Paper towels and cultural representation

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My family has elected to be temporary custodians of three rolls of ZEWA brand Wisch & Weg paper towels. Like many other types of kitchen towels these are useful, practical and well suited for our needs. The product also has an additional role as an amusement, without extra charge. Our 3 roll package of ZEWA provides a “funny” story expressed through drawings which have captivated our family and have provided hours and hours of hysterical laughter. The drawings allow a peek into the lives of a group of people and their dog as they go through the trying experience of cooking weiners in the backyard (assumedly, as the location is non-specific). In three scenarios on one roll we are repeatedly reminded that “generic genial man” has a bit of trouble lighting the barbecue. Spoiler alert – he finally cooks his weiner using his Zippo lighter!

Another roll presents the two part histrionics of a fellow trying to prepare frankfurters for the family and the problems he has with a wild dog. First the dog runs away with a string of sausages and then smiling, returns to sit at the table (on the cooler) and join the party. Or the other way around where the dog first sits at the table and then steals the meat. Who can tell?

The scenarios make you wonder about the origins of the stories as presented. Despite the poor printing, we see in one frame that Grandpa is wearing either lederhosen or overalls (or he has a loaf of bread glued to his chest) and drinking a liter of foamy beer – is he supposed to be German? Otherwise, all the other aspects show characteristics of a “Western” culture. As ZEWA‘s offices are in Mannheim, one might assume that this is a familiar story in Baden-Württemberg. Quite probably the inoffensive artwork was purchased from the ‘funny drawings department’ of a graphics company specializing in generically themed pictures. It is also possible that anyone could contact the graphics company and pay to use the same artwork on their own project like a T-Shirt or a barbecue apron.

Anyway, if the illustrations originated in Germany, they give us some harmless insight of how people see themselves as a culture, unless of course the graphics company is outside of Germany (China for example) and the pictures show a foreign concept of life in the west. But we need to remember that the illustrations are only pictures on a roll of paper towels.

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One thought on “Paper towels and cultural representation

  1. This post was not intended to be critical of anybody or anything, but merely musing about imagery we inadvertently confront and consume everyday. The underlying text is that the whole creative process is a series of questions and decisions made to address those questions. For example, in the illustrations above somebody had to decide that the illustration needed “grandpa” and how to dress and present the result, and chances are that a supervisor had to OK the characterization the artist presented.

    I find the process which starts with an idea to ends as a final presentation interesting. We all have to go through similar dilemmas everyday in every aspect of life, as in choosing “what to wear”, “what to cook”, “where to place the new chair”, etc etc.

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