Monday, February 25, 2008


Once more into the 1956 edition of Life magazine, dear friends, and an advertisement from the good people at Esso.

Isn't advertising oil with an enormous image of the sun the equivalent of advertising beef with a big photo of a baked ham?

Or maybe it's one of those subliminal message things - beware the sun, lest you be turned into a crisp, blackened husk of a man.

The 1956 message that "oil brings health" was rather tenuously backed up with the following blurb:

Uh-huh. Well, that is one way of looking at it. This may have been accepted wisdom at the time, but by the late 1970s society was in a positon to contend that "oil brings health" could be robustly argued on environmental, geopolitical and pollution grounds.

In 2008, of course, we'd just scream "BLASPHEMERS!" and lynch them from the nearest wind turbine. How we've grown.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


One of my daily blog reads is ‘The Worst of Perth’, a site which deals with all the things that make my city an exasperating, embarrassing, graceless place in spite of its wealth, natural beauty and comfort.

To me, one of the worst things about Perth is the shopping. We have thousands of shops… but they all sell exactly the same things. Shopping in Perth like walking into a restaurant advertising “The World’s Biggest All-You-Can-Eat Buffet!”, and discovering that every single table, bench and bain marie is groaning under the weight of identical bowls of macaroni and cheese.

For example, I’m in the market for a new rug for my dining room. So I went down to a local rug warehouse, one with a big sign out the front that boasts of having the largest range in the city.

Rug Guy: Hello. Are you looking for anything in particular?

Me: I’m looking for a square area rug.

Rug Guy: Square?

It must be noted that the question was asked with a tone of slight peevishness, like that of an actor who realizes that his fellow actor has thrown out the script and started improvising. Anyone who has gone into a retail shop in Perth looking for anything that deviates, however infinitesimally, from the norm will know that tone all too well.

Me: Yes. A square rug.

Rug Guy: (dismissively glancing away from me and back to his paperwork) Sorry. We don’t see a lot of square rugs.

Me: Well, I do appreciate it would be a difficult shape to master.

That comment didn’t go down well. So I went to a competing rug shop down the street.

Rug Lady: Good afternoon. Can I help you?

Me: Do you have any square rugs?

Rug Lady: No. We don’t. Pervert.

Okay, so I added that last word. But it was implied. Her facial expression suggested that “square rugs” might be a local euphemism for “barnyard porn”.

I should add that neither of these stores were little family businesses. They were cavernous warehouses stacked with thousands with rugs. It’s just that they were all variations on the same rugs.

So I went to Ikea. Somehow, despite only having a relatively small rug department, they managed to have some square ones.

And that’s Perth in a ghastly little nutshell – a monolithic global chain store that’s infamous for its homogeneity still has a bigger conceptual range that all of the local stores put together. Sometimes I wonder how I haven’t been run out of town yet.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Just one month to go until...

AndressFest '08!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


This is the cover of my Life magazine from 1970:

life 1970 cover

I am Woman, hear me rowrr! I must say I have been grossly misinformed about the fugliness of 1970s women's libbers.

And what a difference fourteen years can make. Compare our covergirl with Miss Pepsi from yesterday's post; gone is the New Look wasp-waisted black cocktail dress, heels and pearls. Now it's jeans, a vinyl belt, a hippie bag and a rayon shirt that probably breathed about as well as the Elephant Man.

Inside there are photos of marchers that couldn't be more evocative:

life 1970 march

All hail the Parade of Flares and Afros! According to the caption, the movement wanted both free abortion and free childcare... although I would think if they got either one the need for the other would become somewhat less pressing.

The article itself is unfortunately rather dull, simply listing the inequalities that women faced, along with some dry commentary. There is also a portrait of feminist author Kate Millett, which does little more than prove that fame is fleeting: apparently in 1970 she was a household name - the unquestioned queen of Women's Liberation - but her notoriety has long since been eclipsed by other, more media savvy feminists.

Within the rest of the magazine lies proof that Women's Liberation was actually needed - the advertisements are all for high end cameras, cutting edge stereo equipment, expensive watches, travel, alcohol and cigarettes: it's like the Playboy lifestyle without the naked ladies. It's also about as subtle as a Playboy centerfold. There are no chatty sailors or planets with straw boaters here. The ad for beer shows a bottle of beer. The ad for reel-to-reel tape decks shows a reel-to-reel tape deck. Ads for pens and watches show pens and watches... and little else. It's almost as if the advertising agencies were being run by bitter, disillusioned marxists: "You want to buy your wretched middle-class whiskey and cameras? Well, here are some big-ass pictures of them! Happy now? Enjoy them if you can, capitalist pigs!"

Monday, February 18, 2008


The back inside cover of my 1956 Life magazine is this wonderful Norman Rockwellesque advertisement for Pepsi. Apparently someone at Pepsi had decided, "To hell with these teenagers and their disposable income! We're going to target our marketing at the middle-aged cocktail party demographic!"

Which makes sense. If you're at a cocktail party and you have a choice between a manhattan, a two olive martini and a glass of Pepsi, naturally you'll choose the carbonated sugar water.

life 1956 pepsi

The copy is as clunky and old-fashioned as your drunken uncle doing the Birdy Dance at a wedding:

Several words come to mind when I consider Pepsi. "Gracious", "gentle" and "purity" are not among them.

I like to think that the text is being spoken by the well-dressed fellow on the left, earnestly and with convinction... which would certainly explain the look on the woman's face.

I think her expression falls into the catagory of "disdainful amusement". And if we needed one, the artist has kindly inserted a visual reference to underline this guy's chances of getting anywhere with this particular blonde:

Get ready to wilt, dude.


Friday's post about the Gillette advertising from 1956 gave me opportunity to reflect on the role of psychology in advertising, and the cynical, canny triumph of effectiveness over style in modern marketing.

Pity the poor, naive marketing executives of 1956. They thought that because they were marketing a product intended for use by men, the advertising should be aimed at men. The use of a couple of international sailors would remind middle-aged men of their navy days during the war - the excitement, the travel, the masculine culture and the sense of worldliness.

However, fifty years later, we know better. The razors may be intended for use by men, but it's the wives and girlfriends who'll actually be doing the shopping. Capture the ladies and the men will follow. Even if they don't particularly like your razors, they're hardly going to schlep up to the shops themselves to buy their prefered brand if their significant other has left her prefered brand on the bathroom counter. They may complain a bit, but they'll fall into line eventually. Hence, men's razors are most effectively marketed by a male model with less stubble than a bowl of custard flexing his pecs at the mirror.

Machiavelli would be proud.

Friday, February 15, 2008


Hello sailor!

life 1956 sailors

In the 1950s an advertisement for disposable razorblades could use obscure words like 'matelot' and French phrases like 'entente cordiale' without raising an eyebrow. Perhaps in more low-brow publications they used a different advertisement, with text along the lines of "Gillette razorblades good! Buy Gillette Razorblades! NOW!"

In the 2000s, marketers have learned that if you appeal to the lowest common denominator, you can use the same ad across all markets and social groups; that's why it's called "common", after all. The equivalent ad today would have some over-waxed and over-tanned male model swiping a disposable razor across his face, while the word "X-treme!" exploded across a background filled with shiny stainless steel and blue light.

I wish we could take advertising back to the days when they believed they had to appeal to us on our best level, not on our worst.

On a sidenote, I do wonder what these two are talking about:

Sailor 1: Nice pom-pom hat you got there, Sean Penn.
Sailor 2: Mordre moi, merde pour cervaux.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Now that the Prime Minister of Australia has said "sorry" to the Stolen Generation, Tim Blair believes it is time to talk compensation, and offers this suggestion:

Please give generously of any members from this generation you have lying idle around the house.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Spread (Part 2)

Still unsure which aliens abducted you last Friday night? 1956 Life magazine to the rescue!

life 1956 ufo 2

Let's have a closer look at some of the vehicles of our new alien overlords.

Ah, your classic flying saucer. No doubt the inside is all Eames chairs, Philippe Stark orange juicers and aliens in silver jumpsuits who utter classic statements like, "What is this thing you humans call... love?"

This one was first identified by a couple of tobacco farmers who described it as "cigar-shaped". It's a good thing it wasn't first identified by a couple of hookers.

A flying saucer with a rudder? Is that very useful on a vehicle operating in a vacuum? Does it also have a mainsail and an anchor? Does the captain shout things like, "Hard to starboard, Mr Gnyxthar, unless you want keel-hauling and taste of the lash, ye scurvy space dog!"

A "disclike glow surrounded winged object". First identified by a "navy flier and his wife", possibly after a visit from the Giant Rocket-Powered Space Spliff people.

It's unfortunate that later issues of Life magazine didn't include these handy guides to alien invaders. The 1970 issue, for example, wasn't much use unless you'd been abducted by Gloria Steinem or Helen Gurley Brown... in which case you had far bigger problems to worry about.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Spread (Part 1)

Phaedrus is clamouring for the Know Your UFOs spread from the 1956 Life, possibly to assist him in identifying which particular species has been abducting him from the wilds of Minnesota.

life 1956 ufo 1

Aliens are notoriously secretive about such things. It's kind of annoying; they think nothing of anal probing at the drop of a hat, and yet go all coy when you try to find out if they're from Jupiter or Saturn.

But enough about my dating life. Let's talk UFOs.

Environmentally conscious aliens travel the universe in low-flow shower heads. You just know there's a little green pointy-eared Al Gore on board.

Obviously an intergalactic scout vessel from the Tampax Nebula. Note the wings, which aid both atmospheric stability and leakage protection.

I don't know about you, but I start to think that someone is yankin' my chain when a UFO looks suspiciously like George Jetson's trilby.

This is not a UFO. This is a spotty teenager's reflection in a boomerang-patterned formica countertop.

The Giant Rocket-Powered Space Spliff brings you peace and love from the Stoner constellation. Providing they can remember where they're going and don't just end up in a 7-11 car park eating Doritos and staring at their hands.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


From the back cover of the 1956 Life, a glorious full page advertisement for Volkswagen Beetles. This was obviously at the tail end of the age when the graphic artist, rather than the marketing psychologist, ruled the overall design process. It's no wonder that the VW ads from the 50s and 60s are now collector's items; if this page wasn't slightly ripped it'd be worth a small fortune on eBay.

life 1956 VW

We all dream of a Volkswagen future, in which the world's continents are purple and the seas are turquoise, and we all drive around in magenta VW Beetles with pink upholstery...

Well, perhaps not. It's never wise to read too much into these things. At least that enormous straw boater will help protect us from global warming.

Friday, February 08, 2008


As the frequent reader will know, last year I visited a local antique store and bought a copy of Life magazine from 1968, then posted a number of pages from it on this blog… including the sex-o-licious cover photo of Jane Fonda as Barbarella. This afternoon I had a chance to stop by the same antique store, and I happened across two more issues, one from 1956 and one from 1970.

And oh, the fun we are going to have with them. The 1956 issue includes a field guide to identifying your UFOs, while the 1970 issue is devoted to the Women’s Liberation movement. They couldn’t be more zeitgeisty if they tried.

I’ve already identified half a dozen pages that cry out for closer scrutiny. But for the moment let’s just have a look at this 1956 advertisement for KLM airlines.

It’s good to know that if your KLM flight explodes in mid-air, hurling your and your fellow passenger toward the earth, a smiling stewardess will be plummeting nearby to provide you with reading material, so as to make you imminent death more comfortable… or at least less distracting.

Thursday, February 07, 2008


The year was 1966. Nancy Sinatra released 'These Boots Were Made For Walkin''. The Beatles stated that they were "bigger than Jesus". And for the first time in five years, there was no new James Bond movie to delight and enthrall the masses. Obviously something had to be done, lest everyone decide they'd had enough of spies and go see 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' instead. Thus 'Agent for H.A.R.M.', starring a bunch of nobodies doing nothing for no good reason, had its moment in the sun.

Then it plunged back into the long dark night of cinematic obscurity.

But, like an ancient talisman that is unearthed by foolish archeologists, unleashing its hideous power upon a defenseless world, it was revived as an episode of MST3K in 1997. And the horror than had remained dormant for thirty years was reborn.

Somewhere under all the flat acting, baffling script and listless production design there's a plot of sorts. Dr Jan Steffanic, a commie chemist who has created a deadly weapon based on fungal spores, has defected from the USSR and is working on an antidote to his weapon in a secret laboratory. Assisting him, or at least not getting in his way, is his hot blonde bikini-clad neice Ava. When his other, decidedly less hot, blonde or bikini-clad assistant Henry turns up dead, the US government sends an agent from H.A.R.M., Adam Chance, to check up on things.

What is H.A.R.M.? Such piffling details were beneath the notice of the scriptwriters, although if you look carefully you can see a sign in the final scene that claims the anagram stands for 'Human Aetiological Relations Machine'. Why an American government agency would use a British spelling of "etiological", or what the hell 'Human Aetiological Relations Machine' actually means is anyone's guess.

Stuff and nonsense, I say. I prefer to think that H.A.R.M. stands for the following:

H is for Hopeless dolt of a Hero

James Bond - athletic, suave, capable and discriminating. Adam Chance - out of shape, smarmy, useless and clad in a yellow knitted cardigan that emphasises his paunch. Obviously someone at Universal Pictures thought that America was ready for a sleazy, patronising, elderly secret agent whose only advantage over the bad guys was that he'd read the script. Obviously someone at Universal Pictures was an idiot.

Him: Do you expect me to talk?
Her: No, Mr Chance, I expect you to change. What the hell were you thinking when you got dressed this morning?

A is for Alcohol

You know that your spy organisation is in trouble when your leader is the infamously inebriated Wendell Corey. Propped up against a desk or a wall, with a great deal of concentration etched into every line in his face, he manages not to fall over. He slurs his lines like he has a mouthful of novocaine, and he has his glassy stare fixed just off the edge of the set, where no doubt a Best Boy stands by with an emergency bottle of gin, but at least he's upright.

R is for Restricted finances

The producers splurged on a classic Mercedes coupe for the lovely Ava, but the bad guys are getting about in a VW Beetle. They also have a Bedford van disguised as a dry cleaner's delivery truck, with "DRY CLEANERS" hand stencilled off centre on the rear doors. As for sets, the producers rented a decrepit beach house in a desolate neighbourhood outside San Diego, and come hell or high water they were going to wring every penny out of their investment. And why not use an arid, scrub-filled gully in southern California as a stand in for the countryside around the Iron Curtain? The Black Forest is full of eucalypts, right?

M is for Morons

When you're making a movie that you intend will be the pilot for an exciting new TV show, then it's probably a good idea to hold off until you've got the finances together, the actors carefully auditioned and the script tweaked for maximum appeal. Throwing a hundred bucks, Wendell Corey and lines like "You think you can't get hurt, Doctor, because this is America? Apple pie and all that jazz? Well, it's my job to keep the pie on the table, and nobody asks me how I do it!" at the problem isn't enough. It isn't even in the same timezone as enough. And yet the movie was made. How many careers does Hollywood have to ruin before they finally learn their lesson?

It's probably about now that I should make the inevitable "H.A.R.M. minimisation" gag, but frankly my will to live has already been sapped. I will leave that to future generations when, in another thirty years, once again 'Agent for H.A.R.M.' arises from the cinematic grave to wreak its unholy terror. Saints preserve them.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Along with providing a marketplace for art and handicrafts, also offers opportunities for clueless people to expose their delusions to the public. Such as the painter of this portrait:

All well and good (or all sick and awful, as the case may be) - everyone's entitled to try to flog their wares in a free society. However it's the sheer weight of self-delusion that verges on the offensive here. The asking price on this picture is US$1,900.

Sadly, I lack the lung capacity to laugh sufficiently. I will need ten billion Edna Krabappels all snorting "HA!" at the same time to even begin to do it justice.

Monday, February 04, 2008


A week or so ago I made my first purchase from It's an online market community for handmade material, including art, stationery, clothes, furnishings and jewellry.

As you might expect, it's not a bastion of manliness. If you want a strong, aggressive painting of a truck or a bushfire, you'll be trapped in a world of disappointment. If, however, you want innumerable pictures of doe-eyed waifs wandering dolefully around folk art woods searching for lost kittens, there are enough here to wallpaper an aircraft hangar. There are also a lot of ill-trained housewives intent on immortalising their pets through art, with results so unholy that you are tempted to grasp your computer monitor and hurl it through the nearest window, lest your soul be forever cursed by their awfulness.

But in life there is always a speck or two of gold amongst the dross. In this case, I bought a small work of portraiture from the Garage Sale of Dr Moreau - an oil painting of a bunny woman named Loretta. If you understand me at all, you'll appreciate why the opportunity to buy a painting of a bunny woman named Loretta had to be grasped with both hands, especially as she was going relatively cheap.

The work has a sense of surreal simplicity that appeals to me, and the fact that it's painted on a jagged scrap of masonite just adds to its charm; it lends it an aura of misappropriation, as if it's been snatched from somewhere and somehow shouldn't be available for our eyes to see.

When buying art over the internet you generally can't see all of the subtle detail that separates a talented artist from a mediocre one, but fortunately in this case I seem to have backed a winner. It's hard to explain, but a good artist has a natural grasp of light and composition that leads him or her to make the best decision with every brushstroke. Loretta has tiny hints of colour and texture that convey a sense of reality and solidity, and personality, that an untalented artist could never achieve.

He says, as if he has any idea what he's talking about.


In 1972 Apollo 16 astronaut Charles Duke left a photo of his family on the surface of the Moon, where it will probably remain for thousands of years longer than our civilisation will last. He even thought to seal the picture in a plastic pouch, so as to keep out all the bugs, rain and wind for which the Moon is so justly famous.

Taking this as a starting point, a program called Lunar Legacy is sending a vast batch of photos from ordinary citizens to the moon, so that our distant descendants, or Aliens from Beyond the Moon, can see what we looked like. Unfortunately weight restrictions mean that they won't be dumping hundreds of printed photos, but rather burning them to DVD and placing it in a time capsule - let's hope the aliens know the difference between Blu-ray and HD-DVD, or there will be issues.

You can look at the photos here. I for one am pleased that even after all of our art, architecture, philosophy and music has been lost to the erosion of the centuries, up on the Moon the lolcats phenomenon will survive in perpetuity.