‘The Museum of Failure’: Tribute to stuff that didn’t make it
Heather King Dec. 20, 2017
Are you, like me, casting back over your year thinking you’d hoped to be just a tad more forgiving, more disciplined, more patient, more kind?
If so, take heart. Through February 4, in downtown’s A + D Architecture and Design Museum, is a pop-up called “The Museum of Failure.”
Launched by Swedish “psychologist and innovative researcher” Dr. Samuel West, the museum focuses on often hilariously ill-conceived marketing schemes.
The commentary is tongue-in-cheek. Each product is rated in four areas: Innovation, Design, Implementation and Fail-O-Meter.
The first artifact — surprise — is an Edsel which, except for the unfortunate flesh-colored Band-Aid paint job, to my mind was actually kind of cool. People apparently didn’t like that the controls were centered in the middle of the steering wheel, however, or the fact that they didn’t work.
At first, I took the exhibit to be a one-dimensional hoot. What were these people thinking? I smugly wondered: Colgate frozen beef lasagna (1982); Harley-Davidson “Hot Road” Eau de Toilette (1996-2005); “Rejuvenique” (1999), an electricity-zapping facial mask, hawked by “Dynasty” star Linda Evans, which looked exactly like the one worn by the mad doctor’s hideously disfigured daughter in the 1960 horror classic “Eyes Without a Face.”
Meandering through, however, I couldn’t help but begin to ponder my own relationship to failure.
What fool, for example, would fall for “No More Woof” (2013-2014), a gadget that strapped onto your dog’s head and supposedly translated his brain waves into human speech? Then again, I started to realize, who hasn’t moved to a new city, enrolled in a Master’s degree program, or taken a trip abroad on the basis of just such a deliriously misguided combination of gullibility crossed with hope?
“There’s no shame in failing,” Dr. West pointed out. “The idea is that once you see all the failures, you feel liberated.”
I didn’t exactly feel liberated. I was, however, increasingly struck by the seeming randomness of what fails and what succeeds. Sure, in retrospect, the cardboard Nuspoon, a “green” foray into the realm of eating utensils, is a little far-fetched. But what makes that a worse idea than, say, a troll doll? What accounts for the insane if temporary “success” of mood rings, pet rocks, lava lamps and hula hoops?
By the same token, who hasn’t embarked upon a romantic relationship, armed with years of “inner work,” only to see it miserably fail, while the co-worker who spends half her time in psych wards is proposed to by a guy on bended knee — and the two proceed to make a happy go of it?
My favorite bit was an infomercial for a golf club with a hollow handle. When nature called, a guy too far out on the links to sprint to the clubhouse could saunter over to his cart, drape a towel around his waist and relieve himself while pretending to practice his swing.
There were a couple of items I was deeply sorry to have missed. One was a “premium flavored malt beverage” called Four Loko (2005-2010), which combined caffeine, taurine, guarana and tons of alcohol. Colloquially known as “blackout in a can,” the brew was eventually named by the FDA as a “public health concern” and taken off the market.
Another was the Volvo-designed Itera Plastic Bicycle (1981-1985), a sophisticated, arty design displayed in a fetching seafoam-green. Unfortunately the bike wobbled, the seat and handlebars cracked and parts were often missing from the self-assembly box. This is just the type of thing I would have bought and would buy even now if I wanted a bike: completely impractical but an object of beauty. I dearly wish the Itera were still on the market so I could at the very least prop one up on my balcony and look at it.
Near the back of the exhibit is a “failure confession booth” where museumgoers had tacked handwritten notes. On some level I identified with all of them: “Sold weed to a narc.” “I should have put in turf instead of Scotch Moss!” “I majored in journalism.” “My love life.”
I wanted to write “I stopped taking piano lessons,” but I couldn’t find a Post-It.
Besides, someone else had zeroed in on the one, maybe the only real, failure: “I was mean to my friends.”
I thought of Christ who in worldly terms could hardly have died a worse, more ignominious death: besieged, betrayed, butchered. His entire mission on earth seemed to have failed.
But look how things turned out a mere three days later! The Resurrection. The victory of love over hatred and fear. The only “success” in this world or the next that really matters.
In fact, I wonder if the Resurrection doesn’t precisely consist of this: One thing nobody could ever say of the Lamb of God was that he was mean to his friends.
Heather King is a blogger, speaker and the author of several books.