|The cover of "The Community Magazine" |
in festive green and red, complete with a
Dickensian-styled family at the Christmas table.
The magazine is called, appropriately enough, "The Community Magazine," and it's from Albert Lea, a town in southern Minnesota. "The Community Magazine" is one of those free magazines you get in supermarkets, and it's about what you'd expect: television listings for the month, a few local columnists and notes, and advertising. Mostly advertising. Which, in this case, is a real treasure trove for the cultural archaeologist.
I’m offering a condensed version of those pieces this week. As I’ve said in the past, one of the great treasures of TV Guide is that it shows us how life used to be, and often gives us tantalizing hints as to the shape of things to come. “The Community Magazine” isn’t TV Guide per se, but as a TV Guide substitute it delivers the same payoff.
This is the January 1963 issue, which means it would have come out sometime in December 1962, and as such represents the last chance for advertisers to wish their customers the greetings of the season. And herein lies the tale. Taken collectively, these ads present a remarkable slice of life from the early 60s: a time when religion was an accepted - no, a necessary - part of the public square, and when the PC police hadn't ridden Christmas out of town in the name of "diversity." This isn’t to say that the advertisers themselves shared those theological sentiments, but they believed strongly that this was appropriate to the season.
And this is the value of television as a cultural mirror - in looking at these ads, just as in watching the shows of the time, we see not just what people of the era believed, but what it was reasonable to expect them to believe. In other words, while things might not have been as idyllic as all that, it was reasonable to think it could have been that way, and that it was something people would recognize and be comfortable with.
Granted, we're talking about what might be referred to as "Small-Town America," but no matter how you look at it, it's a real document from a real time, one that sadly seems far away today. ne of the added benefits of combing antique stores in search of TV Guides is that in the meantime you can run into the most fascinating things.
This ad is mind-boggling for a couple of reasons. First, it's brought to you by "your servants in government" - that sounds kind of quaint, doesn't it? What's even more stunning is that it not only specifically wishes people "Christmas Joy," but it features the Three Wise Men. Can you imaging a government agency using this kind of symbolism today?
Religious symbolism is a running theme throughout these ads. I'd go to this company for a loan, wouldn't you?. (Do you think it was an accident that a financial institution would go for images of gold, frankincense and myrrh?)
Here's another example. Sorenson Lumber is doing more than advertising their business; they're telling you something about the kind of people that run the company. I don't know anything this company (a quick Google search didn't tell me much), but I wouldn't be surprised to find out it was a family business.
This ad is from the local Skelly gas station. Werner Wittmer doesn't leave you in any doubt as to what they think Christmas is all about.
Not every ad in this issue has an explicitly religious motif, but it's hard to look at a candle without thinking of "The Light of the World." By the way, we don't see candles in Christmas decorating like we used to - when you find them nowadays, it's mostly as part of retro-themed advertising.
I'll be back on Thursday to take a look at a few more pages of "The Community News," and see how America used to celebrate Christmas