Both humorous and insightful of electro-mechanical
civilization, The Mechanical Bride is based on a simple idea - clip out a series
of the most commonly looked at popular magazine advertisements and write about
them. Here is one of the many essays.
The Utopia of the picnic inherited from the aristocratic pastoral convention?
Did Whitman give America the poetry of the open road?
What happens when the ad makers take over all the popular myths and poetry?
Are ads themselves the main form of industrial culture?
LET'S set this one up for an adult discussion group:
Study the items in this scene. What is intended as the general effect? Gaiety amid a fruitful and prosperous countryside?
What would you say was the income level of this family group? Estimate this from the car, the Scottie, the portable radio, and the appearance of the family. If this is "freedom . . . American Style," then is it not freedom and not American to have less money and fewer possessions? Was Henry Thoreau un-American?
What proportion of Americans enjoy this style of freedom ?
Is there anything about the family group which is different from the Bumstead family?
Is there any basic connection between freedom and prosperity? Would Dagwood be free if he had the same job and the same thoughts, and earned a million a year?
Why take a radio into the countryside? Fear of boredom? Silence?
Looking at the standardized equipment of this family and their standardized pattern of living, discuss how far they can be said to be free as human beings. Consider whether a uniform educational system can be said to make for freedom. Does "freedom" mean the right to be and do exactly as everybody else? How much does this kind of uniformity depend on obeying the "orders" of commercial suggestion? If it takes a lot of money to conform in this way, does conformity become an ideal to strive for?
Discuss the habit of isolation of the American family. Consider the "Henry Aldrich" program or "One Man's Family." Why is there no sense of community in our festivities and relations? Whence this trait of "keeping it in the family?"
The copy under this scene announces that freedom is
the feeling you have when you get up in the morning. . . . It's whistling before breakfast, disagreeing with the bank over your monthly statement, leaving a tip for the waitress when you feel like it.... It's working hard now with the idea of quitting someday.
It's living where you like.
It's an oil company spending more money to make a better motor oil....
It's asking you to try Quaker State-in order to care for your car for your country in the best way possible.
The big hefty heartiness of this is very familiar in the radio commercials. The loud, confident self-congratulation that we are as we are and that only a cheap sneak would ask any questions. The style of the old patent medicine man has certainly been getting slicked up by those college men in the ad agencies. And the star-spangled scene of the free man cussing the bank or gypping the tired waitress who didn't sparkle and zip around is a curious way of getting at the essence of freedom.
As for working hard with the idea of quitting some day, that would not seem to be the idea of a man who loves his work. As for living where you like, there would seem to be relatively few people in this category, since nobody can do much about changing the noisy and unsalubrious character of the big cities in which most of us live and work.
The writer of the ad, in short, takes a dim view of the capacities of his readers, especially when he makes his final gesture of including, as it were, a can of motor oil in every picnic hamper.
(c) 1951 The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man (Vanguard Press), p117
Other books by McLuhan