Michael Decker's Sillishop at The Meow, Los Angeles

Essay included in the Sillishop show publication.

Reflections on the Vintage Sentiment of Gag-Gifting, by Ariana Rubcic

My first introduction to gag-gifts was through my mother who ran her private graphic design practice out of my childhood home. She displayed on her desk, within reach of idle and mischievous hands, an impressive array of knick knacks and prank aids collected years earlier within a more social, open-plan office environment. I imagine these trinkets established a particular kind of working identity for my mother, one that could assert a sense of humor and mild authoritative subterfuge. When her business migrated to the domestic front all of her playthings became my own.

There was the recognizable soft-body Bart Simpson doll with plastic speech bubble appendage, slogans interchangeable such as "Eat My Shorts!" and an original Gumby bendy. More visceral was the hand buzzer, whoopee cushion, and a fake severed hand gory with blood at the wrist that made its way into many home videos. There was the fake throw of vomit, both yolky and chunky, and the melted chocolate covered ice cream popsicle made out of floppy foam that had the distinction of actually smelling the part, (is it a shared sense memory that some plastic smells like malt?) By far, my most coveted weapon for marking an impish territoriality was the infamous mystery turd, a brown ceramic coil that came proportionately in both dog and cat size. This dollop would make special appearances without warning, such as when clients were present. 

Sillisculpts are an important early predecessor in this lineage of gifting. They are less outright gag-inducing yet even more finely attuned to corrupting social facade. Born out of the late 1960s they were, in part, meant as an emotional salve and outlet for escapism for soldiers and their families post-Vietnam. Russ Berrie, one half of the Berrie brothers creator duo, was known to have said, "We deal with warmth, affection, friendship and love. That's nicer than Napalm."

I imagine the presence of Sillie's provided endless entertainment and intergenerational comfort at holidays where conversation may have lacked. The gesture of this 'new plastic' in unbreakable sentimental busts next to fine glasswares and candy dishes were recommended for teething babies and wily pets. Relatives would suggest, "Don't touch the fragiles but yes, you can take that dopey unbreakable thing and throw it around for an entire Thanksgiving dinner." They may have been lost to the back of the couch then retrieved by an uproarious adult with boastful conjecture of loud opinionated remarks wondering aloud why this damn thing wasn't everywhere, in the kitchen, in the bathroom, at his desk, reminding him, "Wuvvin IS Fun, Isn't It?" or "You're Not So Bad, Dad." Sentiments of being a dirty ol' dog with the devil inside always getting the short end of the stick or having 'the man' stick it to you with no vacation or retirement in sight provided much comic relief.

"Being Sick Is Good For Your Health" may have been an appropriate bust for an office of a doctor with a sense of humor, a lawyer may have toted "Sue The Bastards" in his office, a struggling alcoholic may have received "7 Days Without Booze Makes One Weak." Sillisculpts are the great post-traumatic unifier through statements of apathy, cynicism, adoration, lust, and absentmindedness. What may have been an impulse gift or novelty item initially, through years of sitting next to one's remote, bedside lamp, stack of bills or service counter, becomes the mainstay totemic form of sentiment that is expressed where an otherwise emotionally suffering culture may have lacked the ability to express itself.