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Ads You’re Not Going to See Again Anytime Soon – Chapter 3

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 02, 2008

Variations of this unfortunate advertisement appeared on the back covers of several church magazines in the early 1930s.



41 Comments »

  1. Ardis,
    I don’t even know what the message is here.
    Bill

    Comment by Bill MacKinnon — August 2, 2008 @ 11:27 am

  2. Bill, that may say something very good about you, and something else about me and those I showed it to who confirmed my reading.

    This black man has pilfered two (stereotypical) watermelons from somebody else’s patch. We know he’s stolen them because now he has just run across an opportunity to pilfer the (stereotypical) chicken and can’t decide what to do. He can’t carry everything, and he’ll have regrets whatever he does (confirming that he’s stealing his supper, because if he owned the melons and the chicken, he could come back for whatever he can’t carry on this trip). Oh, ha-ha, isn’t his dilemma funny?

    You, on the other hand, will have no regrets about your decision to go with Beneficial Life — the directors of which are named at the bottom of the ad, all prominent Mormon officers.

    Ouch.

    (You might think I’m reading too much into it, but the picture — without any relevance to life insurance — is inexplicable otherwise. Also, the Beneficial had the back cover spot nearly every month for decades, and their ads through the ’30s almost always had a narrative picture like this one. Example: One photo captioned “Two Widows” showed a young mother comfortably seated in a beautifully furnished home, holding her two smiling young children on her lap as she reads to them. Over her shoulder, you see another woman in a maid’s uniform dusting a radio, and looking enviously at the first woman. Hmmm — I wonder which woman’s husband had bought Beneficial Life?)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 2, 2008 @ 12:05 pm

  3. Ardis,
    Alternative interpretation re the ad’s photograph. Signing up for Beneficial provides peace of mind and comforts reflected in the [stereotypical, today unacceptable] two watermellons and chicken? A puzzle from this distance…

    Comment by Bill MacKinnon — August 2, 2008 @ 2:11 pm

  4. Wow.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 2, 2008 @ 2:28 pm

  5. I imagine that (but don’t know if) SLC, like most of the United States, received broadcasts of the Amos n Andy Show which ran during this time period. This type of humor would have been ubiquitous if in rather poor taste.

    Comment by Researcher — August 2, 2008 @ 5:22 pm

  6. it’s hard to tell, but is he in blackface?

    Comment by tona — August 2, 2008 @ 5:33 pm

  7. “This type of humor would have been ubiquitous if in rather poor taste.”

    Unfortunately, this is all too true. If this company was a national corporation, I suspect this ad and others like it ran in many locations across the country. If not, other companies were running them, I’m sure.

    That’s not a defense of the ad, since I find it reprehensible, but it’s not uncommon for the time.

    Comment by Ray — August 2, 2008 @ 5:53 pm

  8. It’s a little clearer in the original, tona, enough to see that the model is a black man, not a white man in blackface. There *are* a few photos in the magazines at this time of ward or mission social activities showing performers in blackface.

    I think Researcher is right, that this, and the dialect jokes that I have not included in humor posts, are bleedover from national popular culture. This is used to peddle a local product, but there is otherwise nothing that I detect that could be considered peculiar to the local culture.

    And I think that while the ad copy was added to suit Beneficial, this picture (and the “Two Widows,” and all similar pictures in other ads) was probably a stock product sold by a national advertising company. I’m watching for, but haven’t yet seen, any clue to identifying that wider company.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 2, 2008 @ 5:58 pm

  9. That’s not a defense of the ad, since I find it reprehensible

    I debated for two weeks about posting this, and I suspect there would be quite a few people who, if they saw this, would think I had made the wrong decision. I kept thinking, though, about all the discussions we’ve had around the blogs on “inoculating” against difficult issues in history, and I decided our participation in cultural “jokes” like this could be one of those things meriting a little inoculation. Unlike most of my posts here, this one isn’t meant as a celebration of who we are or were — rather, it’s a caution about where we’ve been, and relief that we’ve come far enough to find this reprehensible.

    I sincerely hope nobody gets the wrong idea about why I posted this (I know you understand, Ray, even though I launched this comment off of yours).

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 2, 2008 @ 6:08 pm

  10. Re #8, in Sambo: The Rise and Demise of an American Jester, Joseph Boskin describes a postcard showing a man with a watermelon underneath each arm while looking at a chicken (p. 134). The caption states: “Dis am de wurst perdickermunt ob mah life!”

    Comment by Justin — August 2, 2008 @ 7:49 pm

  11. I am in awe, Justin. How do you do it?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 2, 2008 @ 8:20 pm

  12. Justin is one of the 3 Nephites. That’s the only plausible answer.

    Comment by Ray — August 2, 2008 @ 9:05 pm

  13. Ray, if Justin is one of the 3 Nephites — and I’m not disputing that assessment — who, pray tell, is Auntie Ardis? I have my thoughts, but need some help here…

    Comment by Bill MacKinnon — August 2, 2008 @ 9:27 pm

  14. Ardis is one of the women who accompanied Jesus throughout His ministry. She also was promised to live until the second coming (to make sure that John [as a guy] didn’t mess things up) but, like most other women in scripture, this was not mentioned by the men.

    Comment by Ray — August 2, 2008 @ 10:16 pm

  15. In truth, I owe it all to Google Book Search.

    Comment by Justin — August 3, 2008 @ 3:07 pm

  16. So pray tell Justin, what query did you use to find that so quickly?

    Comment by Clark — August 3, 2008 @ 10:43 pm

  17. I tried a few phrases: “watermelon beneath each arm,” “watermelon underneath each arm,” and “watermelon under each arm.” The last query pulled up an excerpt from A Spy in the Enemy’s Country: The Emergence of Modern Black Literature: “a particularly racist
    card of a black man with a watermelon under each arm eyeing a loose….” Since I couldn’t read the excerpt in context, I searched for the phrase “eyeing a loose,” which pulled up the same excerpt from A Spy in the Enemy’s Country and an excerpt from Boskin’s book.

    Comment by Justin — August 4, 2008 @ 7:37 am

  18. RE: #9 by Ardis. I think Ardis made the right decision. Although we tend to avoid these issues, it is important that we address them; however uncomfortable it might make us at times. As a “southern” Mormon issues of race in the Church are both critical and sensitive.

    Comment by Steve C. — August 4, 2008 @ 9:41 am

  19. oooof, this is crazy stuff.

    Comment by Steve Evans — August 4, 2008 @ 11:14 am

  20. Wow, Ignoring the racial stuff…..

    When did GA’s quit endorsing products/companies? I am trying to imagine an add with the names of a few Q12 members attached to it.

    Comment by bbell — August 4, 2008 @ 12:49 pm

  21. I’m glad you decided to post this, Ardis, for the reasons you cite in comment #9.

    Comment by Christopher — August 4, 2008 @ 12:59 pm

  22. Thanks, Steve and Christopher; I know there wouldn’t be unanimous agreement if this were more widely circulated, but it helps to know you understand my motives.

    bbell, somebody (Quinn?) has probably already done a study about GAs and their business connections; I don’t happen to recall, though, when they stopped sitting on boards like Beneficial — into the ’70s, wasn’t it? I do think it’s important to note that the GAs listed on the ad were directors of the company, not merely endorsing a product as hired models. But it sure does look odd, doesn’t it?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 4, 2008 @ 1:22 pm

  23. Ardis, GAs have sat on boards far more recently — Deseret Book, Intermountain Health Care and some others come to mind.

    Comment by Steve Evans — August 4, 2008 @ 1:26 pm

  24. Steve, you just proved me right — I don’t know bbell’s answer! :)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 4, 2008 @ 1:29 pm

  25. I think that there is a difference between sitting on a board and being a co-owner/ proprietor. The ad seems to imply that HJG and JFS and other GA’s were co-owners/investors etc. With a direct financial position in the marketing campaign

    This is what I am getting at.

    Comment by bbell — August 4, 2008 @ 1:34 pm

  26. Beneficial was founded by Heber J. Grant — before he was church president; I think he was an apostle, though. He was very concerned about the amount of money flowing out of Utah to eastern insurance companies, gone forever. If he could keep the business in Utah, with premiums going to local investments and profits going to local investors, the money could be circulated to build up Zion.

    As odd as it looks from this distance, knowing that HJG, et al., were earning a living from these businesses advertised in church magazines, I see them as extensions of Brigham Young’s colonization plans. Circa 1900, you couldn’t send out a new colony to take up land in Utah anymore (you could send them to the Big Horn Basin, and to Alberta, and even to Mexico, but Utah’s arable land was filling up fast), yet you still had convert immigrants showing up by the thousands. Instead of finding them homesteads, you started businesses in which they could work, or at least which would keep the local economy going so they could find their own living.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 4, 2008 @ 1:52 pm

  27. GAs began leaving nearly all corporate boards in response to a suggestion from the First Presidency in January 1996. The one exception was Deseret Management Corporation, which counts Beneficial Financial Group as one of its subsidiaries.

    The primary call of a General Authority is his ecclesiastical responsibility. Except for family responsibilities, all others are secondary to this.

    In view of this situation the First Presidency has suggested that General Authorities withdraw from membership on the boards of directors of business corporations. This will include membership on boards of Church-owned corporations, as well as those of a public and private nature.

    So that there will not be any sudden disruption occasioned by the release of a number at one time, it is proposed that those involved will continue until the next regular annual meetings of the corporations with which they are associated, at which time they will resign or will not stand for re-election.

    We recognize that officers and boards of various corporations highly value the talents and wisdom of General Authorities presently serving. We are hopeful, however, that they will accept the need for our brethren to give their full time and energies to the work of the ministry.

    It is anticipated that there will be one exception. With reference to Church-owned corporations, most of these are now subsidiaries of Deseret Management Corporation, which is owned by the Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In these circumstances this will continue as a holding company with its board comprised of representatives from the ranks of the General Authorities.

    Comment by Justin — August 4, 2008 @ 3:49 pm

  28. I am so glad I didn’t spend very much time trying to figure out what on earth this was about, because I’m reasonably certain that if I stared for a week straight I’d never have come up with anything even remotely close to the right thing. I’m going to chalk it up to having been born in 1980.

    Comment by Sarah — August 4, 2008 @ 3:51 pm

  29. I’d go with the watermelons. Chicken feathers stink to high heaven when you boil them off and you’re liable to get pecked. Meanwhile recent science says watermelon might have viagra-like effects. Two watermelons underarm are worth one wizened chicken in the bush. Not a close call at all. Its a shame a church magazine allowed an ad implying that a black man would be too stupid and ignorant to make this obvious choice.

    BTW, thanks for the explanation. I couldn’t even tell from the picture that the man was supposed to be black, or that the objects underarm were supposed to be watermelons. I thought they were enormous eggs and the man was astonished at what a fine rooster he had. Or something.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — August 4, 2008 @ 4:10 pm

  30. Also at first glance I read the ad to say “participate in the sexual net carings,” which I couldn’t make any sense of.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — August 4, 2008 @ 4:11 pm

  31. Adam’s #29 demonstrates that the creative juices are indeed flowin’ today, eventhough it’s Monday.

    Comment by Bill MacKinnon — August 4, 2008 @ 6:27 pm

  32. When my law firm represented Utah Power & Light back in the early 1980s, Gordon B. Hinckley was a member of the board. In 1986, I asked him if he were still on the board. He said that the time commitment was too great so he had resigned, and he implied (or I inferred) that the same applied to all the other general authorities.

    Maybe the 1996 statement was just to clean up the stray involvement by general authorities who weren’t around in 1985, or just the odd man whose son or other family member had put him on the board of his local Jiffy Lube franchise.

    Comment by Mark B. — August 5, 2008 @ 7:21 am

  33. Adam (#30) shows that Rorschach was right.

    Comment by Mark B. — August 5, 2008 @ 7:26 am

  34. FWIW, L. Tom Perry served as a director for at least two corporations until 1996:

    ZCMI (“The Corporation will miss the sage advice and leadership of Elder L. Tom Perry, formerly Chairman of the Board of Directors. Elder Perry has declined to stand for re-election as a Director consistent with the request of his ecclestiastical leaders that General Authorities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints not act as directors of commercial enterprises”).

    American Stores (“Eleven directors are to be elected at the 1996 Annual Meeting for terms of one year, except that L. Tom Perry has advised the Board that if elected he may resign in January 1997″).

    Comment by Justin — August 5, 2008 @ 10:38 am

  35. Interesting. Thanks, Justin.

    (Wasn’t Elder Perry an executive with American Stores or one of its predecessors before he was called as an apostle?)

    Comment by Mark B. — August 5, 2008 @ 10:51 am

  36. I don’t believe that he was an executive with American Stores or one of its predecessors, but I may be wrong.

    Comment by Justin — August 5, 2008 @ 1:24 pm

  37. along the lines of racist advertising the most prominent example that comes to mind is the SL theme restaurant: The Coon Chicken Inn started in 1925 by Max Graham in Sugarhouse. The entrance was through the mouth of a huge caricature head of smiling black man. He opened two more in the Northwest a few years later. The place was popular and survived into the late 50s. Its another example of the cultural stereotype common in the era.

    Comment by JPaul — August 6, 2008 @ 12:57 am

  38. Holy crap! I’m speechless.

    Ardis, I agree with your comment about inoculating in # 9. But this is absolutely so out there, from our current perspective, that we have to really adjust our thinking in terms of the 1930′s and the culture.

    I keep thinking of the concept of how far we’ve come, but have a different question, heard repeatedly from the back seat of our car on vacations, that I now find myself asking: Are we there yet?

    Comment by kevinf — August 6, 2008 @ 10:53 am

  39. Well, we may not be there yet. We’ve come a long, long way, though.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 6, 2008 @ 10:29 pm

  40. Ew.

    Comment by Jami — August 7, 2008 @ 10:00 am

  41. I am glad there was an explanation. I guess being born in 1976, and having parents who had friends with a variety of skin pigmentation makes me on the clueless end.

    I did know about the inherent racism of earlier eras. As a teenager (in Oregon) we had a youth fireside where an African America member shared what it was like to be a black man, who was a member of the church from 1940 on. His testimony was extremely powerful. Two things that always have stuck out, although the entire fireside has been formative to my understanding of race in the Mormon church and culture, was that he started to memorize the sacrament prayers and the form for every blessing in the 1960s, but was unable to use them until long after his daughters had been baptized by a white bishop. He also shared what a difference his ordination made in his understanding of Priesthoid power and authority.

    His testimony of the gospel had always been strong, (it had to have been to put up with the blatant racism he encountered, including being asked to sit outside the building when he made the trip to go to General Conference) but his feelings of being accepted as a full member of the church did not come until a white widow asked him to baptize her son, in the late 1980s.

    I have my notes from the fireside, but I did not record his name. I sincerely wish I had not made that oversight. I did record that it was held in 1990.

    (I know this is four years late, but since Keepa is a repository for so much church history, I wanted to share this story.)

    Comment by Julia — September 20, 2012 @ 1:37 am

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