No, this isn't about archaeology in Athens. This is archaeology in my own attic. (Sorry, James. I know you're disappointed.) One of the more interesting bits I uncovered while mucking about in the attic (other than that whoever built it didn't own a straightedge, plumb, or level) was an old magazine from the 1950s. The May 25, 1958 edition of the American Weekly to be precise, and apparently a Chicago edition from the subhead.
The impression one gets, on the whole, is of an reformatted Reader's Digest. You have the cute cover art, mildly interesting info-trivia, a patriotic piece, an interview with some celebrity of some sort, veiled politics, ads (of course!) and sections of jokes.
First, the cover.
You could readily surmise one of two things:
- Cute, situational-comedy illustrations were the de facto standard of the day; or,
- Norman Rockwell was someone to be emulated.
On the patriotic front, right the inside front cover, we have the "Proud to be an American" series, where we're presented with — and I quote — "Another in a series of stories about how some obscure individual has given new significance to the principles that made this country great." We should have such helpful subtitles in our own day and age.
Homework was apparently a big issue of the day, given the impassioned response to a March article called "Let's Abolish Homework" by Junior-high principal Dr. Charles M. Shapp. The response, titled "Let's NOT Abolish Homework" by Jr. high teacher Stanley M. Levin, M.A., states that,
...if conscientious students had no homework, they would be depressed and anxious because of wasted time, lack of direction, unproductivity, and restlessness.Last week's TIME cover story on "failing our geniuses" and it's indictment of No Child Left Behind seems to indicate that this isn't a debate that's going to be solved anytime soon.
It is a known fact among teachers that many parents and children complain about the small amount of homework that is given. It is also a known fact that conscientious children are the ones who benefit most from homework. And the Russians have reminded us that this is the time when we must allow our talented students to realize their highest potential.
In a perhaps-related article, "Truth and Myth about What you Eat" set out to debunk what were ostensibly common beliefs of the day, such as, "If you have some food left over in a can it is advisable to toake it out 'just to be on the safe side.'" or the idea that deep thinking requires as many calories as heavy labor, or, inexplicably, "carrots make your hair curly." These required debunking? Really?
The ads themselves are a fascinating bit in their own right.
A number of things struck me about the ads in general:
- There were a lot of food ads. Things like Hellman's Mayonnaise and Hunt's Tomato Sauce merited full-page coverage, and things like restraint, cholesterol, and calories weren't considerations. The photo of mayo being poured by the ladleful into hollowed and fancy-cut tomatoes (as containers for a vegetable dip, I think) turned my stomach. Likewise, the can of condensed milk being poured out onto what looked like english muffins topped with tomato slices struck me as... odd.
- Properties of products were advertised that we wouldn't think twice about today. Wesson Oil takes the smoke out of frying. (Underline theirs.) This deodorant lasts ALL DAY. Wait, didn't it always? The latest thing on the runways of Paris is eye makeup — "Fashion magazines are showing mascara, eyebrow pencil, and eye shadow as basic parts of the costume, as necessary as gloves or handbag."
- Scientific or exotic sounding names and features were selling points, many of which are still around today under different, usually more humble guises.
- "NP-27" was the sure cure for athelete's foot. (This now goes by the brand name of Tinactin.)
- "Incabloc" made your new watch more modern, more precise, and prolonged its life. (No details were given in the ad, but a little research uncovered that this was a shock-absorption system to protect the jewels commonly used as bearings. The company still exists.)
- The mysterious and miraculous "Tefla" made bandages not stick, as demonstrated by two photos of a child smiling sweetly or scowling as the bandage came off her face. (Tefla is still a selling point for Curad.)
And, throughout, a sampling of jokes:
Not surprising, given the mayonnaise ad elsewhere. I'm guessing 25 million today would be a cause for celebration, rather than alarm.
I don't get it. Maybe I should read Robinson Crusoe sometime.
Or, perhaps, the education system has failed me, as Robinson Crusoe was never assigned to me as homework.
If any of this brings back memories, or you have an explanation for some of these things, feel free to chime in on the comments!