The collector: Graham Powell, designer and course director of the MA Product Design programme at the Birmingham Institute of Art & Design, UK.
The collection: Deely Boppers.
The story behind the collection...
The ‘official’ justification for the collection is that Deely Boppers represent one of the most ridiculous products to conceive, design, manufacture, retail, purchase and then finally wear, and so as someone who studies and teaches product design they were perfect for questioning the old doctrine of ‘form follows function' etc.
Really though, it was a ridiculous idea that got seriously out of control… and so yes became a rather ridiculous thing to collect too!
I started the collection over twelve years ago by purchasing the flashing heavy-metal looking black mace boppers for the New Millenium Eve's celebration, on the banks of the river Thames. My girlfriend wore bunny ears and our mate Andy wore another silly pair. I kept all three and so the collection started from there.
My favourites include my first pair of flashing maces, the 'Boris and Cleo' cats and some custom boppers from my 40th birthday party by John Moore, made out of a hundred+ incredible iridescent beetle wings. In retrospect, I always regretted not buying the new millennium boppers, with the double ‘2000’ ‘2000’ on their springs, as that’s when the madness started. Also missing from the collection are any Welsh boppers, I’ve never been able to find any. Maybe they’re a serious people after all? At the last count I had around 120 pairs and I think this might be the world’s biggest collection, as I’ve never seen or heard of any other collectors out there at all. Strange that!
As part of an ‘art-project’ my Deely Boppers have been exhibited alongside Lee Hewett’s bouncy balls in an exhibition titled ‘Boing Boing’ (2005) and then more recently a few of them were on display at our Obsessionistas @ BIAD exhibition (2011). Normally, though they are safely packed away in boxes - to avoid perpetuating further ridicule!
From a design and cultural perspective, their ridiculousness reveals some interesting insights into the human condition. In the UK an instant mutation into an insectoid-like fool has become synonymous with significant moments of celebration; reflecting a blatant desire to literally wear the irony of our postmodern times. These days, people will do anything for attention. Also the evolution from innocent childhood fun (fluffy pink feathers and stars) for princesses into demonic sexual predators (sparkly flashing penises) for hen parties reveal how Deely Boppers have assumed the role of ‘must-have’ props in contemporary rituals of adulthood rites of passage. For the men there are the obligatory furry brown antlers for the pissed-up stags.
Here in the UK then, an opportunity to be a modern day jester by simply donning a plasticy totem of self-parody and humiliation has become the norm for many nocturnal revellers on our streets. Of course alcohol plays a key role in the ‘acceptance’ of such ridiculous products in public places. Aside from these drunken occasions though, Deely Boppers have also become associated with key dates in the consumer calendar; Halloween, Christmas, Saint Patrick’s day and of course individual birthdays and hen parties, along with significant football matches are all acceptable moments to ‘spring-up’. No doubt the 2012 Olympics will produce some cracking ‘specimens’ too, which I'll be first in the queue for! Other cultures however, are far too cool-for-school to embrace such self mockery. My French students have said they would never ever wear them in public, especially in France. Their's is a culture of style and keeping-up-appearances that couldn't contemplate such infantilism. Perhaps then it’s something 'special' to English speaking cultures and our penchant for irony, self-mockery, taking the piss and getting pissed? Although the Brazilians seem to be in on the ridicule trip too.
I’d like to think my obsession with Deely Boppers has calmed down a bit since the collection went past the 100 pairs mark, but I always keep my eye out for new or unusual versions. Oh and I still get given them by friends and students - who often fall prey to my "let's do a daft course photoshoot!". If you are tempted to collect them too (why?), I’ve generally found the Deely Boppers' natural habitat to be lurking somewhere near the back of joke shops and gift shops. Really though, you don’t want your friends to think you are ridiculous (or worse) do you? …so my advice is to best not even go there!
Images © Graham Powell of Obsessionistas