Sunday, January 24, 2010

Subliminal Advertising - Fact or Fiction?

Most Baby Boomers are quite familiar with the term. And until today, while doing some research, I believe it all. But now, with the new input, I'm not so certain. Here's what I discovered.

In 1957, market researcher James Vicary claimed that quickly flashing messages on a movie screen, in Fort Lee, New Jersey, had influenced people to purchase more food and drinks. Vicary coined the term subliminal advertising and formed the Subliminal Projection Company based on a six-week test. Vicary claimed that during the presentation of the movie Picnic he used a tachistoscope to project the words "Drink Coca-Cola" and "Hungry? Eat popcorn" for 1/3000 of a second at five-second intervals. Vicary asserted that during the test, sales of popcorn and Coke in that New Jersey theater increased 57.8 percent and 18.1 percent respectively.

It was later revealed, however, that Vicary lied about the experiment. He admitted to falsifying the results, and an identical experiment conducted by Dr. Henry Link showed no increase in cola or popcorn sales. This has led people to believe that Vicary actually did not conduct his experiment at all.

Vicary's claims were promoted in Vance Packard's book The Hidden Persuaders, and led to a public outcry, and to many conspiracy theories of governments and cults using the technique to their advantage. The practice of subliminal advertising was subsequently banned in the United Kingdom and Australia, and by American networks and the National Association of Broadcasters in 1958.

But in 1958, Vicary conducted a television test in which he flashed the message "telephone now" hundreds of times during a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation program, and found no increase in telephone calls. In 1962, Vicary admitted that he fabricated his claim, the story itself being a marketing ploy. Efforts to replicate the results of Vicary's reports have never resulted in success.

Apparently, advertisers continue to use this type of persuasion in their print ads. Or, is it possible that we are just finding things there that weren't actually intended? I'm not sure. But here's a site with a lot of images you might find interesting.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Lazy Sunday

Okay. I'll admit it. I'm totally lazy today. And I'm just now getting to my writing assignment. But it's Sunday. So, I've just been remembering.

When I was a kid, my dad always took a nap on Sunday afternoons. It was a quiet time. My mother told my two younger sisters and I that our father worked very hard and he needed his rest. So we were very quiet while he napped. Being unemployed myself at this point, I don't take a nap, but I could if I wanted. It would probably do me just about as much good as my job search has so far. But who's complaining? Back to the story.

Later that evening my father would fix supper and give my mother a rest. It was usually something really yummy like barbecued ribs, salmon croquettes or boiled shrimp. It was Sunday, after all. I remember on those Sunday evenings I would stand in the kitchen and watch my dad prepare everything. Sometimes he would even let me help with minor tasks.

We lived in a small, three-bedroom ranch in Independence, Missouri, that had a proportinally small galley kitchen. But, being small myself at the time, I was able to squeeze my bony little body between the end of the countertop and the refrigerator.

If you've forgotten how those countertops were made back in the early fifties, maybe this will spark your memory. (You'll understand that pun a bit later.) They were typically made with a plywood base with linoleum (ours was dark green) glued to the top surface. As a finishing touch, there was a chrome, L-shaped, ribbed band screwed along the edge. That served two purposes: it covered the vertical edge of the plywood, and it kept the linoleum from peeling up. This was long before Formica.

Anyway, when I stood there with my back against the fridge and my arms resting on the countertop, I always got a mild shock (there's that "spark" pun mentioned earlier) when I touched the metal edging. It wasn't bad, but it was enough to wake you up.

After supper we would settle back in the living room and turn on the old black-and-white Zenith console television and watch Disneyland on ABC. My favorites were those Walt would pick that featured a Donald Duck or Goofy or Mickey Mouse animated featurette. When that happened, life just didn't get any better. Those were the days.

And if you'd like to see something interesting, check out the video clip HERE! It's archival footage of construction at Disneyland back in the fifties. You're going to love it! Also, if you scroll down far enough on this site, you'll find another video on the right sidebar. It's a 9 minute clip from the very first Disneyland Television Broadcast. It was first aired in 1954.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Lone Ranger Rides Again!

A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty "Hi Yo Silver!" The Lone Ranger. "Hi Yo Silver, away!" With his faithful Indian companion Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains, led the fight for law and order in the early west. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. The Lone Ranger rides again!

Most of us Baby Boomers are quite familiar with that previous paragraph. We listened to it every day on our black and white television sets (usually with "rabbit ears") between 1949 and 1957. But a lot of you may not be aware that The Lone Ranger existed long before those years of our enjoyment. Let's hop into the Wayback machine and take a little journey through time.

The media legend began on January 30, 1933, when the first of 2,956 episodes of The Lone Ranger premiered on WXYZ radio in Detroit, Michigan. Later it was picked up by NBC’s Blue Network (which became ABC), which broadcast the last episode on September 3, 1954.

On the December 7, 1938, radio broadcast we learn how a Texas Ranger named Reid first met his future sidekick, Tonto. In that episode, "Cactus Pete," a friend of Reid’s, tells the story. According to that tale, Tonto had been caught in an explosion when two men dynamited a gold mine they were working. One of the men wanted to kill the wounded Tonto, but Reid arrives on the scene and makes them administer first aid. The man subsequently decides to keep Tonto around, intending to make him the fall guy when he would later murder his partner. Reid foiled both the attempted murder and the attempted framing of Tonto. No reason was given in the episode as to why Tonto chose to travel with the Lone Ranger rather than continue about his business. A reasonable assumption would be that he felt a sense of gratitude to the man.

By happenstance, the pair discover a magnificent white stallion, wounded by a buffalo. They nurse the stallion back to health, which is then adopted by Reid as his mount, Silver. Whenever the Ranger mounts Silver he shouts, "Hi-yo Silver, away!" which besides sounding dramatic, originally served to tell the radio audience that a riding sequence was about to start.

They also find an old mentor of Reid's, who has discovered a lost silver mine some time back. Reid's mentor is the only one other than Tonto who knows the identity of the Lone Ranger, and he is willing to work the mine and supply Reid and Tonto with as much silver as they want. Using material from his brother's Texas Ranger vest, Reid fashions the mask that will mark him as the Lone Ranger.

In addition, the Lone Ranger decides to use only silver bullets. The precious metal serves to remind the masked man that life, too, is extremely precious, and, like his silver bullets, not to be wasted or thrown away. Vowing to fight for justice and never to shoot to kill, together, the Lone Ranger and Tonto wander the Old American West helping people and fighting injustice where they find it. During these adventures, Tonto often referred to the Ranger as "ke-mo sah-bee", a word he said meant "faithful friend" or "trusty scout" in his tribe's language.

The Lone Ranger displayed in the adventures that he was also a master of disguise. At times, he would infiltrate an area using the identity of "Old Prospector", an old-time miner with a full beard, so that he can go places where a young masked man would never fit in, usually to gather intelligence about criminal activities.

According to "The Legend of Silver", a radio episode broadcast September 30, 1938, before acquiring Silver the Lone Ranger rode a chestnut mare called Dusty. After Dusty was killed by a criminal that Reid and Tonto were tracking, Reid saved Silver's life from an enraged buffalo, and in gratitude Silver chose to give up his wild life to carry him. Silver's sire was called Sylvan, and his dam was Musa.

The origin of Tonto's horse, Scout, is less clear. For a long time, Tonto rode a white horse called White Feller. In the episode titled "Four Day Ride," which aired August 5, 1938, Tonto is given a paint horse by his friend, Chief Thundercloud, who then takes and cares for White Feller. Tonto rides this horse, and simply refers to him as "Paint Horse," for several episodes. The horse is finally named Scout in the episode "Border Dope Smuggling," which was broadcast on September 2, 1938. In another episode, the lingering question of Tonto's mode of transport was resolved when the pair found a secluded valley and the Lone Ranger, in an urge of conscience, released Silver back to the wild. The episode ends with Silver returning to the Ranger bringing along a companion who becomes Tonto's horse, Scout.

The Lone Ranger program offered many radio premiums, including the Lone Ranger Six-Shooter Ring and the Lone Ranger Deputy Badge. Some of the premiums used a silver bullet motif. One ring had a miniature of one of his six-guns atop it, with a flint and striking wheel, as used in cigarette lighters, so that "fanning" the miniature pistol would produce a shower of sparks.
During World War II the premiums adapted to the times. For example, in 1942 the program offered the Kix Blackout Kit.

Some premiums were rather anachronistic for a 19th-century hero. In 1947 the program offered the Kix Atomic Bomb Ring, also known to collectors as the Lone Ranger Atom Bomb Ring. This ring was a miniature spinthariscope that actually had a small amount of radioisotope in it to produce the scintillations caused by nuclear reactions. With its tailfin piece removed, the "bomb" body looked like a silver bullet.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Betsy Wetsy. This is scary.

First of all, I’m only introducing this post for all the ladies out there, since I’ve been instructed to include more gurly-girl stuff.

As you faithful readers know, I don't generally include my personal opinions on this site. But if I were looking for a doll for my granddaughter, it certainly would NOT be this one. This has to be the scariest looking thing I’ve ever seen. But, don’t let me taint your memories, in case you had one. You probably loved it, if you did. But you probably didn’t realize how scary it really was. You were a lot younger then.

If we hop in the Wayback Machine and set the dial for the 1950s (not sure what year this thing was introduced) we will eventually meet up with the frightening creature known as the BETSY WETSY doll. Yikes! Let's hope it's still daylight.

She was the star attraction of the Ideal Toy Corporation in New York for many years. (Yeah. And JoJo the Dog-Faced Boy was the star of P.T. Barnum's freak show for many years, too.) Ideal carved their name into the back of her head (ouch!) along with a manufacturing lot number. How attractive is that? No wonder she has that expression.

But, Betsy was made in the USA, and that’s the only good thing I can say about her. She had an open mouth (like many of today’s children) into which “mom” could insert the bottle containing the fluid that would eventually come out her other end. Now, how attractive is that? And what a pleasing thing she must have been. Originally her head was hard plastic and her body a blend of soft plastic and latex with jointed shoulders and hips.

In the 1950s, the box containing this demon doll said, “Little Miss Betsy Wetsy.” She was available in various sizes: 8 inch, 13 inch, and 22 inch. And, from the number that were sold, she was apparently what every little girl needed — a 22 inch tall piece of plastic with a hard head and a scary face that didn’t do anything except pee everywhere. But she was something new, and Americans love new things.

Today’s prices on the vintage dolls varies and depends on their condition. I would think they would be incontinent by now, but enough of my opinions here. MIB (mint in box) versions are commonly in the $50 range. Remember, there were many thousands of these made, and while some owners may ask $300, there are others out there at a more realistic price. If I had one you could have it for free, just to get it out of my sight.

And I'm not alone in that opinion. I showed the photo to my friend Max the Monkey just to see his reaction. The picture tells you what he thought. And monkeys don't lie.

In the late 1980's, a failing IDEAL company reissued the Betsy Wetsy with a made-in-China version, but it didn't catch on. Thank goodness! You can stick around here if you wish, but Max and I are heading back to the Wayback Machine.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Mr. Wizard

Come on kids. Let’s all hop into the Wayback Machine once again and return to March 3, 1951. That was the date Watch Mr. Wizard first aired on NBC. But who was Mr. Wizard and what was it all about?

Mr. Wizard was actually Don Herbert. He was a general science and English major at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse who was interested in drama. His career as an actor was interrupted by World War II when he enlisted in the United States Army as a private.

Herbert later joined the United States Army Air Forces, took pilot training, and became a B-24 bomber pilot who flew combat missions with the Fifteenth Air Force. When Herbert was discharged in 1945, he was a captain and had earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters.

After the war, Herbert worked at a radio station in Chicago where he acted in children's programs such as the documentary health series It's Your Life (1949). It was during this time that Herbert formulated the idea of Mr. Wizard and a general science experiments show that utilized the new medium of television.

Watch Mr. Wizard was a television program for children in the 1950s that was basically a general science experiment program that explained the science behind ordinary things. It was aired weekly as a 30 minute program. Every Saturday a neighbor boy (Jimmy) or girl would come to visit Mr. Wizard. He always had some type of laboratory experiment going that taught something about science. The experiments, many of which seemed impossible at first glance, were usually simple enough to be re-created by viewers.

One of my favorite episodes was the day he floated a huge bolt and nut in a bowl of mercury. I was fascinated. My father took me downstairs and gave me a small, dark amber glass bottle filled with the liquid metal. At that time, we had no idea of the danger of handling mercury, and my father unscrewed the lid of the bottle and poured the mercury into his hand. It was quite impressive to a nine year old.

The show was very successful, and by 1954 it was being broadcast by 91 stations. Mr. Wizard Science Clubs were started throughout North America, numbering 50,000 by 1965. The show moved from Chicago to New York on September 5, 1955, and had produced 547 live broadcasts by the time the show was canceled in 1965.

The show was cited by the National Science Foundation and American Chemical Society for increasing interest in science, and Herbert won a Peabody Award.