I can think of no better souvenir of a place of natural beauty like Big Sur than a vintage, commemorative, flask keychain shining with reflections of American heritage.
A keychain. For car keys. For a car. For driving.
With a flask. For alcohol. For Drinking.
This mystery object sends so many messages on so many levels all at one time that it makes my brain just want to shut down and give up even trying to understand.
First there is the fact that this is a flask keychain—so you can hang an 80 proof sip by a chain at the end of your car keys. I’m not sure what that means, but driving the winding cliffs of the Pacific Coast highway after drinking does not sound like a good idea. Unless, of course, the keychain was designed to deliver just a small dose of liquid courage for the faint of heart, who fear the hairpin turns and sheer cliffs that drop directly into the sea.
Then there is the issue of “vintage.“ I suppose if one thinks of crazy, manly ad men of the early 1960’s like those of Mad Men who refueled themselves with a succession of martinis throughout the day. In this sense, then, having a flask keychain could be thought of as vintage. Then again, not everything old is good. A lot of those heavy drinker and smoker types from the mid 20th century died horribly of lung cancer, psoriasis of the liver and heart disease by 50 years old. In this sense, a vintage flask keychain might be more like a vintage ash tray, nuclear fallout or an iron lung—old, but no longer really desirable.
I suppose the reference to “shining reflections” could be because its polished metal exterior might reflect the red and blue flashing lights of the police car that will be pulling you over for drunk driving—or fishing your crushed car and drowned body out of the Pacific.
What, however, does any of this have to do with “American Heritage?” One of my favorite writers on heritage and tourism, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett writes about how heritage “adds value” to things and places through references to the past. Usually, however, this involves elaborate performances and connections to historical precedent. Arguably guns, for example, could be claimed as part of American heritage because they actually existed in the past and people used them to fight revolutions and wars—regardless of what they meant to people at that time.
In the case of the keychain flask, however, it appears that “heritage” is a word with an empty referent. It doesn’t refer to any quality in the keychain at all—unless there actually was a time that Americans carried flasks on their keychains. Perhaps I am missing something, I don’t remember my teacher covering that in American History class.
Nope, I think that “heritage” in this case is used by marketers only for its emotional associations—to evoke a feeling in the reading customer.
In fact, perhaps I have it all wrong. What if all of the text on the label is not actually meant to communicate any information about the physical qualities, intent or use of the object at all. What if the words are just there for their evocative, poetic effect. What if it is not label copy, but a poem written for the potential consumer. Maybe it should be read as:
of American Heritage.
Big Sur, California.
And what about the object itself. Perhaps the object isn’t intended as a useful thing either. After all, the object is a confusing, compromised and uncertain thing. Something that if used correctly would be illegal, dangerous, and potentially life-threatening. Could it be thought of as a poetic object—a thing whose use value lies not it in its material form, but in its evocative effect?
…or, maybe it was simply a mistake. Perhaps someone designed it, ordered 10,000 of them from a factory in China only later to realized how stupid it is.
Sadly, I wish I had bought one.