The Historical Roots of Plain Packaging

The Historical Roots of Plain Packaging

Reading Theodore Dalrymple’s, The Wilder Shores of Marx: Journeys in a Vanishing World, detailing visits to communist countries just prior to their collapse, the following passage, from his visit to Albania, struck me as particularly telling:

However it is the printing and design of packaging that is most thoroughly characteristic – pathognomonic, as doctors put t – of communist manufacture. The paper or cardboard is always rough and absorbent, so that ink often sends little spidery strands through it; the calligraphy is crude and inelegant. The labels bear as little information as possible: toothpaste, they say, or soap, and nothing else. This is because the alternatives to toothpaste and soap are not other brands, but no toothpaste at all and no soap. This is not to say that the information on a label that a bottle contains plums is entirely useless: it isn’t, because in the bottling process the plums have been rendered revoltingly indistinguishable from cherries, olives, apricots, greengages, peppers or tomatoes bottled by the same process: that is to say, they are all roundish objects of a feculent brown colour. But since any product’s competition is only a blank space, an absence, there is no need to dress it up attractively. Besides, it is in no one’s interest that products should be sold rather than stored or even thrown away. Under socialism, production is not for profit, but it is not for use either; it is divorced from all human purposes whatsoever.

Does it matter, though, that the everyday objects of life should be so profoundly unattractive? Does it matter that clothes should be of dirty colours, that shops should be as inviting as empty morgues? How many times have we heard of the meretriciousness of commercial culture, of the essential unimportance of having a choice of breakfast cereals in the morning, of the waste involved in elaborate packaging that is designed to sell unnecessary or worthless products? There is so much in our lives that is trivial, that inhibits us from considering what is truly important in our existence, that to be free from the compulsion to possess goods ever remoter from our natural needs sometimes seems to us highly desirable. But there is a world of difference between voluntary renunciation of what is available and embittered resignation in the face of permanent shortage. And it is only by visiting countries that are relentlessly serious and puritanical (“we must live and work as under a siege”) that one appreciates – within a very short time – the vital importance of frivolity)

Why is this all sounding so familiar?

Oh. Right:

”We need plain packaging so that we are not “encouraged every time we turn around when walking through a supermarket,and being bombarded with all sorts of imaginative marketing techniques.” 

Why? Because “protecting children from junk food and obesity is a fundamental human rights issue

Congratulations, Professor Kerryn Phelps and the Australian Public Health lobby. Hoxha couldn’t have put it better himself.


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