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Blue Vinyl
Judith Helfand and Daniel B Gold

Bill Durodié


When an elderly, Long Island couple decide to re-clad their rotting timber home with longer-lasting, wood-effect blue vinyl, it becomes the cue for their presumptuous, ignorant daughter to begin a fly-on-the-wall video-diary and investigation into their efforts.

Blue Vinyl is a case study in dumbing down. It shows how a daughter's obsession with her holier-than-thou moral outlook can trump her ageing parents' dignity. By the end of the film, the wannabe planet-saver has provided enough sustainable, organic rope to hang herself and her patronising supporters from the environmental movement.

The 'facts' Judith Helfand unearths along the way are too simplistic for high-school and dressed in ethical garb for her new moral army. Chlorine is a 'bad' element, never mind that the greatest source of it we come across is in our food. For this intolerant liberal, any unnecessary exposure must be exterminated.

For one brief moment, on a visit to a former industrial plant in Italy, the film turns serious. Here she meets an elderly scientist keen to escape the obscurity of killing mice by dosing them up with chemicals for a living. But his concerns relate to those who produced vinyl, not those who consume it.

Health and safety are more serious concerns for manufacturers than retailers. Yet, in today's ideas-lite climate, this smacks too much of hard-line, old-style confrontational, us-and-them unionised politics to appeal to the more fluffy, consumer-oriented, me-first generation. Our guide hurriedly runs off to California where she meets a new-age hippie cladding houses thickly with mud like a beaver.

In the end however, it is not her beaver but her uterus that wins through. Behind all of these sorry scenes we are meant to fret in the knowledge that Helfand suffered a terrible loss as a child when her uterus had to be removed due to what she presumes to have been toxic chemicals.

The fact that her mother, like many in her generation, took the hormonal drug di-ethyl stilbestrol (DES) during pregnancy however should not preclude us from the kind of critical investigation she avoids. DES was taken by millions before being removed from the market. Yet even with this, one of the strongest of all oestrogens, evidence that it caused any harm remains inconclusive to this day.

Nevertheless, in the spirit of compensation culture that has replaced the frontier in America, our protagonist received a pay-out she coined as her 'uterus money'. With this and with an unconscious and untroubled tragic irony, she finally re-clads her parents home with recycled timber that has been treated with 'non-toxic' preservatives.


Bill Durodié is a Research Fellow of King's College London and author of 'Poisonous Dummies: European Risk Regulation after BSE', an investigation into the Greenpeace organised campaign against phthalate softeners in plastic. Get this online at



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