AT HOME WITH THE PLASTIC FAMILY: FRAME 1

       We begin this series with a candid moment at home. Helmet-haired Mom cuddles her chubby little daughter, Dad pretends to read a book, and Buddy hugs his security squeezebox. This scene practically defines the genre. The stool with its red and black pompoms and the knockoff Moorish rug, not to mention the exquisite Old Master Mediterranean seascape painting, suggest that this was staged in a studio in Spain.
       Here and elsewhere, look carefully at the eyes of these "persons." They have black irises. Either the photographer has retouched them because the harsh flash he used caused severe redeye, or--equally possibly--these are not people at all, but androids. Or maybe mannequins.




AT HOME WITH THE PLASTIC FAMILY: FRAME 2

       We proceed deeper into the saga of this family. Our subjects have changed clothes, and Buddy has gone missing (perhaps he is getting his monthly mechanical maintenance). They sit in a different corner of their home, one that is most elegantly appointed. Mom pretends to knit. Sis pretends to look surprised. The weird toys, which are anything but age-appropriate for kids as old as Buddy and Sis, suggest that the photographer who staged this series did not himself have children.



AT HOME WITH THE PLASTIC FAMILY: FRAME 3

       We move to a horizontal layout for variety, but a dull composition and a much duller background. And still the eyes are black and lifeless. Mom and Dad seem to have one facial expression each (they have not changed since Frame 1). Sis is clearly drugged--assuming she is human.




AT HOME WITH THE PLASTIC FAMILY: FRAME 4

       Same scene with a new furniture prop pulled into it. Only Sis has changed an item of clothing. Dad shows us his emotive versatility in this one, or maybe his face has been replaced by a technician. He is reacting to something that he's "reading." Mom and Buddy sit enthralled as Sis does a dramatic reading from her picturebook. It's not at all clear what role the airplane plays in this scene, but one cannot help but admire how nicely its colors coordinate with the tablecloth.



AT HOME WITH THE PLASTIC FAMILY: FRAME 5

       After the techs have juggled a few pieces of furniture and props, Buddy is here shown working out some oedipal aggression against Dad. Mom tries without success to hide her disapproval of the fisticuffs, but seems to be resigned to the fact that this is genetically programmed male activity, just a part of growing up for the Budster. Dad appears not to be taking Buddy seriously (at his peril!) but the expression on the kid's face says it all: Dad is toast.




AT HOME WITH THE PLASTIC FAMILY: FRAME 6

       Following a quick change of clothes, our happy family pretends to enjoy an intergalactically stupid memory game. To judge by the look on his face, Buddy (who perhaps has not been blessed with a prodigious memory) has apparently just lost a round, and feels that he has been humiliated. He seems to be pondering murdering the lot of them in their sleep.



AT HOME WITH THE PLASTIC FAMILY: FRAME 7 (TRANSITIONAL)

       This is where it gets weird. Work with me on this, and stay alert.
       Something has gone very wrong here. This is the same photo we saw in Frame 6, but it has been greatly (and badly) tampered with. Dad's head has been completely replaced with a painted version, now terribly pallid in complexion. Perhaps Buddy has already wasted him, and Mom has tried to cover up the crime. And lo!--what's this?--another kid has been plopped into the scene, a toddler who appears to have soiled a large area of the front of his jammies. He has been badly cut out of another picture and added to this composition so incompetently that he appears to be floating fully two feet above floor level. The table has been enlarged in the interest of modesty, to cover the cheesecake, and the offending memory game has been completely painted over with presents covered in giftwrap of the most nauseating colors. But the most startling new elements are the Christmas trees on either side, which have been painted in so realistically that they give new meaning to the term trompe-l'oeil.
       As in all the earlier phases, Mom appears here to be embalmed.




LIFE WITH THE SIDEBURN FAMILY: FRAME 1

       The astute viewer will notice immediately that Soiled Baby, who was insinuated into the previous photo, has been excised from the original at left. The proud papa in this new series is quite out of it, probably because he has been drinking this cheap champagne since before noon. Let us hope to God that he is not actually offering this swill to the kid, which appears to be the case.
       Now the mystery of the stain on the kid's jammies in the previous photo is solved: it was caused by the superimposed champagne glass and the shadow of the slobbering old man's arm in this image.
       Note the bold pictorial lampshade in the upper left, with its scene of what appears to be carefree life in the tenements of London during the Industrial Revolution. It has been boldly juxtaposed with the rubber animal figurines on the mantel.
       The only other accessory that deserves comment is the 7-volume set of Collier's Encyclopedia in the background. Viewers with high-quality monitors might just be able to discern that every volume is "Q," which suggests that the photographer got a good deal on props.



LIFE WITH THE SIDEBURN FAMILY: FRAME 2

       Our worst fears are realized in this photo. Dad is here quite clearly offering a slug of his drink to an even younger toddler. Mom's facial expression indicates that she is quite uneasy about this, but she probably knows from experience not to intervene, since this guy can become violent when he's drunk. This is a scene of almost unbearable pathos and desperation. One can't help but wish that Mom had at her disposal some of the other Collier's volumes, like, for instance, "P", in which she might learn which poisons mimic heart attacks and are most likely to go undetected in an autopsy.






LIFE WITH THE SIDEBURN FAMILY: FRAME 3

       A happier scene, a happier time, but with a different wife. Check out Dad's groovy shirt and beads. He has an Eastern spiritualism thing going here, and perhaps has gone on the wagon. Or maybe the constant nagging he endured from his harpy of a first wife caused him to fly into a drunken rage, murder her and the kids, and bury their dismembered bodies in the cellar. Then he started a new family. Anyway, he seems pretty serene now ... indeed, maybe a little too serene. His heavy eyelids and slackjawed grin might well be due to the many tranquilizers he takes to avoid dealing with the crushing guilt he feels. And only the most heavily sedated--or most callous--criminal would fail to re-accesorize his mantel after committing such a horrific crime. No person with even a shred of conscience would ever be able to look at his poor departed children's darling little rubber animals without bursting into tears.



LIFE WITH THE SIDEBURN FAMILY: FRAME 4

       But wait! Wife No. 1 is back! This is another exquisite montage; Karma Daddy and the squealing baby in red from the photo immediately above are offering a different (and now hand-painted) gift to her, but she is too busy mugging for the camera to notice.
       If you have been paying close attention, you will recognize the girl in the background: She is our old friend Sis, from Plastic Family, Frame 6, with a new painted blue shirt and hair ribbon.




LIFE WITH THE SIDEBURN FAMILY: FRAME 5

       Dad is now back in casual continental garb, no doubt somewhat embarrassed about the terrible lapse in fashion occasioned by his short but intense (and apparently unfulfilling) spiritual quest. He is here reunited with none other than Soiled Baby, whom we first met in Frame 7 of Plastic Family. And also with wife no. 2, who was clipped out of Frame 3.

       With this tranquil dénouement, we sadly come to the end of our romp through exquisitely bad European nuclear family postcards. I hope you have enjoyed your tour.



Picnic, anyone?