Good, God, I thought I had seen the last of it, but I was wrong. It’s everywhere now, sprouting like artificial mushrooms after a virtual rain. It’s on fields, lawns, parks, playgrounds, even public gardens. I’m talking about AstroTurf, the grass that’s always greener than real turf. It’s back with an attitude and more obnoxious than ever. And what about all those poor sods who stitch it onto their front lawns like a bad hair replacement? What’s going on there?
It began in the mid 60s when the Houston Astros moved to the Astrodome, the first domed sports stadium (if you don’t count the Colosseum). The “Eighth Wonder of the World” featured a climate-controlled environment and nylon grass invented by Monsanto (i.e., “AstroTurf”). The dome, the name, the nylon all represented our George Jetson answer to the Soviets, reflecting a new era in history in which we would dominate with science and technology. We were going to solve all of our problems in the lab. Remember DuPont’s “Better Things for Better Living…through Chemistry”?
But within a decade we went from Star Trek to Soylent Green even with Apollo and Skylab. And, although it stretched into the 80s–nylon being highly stretchable–AstroTurf eventually got kicked to the curb like an artificial Christmas tree with its tinsel blowing in the wind. Not many people know this, but Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” (1962) is about AstroTurf.
Well, not really. But AstroTurf is making a comeback, which Dylan tried to do with disco and a Panama hat, but failed. Today, the brand is owned by a Bavarian company with sales worldwide. Why it is also becoming a cultural icon is another question. It’s as if suddenly the world has been turned upside down and everyone is obsessed with fake, from news to boobs. Big butts, Botox, AI, and the metaverse are “in.” So is anything artificial. All you have to do is watch thirty seconds of Paris Hilton on TikTok to be convinced of that. We live in a post-modern world for which AstroTurf is the perfect metaphor as reality morphs into hyper-reality or, actually, nylon-reality. Things are bigger, faster, smarter, shinier, and more complex than their earlier versions. Of course, I still own an iPhone 5S, so take what I’m saying with a grain of Himalayan rock salt.
This reminds me of the kid I saw at the Las Vegas airport last week. He wore what is now called “leisure wear,” which is what you get when you blend gym clothes with pajamas. I’ve gotten so used to seeing this look that I hardly notice it anymore. However, I still notice women in what I think are yoga pants and not much else walking around as if they had just finished contorting their limbs in one of those stream-bath, yoga sessions invented by that cult leader with a ponytail. You know the one.
This kid had on leisure wear and a pair of sequined sneakers the color of magenta. I can’t be certain since everything that comes close to that I just call purple. I watched him disappear into the crowd and tried to figure out how I felt about it. I have trouble wearing a trilby in public, let alone purple shoes. So, maybe he had more guts than I do. I don’t know. I do know I decided a few years ago to dress my age. I’m still working on acting the same way. That may take a little longer.
All of this is to say that we do not live in an age of understatement, which in itself is an extraordinary understatement, if that’s even possible. It’s like declaring that water is wet and then acting amazed by the fact.
But this is exactly the problem I have with other realities, which is to say the ones we create rather than the ones we encounter “out there.” Nearly all of our created realities are exaggerations. They end up being Vegas versions of real life, which in my experience doesn’t come at you in sequined, pulsating magenta. Think of virtual reality, augmented reality, ubiquitous computing, machine learning and, I’m sure, a dozen other technologies either coming onto the market or being developed. The so-called Internet of Things actually will be an Internet of Products, the main product of which will be you. Sorry to tell you.
Personally, I’m not interested in that kind of experience and will tell them so when they come to plug my brain into the network spanning the globe like some kind of diaphanous jellyfish. Enter the Borg, stage right. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that AstroTurf has reappeared at this time on lawns throughout suburbia. It’s not a good omen.
It’s time we got back to smelling real grass and putting AstroTurf where it belongs. On miniature golf courses.
Image credits: feature by Martin Reisch; Astrodome by Corbis via magnolia box; field and virtual batter’s box by Adrian Curiel; sneakers by Chris Haws. All images under Fair Use at the US Copyright Office. Get your copy of The Gringo (2011), Laura Fedora (2014), and Nine Lives (2016) here. Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.”