“Materialism coarsens and petrifies everything, making everything vulgar, and every truth false.” These profound words spoken by Swiss philosopher Henri Amiel illustrate the wretched vulgarity and superficiality of the virus-like spread of materialism. In the essay entitled “The Pink Flamingo: A Natural History” by Jennifer Price, Price examines the popularity of the well-known pink flamingo and how it relates to the ideals and whims of American culture. Using American fascination of the plastic, pink flamingo as her medium, Jennifer Price shows her evident disdain for the superficial materialism present in American society.
Jennifer Price introduces her analysis of the flamingo fad by presenting the rise of the pink flamingo in American culture and how society reacted upon the popularization of this cultural icon. Price effectively illustrates the American public’s reaction to the introduction of the plastic, pink flamingo by implementing specific diction that reinforces her own opinions of the “flamingo boom”. Similar to a mindless flock of birds following each other without much thought as to why, Price writes that “Since the 1930s, vacationing Americans had been flocking to Florida and returning home with flamingo souvenirs.
” Price’s choice to describe Americans as “flocking” is meant to establish a comparison to a flock of mindless birds; in effect, the author characterizes Americans as bandwagon followers who lack any consideration for the examination of their culture and the conceptual purpose behind their symbolic icons.
The author also presents how Americans have rendered the plastic, pink flamingo as symbolic of wealth and luxury.
Price states that “In the 1910s and 1920s, Miami Beach’s first grand hotel, the Flamingo, had made the bird synonymous with wealth and pizzazz.” In the context of the essay, terms like “wealth” and “pizzazz” possess a shallow, superficial connotation that consequently translates into the flamingo as not only being a symbol of wealth and pizzazz but also a symbol of superficiality and vulgar ostentation. Price’s introductory paragraph is significant to the purpose of the essay because it illustrates the magnitude of the flamingo fascination and how Americans irrationally react to the flamingo’s popularity.
In reiteration of Price’s stance, heavy criticism in the essay of the plastic flamingo’s intrinsic boldness simply because it represents an exotic creature depicts Price’s severe disdain for the whims of American society. Price utilizes an ironic situation in conjunction with historical evidence when she attempts to establish a connection between real flamingos and plastic flamingos. Americans, Price points out, “had hunted flamingos to extinction in Florida in the late 1800s, for plumes and meat. But no matter. In the 1950s, the new interstates would draw working-class tourists down, too.” Price bluntly uses facts and historical research about American culture to express her disgust of the irony that the American nation has created for itself with regards to the plastic, pink flamingo. When Price writes “But no matter,” she reinforces the implication that it is as if American society regards the destruction of the flamingo as trivial because capitalist society would benefit more from the production of plastic flamingos that could yield revenue.
Thus, a nation that embraces the flamingo in all its beauty after having been so destructive of the natural population reveals the ironic carelessness and hypocrisy of American society. Furthermore, Price uses the image of the pink flamingo with its natural boldness to emphasize her point about the ignorance of Americans and their culture. The author states, “The bird acquired an extra fillip of boldness, too, from the direction of Las Vegas with…Flamingo Hotel. Anyone who has seen Las Vegas knows that a flamingo stands out in a desert even more strikingly than on a lawn.”
The simple fact that a flamingo is a subtropical animal unfit to live in the desert gives Price the justification to illustrate how Americans took the flamingo fad to such extreme heights without giving one regard to the appropriateness of the flamingo in context. In doing so, Price once again conveys the total ignorance and lack of consideration that characterizes American society. The paragraph in which Price asserts her belief regarding the ironic situation American society has put itself in supports a belief that Americans have taken their obsession so far as to having destroyed a population of animals for the sake of wealth and luxury; thus, the pink flamingo, in the context of Price’s essay, is merely a symbol of the vulgar materialism Americans possess because of their ignorance and inconsideration for the appropriateness of destroying flamingos and “plasticizing” them.
Jennifer Price provides further details regarding the plastic flamingo’s image which forces the reader to question if the plastic flamingo is even close to being a valid representation of its real-life counterpart. Price’s use of imagery in her essay and the interpretation that follows shows that she believes the plastic flamingo is obviously not even fit to represent the true flamingo. Price lists the colors, “tangerine, broiling magenta, livid pink, incarnadine, fuchsia demure, Congo ruby, methyl green,” in order to establish images that overwhelm the reader’s mind with bold colors. The extremely bold colors of the plastic flamingo such as “livid pink” and “broiling magenta” formulate the conclusion that the plastic flamingo could never be synonymous with the quiet, demure brilliancy of a real flamingo.
Thus, once the reader has interpreted the color imagery and concluded that all of the colors are just “too much”, the reader can make the connection that society is also “too much” obsessed with putting on pretenses of wealth as opposed to focusing on issues that really matter such as the preservation of the real flamingo. Price also makes use of repetition in order to express the magnitude of the plastic flamingo’s color in society. Jennifer Price states, “Washing machines, cars, and kitchen counters proliferated in passion pink, sunset pink, and Bermuda pink.” By stating that the pink fad present in the plastic flamingo was also transferred into household appliances such as washing machines and kitchen counters, Price implies that the materialism and vulgarity of appearing wealthy spread into the home; the infiltration of materialism into the home meant that the desire for wealth and extravagance had also infiltrated the aspects of American life.
Price’s criticism of the flamingo’s color fascination supports the essay’s idea that Americans are only satisfied by boldness and extravagance as evident in the pink coloration of household appliances because pink was the color of the symbolic pink flamingo of wealth; Americans, thus, have difficulty equating modesty and demureness with any sort of wealth. The simple belief is that extravagance and flamboyance are the way to go if one wants to appear wealthy. Americans who desire wealth are therefore subject to the whims of materialism and superficiality.
The author concludes by delivering an argument that criticizes American views and ideals, or the lack of, as being disrespectful and insulting towards the significance of the flamingo itself. Jennifer Price uses cultural evidence from other nations to present the importance of the flamingo. She states, “People…have always singled out the flamingo as special. Early Christians associated it with the red phoenix. In ancient Egypt, it symbolized the sun god Ra. In Mexico and the Caribbean, it remains a major motif in art, dance, and literature.” The author uses these facts to justify that the reduction of the brilliant flamingo in American culture to a mere plastic souvenir attached to grass is a shameful comparison to other cultures that respect nature and revered the bird as a glorious symbol.
Price then makes use of parallelism in order to strengthen her criticism of American culture. In the essay, Price states, “No wonder that the subtropical species stood out so loudly when Americans in temperate New England reproduced it, brightened it, and sent it wading across an inland sea of grass.” By using repeating sentence structures through parallelism, Price emphasizes that Americans have done so many things to the flamingo that the plastic version is so far removed from its original counterpart. Thus, Americans have lost sight of the intended genuine meaning behind embracing the flamingo in the first place. The significance of this section within the essay is important because it not only allows the author to go beyond criticism of the flamingo, but it also shows that, in the grand scheme of things, Price was more intent on exposing and criticizing the true validity of all American cultural values.
Jennifer Price allegorized the fascination of the plastic flamingo in order to establish a sort of comparison between obsession with purchasing plastic flamingos that symbolize wealth and the materialism evident in American culture. Although the essay mostly depicts American society as insensitive and inconsiderate according to the author’s tone, the satirical nature of the essay provides a subtle, underlying, hopeful connotation that perhaps one day American society will learn to go beyond their materialistic greed and ascend to a different type of wealth.