Sometimes I find myself obsessively looking at one thing until I have successfully completed seeing it all. One time mentioned on here already was the time that I looked at all of the archives in someone’s Tumblr that was dedicated to three specific serial killers, in fan fashion. It is a wonderful use of my time and energy to put off all of my other important projects to not-even-relax as I click and look, click and look, click and look, for hours.
It does create some interesting side effects, though. Absorbing years’ worth of content in just one evening can change your brain in ways. It is like an unintentional self brain-washing. Luckily, I am disinclined to see what conspiracy theorists have been pushing, or what passionate political extremists want everyone to believe — I know those two examples overlap in a big way, but there is enough difference and also they are the only things I can think of lately that are bad and I must stay away from them. We all must.
I once thought that looking through an uploaded archive of MANY issues of Hollywood Magazine from around 1933 would be a safe and even educational activity. Specifically, I was interested in seeing what old advertisements were like, because why not? What do YOU do with YOUR time?
Advertising can be interesting! I had been looking at the quacky snake oil ads of the late 1800s and early 1900s where they sell morphine cubes and cocaine lozenges for teething babies. Then I had seen the classy ads from the 1920s where they explained the favorable qualities of any product from sinful make up to health-promoting cigarettes to deathtrap cars. But then came the ’30s and I found that while it was very educational, I became damaged from the journey.
By the Thirties, they were becoming more sophisticated with the psychological warfare of selling products to you. And by “sophisticated,” I mean “ruthless.” As I turned page after page, among the standard ads for fortune tellers, candy, and dance lessons, I felt my self-consciousness increase and self-esteem become fragile due to the unrestrained attacks they launched against appearance and personal worth. I have gone decades in this modern world of advertising, where women are photoshopped to impossible perfection, and I am supposed to have brand loyalty and consumer needs — but I don’t. I have been unmoved by modern ads. Yes, I am bragging a little, but it has a point because my god an evening with Hollywood Magazine, and I’m shaken to my foundation.
What did our poor grandparents and great-grandparents live through? The Great Depression AND these ads? They were much tougher than I thought. Also maybe it explains how cruel they would sometimes seem when they would, “just speak the truth” that happened to be incredibly hurtful. I was thinking that maybe old people have outlived their filters, but maybe it is just because they were raised this way. I have just said so much about these ads and haven’t shown a one. Brace yourselves. And probably #triggerwarning. The Thirties were mean.
As the average American wallowed in destitution and deteriorated from poverty that was out of their control, advertisers decided it was the right time to announce that your B.O. was about to destroy your social standing. Every few pages, in between the hundredth article on Bing Crosby and the thousandth article on Jean Harlow, the only two important stars of 1933, my eyes were met with another tale of tragedy about some fancy looking lady actually being a stinker. If only she had used antiperspirant! Maybe she can’t feed her kids, but at least her vicious neighbor who also can’t feed her kids won’t have THAT to spread gossip about!
You Are Not Pretty Enough
Unsurprisingly, all of the ads showing what a beautiful woman was were showing five “styles” of white lady. One would be brunette, one would be red-headed (implied in black and white), and three would be be barely-different shades of blonde. Never fear, though — the blondes were still targeted with threats to their peerless beauty which in fact could apparently very easily go bad!
A little more surprisingly, the writing in the ads would say right out loud that the blonde woman was nature’s perfect specimen. I saw a lot of ads for hair-removal and -bleaching creams where the writing informed prospective buyers that the goal was to resemble the blonde. I knew Hollywood didn’t do enough to resist the rise of Nazi power a world away, but yeesh. Sorry to all you non-blondes out there, but Aryan superwomen are #1. Please never take that single line out of context.
Your Weight Is Wrong, Why Won’t You Make It Right?
There was a weight loss ad every other page. Sure, there was also a weight gain ad every other other page, but having guys mock a skinny woman by saying, “Hey, Skinny! Haw haw!” was somehow not as absolutely devastating as ad after ad of thin (but not too thin) women casting withering glances at a sad looking little plump woman who forlornly sat upon a small stool or block. The ads usually asked, “Why Be Fat?” The implication was always that chubby women were probably lazy, gluttonous, twisted psychologically because they WANT to harm society’s appetite by making everyone lose it. They made it seem like the woman wanted to be unpopular, and the ad was there to help them see that that was wrong, that they should want to be popular instead.
I don’t even know what the miracle weight loss product was. “Re-Duce-Oids.” Probably amphetamines in doses so high that they would skeletonize an elephant in thirty days.
Everyone Talks About You Behind Your Back
So many ads promoted this paranoid and depressing reality where everyone you know, yes, you personally, is judging you. Appearance, house upkeep, fragrance, possessions — none of it was good enough unless you bought it all, immediately, as soon as it was available. What Depression? Buy now. Nationwide collapse of society? Who’s that? You don’t want people laughing at you. Buy all these things or else you must be some kind of dangerous anarchist — or worse, admitting that you’re poor. Please tell me that the people of the time ignored these kinds of ads and that’s why this form of marketing went away. I imagine they just fell prey to it because it was a new form of information, and so they had to have been naive to its destruction. Tell me I’m wrong.
You Unpopular, Ugly, Disgusting, Fat Fucking Shame
So let’s count our blessings today that consumers got fed up with this assault on their well-being so that eventually, (who knows when — maybe just in the last ten years? I’m not an expert on the history of advertising yet!), advertisers started being kinder for whatever reason. Yes, they manufacture want to sell things we generally don’t need. But at least the unrealistic standards of beauty are more inclusive so that people of all shapes and sizes can feel more than one kind of less-than. This is a positive step, right? More choice is better, I think. Even if it is choosing how to feel bad. I would think more about it but scouring the pages of that magazine for the images in this article has defeated my brain. I just want out of here.
Honestly, I now appreciate the subtle shade we are thrown, the subtle hints that gradually wear us down. That feels so much better to me than a print magazine running an ad that says in bold italicized words, “watch out for that brunette and her long black disgusting arm hair. You’ll get tangled in it!” — That’s what men are telling each other when you leave the room!” And, “Do you weigh 90lbs like this golden-haired angel woman? No?! Get out your crying towel because you won’t believe what we are going to say about you in the next paragraph!”
Now you must excuse me as I prowl eBay searching for these discontinued and probably dangerous products that are my only hope for achieving popularity and beauty — hey maybe this is how we should start advertising for Sneer 1 Imports!