Saturday, December 14, 2019

Playboy: really about a girl

The notion that women really drive popular culture is a notion I've experimented with before. I say "experimented with" because it's not something you can prove. I think it's true.

If you want to understand what's going on right now—the new puritanism, cancel culture, virtue signalling—you need to look at young women. They're not happy and they feel they should be. They, or rather enough of them to carry the day for now, think the problem can be solved by controlling others and that's only going to make it worse. And that's probably all I will say on the subject. It's their problem after all and I doubt being lectured at by me would help even of I did know better than them and I don't.

But let's look back a century to another generation of young women. Our story begins with nineteen-year-old Eleanor Borton. Eleanor was around that age in 1919, which makes her roughly the same age as my grandmother.

She was dancing with a man named Edward S. "Ned" Jordan who had started a car manufacturing company. She was at the party in the first place because her father was one of the people financing Ned's company. And she said to him,
Mr. Jordan, why don’t you build a car for the girl who loves to swim, paddle and shoot and for the boy who loves the roar of a cut out?
I'm not sure I know what a "cut out" is. I suspect it was a term for roaring away in your car. My source for this the Hemmings Classic automobile auction company. They have a wonderful write-up about the Jordan Playboy, the car he was inspired to create as a consequence.

I'm inclined to wonder if the lovely Eleanor ever said those words. I think she may have said something like them or it may simply be that Ned liked the thought of those words coming out of her mouth so he put them there himself.

Ned was a really good writer and, by coincidence, those very words showed up in the first advertisement he wrote for the new car.
What shall it profit a car to gain complete mechanical excellence if it must sulk under a drab and sombre body?
Though it have the best chassis in the world, with unlimited power, and though it be properly designed and balanced so as to give maximum performance—and has a dowdy commonplace body it is as nothing among the motor wise.
It goes on at quite some length after that. Far too long, really. But that's okay because he was working out the concept.

It's rather impertinent writing, taking words of Jesus and using them to sell sex. And make no mistake, selling sex is what it's all about. Any nineteen-year-old girl contemplating her marriage prospects in the exciting new world of 1919 would have caught the full significance of "sulk under a drab and sombre body".

Here's the full ad.

The paragraph about dogs barking, chickens scattering, old folks storming and so forth was written 24 years before "The Surrey With the Fringe on the Top".

Hemmings says, and I'm sure they are right, that the Jordan Playboy was a triumph of style over substance, "behind the colors, athleticism, rebellion and exuberance was a real–even rather ordinary–means of transportation."Okay, fair enough, but what strikes me is the appeal to women. "Colors, athleticism, rebellion and exuberance," perfectly describes the female heroines that Mildred Wirt Benson created in Nancy Drew, Penny Parker and Madge Sterling. 

In 1923, this magnificent ad appeared.

 That's a woman driving and a man chasing her on the horse. That's important.
Somewhere west of Laramie there's a bronco-busting, steer-roping girl who knows what I'm talking about. She can tell what a sassy pony, that's a cross between greased lighting and the place where it hits, can do with eleven hundred pounds of steel and cation whe he's going high, wide and handsome.
If that first paragraph were the opening of a novel, I'd have read the whole thing before going to sleep even if nothing after it lived up to that promise. And sex! A "cross between greased lightning and the place where it hits." Whoa!

No man would aim to be that. It's at once too intimidating and too restricting. The car doesn't deliver that either, nor would a girl really want it. It's to be the girl who knows what he's talking about and if you need that explained to you, well, then you don't.

Don't feel bad, others didn't know either so Ned filled her out a bit.

She's still driving and the man is still chasing her. You can already see decline, though. Compromises are being made. "She loves the cross between the wild and the tame," and "It's a brawny thing—yet a graceful thing for the sweep o' the avenue."

And the full rot is in with this ad.

I get the point. I want to be that man in that car, driving past that pine tree. The text is still aimed at a woman, she is in the one in "earmine". But she's letting the man drive and that's wrong.

Ah well, nothing good lasts forever. In the ad below we are decidedly east of Laramie.

The car is speaking in this one and yet ... .

That is, after all, a woman at the wheel.

It's also a woman on the horse. We can tell, alas, because she's riding side saddle. Bronco-busting, steer-roping girls west of Laramie didn't ride side saddle. Girls who know about a cross between lightning and the place where it hits, don't ride side saddle.

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