The Things We Carried

May 21, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

The opening sequence in Lawrence Kasdan’s1983 film The Big Chill shows a now dispersed group of college friends packing their bags as they prepare to come together for a funeral. No dialogue, just “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” on the soundtrack.

As the film cuts from one suitcase to another, there’s a visual joke: into the bag of each person, man or woman, goes a hair dryer, each a different color. At the time, this single iconic object located these former SDS types in social space. Kasdan could have simply had a sign flashing YUPPIE in bright letters with an arrow pointing to the person’s head. The hair dryer thing was marginally more subtle.*

That was then. Now, it would be chargers.

We packed for a short trip this week, and there they were – chargers for cell phones, laptops, cameras, and iPods. There were a couple of others I wasn’t sure about, but we took them along just in case.

*The hair dryer also figured symbolically in the 1975 film Shampoo, whose central idea is to play against the effeminate-hairdresser stereotype. Warren Beatty as George the hair stylist zips around on his motorcycle to do the hair of (and simply do) beautiful women all over LA. He carries his hair dryer tucked in his belt like a gangster’s Magnum.

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