The Friday Fillip

It’s no secret that Canada’s mailboxes are disappearing. You often have to walk a mile or more for one of these ‘old skool’ objects. What you may not know, though, is that our scarce mailboxes are disappearing behind a kind of camouflage. Canada Post is going with a teflon sheet coating for the boxes that sports a crazy pattern of our postal codes, hoping to clad all of them by the end of the year, according to a story in the Toronto Star.

The point of this covering is not to make the boxes disappear from view, as would be the case for most camouflage; rather, it’s an attempt to stop or discourage tagging. Often mis-labelled graffiti, tagging is the practice that some people have of making their distinctive mark on public objects — a pathetic human version, perhaps, of a pet’s urge to pee on lampposts and the like. Unlike classic graffiti, which typically uses words (or, latterly, images), tagging is simply a meaningless marring. The Canada Post hope is that the new mailbox coverings will be an unattractive canvas for taggers, because of the confusion of messages already in place.

For reasons that escape me, there’s mailbox just opposite the end of my street. It has been visited by taggers, who made an effort to find the space with the least “camo” to do their dirty work. And while it’s not exactly invisible, their handiwork is far less eye-catching than it is when it has a blank surface to work with.

Post Canada’s effort put me in mind of another kind of camouflage that’s not aimed at invisibility: razzle dazzle. Used during both world wars on some ships, razzle dazzle (or simply, dazzle, as the British called it) was an attempt to make it difficult for enemy spotters to get a proper fix on the ships. The wild geometric patterns and colours were designed to obscure not the fact of the ship but its exact shape, the direction it was moving, and the speed. Here’s a photo of a Canadian liner-turned-WWI-troopship, the SS Empress of Russia sporting her odd paint:

Unfortunately, there seem to be no colour photographs of the dazzled ships, which apparently made a rather fetching display when massed in port. Artists like Wendell Tatley have given us representations, though, that show the startling beauty of the idea:

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