Duct tape clearly a part of American history

By Kevin Wilson

On Saturday, life changed for nearly 350 people who graduated from Eastern New Mexico University. It took somebody else’s graduation gift to make me realize the impending change one company is unleashing on our world.
While attending a post-graduation celebration for some acquaintances, I noticed that one graduation gift was wrapped differently — it was enclosed in layer after layer of duct tape.
It’s an unmistakable image, that tape. That long, gray strip can be used as pretty much everything. I’m sure you have a story in your mind right now.
My personal duct-tape memory: My high-school friend Adrian created a locker shelf with duct tape. He needed about three days worth of lunch periods to build a shelf sturdy enough for his books, and spent more on tape that he would have on a plastic locker shelf he could have installed in roughly 17 seconds.
At least he didn’t pay for the tape by pulling out a duct-tape wallet, another item I’ve seen before. Sadly, I’ve never seen a successful business person with a duct-tape wallet.
(Would anything be better than watching a platinum credit card appear from of a wallet made out of duct tape? I rest my case.)
The tape has also given us unforgettable prom visions, as I’ve heard every few years of that creative couple that used countless rolls and hours to show up on their special night in homemade dresses and tuxedos. It’s not something all promgoers like to see, but outlawing a “duxedo” (duct tape tuxedo) isn’t an idea most prom committees want to fight about.
These memories may change, at least in some way, because the 3M company is producing — make sure you’re sitting down for this — transparent duct tape.
The revamped adhesive is being promoted as having better durability, without the embarrassing stigma of a big gray mark on your favorite lawn chair/broken window/etc.
For those of the female persuasion, it’s a welcome relief for those who want a Wonderbra effect, but don’t want to worry about a gray line peeping from their dresses.
But I wonder if a piece of Americana is going to be sacrificed in the name of convenience.
During World War II, American forces needed a waterproof tape to seal ammunition cases. Because it was waterproof, it was originally called “duck” tape. Not that ducks are waterproof, though.
Johnson and Johnson came along and improved the tape. They combined a cloth mesh with adhesive, then coated one side with the waterproof covering we now know. When the tape was being used for wartime purposes, it was green.
When the tape was produced following the war, it proved versatile for working on air ducts. That explains the name change, plus the color change to gray. Now, the color may be absent and our country’s love for it could follow suit.
Transparent duct tape is most likely going to be viewed in the same fashion as the adhesive postage stamp — as something that was invented inexcusably late.
Still, I wonder about the social implication if clear duct tape takes over. It could void the great quote by Carl Zwanzig: Duct tape is like the force — it has a dark side and a light side and it holds the universe together.
It could also have a scary effect on proms. A duct-tape dress is one thing, but a transparent duct tape dress? Prom committee meetings could be a lot more interesting in 2005.

Kevin Wilson is the managing editor for the Portales News-Tribune. He may be reached at 356-4481, ext. 32 or by e-mail: