Chemical Dystopia and Silent Spring
Paris Green helped keep American apples green. Around the turn of the twentieth century, horticulturalists regularly sprayed the pesticide on their apple trees. The coating ensured less damage from pests and brought more produce to the market. Dating back to 1867, Paris Green first proved effective as a weapon against rats inhabiting Parisian sewers. It also found favour as a colour palette for painters Paul Cézanne and Vincent Van Gogh. Cézanne’s famous ‘Green Apples’ was dusted in the pigment. But, as a mix of lead and arsenic, the pesticide proved a potent poison, and probably contributed to the illnesses of both Cézanne and Van Gogh.
The deployment of pesticides in the United States was very much tied to the survival of the agrarian nation in the twentieth century. Pesticides promised greater productivity and a lifeline for farmers struggling to make profit in a harsher economic climate. Tied to professionalisation, new techniques of agriculture, commercialisation and the scientific revolution in farming, pesticides were among the new technological armaments of the modern agriculturalist. Sprayed across crop fields, the chemical agents kept pests such as the boll weevil at bay. They symbolised a quest for maximum yield and perfect, factory-like produce. In the 1940s and 1950s, a fresh range of pesticides hit the market. Chemical agents, such as DDT, were marketed as miracle products, capable of revolutionising the average American farm. They also promised to wipe out all kinds