Thursday, July 10, 2008

Did the World Ever Look This Good?

When I was a kid in the 70s, gazing at these ads from old National Geographic magazines, I thought something horrible had happened to make the world so much less interesting than it was in the 40s and 50s. To a certain extent, I think the 60s did drain an awful lot out of our collective aesthetic. It's as if people stopped trying. Clothes got uglier, interior design got uglier, architecture got uglier. A complete, mass hypnosis which caused a total rejection of everything aesthetically pleasing.

But more to the point, I think when advertising shifted away from commercial art and placed a greater emphasis on photos, we lost the romantic interpretation of the product/service. Modern advertising shows you (more or less) what something really looks like. Advertisements like this showed you what you wanted that product/service to be. It was wish fulfillment. Sure, it may have been slightly deceitful, which is probably why advertisers moved away from it, but it sure made whatever they were selling look far more appealing.

A cruise to Hawaii is pretty exotic to begin with, but just look at how elegant this cruise is. All the people look so sophisticated. They all know which fork to use and have read the latest bestsellers and will be attending the opening night of the latest Rodgers & Hammerstein musical when they get back to "The City." Mighty appealing to some Joe who just a few years ago was slogging through the snow and mud of the Ardennes, went to college on the G.I. Bill after his discharge, and was just beginning to work his way up at a leading insurance firm. The high life was just within reach, which was more than his old man could say.

And that picture at the top of the ad. Can't you just hear the dialog like an old MGM movie:

"Oh Brad, isn't it just grand? Who would've thought that a country girl from Iowa like me would win a trip to Hawaii just by sending in some box tops? Then I meet a man who went to Harvard and has ancestors who came over on the Mayflower. Now we're in love and after we marry, we'll live on your pineapple plantation and raise beautiful, sun-kissed children. It's more than my heart can stand!"

"Sheila darling, I must come clean. You're far too beautiful and lovely to be deceived any longer. I'm not the man I told you I was. I don't have a wealthy family, or a pineapple plantation on The Big Island. I don't even know where Harvard is! I'm just plain old Brad Grant from Fort Lee, New Jersey. After scraping together the money for my passage, I barely had enough left over to buy this lavender dinner jacket. I intended to work the ol' Brad Grant charm on some rich, widowed socialite and marry her for her money. How was I supposed to know I'd meet and fall in love with the greatest dame in the whole world. I'm a cad, Sheila, and I wouldn't blame you one bit if you slapped my face and walked out of my life right now. But if you do stay with me, I promise to change. I'll make you the happiest woman in the world!"

At least that's what went through my head as I stared at this ad in the basement of my house on a rainy Sunday afternoon.