Just one word: plastics.
When Dustin Hoffman got his career advice in the late '60s, plastics were the the new hotness. They were being used for everything from household goods to leisure suits to entire homes (not much has really changed on that front now that I think of it). Scientists were discovering and developing new types of plastics and artists were taking up the material to use for sculptures and other works of art.
In the decades since then, we've churned out mountains of plastic soda bottles, cheap toys and product packaging. Plastic doesn't biodegrade, so all that plastic crap is still with us, much of it floating around the world's oceans.
Plastic doesn't biodegrade, but it does degrade. Artists are finding out that the medium they chose to work in due to its stability isn't holding up very well to time.
Slate has a story about the work being done to try to preserve early works or modern art made with a handful of unstable plastics. Works of art from the '60s are starting to discolor and break down as the plastic materials break down and scientists and art preservation experts aren't having much luck saving them. Most agree that it's impossible to reverse the plastic decay, they're instead focusing on ways to slow the process.
Plastic is a hell of a material. On one hand, it enables our modern lives -- without plastic I wouldn't be able to type out this post on my laptop. Without plastic we wouldn't have been able to land on the moon, modern medicine would be impossible to practice, and I wouldn't be able to play Ultimate Frisbee twice a week (the game wouldn't work with a wood frisbee).
But at the same time, the stuff is choking our waterways, leeching carcinogens into our food and environment, and killing scores of animals who eat it up thinking they've just scored a tasty snack.
Plastics: damned if you do, damned if you don't. It's an interesting world we live in filled with complex problems.
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