Satire is a device useful in bringing pompous gravitas to heel and taking hypocritical social figures; institutions and human behaviour down a peg or two by exaggerating their more ridiculous aspects.

Labour saving devices for instance at their most extreme fall easily prey to this kind of ridicule, when they require lengthy and complicated instruction manuals in order to have enough skill to operate them, while by way of contrast a sprung cloths-peg merely requires the squeezing of one end in order to open the other.

But labour saving devices are nothing new; consider for instance the spinning Jenny, or the steam-driven dildo. The first, not easy to satirise, but the second certainly provides much food for thought.

The Spinning Jenny

A spinning machine by which one operator could do the work of many, leading to  larger profits for manufactures and collaterally condemning untold numbers of spinsters to the workhouse. It also helped to trigger the industrial revolution, giving birth to what we now know as the ‘Clothing Industry’.

The Steam-driven Dildo

A progenitor of our newly emerging sex and porn ‘industry’, where entrepreneurs and manufacturers vie to produce bizarre plastic instruments of stimulation for the titillation of their consumers.

The steam driven dildo was an ingenious invention much beloved of ladies in the Victorian era which required but a minute or two to raise steam. Lighting a small spirit lamp beneath the boiler, the lady had but to wait a moment or two before the machine was puffing merrily away. When applied, she might then amplify her delighted shrieks by pulling upon a chain which operated a whistle attached to the side of the funnel.

This devise became so popular during the period in question that manufacturers were prompted to vary the tone of the whistle on different models, which was some relief to those fortunate or not, to be within earshot.

Some ladies; perhaps over enamoured by this musical aspect of the machine, began forming groups among themselves to play together, and this led eventually to small ensembles which, during their heyday, frequently gave public performances, until the Church, viewing these practices as sinful, forced the, by now quite extensive orchestras, to give their recitals from behind large screens.

Whether this forced discretion could be considered to have had a civilising affect remains arguable.

Dave Tomlin
Pic: Nick Victor


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