Dear New Years TV marathon viewers,
If you wondering when your local cafe, supermarket, and shopping mall would stop playing “Santa Baby,” rest assured: Christmas is almost here! Though my own family is Jewish, the holiday still holds so many sweet memories for me: the evening I gathered all the ornaments given to my mother by her elementary school students and decorated a cardboard box; the year I went to the movies to see Life is Beautiful with my friend Alli and about 35 octogenarians; and yes, the time my family saw a musical version of A Christmas Carol (we won tickets) while my hand swollen from a broken wrist.
Alas, sustained grinching is the most effective way I’ve found to navigate the month-long flood of specials, ads, and jingles that Christmas brings. Somewhere beneath my Scrooge-ish demeanor, I do though have an affection for holiday films like the Muppet Christmas Carol and a larger fascination with a popular culture I do not share. Take for example, the Christmas artifacts in the reliable Duke Digital Collections. Their Ad Access archive, for one, includes this randy 1943 pitch for war bonds (on the left), and this adorable 1956 ad for Packard-Bell TV sets (on the right).
Over in their Protestant Family Archive you can also check out this 1936 article from The Christian Home by a mother wrestling over whether to tell their children about Santa Claus or not.
For something less expected, surf over to check out the Magnes Museum‘s digitized scrapbook of what was an annual San Francisco event: the Christmas parties held at the Haas Lilienthal House—as the archivist notes, an unusual window into California’s “Jewish aristocracy.” Here are two images from the book below.
And why not surf over to the vast Museum of Broadcast Communications Archives where you can discover the ghosts of Christmas TV past, including a Liberace special and another starring Judy Garland. Yes, that’s one holiday, two gay icons!
On that note, this is the Lazy Scholar signing off for 2009. I’ll return after a short sabbatical on Monday, January 11, 2010! Happy holidays to all, and thank you as always for reading.
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Posted in advertising, commerce, commercialism, domesticity, economics, food, leisure, shopping, video, visual culture on November 20, 2009|
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To students seldom awake before ten,
Like many scholars, I’ve relied on coffee as a lifeline for most of my academic career. By senior year of high school, I was already bringing a plastic mug full of instant Maxwell House (terrible, I know) to class. In college, I even considered footnoting the local convenience store in a freshman year philosophy paper, since I owed their machine-made vanilla lattes at least as much as Kant.
My thoughts turned to coffee this week after reading a great paper-in-progress by a fellow graduate student here at Harvard. Still I wondered, where was the history of coffee on the web? Look no further than the Victorian trade card collection at Miami University in Ohio . Trade cards became popular in nineteenth century America, as a way of advertising products from soap to lawnmowers (to learn more, check out the Baker Library’s online exhibit). In the example below, Uncle Sam himself endorses one brand. The back of the card features these inspiring verses, “Take this from me my people dear / If you’d keep war away/and fill the land with peace and cheer / Do just what I shall say: / I know a beverage full of charm, / there’s magic in the cup. / To cure all ills, to keep from harm, / Drink when you dine or sup.” Sorry, Anglophiles, your Earl Grey tea won’t help you escape the traumas of sickness and strife!Other cards, while produced by coffee companies, didn’t bother to picture the product itself. Arbuckle Brothers, for instance, came up with a number of collectible series, including “sports and pastimes of all nations.” Check out the gentlemen athletes in the image below, and the coffee instructions on the reverse.
For more coffee-related trade cards, click here. And for yet more cards of all types, check out the collections at the Brooklyn Public Library and University of Iowa.
To see where coffee advertising would go a few decades later, surf over to the always remarkable Prelinger Archives. You’ll quickly discover the theme in these Folgers ads from the 1960s: make a better cup of coffee for your husband, or he’ll be back “at the office” faster than Mad Men‘s debonair Don Draper. Click on the images below to watch.
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Posted in advertising, domesticity, fun, periodicals, tagged board games, children, cities, Life magazine, race, toys on October 26, 2009|
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Dear La-Z-Boy loungers,
I don’t know about you, but I vastly preferred board games as a child over the more dangerous (and potentially embarrassing) pursuits of the athletics field. Still I can’t help but think all of those hours spent on the living room rug must have prepared me in some way for adulthood. “Monopoly” taught me about finance; “Sorry” introduced me to the art of passive-aggressive apologies; “Candyland” revealed the dangers of psychotropic drugs; “The Game of Life,” taught me about forming a heterosexual family—not that I’ve followed all of their instructions.
If that leaves you wondering about the history of board games past, try digging through the rich archives of Life magazine, now available (and searchable by keyword) on Google Books. In 1970, the great glossy pointed readers towards some socially conscious board games perfect for readers of the Moynihan Report. In “Black and White,” for instance, every “black” player starts off with $10,000, and every “white” player starts out with a cool million. How’s that for disparity! And in the classroom-friendly “Ghetto,” your kids can learn what it’s like to live as a “typical slum dweller.”
Or why not commemorate the Civil War with a board game specially designed for Life. In “1863,” “everyone gets a chance to fight it over again. ”
And last but not least, some diversions from Parker Brothers. Sure, you can still find “Clue,” but what about “Fat Boy’s Game,” perfect for Christmas 1951! Read more about it, and the bestseller on which it was based here, courtesy of the blog “Isn’t Life Terrible?” (From the same Life issue, don’t miss the article, “Doll For Negro Children,” across from a cigarette ad with the tagline “Discriminating People Prefer…”).
That’s all for today, dear readers! Until next time.
Yours in indoor entertainment,
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Dear compatriots in soporific studies,
One drawback to working from home is that the couch always looks far more attractive than the computer screen. I find myself contemplating this dilemma today on the arrival of our long-awaited sofa, named by its manufacturers “Rachel,” not to mention our new platform bed, named “Elan.” That’s right, Rachel and Elan–what a lovely Jewish couple!
So in honor of the marriage of Rachel and Elan, I thought I’d point you today to a trio of films on home improvement, from the always astonishing Prelinger Archive–an online collection of ephemeral films.
In the first, from 1940, “Let Yourself Go,” we get a tour of a mattress store–a kind of proto-Sleepy’s–where everyday people try to find the secret to a good night’s rest. One man, for instance, has “been fighting his pillow for years,” the narrator says. “So far he’s lost every round.”
In the second, from 1958, “Something New From Something Old,” a young couple named “Jack and Jill” turn their sad NYC tenement apartment into a luxurious haven, all to the tune of “Almost Like Falling in Love.”
But lest you remain unconvinced the importance of domestic improvement, watch this harrowing film from 1954, “The House in the Middle,” which shows how houses in various states of repair and disrepair would hold up under atomic attack. Because when the bomb drops, you’ll want your paint job to remain unblemished.
Happy homemaking to all!
Yours in domestic bliss,
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