THE NIPPLE FACTORY | Jack Nuttgens.
⇒Today’s piece deserves a special level of gravitas considering its serious subject matter.
Unfortunately, gravitas is in short supply right now, especially because the title of today’s featured story contains the word nipple (NIPPLE! Tee hee hee). So, even though this piece has all the socio-political import of 1984 or Animal Farm, I can’t get past the story’s inherent sense of fun and silliness and, yes, nipples. Here’s the thing: some of the most biting satire does not immediately smack of social commentary at all; it’s only when we trace its nuances that we realize just how dark and tragic the story and its subject matter really are. “The Nipple Factory” by Jack Nuttgens, published in UK fiction journal Litro, is a wildly fun, inventive, and silly story, which gives its subject matter (post-colonial autocracies of the developing world, no joke) an especially severe impact.
Okay. Let’s look at the very first sentence of this piece to get a sense of what’s going on here:
A letter arrived for Bo, in a small, non-regulation-size envelope with a foreign stamp on it.
It’s a strong opener, albeit understated, because it mentions that the envelope is “non-regulation” in size. With these few words we get a sense of the oppressive, authoritarian culture/political climate in which our 26-year-old protagonist lives. Bo lives in a police-state environment under the watchful eye of an ever-changing political regime. He has a foreign pen pal with whom he practices writing in English. Bo lives with Nga, his government-arranged wife, and both of them are good, responsible, law-abiding citizens. They work in factories: Nga puts frozen vegetables in bags. Bo carves nipples out of plastic to install on mannequins (his current overlords privilege verisimilitude in all its forms, we learn, though we don’t learn just how far this commitment to anatomical accuracy goes, mannequin-wise). Even though Bo’s existence is brutal–his homeland has shades of the Glorious Revolution and USSR autocracy and the coup-a-day instability of sub-Saharan Africa–this land offers the only existence he knows, and he seems relatively happy. Considering.
This story doesn’t really have much to do with nipples, unless we see nipples as emblematic of Bo’s and Nga’s humanity, which is constantly being stripped away by the faceless political entity that controls their homeland (until the next regime or junta takes its place and continues doing the same).
There are a couple different elements that set this piece apart from other dystopian narratives (e.g. 1984, Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451, etc., all the way up through the Hunger Games and beyond). If there is a commonality among all the dystopian lit out there, that commonality is resistance (or, to put it another way, free will). The hero(ine) realizes her/his situation is totally effed-up and revolts in some way, great or small, then must confront counter-measures on the part of the story’s hegemonic social structure. OK. But what’s interesting about “The Nipple Factory” is Bo’s complete, mindless, and unerringly cheerful compliance with the whims and regulations of his nation’s government. The language of the third-person narrative is consistently upbeat, grateful, and completely trusting of authority figures. The contrast between the character’s attitude and his actual circumstances is night and day. The results are hilarious and heartbreaking.
Much of the levity of this piece comes through its POV, which floats a little bit (between Bo and his pen pal) but consistently carries Bo’s trusting, happy-go-lucky tone (I’m reminded of Butters from South Park…). In the end, and I’m not spoiling much by saying this, Bo’s complete compliance and obedience is rewarded with brutality, demonstrating that nowhere is safe in a world like this, even for conformists.
We can also take a step back and look at this piece from a more post-colonialist standpoint, looking at how the developed/underdeveloped world interact and misunderstand one another, as well as how the ravages of European imperialism influence present-day political and living conditions in so much of the world, but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about that.