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Pulp Mill Presents: Golden Age Ads Week 2: America at War

In Lunchmeat #5 I ran a satirical review of a 1943 issue of Startling Stories that captured America at the peak of World War II in a way that I had never really wrapped my mind around before. Now I know America post 9/11 felt like a pretty war crazy place. Startling amounts of Americans were gung-ho about taking out Iraq, wiping their ass with Bin-Laden toilet paper, and WMD could be used as justification for just about everything. Well, all that was nothing compared to the pride Americans felt for the country and their soldiers during World War II. Now I know we were fighting against arguably the most brutal man of the 20th century, nonetheless, it is alarming how eagerly Americans sought out war as the answer as evidenced by these three ads. Will start with the most light-hearted ad first. This ad (which we printed in the pages of issue #5) is actually a liquor ad - Calvert Whiskey to be exact. The Calvert mascot was apparently an owl, and this owl takes it upon himself to give us a lesson, not only in fine whiskeys, but also in patriotism and sound financial planning. One thing, for what its worth, that I admire about this era is straightforward they were, yes some of it was naïveté, most of it was ignorance, but all the same – they didn’t bullshit. Example: the line “Each bond and stamp helps pay for war!” written in exclamatory glee. Today we would get each bond you buy helps keep America safe from terror, or Support Your Troops by supporting federal government. Oh for the good old days when war was good, Women didn’t work, and tofu was for commies! Ad number 2 isn’t too remarkable except that it is a message apparently written by John Dos Passos, a fairly remarkable modernist writer who unsurprisingly, given this piece, became something of a conservative activist in his later years. What strikes me about this piece is the way that it is a sly little ad passed of as a magazine feature. Perhaps its my personal naiveté speaking this time, but its somewhat mind-blowing to have a sci-fi journal shamelessly taking a political stance. I apologize for the blurriness of this final add, but there is only so much one can do when scanning the interior pages of a nearly 70 year old pulp magazine. Nonetheless I think the idea comes across. Again, we have an ad run as a feature, and once again it shamelessly takes on a political stance – this time making just about the wildest claim one could possibly imagine. Even more remarkable than the title alone, this ad seems to be for a treatise on the religious justifications of war written by a mystic who apparently founded an organization called “Institute of Mentalphysics.” Confronted with ads like these I sometimes find myself feeling that World War II America is a land stranger and more foreign to me than virtually any of the fantastic worlds in the multitude of pulp ads I have perused over the years. - Ted Gilbert (7.18.11)

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