Full-page ads in national newspapers (though, alas, not this one) have been heralding the advent of the Quattro razor.
"Two blades are better than one, and three blades are better than two," the ad reasoned in the logic of American consumption. "That's as good as it gets, right? WRONG."
"On September 22," the razormaker, Schick,intoned with historical gravitas, "the world's first four-bladed razor arrives in stores."
Surely, future generations will ask themselves, "Where were you on September 22?" And if Schick has its way, half of us will answer, "I was scraping my face with the best dang razor ever!"
But not if Gillette has anything to say about it. The world's largest razormaker is suing Schick, the world's fastest- growing razormaker, to cut the new Quattro down even before it sprouts in grocery stores.
Gillette claims this new four-blade razor illegally infringes on its patent for the Mach3. That's the three-blade razor you've seen on TV: A jet fighter disintegrates in flight, but the pilot, wearing only a towel, is miraculously deposited in the bathroom where he and an attractive woman admire his chin.
I have not tried the Quattro razor yet, but I can report that using the Mach3 has not led me to experience anything like what I saw in the TV ad. Perhaps it only works for fighter pilots.
Or maybe I just need more blades. Surely, as Gillette and Schick continue to battle for dominance in the $6 billion razor market, their consumer labs will find more improvements. If "four blades precisely synchronized to maintain optimum contact with the skin" are better than three are better than two are better than one, then, really, the sky's the limit.
Why not imagine a razor with two- or three-dozen blades, an instrument so carefully synchronized and calibrated that the first blade looks for the hair, the second blade evaluates the hair, the third blade announces your intention to cut the hair in the style of a preselected Hollywood heartthrob ... the 18th blade bleaches the root ... the 27th blade massages the follicle ....
Schick's website (who surfs to such pages?) claims that the handle of its new razor has been "ergonomically designed for advanced precision, control and maneuverability."That's more than I ask of my car. (But, then again, I'm not a fighter pilot.)
The cutthroat battle between Gillette and Schick may continue for years, but is it any wonder that American marketing has already conquered the world more quickly and more completely than the American military? Who can resist such unbounded optimism, such flamboyant enthusiasm? People of all nations, give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning for the closest shave ever!
• Ron Charles is the Monitor's book editor.