Plastics and Dictatorship in the German Democratic Republic
by Eli Rubin
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In the 1967 film The Graduate, a family friend memorably advises Benjamin on his future: “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word . . . Plastics.” These lines encapsulate the zeitgeist of 1960s American materialism. Yet Eli Rubin’s Synthetic Socialism offers a brilliant analysis of how plastics are perhaps more essential to understanding East German Socialism, the nature of its dictatorship, and even Germany’s role in the cold war. He shows how the planned economy of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) created a standardized set of plastic objects that molded a unique East German culture.
Designed as an alternative to capitalist plastic kitsch, GDR plastics served as icons of the postwar Marxist faith in a “scientific-technological revolution,” in which humans would become masters of nature. “
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