By AN O’Bergine, special correspondent for purple things, Osaka, Japan
So have you seen the ads for the very new, very fast, Shinkansen train? They are all over JR stations at the moment.
The thing 500 Whatever Shinkansen, the 500 Type EVA Shinkansen. Woo hoo! Coming soon to a station near you and departing just as fast.
I thought the advertisement was for a new SF manga or something, because it features purple spaceships looming at you out of a sexy black background.
No, turns out to be ads for trains, for chuff-chuffs, as such.
OK, it’s not your Thomas the Tank engine sort of chuff-chuff. The 500 Type EVA is purple and silver and bears a dramatic green flash. And it wears a helmet and apparently it also transforms into a giant robot that fights evil or perhaps other less purple trains.
No, really, that’s what the advertisement seems to be saying.
And did I mention that the train is purple? Yes, very, very purple, and it’s very sleek and aerodynamic and thrusting in appearance. Fast and thrusting — as a spaceship should be, and indeed the thing looks like it will be zooming up and down Japan at SF speeds.
So, what does EVA stand for? It must be Excessive Velocity, Actually.
To be honest, it doesn’t really look like a train. It looks like, well, the aforementioned spaceship-cum-evil-battling robot. Nothing looks like what it’s supposed to these days. Engineers and designers are letting their imaginations run away with them. Or letting their imaginations run away with us.
You can see the engineers around their design table asking each other what this train or rocket or missile or space liner or packet of biscuits should look like if it’s not to look like itself, and they are stumped. Making it look like Snoopy is one option, but making it look like a train or a rocket or a missile or space liner or packet of biscuits never is. So, what should it look like?
Then one of the engineers happens to glance inside his trousers for inspiration and goes ‘Hey, what about this? Let’s make it look like masculinity itself. Let’s make it look like a thing!’
‘I bet no one has done that before,’ says his colleague. ‘Let’s do it.’
That’s innovation for you.
But thing doesn’t work, does it. If you really copy what’s in your trousers, you end up with a train or a packet of biscuits that looks like a docile worm, one that dangles upside down in dark places. You can slap the thing up a bit, of course, but then you get something that looks like a startled worm.
No, this is where the engineers move to giant, hurtling, engorged purple, which is so much more compelling than anything like a train or a packet of biscuits or a docile worm. Unwary members of the public may even fall into the trap of believing that this represents something actually to be found in the underpants of an engineer.
The subtext of course, the unspoken story here is: I bet the girls will line up to ride on this thing — wey-hey!
This is incredibly important to engineers. They labour under a certain disadvantage, you see. Their disadvantage is that they are engineers and they speak in terms of stress loads and coefficients and velocities and bland little acronyms that they think are hilarious because no one but other engineers understand them. In short, engineers cannot be understood by anyone except other engineers. This doesn’t do much for your social life, and especially not your sex life.
And they do not stop to ask whether purple is appropriate or wise because they know that if they build it, the others will come. And if they build it to look like a thingy out of a manga, they will come in their droves.
On launch day, everyone gets excited but rather than breathless girls lining up to ride on the purple thing, you’ve got boys with acne, wearing anoraks lining up at the end of the platform to take photos of it and the engineers can’t figure out what went wrong.
And so it’s back to the drawing board.
And that’s technology and design and male sexuality for you.
And at 300kmph, that didn’t take long to sort out, did it.