A while back Yvette sent us a vintage ad for a children’s laxative that was posted over at Boing Boing. It’s a great example of changing expectations of parenting, disciplining children, and parental anger. In the ad, the mom and dad are arguing because the dad wants to use a hairbrush to spank his son, who is apparently crying because he doesn’t want to take a nasty-tasting laxative:

Transcript of dialogue:

“Don’t let daddy lick me again!” An old, old problem solved in an up-to-date way.

1. Mother: Oh, John, why don’t you let him alone? He’s only a child.

Father: Well, somebody has to make him listen to reason.

2. Mother: That’s the first time I ever heard of a hairbrush being called “reason”!

Father: Look! Let’s settle this right now! He needs that stuff and he’s going to take it whether he likes the taste or not!

3. Mother: That’s right, Mr. Know-it-all — get him all upset and and leave it for me to straighten him out.

Father: Aw, don’t get yourself in a stew!

4. Mother: I’m not! All I know is that Doris Smith used to jam a bad-tasting laxative down her boy’s throat until her doctor put a stop to it. He said it could do more harm than good!

Father: Then what laxative can we give him?

5. Mother: The one Doris uses — not an “adult” laxative, but one made only for children…Fletcher’s Castoria. It’s mild, yet effective. It’s safe, and Doris’ boy loves it!

Father: OK. I’ll run down to the druggist and get a bottle. But boy, he better like it!

6. Mother: Would you believe it? I never saw a spoonful of medicine disappear so fast!

The mom wins out, and clearly spanking the boy isn’t being advocated. But the company felt perfectly comfortable presenting a dad as angry and even aggressive, and in need of calming from his wife to avoid him spanking his child with a household item, yet still a perfectly good dad once Mom had intervened and fixed the immediate problem, returning family harmony.

Given increased attention to issues such as child abuse and domestic violence, and changes in expectations of parenting that have replaced the “father as nothing but breadwinner and strict disciplinarian” role, many viewers today would likely interpret the narrative in the ad (not to mention the line “Don’t let Daddy lick me again!”) as inherently problematic, not as a taken-for-granted commentary on family life and the need for helpful products to smooth over domestic conflicts.

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