Applying a contemplative, satirical tone, Jennifer Price’s essay “The Plastic Pink Flamingo: A Natural History” exposes the prevalence of materialism in American society and how the flamingo became an icon of class affluence and superficiality during the mid-1950s.
Jennifer Price instantly opens her essay by stating why the flamingo was so symbolic – because “it was a flamingo.” By stating the obvious, Price establishes the clear “boldness” of the flamingo which, overtime, has become associated with the “wealth and pizzazz” a majority of American society longingly craved. Soon enough, the original grand hotel in Miami Beach, Florida was opened and called, inevitably, the Flamingo, with many more “modest hotels” trailing its footsteps. This almost instantaneous popularity of the pink flamingo amongst middle and working class households further emphasizes America’s tendency to place excessive sentimental value on material objects, displaying Price’s criticism of American greed and triviality.
In contrast, Price reveals an irony behind the abrupt appreciation for the flamingo by accentuating the near extinction of the flamingo in the late 1800s for “plumes and meat,” another emblem of American opulence. Not only did the plastic flamingo reach mainstream culture in Florida but also in Las Vegas and as far north as New Jersey, signifying the enchantment of America with the “leisure” and “extravagance” the flamingo so brazenly epitomized. Price’s connotation of wealth with the flamingo can also be traced back to Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel who drew “instant riches” with the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, a “flamboyant oasis” in contrast to the scorching heat of the Mojave Desert. The immediate dispersion of the plastic pink flamingo into average family lifestyles further underlines Price’s sardonic commentary on the fascination of American society with grandeur and material possessions.
Price asserts that the flamingo’s second “claim to boldness” was that it was pink, a color bright and gaudy, just like the new generation that was prepared to rejoice in their newly acquired taste for the “electrochemical pastels of the Florida littoral.” According to Price, the connection of the flashy color with social icons such as Elvis Presley and Karal Ann Marling illustrated the influence of the prosperous and financially secure over mainstream pop culture values. Price once again exhibits her disdain for American triviality by questioning why Americans call plastic pink flamingoes “pink” – as if flamingoes could be another color. Price concludes with a thoughtful justification as to why America adored the flamingo to the extent that they did, tracing the flamingo’s intimate link with the rich and powerful all the way to “[e]arly Christians” as the red phoenix and “ancient Egypt[ians]” as the embodiment of the sun god Ra.
In all its artificial magnificence and pink glory, the flamingo offers a glimpse into the American mindset: a proclivity towards flashiness and veneration of material possessions that have continuously shaped, and reshaped, America’s cultural identity.