By The Backwaters Of Amazon


When I’ve read myself out and still need to spark ideas, sometimes I watch the weirdest footage I can find on YouTube (thereby red-flagging myself to some FBI outpost, no doubt), but lately Amazon has also become something of a curio corner for collectors of the obscure.

Try their collections of cartoons for kids, and you’ll find yourself watching the most peculiar old copyright-free films you’ve never seen. Some of them are appallingly racist – in one a collapsing woodpile reveals a caricatured black man inside – while others, like ‘The Ducktator’, ridicule fascism. One in which dozens of library books come to life gives us an insight into what people were reading in the 1940s.

Under the world categories one finds movies so offbeat they were never released in the UK, and hooray for that. I also discovered that the films of director Jeffrey Dell – my uncle, although I never got to meet him – were being discussed here. I also found his rare wartime autobiography (‘Who Ordered Wolves?’). In the books department there are recipe volumes for your placenta and one filled with ‘Images You Should Not Masturbate To’.

So as the more popular material gets mined out within the FANG nexus (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google) we start to find alleyways of oddness forming.

Amazon appears to have amassed, quite by accident, the detritus of the world. Buzzed recently ran a compilation of peculiar items you could purchase on the site, including a Gummy Bear anatomy/autopsy kit. Have online sellers become the equivalent of secondhand book and junk shops?



3 comments on “By The Backwaters Of Amazon”

  1. Chris Webb says:

    So is the photo of the Gummy Bear anatomy/autopsy kit included in ‘Images You Should Not Masturbate To’? 🙂

    Never heard of FANG but I have heard of TwitFace!

    It’s hard for me to comprehend that for about three fifths of my life there was no internet, and therefore the amount of information and media I had access to was incredibly limited, basically only what publishers and broadcasters decided to put out. If it wasn’t on the TV, radio or WH Smiths it didn’t exist. I’m sure future historians will see the whole of human history up to the 1990s as just one big Dark Age.

  2. Bill says:

    Somewhere I read/heard that each one of us is compiling a permanent (as long as technology lasts) archive of his/her life. Every keystroke, e-mail, Facebook notation, on-line order (Golly, Great Great Grandpa ordered THAT! PERVERT!!), cell phone conversation; you name it, it will be somewhere to be managed and scrutinised, though god knows why. It’s possible that any scrap of information will be useful to historians/sociologists of the future, though I can’t imagine it won’t be mind-numbingly repetitious for them. I guess it will be of interest to descendants (see above).

    In contrast, those who lived before technology will have little to show. Letters, cards, some diaries. Old-fashioned pen and paper stuff. Less indiscriminate, less haphazard, more concentrated and more susceptible to loss. Once paperwork is tossed, it’s gone.

    Somewhere there is tangled in the branches of my family tree a letter from my great-great grandmother to her daughter. In it, she advises her of the meaning of a dream the younger woman had one morning: Walking into her rural kitchen in Walnut, Iowa, my great grandmother found a huge snake writhing on the floor. Taking her shovel, she struck it, rendering it into two smaller snakes. This dream occurred within a month of her wedding.

    Wrote my great-great grandmother: “This dream advises you how to manage the two greatest problems you are facing now. You see housework and cooking as one great burden. Cut them into two in your mind, and you will learn to govern both.”

    My great grandmother’s original letter inciting this bit of dreamwork most likely no longer exists, but I have the pleasure of knowing that, one warm August morning in 1885, a woman in Walnut, Iowa, had a vividly compelling dream; shortly after, a woman in Aurora, Illinois took to her desk to instruct her daughter in a matter of urgency- the art and strategy of housewifery.

    This letter gives me a small and charming insight into two women important to the generation of my being, whom I nevertheless know little about. The younger one could turn to the older for advice, no surprise there; both subscribed to the idea of dream interpretation, perhaps somewhat surprising; the older woman was seen by the younger as being an adept at that art; very interesting. Did great-great grandma have a general rep among her intimates as being a proficient? Or was dreamwork a common activity among plain folks back then, something that everyone turned a hand to?

    Anyway, I know that some plains woman felt overwhelmed in her new position as a young wife; was bothered enough to have a dream that moved her enough to find counsel; that she most likely took this counsel to heart, and did indeed learn to govern her household. I’m sure she did her ma proud.

    And that is all I know of Mrs. Andrew Jackson Stone, the elder woman. All because her daughter saved her letter, to be saved in turn by her son, and then, in turn, saved and transcribed electronically by his granddaughter, my cousin. Paper and pen, saved for the ages online.

    Will anyone find such pearls embedded in the dross of my record?

  3. Helen Martin says:

    Bill, that was a very interesting tale and I really enjoyed reading it. I’ve found a few family letters, but none as old as that one.

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