While listening to this bit by comedian George Carlin I started to wonder about how our ancestors must have come up with the idea of a house
as a container to store your stuff. My theory is that the first concept of a house would have originated with the construction and use of bags. [In this series I am more
interested in speculating about the first bag, the jump from bag to house will come later] We see primitive concepts of the bag in nature; the pelicans snout, the sack of a
kangaroo, the webs that spiders build. What I ask myself is what could the first bag have looked like, and what is the advantage of carrying a bag?
The bag acts as a prosthetic to the human hand, this device excels at mindlessly carrying an object. In this series of essays I will put forth a comprehensive
history of bags, ranging from their functional advantages, to their cultural significance, this includes speculating about the future of bags.
The idea of the brown paper bag did not surface in the American household until the rise of the suburban middle class. Jumping into their cars to reach the city, a place far from home, these temporary nomads had to create a method to store and transport sustenance for their journey. Only in America can a simple device such as a brown paper bag transform the landscape of gastronomy for a large population of the country. The soda can as it is known today, all manner of snack sized packaging, and to that extent the ice block, all directly influenced by this new method of transporting food. This is a new type of bag typology, used only to transport food from their house to their place of work. A grocery bag does a similar function but it's a one time use tool, unlike the brown paper bag (lunch bag), the bag is re-used to store food before eating as well as after a meal. The take away from this is that the paper bag came out of an expansion of the American middle class into the suburbs and the subsequent need to transport food to these new distances.
When it became necessary to create a situation of least offense, the people re-invented the brown paper bag as a device of deception. Hiding the 40 oz. liquor bottle. Using a bag as a device deployed in urban settings to avoid social and political repercussions is borderline genius. The TV show "The Wire" has a small segment explaining this social contract, to set the stage: Maj. Colvin has created a safe zone in an urban area of Baltimore for drug-dealers to sell drugs. He addresses his team of officers that are out on the streets, "Somewhere's back in the dawn of time, this District had itself a civic dilemma of epic proportions, the City Council had just passed a law that forbid alcoholic consumption in public places on the streets and the corner... cops...arrested every dude out there for tipping back a High-Life. There was a small moment of goddamn genius...some local on his way to the corner he slips that just bought [beer] into a paper bag; a great moment of civic compromise. A small wrinkled-ass paper bag allowed the corner boys to have their drink in peace and it gave [cops] permission to go and do police work. There's never been a paper bag for drugs. Until now". In this instance the paper bag became a method and a device for police to turn the other way. Even when consuming a 40 oz. beer now it has entered the popular culture to keep it in a brown paper bag. Everyone knows what is inside the bag, we've just entered this social contract in which this is portrayed as normal acceptable behavior.
Pockets are bags that we drape over our bodies. The things we keep inside these pockets are of interest, they are representations of what is important enough to carry on ones body; there is a sub-culture on www.youtube.com that exemplifies this, "EDC Videos" EDC stands for every-day carry. In other words the things people carry on their day to day. What is interesting about watching these videos is that there is a large spectrum of the quantity of items people carry as well as a wide range of what those items are. Without fail I could probably guess what the EDC of a majority of people is today, some keys, a phone, and a wallet. Pockets are also bags which we wilfully carry completely empty a lot of the times. Cargo pants where a disastrous fashion blunder of the late 90's, influenced by the baggy clothing of mainstream hip-hop and rap artists, as well as skateboarding and snowboarding fashion. Recently, they have made a comeback, though now the product has been relabled as techwear/smart pants and the profile has been drastically slimmed down. As a "fashion motif" pockets have been around for centuries.
The dawn of civilization had humans eating their food from the source,the convenience of the drive-thru would be refined much later. When a kill was made, it was brought back to camp and consumed around the fire, no need to store or freeze the food. This changed as humans began migrating out of Africa and into Europe, Asia, and then the Americas. The need to transport food during these expeditions became necessary and one of the first bags came from nature; the gourd. The gourd is a plant with a hard or soft shell depending on the species and is usually dried and carved out to create a bottle or container to carry food items. This is an important distinction in the history of bags. The first bags where obviously used to carry food. the distinction here is that the form of our bag prosthetics have a connotation of form and function (as seen in Brown Paper Bags). We've also managed to carry our groceries now in disposable plastic bags. This is starting to change though, but it's an institutionalized change.
The briefcase is a form of a bag/container, it is special though because it carries an aura of authority and importance. In pop-culture you have the boss with his hand cuffed to the handle to show that this shit is important. There is the modern trojan horse; the briefcase bomb trope, when opened it reveals a bomb inside, with a countdown timer and a convenient array of wires of different colors, to cut and diffuse the bomb. We also have the briefcase full of money, but as Breaking Bad reinforced a briefcase is not enough, a self-storage unit is the only way to such a magnitude of wealth.