's considered on that spectrum, it's not any of those things, a creature entirely of its own that is far more revolting than any natural aroma I can pick out. It's a product (or at least a formulation) that's the vogue of the American chemical industry as it exists in 2012, and not in some other remembered time, and not anything very real.

It's well understood that characteristic smells are strongly associated with memory, and I can close my eyes and recreate, say, what my grandparents' houses smelled like. [For me, it's something that I tend to get more with places than stunning events (but there are a few there too).] The human tendency to do so is, I assume, the motivation of associating branded products with characteristic smells (and this Gain shit is extra nasty) in the first place, with teams of engineers and marketing pukes toiling to tie your sense of "clean" with their shitty prouct, with the product landscape evolvoing as they forever seek to differentiate themselves in the existing perfumatory space. But if stale beer and musty fruit and ancient house unfailingly makes me think "college!" such individualized reactions shouldn't be confused with collective ones. The interior of your first car is like the weather of scent memory, while the Gain mafia is trying to shift the olfactory climate. The fuckers.

Sometimes I try and imagine what the world smelled like before I lived in it. It must have gotten bad in crowded environments. I have the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as redolent with horseshit, tobacco, coal smoke, rot, and unwashed human ass. What was human company like when smokers munched cloves to cover themselves up, and before people believed in halitosis? It sounds appalling, especially as the decades wore on and the cities got crowded, and flushed of any plant odors at all. I was reading recently, how the misguided Gilded Age public moralists would roll through the New York slums and, based on their primitive understanding of hygiene and health, would spray entire neighborhoods down with carbolic acid. It's a chemical that comes up in the literature of that time, but I don't really know what carbolic acid smells like, and struggle to imagine what it's like to have the whole street reeking of it. And yet, I find some comfort in the antiseptic smell of hypochlorite bleach, I like the aroma of iodine, and ammonia doesn't offend me too much either.

The smell of the present, with its disturbingly tailored chemicals, from Gain, to Axe body wash, to McDonalds' propriety French fry reek, will look barbaric by future standards too, whatever standard they reach by then. It's barbaric even to my memories of the recent past.

Update (a week later): I didn't realize that carbolic acid is the same chemical as phenol. I know that one pretty well: it's vile, burny, stinky, and toxic. (Fuck you, the Gilded Age, buncha sickos.) It was a scent memory that tipped me off, too. I was working with the stuff yesterday, and realized it smelled like the "cow ointment" the old farmer up the street from my parents used to use, and I was led to wonder if it was the same stuff.

3 comments:

Schmutzie said...

That day I wandered in to St. Paul of the Cross, I caught the scent of an old woman's perfume a pew in front of me. Same exact smell as my 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Showalter. Not sure of the name of the scent, but it was such a powerful mnemonic trigger I was shocked. It was oddly comforting. Some things should stay the way they are, including Mr. Clean!

Keifus said...

Hey Smutty, did you ever go on the followup visit to the place up the street?

K

Schmutzie said...

St Luke's? Not yet. Maybe Sunday.