Blog Post 5: Harmless or Harmful?

An object can be many things: a tool, a weapon, a political instrument, the symbol of a culture, etc. Objects certainly have many faces, and these faces are easily interchangeable, as John Cline shows in his intriguing essay “What Is a Machete, Anyway?” For instance, a machete can quickly transform “from a boy’s plaything to an instrument of violence.” The act is so spontaneous that there is no conscious realization of this undergoing process, and the person who is responsible for it involuntarily gives character to an inanimate artifact. That is, things that look harmless have the ability to become deadly, and vice versa.

Instead of focusing my attention on objects that look dangerous but have a playful side, like the machete, I want to concentrate on those objects that seem innocuous but hide potentially lethal consequences for those who use them. What about watches, for instance? A watch seems inoffensive at first glance, but the so-called “radium girls” in the ‘20s think differently. During World War I, men went to fight on the front, and women went to work. At U.S. Radium Corp, a company in New Jersey, women painted watch dials with a material that was new at the time, radium, and in particular a radium paint powder that made watch numbers glow in the dark. Then, the women working at the factory began to get seriously ill, and  U.S. Radium Corp denied that the dial painter was harmful, claiming that radium was indeed beneficial to human health. This episode reminds me of Cline’s assertion about politics. He states that weapons like firearms, or even a machete, might lead to a possible insurrection, and for this reason state’s agents think to be the only ones entitled to use violence. This is clearly an abuse of power based on a faulty reasoning, as I believe that citizens have the right to defend themselves when necessary (only when necessary). In both cases, politicians and businessmen used objects to carry own their agenda. In the case of the “radium girls,” a substance considered innocuous to the body caused these girls to slowly deteriorate, loose their teeth, and even their strength to the point that they couldn’t even raise their hands. However, the corporation made the outrageous statement that radium “was helpful rather than injurious to the human system.” From innocent substance to silent poison.

In the same way,  more recently, the famous multinational company Samsung, based in Korea, caused 243 chip factory workers to get cancer due to the proximity of highly toxic chemicals. Samsung’s apologies did not sound sincere, however, as the corporation still refuses to connect the death of a 23-year-old and the sickening of other numerous workers to the chemicals used in the factories. “Former Samsung workers, their families and civil groups struggled for years to raise awareness about the cancer cases.” These people tried, and are still trying, to highlight the transformation of seemingly harmless chemicals into agents of death, a process taking place before our very eyes, sometimes fostered by the same authority that is supposed to protect us from dangerous objects.

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4 thoughts on “Blog Post 5: Harmless or Harmful?”

  1. Your post made me think about sharp objects in a new and different way: what exactly defines an object as sharp? Obviously, a machete or any other sort of knife or spear used to stab or splice, is serrated and scored, and therefore classified as a sharp object to be handled attentively. But, when you introduced the segment concerning “radium girls” and the effect of radium acting as a silent killer, could that not be considered a sharp object, in its own metaphorically cutting way? I believe it can be, while not physically jagged, a surreptitious sharp object such as radium is sharp in that it is fatal, and stings its victims quietly.

    1. First and foremost, good job with the name. Sneezy Deezy is hilarious. But moving on, you raise a good point with considering sharp objects in a metaphorically cutting way. In my blog post I looked at tools and weapons in a more broad approach and never thought about the metaphorical angle. @vferrari1 you raise good points with the toxic chemicals. The same is going on in coal mines in America. The way you connected toxic chemicals with the blog prompt was brilliant. I never would have made the connection.

  2. Great! I really like the fresh approach you took here (to sharp objects). In the end, I think all of these new technologies today (whichever form they come in), provide uncertainty as to their future consequences. However, after the “dust settles” and the good and bad consequences are revealed, those that possess the power to stop the bad from occurring must intend to do so. Unfortunately greed is a HUGE motive for continuing new technologies in malignant manners.

  3. I agree with my fellow commenters, in that I really love how your post seems to redefine how exactly an object may be “sharp”. Your focus on how the radium girls’ bodies were “cut” by seemingly physically blunt objects really connected with me. I believe what makes this such a simultaneously compelling and difficult discussion is the psuedo-political nature of the argument. The case of Wilson’s arrest is a perfect example: Some see his arrest as an encroachment of his personal freedoms, but had he not faced any charges for carrying the object in such a manner, it’s not far fetched to imagine many being equally enraged, given the indisputable reputation of machetes as a dangerous weapon.

    In my mind, the weapon/tool argument harkens back to one of the core concepts of this class: objects are used as extensions of ourselves. Whether it be a watch, an iphone, or a machete, how the object is utilized depends entirely on the intentions and mind of the individual who wields it. The machete is merely a vessel, sharing equal potential as both a tool and a weapon, though its reputation continues to shift towards the latter. And in the case of the radium watches, the “cut” stems from the hearts and minds of the companies, regulators who put their own benefit over the harm of their employees.

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