plastic buffalo kitsch

Why I love my zoo and other thoughts on globalisation

I have several animals in my zoo. There are big animals like giraffes, tigers, and pandas but also more modest ones like dogs and sheep. It is first and foremost an inclusive zoo. In order for an animal to be admitted to my zoo, it must be disfigured or deformed in some manner. It is, in a way, an act of charity to take these animals in but I do not perceive it as such. I take in these grotesque and malformed creatures because of what they represent. In my eyes, they are the unwanted children, born from the blackened womb of globalisation. The marriage that spawned them was loveless and cruel, and now what they so desperately need is love.

China globalisation toy animal manufacture

Let me explain. The animals in my zoo are mainly from China and made from plastic. All it took was the press of a button in a factory the size of Slough and noxious molten plastic flowed from nozzles, filled a thousand moulds and in a spluttering instant, they were born.

There is no natural light in these factories just the flickering of giant florescent tubes. Machinery chugs and spits and groans, gnashing teeth hungry for flesh, great metal jaws hankering after the satisfying crunch of bone. The workers are impossibly poor, barely human. They wear masks to keep out the toxic fumes but their bodies are already ruined. They make plastic toys 16 hours a day, every day.

To these poor souls the animals they make are as real and alive as dinosaurs or five-headed monsters. They have never seen a tiger or a lamb. Never seen a giraffe. They have seen very little beyond the smog and misery that envelops them. Yet they are tasked with breathing life into the inanimate with arthritic hands and myopic eyes. As the animals are sculpted and coloured, the characteristics of an evil cartoon villain merge with the features of a big cat and the distended abdomen of some supernatural being distort the dimensions of a baboon.

There is no image of a baboon on a computer screen for them to follow, no encyclopaedic illustration of a gambolling giraffe to refer to, only an email print out, black and white and pixelated, covered in greasy thumb prints. There is no middle management man sent over from Utrecht to oversee production, no pencil-pushing intern from Düsseldorf with a prototype. The workers are on their own.

giraffe at animal zoo

This is why my zoo is for freaks. Part-monster, part-animal. These creatures exist between worlds only, like spirits forced to toil in purgatory. A child does not want to learn about the natural world from a boss-eyed panda with bleeding gums or a lion that looks like he is being sodomised. They need softer, cuddlier versions of the real thing or better still, accurate versions that allow the animals natural majesty and prowess to shine through with each carefully rendered detail. It is inevitable then that these animals of mine end up in charity shops, car boots and trays in house clearance shops. When you attempt to buy one for what is already clearly a token amount, the seller instantly tries to unburden others on to you. “Here take these as well. They need a good home,” they say. “Take them.”

plastic buffalo kitsch

They never cost much money because their flaws are all too obvious, too cruelly visible. They cannot be thrown out because that would require someone consciously disposing of something just because it was ugly and this is just too sad to actually happen. They must be passed on in the hope that somewhere else there exists some shred of humanity where people can look beyond their hideous scars and love them. I am that man. I am here to love them. To wash them, feed them dust and ridicule them daily in a small Bristol bedroom. To patronise them in words. But be sure of one thing, I do not pass them on.

plastic animal zoo


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Tom Spooner

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