Re: Hydraulic Press Accounts

When watching soup cans flatten under heavy machinery feeds an appetite for destruction

FAMOUS TO ME celebrates the notable residents of the internet: charming characters, dedicated professionals, the headstrong, the bold, our true gems. Some of our readers may be unfamiliar with these local personalities, but those of us with the good fortune of knowing them from around town know they deserve recognition for their work, warmth and integrity. If you’d like to nominate someone for this honor, please mail it in. This week’s starhydraulicpress accounts, on video.

Upon learning to drive, I was disappointed to find that that scrap metal, beer bottles, and assorted road refuse had to be carefully woven around, not delightfully flattened by the force of a 3,630-pound vehicle. Many have wondered why humans feel such an immense desire to squish babies, squeeze cute animals, and pulverize pretty much everything else. The beauty of a hydraulic press is that it allows us to disregard that question in favor of a much better one: will it crush?

A few months ago on Instagram, videos of paint mixing lost views to hydraulic press accounts manned by anonymous hands that occasionally appear to adjust a half-crushed bowling ball or somberly pull a lever. Metal, fluid, and Pascal’s law translate to objects demolished by a gigantic, flat-headed drill-type-device. The results are mesmerizing. An inverted stack of plastic cups maintains its shape in smaller and smaller proportions until reduced to a plastic disc. Butter performs beautifully. A pineapple looks like it’s peeing drunk.

Generally used for gerunds I don’t quite understand (clinching, blanking, deep drawing) and some I do (forging, moulding), the hydraulic press was invented by the same 18th-century British man who patented flush toilets. Based on my research, his modern-day equivalents are guys who spend Saturdays at the shop with the guys. The proliferation of hydraulic press accounts can be traced to a Finnish factory owner, Lauri Vuohensilta, who started posting such videos on YouTube in 2015. Each one features a black-and-white intro set to a light metal soundtrack; Vuohensilta’s laughing wife, Anni; and the persistent hum of the hydraulic press at work. On Instagram, clips start just as the destruction begins.

Some objects are just plain enjoyable to watch getting flattened. The destruction of others feels emotional. As it turns out, it’s quite intimate to hear the sound a cabbage emits under pressure, and beautiful to watch a plastic water bottle attempting to evade its own destruction with a series of elegant twists. Watching a Barbie in a hydraulic press was profoundly sad, tragic even, but I’m nothing if not a glutton for punishment and so I finished the entire 30-second clip and then replayed it six more times. First, her head folded into her chest, disappearing under blond hair, then her breasts quietly squished into her extremely tiny waist. As the pressure bore down, her long legs spread — feet forever en pointe — and then spread further until the only thing left was a pair of legs doing a forward facing split. It gave me the same feeling I got after watching Thirteen at 12, with parental permission and a few best friends. Which one of us will become the unrecognizable and sexually unsatisfiable slut? I wondered to myself, shoveling popcorn down my gullet.

Not everything crushes well: Donuts, a paperback copy of Fifty Shades of Grey, and a hunk of aluminum foil are exquisitely boring. Account owners, their eyes on future likes, are always trying to suss out the next demolition trend, which means subjecting followers to non-hydraulic content as they determine whether molten copper poured into coconuts and atop cheeseburgers holds the same appeal. (It doesn’t.) The captions are always laden with my least favorite emojis and desperate follow requests. Some idiots add musical accompaniment; the clips are best watched on mute. Still, it’s worth wading through the muck for a new video. After weeks on the beat, I still catch myself at four in the morning whisper-chanting “Crush it! Crush it! Crush it!” while my boyfriend sleeps soundly beside me.

The videos raise many questions — first among them, according to the comments, is “WHY??????” Like eating oatmeal, crushing things makes me feel delightfully primitive, even if I’m only sitting at my grandma’s marble table going to town on a pile of chestnuts with her antique nutcracker. Crushing stuff is also improved by company, which is something I don’t tend to enjoy, “the more the merrier” being my least favorite expression. But while I’m messaging everyone under the sun my favorite hydraulic press videos and awaiting their transcribed awe, I like to imagine Lauri and Anni sharing shocked laughter in Finland. Not everything needs to bear the weight of profundity. Sometimes it’s enough to simply enjoy a little destruction together.

Alex Ronan is a writer living in Berlin, mostly. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, New York Magazine, Dwell, and elsewhere.