More Aspirational Heiroglyphics

Illustrator credit unavailable, cover illustration, Popular Mechanics, December 1954. Window-shopping at Christmastime. Dad is checking out the model trains; Junior is jonesing a drill and rotary sander set. 

To follow, a selection of whole ads and fragments; above, an example of the latter, a totem of magical mystical mechanical know-how. (Study car repair at home!)

I'm fixin' me an iron. Sixty years from now they'll call me something French, like an entrepreneur. But I think of myself as more of a would-be inventor.  A tinkerer, really.  (Meanwhile: have I showed you this Flubber stuff I've been working on...?)

I'm fixin' me an iron. Sixty years from now they'll call me something French, like an entrepreneur. But I think of myself as more of a would-be inventor.  A tinkerer, really.  (Meanwhile: have I showed you this Flubber stuff I've been working on...?)

Some time ago now, I received an old copy of Popular Mechanics in the mail from an old friend, Barbara Arnold, a Colorado painter. She knows I have a weakness for aging printed matter, and she guessed correctly that the content would appeal to me.


The editorial content of the magazine (technological instructions for home projects par excellence) pales in comparison to the advertising.



Massive frogs from Louisiana. The Nufend Giants. Mutants, most likely. 

Expertise on the accordion has long provided a pathway to beauty, wealth and power. 

Okay, then. I will. 

And I'm not the only one to think so, especially in the broader landscape of periodicals.

Sean Latham and Robert Scholes observed something comparable in their 2006 essay, “The Rise of Periodical Studies.” They describe the loss associated with library practices from the last century, according to which advertising material was routinely stripped out of magazines before they were bound into volumes. Latham and Scholes conclude, in part:

Modern culture was created from a still-obscure alchemy of commercial and aesthetic impulses and processes. And this mixture was most visible in magazines... If we really wish to know the past and not just a few monuments preserved from it, we must study the way that art and commodity culture influenced each other for the past three centuries and more. And this means exploring more fully and more intensely the fascinating world of periodicals.

True enough, though the implied binary equation (art and commerce) seems oversimplified. But that's a quibble.


My questions, if you must know, begin at the refrigerator, but somehow transcend the appliance. Still: you guys got any beer?






I'm drawn to these things because they paint a portrait of their audience. Of course they are funny. And yes, they're corny beyond belief. (Though I have noticed that advertising never seems as stupid as it does in somebody else's country. Which suggests that we don't see it so clearly in our own place or time.)

This is an excellent plan. 

The Kabbalah of Vaudeville. 

The Boomerang: a metaphor for our times. Two bucks does not begin to cover it. 

But finally I feel recognition, of limitation and longing, in the culture of self-improvement. I respect it. An American unmoved by the visceral urge to self-improvement has lost touch with her culture. Correspondence schools, Dale Carnegie, sales-driven spiritualist hokum: embrace 'em, they're ours. (This may be the true difference between Canadians and Americans. The vulgarity of improvement. Even leftists in Canada are old-line Tories, in a way. At least those in the Maritimes and Ontario; I have no experience with Western provinces.)


Doug DowdComment