OPINION COLUMNS

A journey into the affairs of men

By Joy Carrico | Published Saturday, July 16, 2016
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I love looking through Messenger archives. Advertisements are a particular favorite.

I looked through the 1916 papers this week, curious to see what advertising was like 100 years ago. It was interesting.

DO YOU HAVE PRINCE ALBERT IN A CAN?

Prince Albert

Take, for example, the ads for Prince Albert tobacco, “the national joy smoke.”

Prince Albert is “made to spread-smoke-sunshine among men who have suffered with scorched tongues and parched throats!”

And I say, who wouldn’t want to spread a little smoke sunshine among the parched and scorched? They might rather have some water, given that they are parched and scorched, but smoke sunshine is undoubtedly also welcomed.

Prince Albert “hands out all the tobacco happiness any man ever dreamed about, it’s so smooth and friendly.”

How many times have I dreamed about the smooth and friendly state of tobacco happiness?

But that’s not all. They go on to state, “It’s a mighty cheerful thing to be on talking terms with your pipe and your tongue at the same time!” You mean I don’t have to sacrifice my tongue for my pipe anymore? Or vice versa?

Oh my, such cheerful camaraderie cannot be imagined. It must be experienced. And can only be so when you “pin your faith to Prince Albert.”

MAN’S INHUMANITY TO DECATUR

An ad titled “The Universal Fault” also caught my eye.

“There is perhaps,” it reads, “no more pernicious fault among universal humanity than the lack of sincere appreciation with which individual benefits are received.”

Huh? I barely followed that, but they still had me wondering where this journey would lead.

They stated that man’s continuing need for abundance turns his eyes ever toward the future, while he fails to express gratitude for what has already come his way.

Indifference toward our present circumstances, it turns out, is the universal fault. The ad urged the 1916 consumer to seek happiness in the here and now by being grateful for what he had and for where he’d gotten it.

At this point I’m wondering what in the world is being sold in this ad.

Finally, the ad comes to the point: show gratitude to those who support your livelihood by buying local products. Pride of Texas Flour was made in Decatur of local grain.

“Flour?” I thought, “White flour? Like for baking?”

It finished up its wordy and confusing appeal to our sense of community by stating that it’s “a flour that you will eventually use, anyhow.”

I was astonished at this advertisement for flour that began with universal truth and whittled it’s way down to an appeal to buy Decatur-made flour as a way to overcome our tendency to the universal fault of indifference.

I immediately started combing the paper for more Pride of Texas Flour ads, to see if they were all this flowery.

I was not disappointed with what I found.

The next one began with the title “As You Like It.”

“Wake in our breasts the living fires / The holy faith that warmed our sires / The living flame that warms our heart / A faith that never shall depart.”

Holy cow, that’s some flour that referenced Shakespeare and included the rhyming verse of Oliver Wendell Holmes (I Googled it).

But the beauty of this ad was yet to come. It called for the citizen to sign his name to a pledge to be neighborly, to give to the town, to cooperate for the betterment of Decatur, to think only good thoughts about Decatur and to think and talk only prosperity for the future of Decatur.

After the space for the citizen to sign his oath, the ad got around to mentioning its slightly-better-than-mediocre product.

“A little better flour for a little less money.” And conclude again by saying something like “you’ll use it eventually anyhow, so you might as well get started.”

They continue on like this through 1916. One is titled “Beneficience.” Although it admits that every act is selfish in nature, it urges that there is a right kind of selfishness that benefits the city.

Then there’s the ad entitled “Lost in the Darkness.” That can’t be good. Well, it’s not. And it is the plight of the man who is blinded by self-deceit and prejudice, who obviously does not buy local flour.

Pride of Texas Flour really grappled with the nature of humanity in their effort to get local people to buy local flour. It delved into the difference between contentment and satisfaction in one ad and into the nature of fear in another. It always ended up by imploring the citizens of Decatur to do today what they were inevitably going to do anyway.

To my great disappointment, the ads disappeared in 1917. I determined by reading some of the actual news that grain was being rationed due to World War I, so there was no Pride of Texas Flour to be sold.

Pride of Texas Flour advertisements returned in 1919, but they weren’t nearly as interesting. No more high ideals and wandering monologues about the nature of humanity. Now, they just urge the consumer to buy it because there was a surplus nationwide and if Decatur Eighters bought locally, that’s one less trainload of flour sent to an over-floured nation.

AND THERE IS SO MUCH MORE

Must Have Chickens

There are, of course, many other advertisements in the 1916 papers that are worth noting. One ad stated in huge letters “MUST HAVE a Car-Load of CHICKENS by SATURDAY NIGHT.”

I cannot begin to imagine what life circumstances would necessitate the acquisition of a carload of chickens.

And there’s the advertising for a car service garage that claims, “Honesty is the Best Policy,” then follows it up with “Besides Being Right.”

They have a point. In general I find that being right is a fairly effective policy, although thinking I am right when I am not hasn’t always worked out so well for me. Alas, when rightness is not to be had, honesty must suffice.

By comparison, advertisers are much more direct today. Just looking through Wednesday’s paper, I encountered businesses basically stating who they are, what they provide and how to contact them. They might offer up some description of their goods or services or entice the reader with a sale, but nowhere does any advertiser question the nature of humanity or promise dream-come-true-like experiences. And nobody seems to need a carload of chickens anymore. What is the world coming to?

Joy Carrico is a graphic artist for the Messenger. She spreads smoke sunshine whereever she goes.

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