(photograph of frontier clothesline by Travelling Dancers, Jamestown Frontier Village, ND)
[M.S. writes] In one of those rather sad statistics that emerges in the news from time to time, usually lamenting the decline in the number of pubs or Parisian bars, the BBC reports that the number of launderettes in the U.K. has fallen to just 3,000. The image of the launderette has always been one of the acmes of U.S. pop culture, as the adman Sir John Hegarty noted while recalling the successful marriage of Nick Kamen's boxer shorts, jeans, washing machines and Marvin Gaye:
"We wanted an egalitarian environment, somewhere you would find almost anyone, and the launderette had that. In our minds we were clear - it was New York in the 1950s, it's 4pm on a Saturday afternoon when he walks in. In reality we sourced the washing machines on London's Harrow Road."
There's another image, of course: that of the white picket fence with laundry blowing in the wind, somewhere on the American frontier. Long-gone now, one would have thought, given the popularity of electric dryers. But no: across the land, people are fighting for the right to hang out their washing in the face of fastidious clothes line bans and class-based aesthetics, arguing that the environmental cost of machine dryers is hard to justify (as well as it smelling fresher).
I'm sure there's a dissertation of some sort to be found here, should you be on the lookout for one. It's got it all: suburban and urban aesthetics, class divisions, nostalgia, civil disobedience, gender relations, politics, economics. There's already a Wikipedia page about it, some articles in the press, and even a film, Drying for Freedom. Oh, and Florida, Colorado, Utah, Hawaii, Maine and Vermont have also passed bills forbidding the banning of clotheslines. Sadly, it hasn't yet come to pass in this curator's block of flats, but perhaps I'll follow in Rob and Laurie Cook's footsteps, and put more than just my smalls on the line.