Colds, Flu and the Story of Kleenex

Sniffles

It’s the height of cold and flu season again which means it’s all out war on sniffles and red running noses.

For those battle fatigued sufferers, endless reinforcements of Kleenex are constantly being supplied to the front lines.

Today we take for granted those ubiquitous boxes of soothing tissues, but for an earlier generation who battled the 1918 flu epidemic, the existence of Kleenex would have been nothing short of a miracle.

Kleenex Cleans Up

Kleenex wouldn’t make its debut until the mid 1920s and a grateful nation suffering from hay fever and winter colds sat up and took note.

No one was more grateful than my grandmother Sadie.

Tucked into her sleeve, or balled up in her pocket, Nana Sadie never went anywhere without a tissue at the ready, her first line of defense against deadly germs. Nana was certain the air was filled with dust and germs which could then be inhaled resulting in a nasty cold…or worse.

To her, the invention of Kleenex was a modern marvel of science, rivaling sulfa drugs and penicillin in saving mankind. With the simple toss of a disposable Kleenex into a waste basket, you were wiping out thousands of dangerous germs, and saving countless lives.

1918 Flu Epidemichealth-flu -winter 1918

As a veteran of the first and worst flu epidemic every, old fears and suspicion borne of that war, had scarred Nana Sadie for life.

In 1918 America was at war, not only over there but here at home as well. The Influenza epidemic of 1918 meant it was all out war on the home front too.

The public in 1918 and 1919 was petrified of the Flu.

It was a panicky time, when everyone and everything became suspect as the cause of contamination mirroring the Red Scare which reached near hysteria that year.

Provoked by a fear that a Bolshevik revolution in America was imminent – a revolution that would destroy the American Way of Life, ordinary people became suspect of being Anarchists and Communists.

So it was with the Influenza, when even everyday items such as books, candy wrappers came under scrutiny and attack as transmitters of the dreaded disease.

health-handkerchief

Everything came under suspicion – paper money, ice cream, even wet laundry. No one was safe from that villainous brute Influenza.

“Everyday someone else you knew got sick,” my grandmother would explain sadly.

“It killed the young, the strong, the healthy, the rich, the poor, people who had so much to live for…my own brother and sister, so young, God-rest-their-souls. People avoided one another, they didn’t speak, if they did they turned their faces away to avoid the other persons breathing…”

Dangerous germs, scowling and sneering could be lurking right around the corner- yesterday a suspiciously shared sarsaparilla in a soda fountain, today, a sneeze on a shared seat in a sullied streetcar, tomorrow-who knows- the blunder of a borrowed book from the public library.

But the favorite source of blame continued to be handkerchiefs. Continue reading

Coke & American Diversity-It’s the Real Thing

Coke Ad - 1948

“Hospitality-So Easy and Welcome with Coke” vintage Coca Cola Ad 1948

Real America is causing a controversy for some real Americans.

Coca Cola’s multilingual Superbowl commercial celebrating American diversity has stirred up xenophobic rage across social media.

In the great cultural cauldron of 21st century America there still seems to be one basic ingredient to being a real American…English-speaking, heterosexual, and Caucasian.

Vintage Coke Ad 1946

Once upon a time no one reinforced this more than that all American beverage Coca Cola.

Their sentimental mid-century ads portraying an America that existed primarily in our Norman Rockwell fueled fantasies, were as syrupy sweet as the elixir they sold. Like all advertising at the time, their heartwarming illustrations of small town America were a color and ethnic free zone.

#SpeakAmerican

The internet was abuzz with angry comments after the ad appeared, creating a deluge of pseudo patriotic hashtags to break out on twitter. The outrage at “America the Beautiful” being sung in anything but English resulted in some calling for a boycott of Coke, that most American of products.

Well apparently that old-fashioned recipe for prejudice is still being used by some real Americans who are outraged at a Coca Cola commercial showing real America. The spot features people from diverse backgrounds singing “America the Beautiful” in different languages.

Vintage Coca Cola Ad

Coke is as American as apple pie and baseball - Vintage Coca Cola ad

Face the Facts

The fact is, some conservative pundits are uncomfortable with the look of America and its diversity.

The fact is, the America Coke displayed, is the Real Thing!

That a broadcast commercial might reflect this actual diversity of thought like the multicultural and sexually diverse fabric of modern America is as refreshing as a frosty bottle of Coke!

While All-American Coca Cola has now beautifully embraced American diversity, the cranky critics of the Coke commercial crying “un American” seem stuck in a time warp .

This isn’t “their” America – that is the Mad Men mid-century America where the “other” was best kept in the shadows. Perhaps they long for a simpler time like the ones served up with extra sugar by Coke in their vintage advertisements.

Their notion of what constitutes an American is as dated as the portrayal of real America that Coca Cola once pictured in their ads

 The Right to Happiness and a Bottle of Coke

Coke at the Soda Fountain - 1946

“There’s always a welcome – at your favorite soda fountain.This congenial club is as warm and American as an old-fashioned barbecue or band concert right in the village square.” vintage Coca Cola ad 1946

Coke has long been associated with the American way.

“The soda fountain” that dispensed Coca Cola was, they explained in a 1946 ad, “as American as Independence Day …the very expression of Democracy!”

These slice of life images showing Americans enjoying a refreshing pause in their American dream life often took place in that neighborhood soda fountain- “the friendliest place in town”- that is, as long as you weren’t Asian, Hispanic or African-American.

The “friendliest place in town” was also the whitest place in town.

Americas Friendliest Neighborhood Club

“Not far from you right now is a neighborhood branch of Americas friendliest club-the soda fountain,” begins this folksy Coke ad from 1946.

“Here folks get to know each other better. There’s always something going on in the friendly exchange at the soda fountain.”

Now instead of a “friendly soda fountain the place where everybody can good-naturedly air their opinions, parade their pet peeves and add your 2 bits worth to world opinions,” we have the internet where friendly folk can rage to their heart’s content.

To read the article in its entirety jump over to Envisioning the American Dream

Back to the Future

Back to the FutureA better life in the future is, in effect, the promise made by all advertising.

Beginning in the dark days of the Depression and accelerated during the War years, many American businesses adopted the future as an explicit leitmotif in advertising.

Especially during the deprivations and sacrifices of WWII, the glittering promises of a post-war world filled with unheard of conveniences and an abundance of tantalizing technological advances as presented by Madison Avenue, gave hope to a war-weary public.

Tomorrow’s Living Today

In the post-war push button dream world, a man would travel in 300 mph trains, translucent automobiles, four-decker planes, helicopters, buses equipped with cocktail lounges and amphibious jeeps. Television would bring the world to his living room, and he could transact his business by walkie-talkie while bagging a brace of ducks.

It was to be a world in which stockings never ran, fabrics never had to be washed, and intercommunication systems eliminated the need for a babysitter. Pants would never shine or lose their crease even in the rain since a man would ordinarily own several dozen synthetic suits, which after a wearing or two, he would roll up in a ball and fire into the automatic garbage disposer.

To read the entire article pick up the latest issue at Barnes & Noble or Book World Stores.

Envisioning the American Dream