Recently, Watch Mojo had a top 10 Rube Goldberg Machines in Movies.
In it, there was an interesting trend that I noticed.
The first movie scene they show (even before they get to the countdown) is a morning orientated Rube Goldberg Machine (RGM for short). And the countdown itself is nearly dominated by morning orientated RGMs that either help people get up in the morning, make them breakfast, etc.
An RGM, for those who don’t know, is (to quote WatchMojo):
…over-engineered devices that result in jaw-dropping chain reactions. And which are usually designed to complete a very simple job.
As WatchMojo also notes, RGMs are typically intentional and made with particular purposes in mind. Thus random or coincidental occurrences that happen to be over complicated in action but produce simple results wouldn’t count.
Getting back to the countdown, the list runs like this:
- The Way Things Go (A movie full of RGMs)
- Anti-Pesto Alarm (A morning machine from Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were Rabbit)
- Wood Chopper (Beauty and the Beast)
- The Crosstown Express (Robots)
- Breakfast Machine (Flubber)
- Another Breakfast Machine (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang)
- Doc Brown’s Inventions (From Back to the Future franchise, which includes a breakfast machine)
- Opening the Gate (Goonies)
- Yet Another Breakfast Machine (Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure)
- Honorable Mentions (which includes an eating machine and Even More Breakfast Machines via the movie Brazil)
- The Trap (The Great Mouse Detective)
An obvious pattern here emerges, RGMs seem particularly notable for being used in the morning.
This is a time when people are at their laziest. There’s common complaints about not wanting to get out of bed or feeling like you could sleep for another few hours. There’s a sense of disorientation and loss of pure comfort in what you were doing first. All of the sudden you’re tasked with waking yourself up, making yourself food, going to your job (that you probably don’t want to go to even if it’s just because you’re tired) and so on.
But RGMs seemingly help that process in that they aid our laziness.
Sure, they aid it in a very overly complicated and probably not sustainable ways. But they’re still designed in movies to be consistent tools that we can rely upon to do things for us. It may take a minute or two but the end results are largely without your active input on the machinery.
So you can just sit back, relax and, if all goes well, breakfast is served!
I’m not sure exactly why breakfast and the morning contraptions tend to be the most popular. Maybe it’s because the n food is so important in American culture and given how directly related morning is to food it’s perhaps an easy target for an RGM.
As I’ve hinted at though, I think there’s a laziness aspect to it as well.
All tools are designed to make our activities easier in one way or another. It may be true that this isn’t how it always works out (take smartphones and near-instant access to work emails for example) but that’s often the intent anyhow. And it’s a very good intent and one that I think deserves more respect and recognition than just with “cooky” scientists.
We probably shouldn’t have a society designed by RGMs. I’m not advocating for all of us to turn our houses into science labs (though maybe that’d be cool as well) but rather to appreciate RGMs as slackers. They often show us a world that is predictable but also unpredictable and all designed towards our goals. They facilitate our laziness and give us our toast, sometimes with a little coffee on them by accident, but they get it done.
On the other hand, efficiency obviously isn’t really the end goal here and some folks like to embrace the uselessness of RGMs. These sorts of people are engineers, tinkerers and people who just want to give others entertainment. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. And the people who made the aforementioned movies are doing a very similar thing in their own efforts after all.
But that doesn’t mean that the prevalence of RGMs and our interest in them doesn’t say something. We want things done with minimal effort, if it’s possible. There’s humorous ways to put a spin on it and RGMs happen to be a great way to portray that desire of ours. They’re not something we’d actually want to put in our homes (unless you’re an engineer) but the sense of wonder we get from them isn’t unique to just America.
Look at all the unique ways of expressing the same thing via Wikipedia for example. Australia, England, India, Turkey and others all have their own ways of expressing what an RGM does. This desire to have something highly inventive, overly-complicated but at its heart responding to real human desires are very diverse.
I also don’t think it’s any sort of accident that RGMs tend to be designed when we would seemingly want them most.
When we’re trying to make food (I personally don’t like cooking much), waking up in the morning or going out of our way to do things we’d rather not. The means might be a bit wacky and impractical in most situations but what they symbolize is pretty important, even if that’s sometimes obscured by intentional uselessness.
Going back to those intentionally useless RGMs though, as I’ve said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with them. After all, RGMs can be just as mindlessly funny as they can be inspiring. They can be charming and they can also look very unusual and done by even more unusual people.
Take for example, Bob Partington who, very recently in fact, designed the World’s Slowest Rube Goldberg:
Rube Goldberg himself never built such contraptions by hand. He was an imaginative cartoonist and someone who liked to draw futuristic looking machinery. Machinery that was very over-complicated yet only achieved the simplest of goals.
Like having us enjoy our mornings, our breakfast and our lives a little more through humor, science and inactivity.
Thanks, Mr. Goldberg.