Things No Longer Advertised

Or at least not on TV. Perfume, unless Macy’s is sponsoring the commercial. Doan’s Pills (who knew folding fitted sheets could be so painful, if not dangerous?) Ex-Lax (OK, but it’s descendants are advertised, far too often during meal times, in my opinion.). Calgon water softener (“Ancient Chinese secret, huh?”). My first exposure to Edgar Allan Poe was through a commercial that used the cadences of “The Raven” to sell Roto-Rooter’s services. And I can still sing the jingle of the Runza Huts fast-food chain, although it’s been three decades since I lived in a place that had a Runza hut.

Perfume seems to have faded from public interest, at least the broad general public. I remember very romantic commercials with a woman standing above a wind-swept, cloudy sea-shore remembering her far-away lover, and he remembers her by her perfume. “Promise her everything, but give her Arpége.” That one aired during the classic movies on Saturday afternoon and evening, things like The Three Musketeers, or The Man in the Iron Mask, and so on.

Doan’s Pills ads were on during weekday afternoon shows, when women were likely to be at home with kids, doing chores, and so on. The Calgon water softener ad – it would make your whites whiter and all clothes cleaner! – aired then as well. Doan’s Pills were specifically for back ache, something that appeared to be caused by doing battle with a full-sized fitted sheet, according to the graphics on the commercial. I tended to hide under the fitted sheet, pretending to be a ghost or something until I wrestled it onto the bed, so I never had a back ache that required the use of the pills.

The commercials weren’t any better than they are today, although I’m not sure they were much worse. I don’t remember as many for prescription medications, or for financial products (retirement funds and so on). Car commercials, Coca-Cola™, dog food, Meow Mix™ cat food and Purina products (the miniature chuckwagon leading the dog to the food dish, anyone?), Schlitz, Pabst, and Busch beers, and Coors (this was in the Midwest). And local businesses and so on. IBM, too, although it was for office machines and copiers, not computers until after Apple exploded onto the scene, with Dell, Gateway, and others not long after.


Fads and Angels

Does anyone else remember the fad for angels back in the late 1980s-early 1990s? It started, I think, when the “End Times are Nigh” strand of Christian thinking collided with the New Age “spirit guides and visitors,” with a dollop of free-market retail tossed in. Everyone was selling goodies with the two putti (cherubs) from the bottom of Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna”, despite multiple protests by the copyright holder. I recall angel tee-shirts, angel posters and mouse pads, and lots and lots of books about angelic spirits and summoning angelic spirits [!], and so on.

I read one or two of those books. First off, once they start presenting a list of names that goes beyond the four I’m used to – Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, and Uriel – I start getting a touch curious. Meaning that my “I sense bunkum” detector goes off, along with a quiet alarm. Then the guided meditations and cautions and hints and so on make me itch. Not all of them, especially in books that start with two chapters of warnings about “if whatever shows up does this, this, or that, run,” but most. Too much New Age, too much woo. The book about how to get angelic spirits to make you rich didn’t quite make me back away and reach for the jar of crushed garlic, but it was close.

Angels seem to have fallen out of fashion in pop-culture. I don’t see random angel stuff in shops anymore. Occasionally I still see the decorative wall crosses (which don’t do anything for me, but that’s just me), but not angels, unless it is in a shop that markets to Christians, especially certain Protestant denominations. Angels appear to be Out as pop-culture goes. In a way I’m glad, because treacly-sweet winged children in white nightgowns have never really seemed angelic, aside from church Christmas plays and so on. All the angels in the Bible, when they appear as angels, say, “Fear Not” as their first words for a good reason, at least based on the reaction of the people they appear to.

(Interestingly, fluffy pop-Wicca seems to also have disappeared. Wicca-related accessories and general books are no longer common in the New Age-type shops around here.)

I’m not quite sure what’s trendy now in terms of small, decorative items and poster art. It might be all over the map, given the huge range of things available on-line. And perhaps I’m just not going into the right shops. But I don’t see books on angels in the local bookstores, again aside from the religious bookstores, and even those are sparser than they were in the 1980s-90s.

I suspect the general decline in clearly defined religion plays a role. And fear of someone at a workplace declaring that he or she is offended by anything obviously Christian of Jewish. The darker side of pop-occult stuff, however, I do see more of: divination tools, urban fantasy and paranormal romance with strong negative occult themes, very dark jewelry and fashions. I don’t think that’s a good replacement. In my experience, people can accidentally open doors they don’t intend to, even if those doors are only into their subconscious. If they are fortunate, they just spook themselves.

I’m sort of glad that I no longer have to run a gauntlet of overly-cute angel things as I shop for cards. On the other hand, they were generally harmless as long as I didn’t brush against one and knock it over. The same can’t be said for some other things.

Separate Spheres and Victorian Stereotypes

When I ask the average person to imagine a stereotypical Victorian woman, I suspect what comes to mind will be a woman with a strict hourglass form (corset, of course), perhaps a bustle, who lounges around the home or makes social calls and is supported by her husband. Any children are cared for by servants and a nanny or governess. Some people will perhaps mention a character or two from Downton Abbey, or mention something from a steampunk book or TV program. A proper Victorian woman was underemployed, domestic, depended on men, and had no rights because “society” and the male-dominated political system refused to grant her any rights. Any woman who stepped out of line got chased back into line.

The problem with stereotypes is that often they are based on what a few prolific writers (or critics) at the time declared to be good or bad. A very little digging in period sources or later biographies shows that the powerless, happily dependent Victorian woman . . . was a rare avis indeed. But that image is what later feminists grabbed onto, and what still pops up when “Victorian” is used as short-hand for hypocritical, stuffy, repressed, patriarchal, and so on.

So where did it come from?

Women have always worked to some degree. This was in the household, or a family business or farm. Only very, very aristocratic women were secluded, and even that was only if the head of the household chose to restrict her activities. Russia was different, but again, only for the very rich and the upper nobility. Otherwise? Women were out and about, even if they didn’t have official legal rights to conduct business (sign contracts, buy real property, and so on). Men also worked, again in the household and family property. Then along came the industrial revolutions, and labor moved outside the household and off the farm to factories and cities. It was in this setting that “separate spheres” really took hold.

To have the women in a household not have to work was an ideal that developed during the late 1700s, as best it seems. Women were always viewed as more domestic, physically weaker, more home-focused (children, church, household), and occasionally as more moral and less corrupt. For a man to earn enough that his wife and daughters did not have to work outside the household, or at all, was a good thing. Why? Because she could focus her attention and creating a welcoming haven of calm and comfort away from the conflicts of the world. She would be a beacon of goodness, a reminder of why he too should be moral and upright. He would defend, support, and shelter her from the corruption and ills of the world.

OK, so this is starting to sound just as bad as modern people take the separate spheres idea to be. Well, no one has ever accused Victorian moralists and preachers of being subtle and restrained. “Separate spheres” was just that, and ideal, something middle and working class families aspired to. The reality was rather different. Even with servants, women had to manage the property, oversee education (which often took them outside the home) and so on. The idea of women being secluded, pampered, put on pedestals and venerated (and cheated on), helpless, delicate flowers raised in the sheltered home by an overprotective patriarch . . . never really happened. A few times, yes, but this was an ideal, not the reality. Sort of like the fragile Southern belle who . . . slaughtered hogs, nursed the sick, cooked, and a lot of other tasks we call “hard work.”

A prosperous man could afford for his wife not to work outside the home. As more men worked outside the household in offices and factories, the idea of “separate spheres” took form. The world-of-work was male, the world-of-home was female. Note that this is urban. No farmer would look at this without laughing.

Some religious leaders, and eventually others, took to this idea. In a time of incredible cultural and economic change, going “back to the Bible” and “The way it should be” and “proper roles” is a common response. The industrial revolutions were that sort of change, and urging women to remain home as a touchstone with the calmer (?), greener past fed into the new economy as well as the “good old days.” The home was a respite from “the dark Satanic mills”, as William Blake called them.

Later reformers, suffragettes, proponents of “the New woman” and others took the ideal as “what actually happened.” Add in the later disdain for Victorians as stuffy hypocrits who oppressed everyone, including themselves, and locked women away from the world, keeping women from voting, owning property, and so on. And so the stereotype grew.

For an academic take:

Note that this second article draws in non-western examples, which shifts things a little.

Romantics, Romances, and romances: Pop-Cultural Confusion

“It can’t be romantic! It’s too dark and scary!” Ah, the travails of art-history students* railing against the influence of popular culture. Or against the confusion of Romantic and romantic, at least.

The root of the word “romance” is Roman, just like the Romance Languages are all descended from Latin (Spanish, Italian, French, Romanch, Romanian, Portuguese). It then wandered into Old French and took on the sense of both the vernacular language, and of a work of literature in verse form, or a tale in verse form. From then it jumped to English as something written in French (the adventures of French knights and kings), and thus to a tale in verse form recounting the deeds of heroes and the like. When printing came along, fiction readers spread a wider net. By the late 1600s, “romance” as a type of work included adventure stories with love and kissing. By the early 1800s we get “romance novel” as a distinct type of novel centered on love and kissing.

Since the Romantic [cultural] Movement was all about emotion and passion and being true to one’s heart, you can see how it would borrow (or others would borrow) “romance” as a specific thing that once again included adventures dark and grim as well as warm and fuzzy.

I grew up with both meanings. I read the Romances of Charlemagne and His Paladins, and sampled a few romance novels. And studied a Romance language. I seem to write romances in the older sense, except that they are not in verse. Chesterton might be the last romance-in-verse writer in English, if you take The Ballad of the White Horse as a romance in the medieval sense.

Ah, English, once more muddling the heads of another generation of native speakers with your bad habit of mugging other languages for vocabulary and grammar!

*That was nothing compared to the, ah, vehement denials from some English students a few years back. “No way! ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ is no way a Romantic short story. Eeeeewwwww.” Sister Grammatica and I smiled beatifically at each other in passing and pretended to be deaf.

Book Review: The Complete Gentleman

Miner, Brad. The Complete Gentleman: The Modern Man’s Guide to Chivalry. 3rd Revised Edition (Washington D. C., Regnery Gateway, 2021)

The reviews on this book were mixed, with several complaining because it was not a guide to manners and behavior – that is, it doesn’t give a clear “do this, don’t do that.” Instead the author discusses the history of the idea of chivalry and who was chivalrous, the Victorian concept of gentleman, and possible large ways to shift behavior and thinking in order to be a better, more chivalrous, gentleman.

Brad Miner points to the movie Titanic and the behavior of some young men while watching it, specifically their mocking the actions of some of the upper-class male passengers. That got Miner to thinking about chivalry, the standards men held themselves to, and where it all began. Thus the book goes back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, notably the Stoic philosophers and Aristotle, the medieval ideals of knighthood and chivalry, the Victorian reinterpretation of those ideals, good examples and horrible warnings, and so on.

Miner breaks the gentleman into three main aspects – warrior, lover, and monk. He looks at each in turn, and how these three aspects blend together in a medieval or Victorian man. Then he casts his gaze at the present day and the younger generation. How can you be reticent and restrained in the age of social media and “post your feeeeeeelings!”? Miner points to Castiglione’s The Courtier, and the idea that became sprezzatura, the appearance of effortless grace (which applies to men and women, just in different ways.)

There’s a lot to chew on here, especially if you are the parent of a boy, or a young man trying to be better. Being a gentleman is about aspiring to better. We can’t be perfect. But we can be better, we can raise the bar for ourselves, be it in conduct, physical skill, dress, faith . . . The book is a lot of “what is a gentleman” instead of “how to be a gentleman.” Miner implies that if you work on the mind-set, the how-to will follow. I’d add that having a few carefully chosen guides and role-models will help a lot, for man or woman. Because women need to understand the origins of the idea of gentleman, in order to encourage more of them, and to raise them.

The book reads well. It is somewhat breezy, a bit pop-history at times, but his sources check out, and that’s probably the best tone to take. People don’t like reading hundreds of pages of Polonius, or Lord Chesterfield. Many of the sources are Christian, which fits the culture, but Miner points out that you don’t have to be a Christian to aspire to certain virtues. He tends to keep politics out of the work, although there are a few “don’t do this” moments. Alas, vice knows no time nor country. Miner might have given more time to the critics of masculinity, if only to show some of the flaws in their thinking, but that’s not his goal.

I’d recommend it for young men and women, parents of young men and women, anyone curious about where the ideas of “gentleman” came from, and people interested in popular understandings of European medieval culture.

FTC Notice: I purchased this book for my own use and was given no remuneration by either the author or the publisher.

Corvus Corax, the Carmina Burana, and Hip Hop?

Let’s face it, a lot of popular culture is, and has always been, about the, ahem, ars amatoria. Admiring the opposite sex, pursuing the opposite sex, enjoying the company of an enamorata (or enamorato), and on occasion insulting people by publicly declaring them to be incapable of, or less skilled in, certain recreational pursuits.

The group Corvus Corax is among a few that have no problem with celebrating the medieval popular culture, and do it with gusto. In Latin, old Low German, old High German, and a few other dialects, with a blend of period and modern instruments, and mostly modern tunes based on the surviving medieval bits that we have. Some of the songs they do in English, songs that mirror what was sung in the Middle Ages. Let’s face it, partying, drinking, flirting, are pretty much European universals (and Russian, probably lots of Asia as well.) I like their stuff, although I blushed hard the first time I really listened to the words on a few of their songs. Good thing they are not in English, or I’d be a lot warier about listening to them while at Day Job.

Those of you who have sung, or really listened to Orff’s Carmina Burana, and other settings of the poems those are drawn from, know what I mean. Every time we’ve done the Carmina locally, we had to be careful that the kids singing the boy choir part stayed unaware of what is sung around them. It’s not . . . OK, parts are, but only if you know the subtexts of the Latin. Or have heard a certain setting of one number in particular, where the baritone leaves nothing to the imagination. Joyfully leaves nothing to the imagination.

I have no problem with this music, oddly enough. I say oddly, because so many modern songs on these themes make my stomach churn, or my hackles shoot up to my ears. I don’t mind reading the Roman grafitti from places like Pompeii, or seeing pictures of Classical and Medieval erotica. They are not titilating, I guess because they are historical images and artifacts. That’s what people back them liked, or how they insulted each other, and so what? The human race would not be here today if boys hadn’t chased girls until the girls caught them, going back to . . . um, a very long time ago. I enjoy Corvus Corax and some of the other medieval rock groups. (Not the purely pagan things. Those often give me cold chills.) OK, they are singing what today would NOT get radio play. Since it doesn’t get radio play as it is, no biggie.

Modern stuff isn’t fun, or joyful, especially the hip-hop I’ve been forced to listen to. Granted, it is not a large sample, but it is what is on the internet and satellite radio. Male or female lead, there’s no play in it, no sense of mutual chasing and catching. The singers are all about controlling others, not “enjoying a light evening of mutual pleasure” as Master Saldovado phrased it. The medieval stuff I’ve heard or sung is fun. The musicians enjoy the earthiness of it, and enjoy each other’s company.

“Bring a beer here!”

The following is Corvus Corax having far too much fun with a drinking song.

Fauxdobe and Other Follies

Fauxdobe isn’t really a word. I coined the term to describe the finishes and framing that people use to make a modern balloon frame or metal building look as if it were made of adobe.* I first saw it at work in the late 1990s, when I happened to go past a house in Santa Fe, New Mexico [USA] that was getting a new front fence. Instead of adobe, the contractors had made a form made of chicken wire in the rough shape of an adobe fence. They were covering it with weather-resistant foam, and spray-painting it medium tan with some grit in the mix. Think of making a paper maché form, then painting it, and you can see how the process worked. Continue reading

A Little Learning

is a dangerous thing. Drink deep or taste not of the Pierian spring. – Alexander Pope

A WuFlu rant follows. Sorry, I needed to grouse. Come back tomorrow for non-current-events and lighter topics.

The line is part of Alexander Pope’s very long poetic essay An Essay on Criticism. It is not an easy work to read, and most of us no longer connect the Pierian Spring with the inspiration of the Nine Muses. Which fits my muddled meanderings on the modern media’s practitioners, a little learning, and the near-hysterical narrative shaping society in the US at the moment. Continue reading