Tuesday, July 10, 2007

#109 - Rabbit Test

Rabbit Test

7/10/07 (#109)

I was walking through a local mall last week, cursing myself for forgetting that the myopic decision to visit a particular store within the mall also requires navigating the mall itself: Even if I'm spared the complete Sears-to-Nordstrom retail Iditarod, the mall offers too much of its special hospitality (strangers in ill-fitting tank tops, bath shops reeking of synthetic tropical fruits, ill-mannered kids whose parents have mistaken the building as a playground) in even the most direct route. I scurried through the brightly lit nave that divides one wall of stores from the other, noting the uncanny similarities between a mall and a prison (each wing of the mall as cell block, each store a cell, the multiple tiers packed with prisoners of the retail justice system, security guards patrolling the perimeter, the various social factions staking out their respective areas) when a young woman approached and discreetly informed me that a certain cosmetics company conducted research on rabbits.

My initial reaction was shock: Was this girl implying that I needed to use make-up? Sure, in the boxing match of life, Time has landed some notable blows, but I was unaware that my face had so wizened that strangers felt compelled to intervene. Up to that point, I had never contemplated wearing make-up, fully expecting that even the latest advances in face-paint technology would make me look like either the bearded Celine Dion impersonator at Darcelle's (whose beard might have ruined the illusion had her melonesque beer gut not killed it first) or the wake-ready corpse of a 40-year-old man who too often sought the answers to life's questions in the bottom of an ice cream bowl. (Of course, where else are you going to look if you think the answer to most questions is, "cookie dough"?)

But before I could slip into the mild depression that should accompany a man's realization that young women now see him as a candidate for age-defying chemicals, I thought about her message: Testing their cosmetics on rabbits? What can humans possibly learn from how a rabbit looks wearing make-up? Their faces are covered with fur---true, I've known a couple of people about whom that modifier might apply, but they hardly constitute a viable target demographic. And aren't bunny eyes usually pink? Any eye shadow that compliments pink is unlikely to look good on a woman with hazel eyes. And what about the lips---I'm not sure what can be done with collagen these days, but I've never seen a rabbit whose mouth warranted adjectives such as "luscious" or "pouty." Judging a cosmetic's effectiveness by seeing how pretty a rabbit looks while wearing it is like deciding if a woman's sweater is properly designed by having it modeled by a Golden Retriever.

I imagine that cosmetics companies have chosen rabbits for purely financial reasons: With humans having those vast expanses of flesh between the eyes and lips, I'm sure the bean counters visited the test kitchens one day and were aghast to see so much product expended for zero-revenue quality control and immediately asked, "Do you have any smaller faces?" Thus began the search for a properly small face: Parrots (application would probably be easy, but there would be feather-flapping mayhem every time they had the birds look at themselves in the mirror); Turtles (nice face size, but the shell-retraction would be a nuisance, having to reassure the turtle that yes, Tsunami Blue eye shadow accentuates her shell); Mice surely made the list of contenders, but with so many rodents gainfully employed in the pharmaceutical industry, only the ugliest and laziest mice would be available for cosmetics, and every issue of Cosmopolitan reaffirms the industry credo that ugly faces do not sell cosmetics.

Or perhaps the researchers went straight for the rabbit, the seed for the beautified bunny planted decades previous as the then-adolescent researchers lay supine on the floor, chins propped up on hands, staring into the Technicolor haze watching Bugs Bunny transform himself from rascally rabbit to can-can dancer, geisha, southern belle, pink-aproned maid or any of the dozens of other drag cameos that Bugs made in his cartoon oeuvre, all donned to deceive the standard roster of inattentive Looney Tune villains. (C'mon, Elmer, why would there be a shower in the middle of the forest? Think, man, think!) Maybe it's the fact that I'm a Marianne man (as opposed to Gilligan's Island's Ginger---apologies to Mrs. Howell for being snubbed in the dichotomy) but I never found the cross-dressing Bugs to be particularly attractive. Yosemite Sam might fall for a few flaps of those false eyelashes, but I know a cross-dressing rabbit when I see one, and it simply isn't sexy. But hey, there's no accounting for taste.

Whatever precipitated the decision to test rouge and eyeliner on rabbits, I feel safe in ridiculing it as a business decision. Frankly, I'm surprised the girl at the mall felt a need to be discreet---when a company expects a person to believe that a product will look good on them because it looked good on a cuddly quadruped named Mr. Wiggles, that company needs to be called out to the light of day.

But before I could slip into the self-righteous indignation that should accompany a man's realization that rabbits are being tarted up like 8-year old beauty contest contenders in order to pedal eye-liner, I began thinking about those rabbits that have benefited from this method of testing.

I know nothing of rabbit culture, but my casual observations during elementary school field trips gleaned this much: Rabbits have no source of income. They don't work, they don't invest, they don't even have grandma bunnies sending a birthday fiver every year. Consequently, rabbits can't afford to buy their own cosmetics. Yet let's face it, some rabbits need them. Not just because of the elaborate web of competition that exists within leporine rabbit communities (true fact: rabbits can see behind themselves without turning their heads; what else could explain this evolutionary development except that they are chronically concerned with what other rabbits are doing behind their backs?) but because for some rabbits, make-up is a means to help them feel better about themselves, a proactive method of empowerment. Sure, the beautiful rabbits who can look perfectly Easterish without "putting on their face" will twitch their noses at this reliance on external devices, but until I've hopped a mile on their feet, I refuse to pass judgment on those bunnies who feel a bit safer when hiding behind a dab of mascara.

I doubt the girl at the mall was thinking about those rabbits. I decided I would double-back to share these insights with her, perhaps enlighten her to the fact that we sometimes let our personal biases influence our impression of situations. But when I turned around, there stood an unusually damp man who loomed like a T-Mobile kiosk in a sleeveless shirt, his child banging on the metal waste can as if composing a tuneless, arrhythmic steel drum concerto.

My apologies to self-esteem challenged rabbits everywhere, but that was all I could take. I ran from the cell block doors.

©2007 wpreagan