I'm sure we've all had that moment. That moment when you tell someone your work involves the plastics industry. That moment when the other person pulls out “that quote.” The quote they always use. Probably the only quote they actually know from “The Graduate,” other than possibly: “Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?”
Even people who have never seen “The Graduate” know that quote. It's become part of pop culture, probably linked forever to the plastics industry no matter how much we may want it to go away. And no matter how many times we try to point out that it was meant as a cynical metaphor.
And maybe because of too many repetitions of that quote in pop culture, it sometimes seems like plastics and pop culture are forever linked: both coming into mainstream recognition sometime in the mid-20th century.
Most of the time, it's about how we have fun with plastics: “The Lego Movie,” Lego bus stops, a Lego documentary (just check out the trailer posted below if you don't believe me) Lego towers — apparently there could be an entire series of blog posts about those ABS bricks.
But it's not just Lego. There's also the Hot Wheels plastic track a Ford Motor Co. employee put to use to create a world record size loop for toy cars for Take Your Child to Work Day.
There is the way plastics is used in movie props to create the breakaway glass in a horror movie, and the way plastic items turn up where they're not supposed to be ,as was the case earlier this year when a plastic bottle turned up in the background of a promotional photo for the 1920s-era based TV show “Downton Abbey.”
The number of tie-ins between pop culture, plastics and 3-D printing are almost becoming too numerous to track. Coca-Cola teaming up with hip-hop's will.I.am on a 3-D printer that uses a filament made in part from post-consumer PET bottles? Yep. How about actor Robert Downey Jr., star of the “Avengers” films presenting a 3-D printed arm prosthetic made to mimic his “Ironman” character to a young fan? Oh yeah.
Of course, as another Marvel movie character would put it, with great (pop culture) power comes great responsibility. So expect plenty of attention from celebrities and fashion leaders about on plastics waste in waterways and beaches littered with bottles.
Sometimes, though, pop culture can give a pointed critique that an industry lobbyist cannot, as TV's “The Simpson's” did in 2009 when Marge Simpson come into collision with Springfield's toniest Mommy Circle for daring to let baby Maggie use a plastic sippy cup. But just let someone from the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. try to suggest that emotions are getting ahead of science and no one will be laughing.
So stay tuned, as I try to highlight the highs and lows of pop culture's take on plastics, so you'll be ready with something new the next time someone pulls you aside at a party and says: “Just one word …”