Have a Vintage Christmas!
The resolution of the above scan was too rough to make out the prices, but they were less than now. I’m guessing that this one is from 1960, give or take five years. Such advertisements seem mighty crass in today’s “be all you can be” gender-neutral American culture and are presented now as humorous sources of “look how far we’ve come since then” pats on the back. After all, we have made advances. Today, we consider that the sprawled woman may be perusing the notecard and thinking, “Ooo, that bastard’s gonna get his…”
However, apart from the issues of unfair bias, equal opportunity, stereotyping, putting talent and capability to waste, and equal pay for equal work, we do tend to propagandize the past in order to validate where we are now. Utterly unable to look back and examine any culture in context, we tend to look back only with today’s lenses, and the view is upsetting or unsettling, a reminder of oppression of some sort or other. Without the context, our view can easily be distorted to resemble propaganda. Propaganda is where you emphasize some facts of an issue and ignore others in a strident effort to convince self or others that there can be only one valid outlook, or one cause. All else is viewed as an obscene injustice. Mind you, there can exist only one valid outlook, but it will not surface when facts are ignored or dismissed in order to push it to the front of the line. That outlook is, of course, mine. 😉
Just like today, our own past culture viewed itself as just and proper on the whole. Oh, needing further little corrections here and there, a further advancement to be fought for and won on this issue or that, but basically as right and as sensible as a society or a nation can get. We think the same thing of ourselves today, and the only way to do that is to chop the moral legs off of those former ways of seeing the world, because advancement means superiority, and only one culture can be the best. That’s us. And likewise, only one viewpoint can be the best. Ours. The former times somehow become populated by louts and misguided bigots motivated by ignorance and hate, while we today better resemble the enlightened emissaries of all that is just and right. This same view that allows us to strongarm other peoples to our own superior values with political pressure also colors our view back to those “other peoples” of the past.
The thing is, when we refuse to stand on the shoulders of all those who have gone before us, recognizing and accepting the views, constraints and accomplishments they had – and why – then we resemble myopic wanderers, scorning all those who preceded us. Instead of being just like us, they become ignorant and irrelevant subhumans. The humorous and tragic part is that succeeding generations will do exactly the same thing to us, unable to see, let alone comprehend our context. Our methods of propagandizing, resenting and ridiculing will now flow the other way. At the same time, we may begin to sense that some “advancements” are trades of values, not additions. We’ll lose something to get something, and it won’t be the lofty “lose bigotry to gain justice” thing we’ve skewed it to be.
We like to think that such concepts as time travel would, in practice, result in our being able to apply our superior morality and technology to the denizens of the past, and that if they instead somehow made their way to our time, that they would hold us in awe as beings which are clearly superior in every way. I’m convinced that their actual reaction would more resemble being impressed by devices that do things unheard of, and developing perceptions of us that dance a line between baffling confusion and the dismay of witnessing a society utterly derailed. They would now be in our context, and be no more perceptive about the whole as we would be about theirs.
So while we look at the above Hoover blast from the past and give thanks that we are now more open to giving individuals more freedom to make choices based on their own interests and abilities, let us also acknowledge the context from which it came. The culture, its viewpoints and its values were different then, and this ad sought to play into that. In its time, it was no more “wrong” than failing to add a personal gift to the less important role-based gift that this vacuum sought to fill. After all, if you have expectations that your marriage partner will contribute to the marriage and the family’s welfare, you’d want to make it easier for them to meet those responsibilities, if you cared, right? A parent or marriage partner without a role or responsibility they are willing to take on is a loose cannon to the relationship, and leaving your supposed partner to sink or swim on their own would be pretty uncaring as well.
Marriage in those days was skewed more openly toward building a life and committing to the responsibility of raising children, if possible, as a description of what marriage was all about. The roles were more gender-based than ability-based, kind of like a “well, you’re a guy, so you like sports and proving yourself,” or “you’re a girl, so you like dolls and femininity” thing. It worked based on overwhelming averages, a concept that is frowned upon today. We now prefer roles based more on individual orientation or interest than on typical hormone levels.
On the other hand, a parent or marriage partner without a role or responsibility they are willing to take on is a loose cannon to the relationship, a saboteur of sorts, just as is one who makes the other’s labors more difficult. Conformity is a dirty word today, but it holds the same foundation as law: an expectation of consistency and lack of harm. Just as absolute conformity is harmful to any society, inbreeding its thoughts and considerations, so is absolute nonconformity, which can reach a point where the cohesive bonds that define the society disintegrate altogether. Splinter groups do not a nation make.
Some are eager to point an accusing finger of having been “brainwashed by society”: parents, teachers, them. By and large, decent parents influence us to stop lying, stealing, setting fire to sofas, dressing so as to shame the family name, and antagonizing siblings, with mixed results. Teachers like to present their opinions and theories as facts that we can build our lives upon, which Truths will neither be needed nor remembered in real life. Abraham Lincoln, lawyer and noted speaker, led this country through its most perilous time as President, when he had less than a year’s worth of total classroom seat time in a rural shack, peppered out during ages 5, 7, 11, 13 and 15. He’d never get a crack at rung one of McDonald’s “career ladder” today. Same for Thomas Alva Edison, who became America’s most prolific inventor—1,093 patents for such trifles as the microphone, telephone receiver, stock ticker, phonograph, movies, office copiers, and incandescent electric light—despite three months of classroom education in his life. That teacher considered him to be “addled”. The rest was home schooling and self-teaching, and it’s safe to say that no Human Resources department today would touch Edison with a stick either. HR departments aside, my perception is that the real “brainwashing” to conform is exercised almost exclusively by peer pressure, and not just by insecure children and teens. Managing to break free of “society” (our existing peer group of associates) merely sends us to try to conform to the attitudes and behaviors of some unrelated subgroup. The checklists never stop, and neither does our drive to conform to something, even if it’s a group of anarchists, in a play for status.
So enjoy this old Hoover vacuum ad according to our modern standards, but cut a little slack to those who dreamed it up, tested it, and paid for it. It worked well enough in context, gathered purchases instead of a groundswell of protests…and the odds are that none of them ever felt the need to lock their doors when they were home. Merry Christmas, or the alternative Holiday of your choice.