Chairs have not changed much through history. I suppose they are an improvement over sitting cross-legged or squatting on the ground, and sitting on a bench for prolonged periods can be very uncomfortable. But…
In the past few weeks I have been meeting chairs of all sorts… in waiting rooms, buses and other vehicles, restaurants, and libraries; at recitals, concerts, drama productions and movies; in homes and gardens, including my own and others’.
Making allowances for location and purpose, I have come to a conclusion. I have a love/hate relationship with chairs! In my home and garden there are about three dozen… count your own, you will be surprised. Not one of them is comfortable and many are downright UNcomfortable.
This did not use to be a problem. Remember, as a kid, sitting “curled up” with a book, or sitting sideways in the wing chair with your legs dangling over the edge? Or sitting on one leg at your desk chair, or turning the kitchen chair backwards and sitting astride to participate in a particularly heated debate? And remember those seats in the lecture theaters that had tiny pop-up writing surfaces that required all sorts of contortions to use? Chairs were not a problem then… anything would do… but bodies change over time, and so do our expectations!
I could write much, much more, but I want to leave time for you to read these two articles and watch the video.
The first article I found on ALD: writing in Jacobin, Colin McSwiggen has declared war “Against Chairs”.
I hate to piss on the party, but chairs suck. All of them. No designer has ever made a good chair, because it is impossible. Some are better than others, but all are bad. Not only are chairs a health hazard, they also have a problematic history that has inextricably tied them to our culture of status-obsessed individualism. Worse still, we’ve become dependent on them and it’s not clear that we’ll ever be free.
The second is from one of my favourite sites, Random History: From Benches to Barstools: A History of Chairs, Posture, and Society.
It seems that since humankind first stood up to see over the tall Savannah grasses, we’ve been looking for a place to sit back down. The historical record is not quite so succinct, however—but when early migratory peoples first settled down into a domesticated lifestyle, it appears one mark of the civilized person was a seat that elevated the body “away from the cold, damp floor” (de Dampierre 2006). By the simple act of constructing an artificial place to sit, humans began the long tradition of distinguishing themselves from the animal world. It is a form as simple as the bending of our knees and upright posture as our back, and yet that form is not so simple.
In my childhood home there were “reserved seats” that reflected, as the article in Random History suggests, the social importance of the sitter. Everyone had a designated place at the table… and in the living room there was DAD’S CHAIR! You were allowed to sit in it, but if Dad was home… never! Even the dog knew! It was the best seat in the house for watching television, reasonably comfortable and centered perfectly … but utterly wasted on Dad. Ten minutes in that chair and… unless there was a game on… he would be sound asleep, snoring uproariously. Even Ed Morrow and Ed Sullivan couldn’t keep him awake! Liberace, Lawrence Welk, The Sixty-Four Thousand Dollar Question, Kraft Theater… forget it!
Archie Bunker in All in the Family was so like my Dad… and like the fathers of all my friends! How did Norman Lear know so well, from so far away, the dynamics of family life and the issues that were bothering all of us, everywhere?
Wikipedia tells us that “the show broke ground in its depiction of issues previously considered unsuitable for U.S. network television comedy, such as racism, homosexuality, women’s liberation, rape, miscarriage, abortion, breast cancer, the Vietnam War, menopause, and impotence.” We were interested in the issues, of course, and his outspoken bigotry made us think and discuss these pressing concerns.
Looking back I realize that there was much more to this. When we stopped laughing or crying at the show and began criticizing, contradicting, or otherwise heaping scorn on Archie and Edith, we were analysing our own family values. Without appearing to be mean spirited about our parents, we were safely changing our ideas about the way we would behave in our own families when the time came.
In spite of all this… and it is hard to admit in our more sensitive and politically correct times… we loved Archie. He was the 1970’s “everyman”, and even with all his infuriating qualities, he was like everybody’s Dad. So here is the episode about Archie’s Chair.