Is it a plot, or just poor thinking? (2/13/06)
I want a wombat for Valentine's Day.
(They're the Australian marsupial version of groundhogs - fat, squishy, burrowing, and slightly more easy-going. Suprisingly for an Australian creature, they're not poisonous or extremely bad-tempered, just a little bit cranky.)
This is what I get for watching Animal Planet while on unscheduled leave because my car is iced in (well, it was at 5am this morning). Animal Planet has all these cute shows that I normally avoid because they're liable to send me into sugar shock, but I relented upon seeing the baby wombats, and now I feel like I've just eaten an entire Valentine's Day box of chocolates.
Speaking of elegant and subtle segues, I've been hearing a lot this year about how much everyone hates all the sugary commercialism associated with Valentine's Day. I have to agree (see: "Jared, The Galleria of Evil"). It's a gift-giving extravaganza designed to make it utterly impossible to live up to your SO's vision of the day, and worst of all, among all the millions of ads for various suitable and unsuitable gifts for V-Day, there isn't a single wombat for sale.
I was cleaning my studio out yesterday in another smooth and well thought-out segue, and discovered a couple of February magazines from the 40's, including a "Better Homes and Gardens" from February 1942. By marvelous diary entry serendipity, I still subscribe to BH&G, even though I'm no longer entirely sure why, since "Budget Living" is more my kind of thing, but there you are. Fortunately for all of you, we can now play compare and contrast.
Let me say up front that BH&G has completely changed, and not just about V-Day. Gone are the endless ads for new seeds and plants, and in their place, a large number of articles designed to get you to buy things has moved in. I originally thought I'd be laughing about the huge number of ads in the modern issue compared to the 1942 issue, but the 2006 issue only has one ad for Valentine's - a Dove chocolate ad. The 1942 issue has four - Spry vegetable shortening, Victor Records, Diamond Walnuts, and Karo corn syrup.
Leaving aside the question of who would wish to get a bottle of Karo syrup for Valentine's (apart from Elvis, who liked it on biscuits), and the clear relationship in both issues between cooking and the way to a man's heart, I was surprised that the 2006 issue had only one ad.
Until I started reading the articles.
Easily a third of the articles are thinly disguised advertising pitches for various things that one can buy for Valentine's day - all of them things that women would want (listed in the "resource pages" in the back).
I am unsure why things that women want bought for them would be advertised in a magazine that is so clearly designed to be read only by women ("Valentine issue! Homemade from the HEART"), but I am too lazy to go out and pick up a men's mag to find out what they advertise (and I'm sure someone will tell me in my guestbook, hint, hint). Anyway, the upshot of the whole exercise was that Valentine's day is a much bigger deal advertising-wise than it was 60 years ago (there's more emphasis on President's Day in the 1942 issue), but they've gotten sneakier. In 1942, they advertised the product and gave you a recipe in the ad. In 2006, they write an article about the recipe/craft, then tell you what products to buy to make it.
I must sadly note that the ads have also gotten a lot more boring - none of the ads I've seen this year in magazines or on TV have made me laugh as completely helplessly as the ads in the February 1948 "Colliers".
(10 Valentine ads, fairly evenly divided between ads aimed at men and ads aimed at women, if you count the Ballantine's Beer ad as aimed at men to buy for women, even though I'm not sure how many women would consider getting drunk for Valentine's Day much of a present. The numbers could go up if dinner was involved, but that might just be the crowd I used to hang with.)
My favourite is the one for Corby's Reserve Blended Whiskey, which gives you a choice of years and scenarios for your favourite Valentine moment, including a hired horse and carriage (1890), a borrowed raccoon coat (1921), and perhaps the drabbest trenchcoat and hat ensemble ever combined with the "menacing rumble of war" (1942).
(I bet that scenario got him laid - "Honey, the menacing rumble of war is coming ever closer, and this may be our last Valentine's Day ever. How about it?".)
It ends with "1948: So you married the girl [probably because of that 1942 Valentine's Day maneuver]! Every year you can relive those happy memories of Valentine's Day. A corsage for her - a dinner, too. And for any special occasion, it's an inspiration to remember Corby's - the light sociable whisky. Its bouquet will quickly tell you Corby's is truly worthy of its grand old Canadian name."
A light sociable whiskey? I bet his wife just sighs every time he brings the bottle out, and tells the kids "go to bed now, dears - daddy's going to tell that story about being on the beach and seeing everyone being blown to bits around him again". I bet she mutters "Happy Damned Valentine's Day, Edith", as she gets the gin out of the liquor cabinet and throws the wilted "corsage" down the garbage disposal.
...Anyway. That's not the only ad that involves booze, but it's definitely the least understandable - is the booze for her? Or for him?
It might be better if it was for him, if the little wife got him the Valentine's Day gifts suggested in February 9, 1954 issue of "Look" - in fact, maybe two bottles. It will enable him to receive his "Gay Guatemala" vest, "Mosque" shirt, and "Visa Versa" jacket with the lining that matches the "Sparkle" shirt and "Drizzler Mate" slacks she bought him last year with at least the semblance of delighted surprise.
(...Or perhaps they don't have any kids, and this is why. They might have lasted longer if she'd just stuck with buying him the "Sweaters of Orlon" - at least they didn't look quite so completely... gay. Or it could be simply that the artifical leg the VA fitted him with after the war just looks like hell in close-fitting pants, and she can't bring herself to get into bed with him until she's had at least three slugs of the Corby's, and they're both sterile from alcohol poisoning.)
Interestingly enough, I only found two ads for engagement rings. Considering the absolute and complete headlock the diamond companies have on Valentine's Day as THE day to propose these days, it's incredible that there was barely a whisper in 1954 of the trauma-inducing Februarys to come, where dazed and broken men wandered from mall to mall trying to find something that was simultaneously large enough to satisfy their advertising brainwashed sweeties and small enough that they wouldn't be maxing out an entire credit card on one purchase.
(Or worse, trying to find the diamond that's big enough to make her friends jealous, but not more expensive than a down-payment on a house. Why does she want to make her friends jealous, anyway? Aren't they friends? I'm so confused.)
Not bad work for 50 years of the diamond conspiracy, considering it's going to take us years to break the mind-lock they now have on women who think that heart-shaped rubies are cool.
Me, I really wish the Regal Ties company was still in business - who wouldn't want a tie with giant scroll-work arabesques on a red ground, with a series of unicorn, ship, lady Godiva (I think), and weird Italianate castle silhouettes superimposed and almost 2" high each? It's a tie that tells a story, and is only one of a series of Renaissance designs for $2.50.
Man, I wish I had that catalogue.
Failing that, I could go with wrinkle-proof ties from Botany in a number of insanity-inducing patterns and colours. Or a Sherman bow tie - as worn by Turhan Bey (now that's a name for imdb.com) who was then appearing in "Adventures of Casanova", available in Ready-Tied Clipper [c. 1948], or "tie-it-yourself" styles in Spring's freshest patterns (the ties, not Turhan, who is probably not quite so fresh these days).
Or pajamas - who doesn't want "Pleetway"[tm] pajamas that banish chest and arm binding and come in stripes and... stripes? Side tabs and balloon seat included, $5 for coat styles or slipover models, slightly more for the man over six feet tall.
("Coat style" refers to the kind that buttons up the front, "slipover" is the kind that look like hospital scrubs, but striped.)
(Just a little Valentine's Day trivia.)
For the women, we've got watches, engagement rings, and... booze. If one were to use my pitifully small sample of magazines for a model of the 1940s and 1950s, one would be convinced that Valentine's Day was thought up by men to get gifts from the women in their life - there were far more ads for stuff for men and recipes for V-Day food designed to make him smile than there were for anything women might want specifically for that most romantic shopping day of the year.
In reality, I think the magazine advertisers were just smarter then, and knew that if you want someone to buy a gift for someone else, you'd better advertise it where they will see the suggestion, and also, V-Day just wasn't the shopping HELL it is today.
(Lynn Peril, in her book "Pink Think", details the girl's magazines that were infused with ads for hope chests, diamond rings, and silverware, but they were aimed at wedding ideas, not Valentine's day ideas. Still, they were in women's magazines - she says that hope chests were definitely not advertised in guy's magazines, even though the ads suggested your (male) sweetheart buy one for you.)
In fact, I think this confusion over where to advertise may be why Valentine's Day gets so fraught - advertisers shouldn't be advertising diamonds and jewelry on the Lifetime channel, they should be advertising them on Spike TV. This is stupid on so many levels - raise women's expectations on what they might get for V-Day, then fail to let the guys know what the girls expect? That's just evil.
In fact, it may all be a radical left-wing PETA plot to make us all break up with each other and reduce the human population so that the animals can take over.
...Or maybe I just need a slug of that Corby's, too.
Sadly, I haven't even seen an ad for ties for men on any of the channels, let alone anything as remotely expensive as the things they push for women (if you don't feel like buying jewelry, there's always $200 chocolates, $100 dollar rose bouquets, or $80 teddy bears). Whatever things used to be like, Valentine's Day now is all about what you're going to buy for the girls.
Make mine a Boddingtons, thanks.