I have always been fascinated with flamingos. Really, who can resist something that pink? Something that is real but looks fake. Kind of like what Donald Trump claims about his hair. But I digress. Maybe the reason fake flamingos are so popular is because flamingos are so inherently bogus themselves. And speaking of fake flamingos, the guy who invented the plastic lawn flamingo in 1957 – and yes, someone is actually credited with the ‘invention’ – died recently. And if you think that Donald Featherstone was more in the league of Ron Popeil (legendary inventor of many important things, including the Pocket Fisherman and Veg-O-Matic) than in the realm of Rodin, you would be mistaken. Mr. Featherstone was in fact a trained sculpture with a classical art education, and his popular culture masterpiece was modeled on a picture of a flamingo he saw in National Geographic. Here are some important facts you should know about flamingos, both real and weather-proof.
1. Flamingos are pink because they eat shrimp. No I’m not kidding. That is 100% true. However, it does raise a few questions. For example, what is it about a flamingo’s body chemistry that causes it to extract pinkness from a shrimp shell? What survival mechanism does being pink provide? Is it the ability to appear shrimp-like so they can sneak up on them quickly? Is it the royalty cheques from appearing on countless Florida t-shirts, mugs and fridge magnets? This mystery is yet to be solved.
2. Apparently there is a fake fake flamingo industry. I’m assuming that China plays a role in this, but that might just be my stereotypical projection. Official plastic flamingos were manufactured by the Union Products company and actually have Don Featherstone’s signature on them. I’ll wait while you go and check to see if yours are genuine or not. The real fake flamingos are also only sold in pairs, one standing up straight-ish and one bending its neck down. So if you only have one flamingo you may have a knockoff. And, of course, always beware of anyone on Craigslist flogging solo pink plastic flamingo-like birds.
3. The plastic flamingo is the official bird of Madison, Wisconsin. There are many aspects of this that are disturbing. Does this mean there are more fake birds in Madison that real ones? Or perhaps it’s just that it’s mostly winter in Madison and having a flamingo or two (or probably hundreds of them) makes it easier to pretend to be in a tropical climate instead.
4. Unlike the fans of Madison, apparently many condo associations ban the use of plastic flamingos as outside decoration. To be fair though, this fatwa also usually extends to garden gnomes, whirligigs, half-tires painted white, and plastic frogs. So we can rest assured they aren’t just singling out the flamingo.
5. I once owned a pair of plastic flamingos. They lived on my front ‘lawn’, which was actually the gap between the inside and outside panes of glass in my second story front window. I am confident this was very hip and ironic. I think eventually they were discarded in a move after they had lost most of their pinkness due to sun damage. Because after all, it’s all about the pink.