Tag Archives: product: cars

The Rise of the Flapper

Originally posted in 2009. Re-posted in honor of Women’s History Month; cross-posted at Mental Floss.

Several factors were in play in the 1920s for the emergence of what came to be known as flappers, teenagers and young women who flaunted convention and spent their time pursuing fun instead of settling down to raise children in the prime of their lives. Many entered college or the workforce and felt entitled to make their own decisions about how to live their lives.

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A lot of young men did not return home from World War I, which left an entire cohort of women without enough husbands to go around. The horror of the war (and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918) also impressed young people with the knowledge that life is short and could end at any moment. Instead of staying home preparing to marry a man who might never come, young women wanted to spend what time they had enjoying all that life had to offer.

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Movies popularized the image of the fun-loving and free-thinking woman throughout the US and Europe. The 1920 movie The Flapper introduced the term in the United States. The title character, Ginger, was a wayward girl who flouted the rules of society. Played by Olive Thomas, a former Ziegfeld Girl (left), Ginger had so much fun that a generation of lonely young women wanted to be like her. Another role model was stage and screen actress Louise Brooks (right), who also modeled for artists and fashion designers. She was the inspiration for the flapper comic strip Dixie Dugan.

 

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Clara Bow wasn’t the first flapper on screen, but she was certainly a role model for young women of the era. She didn’t play by the rules, and was tabloid fodder for years for her sexual escapades with the biggest movie stars of the time. Bow’s first film was in 1922 and her career peaked in 1927 with the film It. “It” was defined as the sexual allure some girls have and others don’t. Bow’s fans wanted “it”, so they copied her look and behavior.

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The rise of the automobile was another factor in the rise of flapper culture. Cars meant a woman could come and go as she pleased, travel to speakeasys and other entertainment venues, and use the large vehicles of the day for heavy petting or even sex.

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These young women had plenty of opportunities for fun. Although Prohibition drove alcohol underground, that only added to its allure. Postwar prosperity allowed for leisure time and the means to spend that time drinking, dancing, and hanging out with free thinkers.

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Being a flapper wasn’t all about fashion. It was about rebellion. In this article from 1922, a would-be flapper (but still a “nice girl”) explains her lifestyle choices to her parents. Flappers did what society did not expect from young women. They danced to Jazz Age music, they smoked, they wore makeup, they spoke their own language, and they lived for the moment. Flapper fashion followed the lifestyle. Skirts became shorter to make dancing easier. Corsets were discarded in favor of brassieres that bound their breasts, again to make dancing easier. The straight shapeless dresses were easy to make and blurred the line between the rich and everyone else. The look became fashionable because of the lifestyle. The short hair? That was pure rebellion against the older generation’s veneration of long feminine locks.

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The party stopped when the economy crashed and the Great Depression curtailed the night life. Although the flapper lifestyle died along with the Roaring Twenties, the freedoms women tasted in that era weren’t easily given up. They may have gone back to marriage and long hours of toil for little pay, but hemlines stayed above the ankle, and the corset never went back to everyday status. And we’ve been driving cars ever since.

Miss Cellania is a newlywed mother of four, full-time blogger, former radio announcer, and worst of all, a Baby Boomer. In addition to mental_floss, she posts at Neatorama, YesButNoButYes, Geeks Are Sexy, and Miss Cellania. Miss C considers herself an expert on no particular subject at all.

When Did Cars Get Cup Holders?

My best friend’s car has four cup holders in the front seat. FOUR. I would ask what a person does with four cup holders, except I’m too busy feeling jealous.  I drive with a measly two.

Cup holders, or what the US News and World Report quaintly called ”crannies for drinking cups” as late as 1989, weren’t considered an automotive necessity until the ’50s.  That was when, reports Bon Appetit, “drive-ins and drive-thru windows became mainstays of American eating.”  Before then, people were expected to stop for food and drink and then be sated.  Can you imagine?

It took a long time, though, for the automobile industry to figure out exactly how to deliver us our cup holders.  First there was a “snack tray for car,” as pictured in a 1950 newspaper ad:

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Companies also sold between the seat inserts that held cups and Cadillac sold a limousine with magnetic cup holders:

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The cup holder as we know it today came to us in 1983 alongside another innovation: the mini van.  The first cup holders ”sunk into the plastic of the dashboard” were installed in the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager.  It would be a decade, though, before cup holders came standard in essentially every car.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The U.S. #1 in Early Deaths

The Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council released some damaging numbers this month: Americans ranks startlingly low in life expectancy, compared to 16 other similarly developed countries.  This is especially true for younger Americans. Indeed, among people 55 and under, we rank dead last.  Among those 50-80 years old, our life expectancy is 3rd or 2nd to last.

Sabrina Tavernise at the New York Times reports that the “major contributors” to low life expectancy among younger Americans are high rates of death from guns, car accidents, and drug overdoses.  We also have the highest rate of diabetes and the second-highest death rate from lung and heart disease.

Americans had “the lowest probability over all of surviving to the age of 50.”  The numbers for American men were slightly worse than those for women. Overall, life expectancy for men was 17 out of 17; women came in 16th.  Education and poverty made a difference too, as did the more generous social services provided by the other countries in the study.

What isn’t making a difference?  Apparently our incredible rate of health care spending.

Via Citings and Sightings.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

What Happened to the Oldsmobile?

Cross-posted at Montclair Socioblog.

Try not to think about an Oldsmobile.

I’ve been thinking about Oldsmobile.  I mentioned it in passing in the previous post, and since then I’ve been wondering about “Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile” – the brand’s swan song.  Matthew Yglesias at Slate thinks that the campaign alienated the regular customers, the ones who bought a new Olds every few years, saying to them in effect, “You’re a geezer, an Oldster, and have been for a while – sans youth, sans sex, sans taste, sans everything except your crummy car.”

The tag that completed the famous set-up line was, “The new generation of Olds.”

The target of the campaign was to attract young car buyers, but it missed badly.  Why?  My guess is the futility of negation.  Saying what something is not doesn’t give people a clear picture of what that something actually is.  But that’s not the problem here.  The message was clear, especially with that tag about generations.

The problem is that direct negation can reinforce the idea you are trying to deny – as in the paradoxical command to not think about an elephant. “I am not a crook,” said Richard Nixon in his televised address about Watergate.  It’s his most remembered line, and when he spoke it, the TV screen might as well have had an overlay flashing the words “Game Over.”

If the denial contradicts general perceptions (i.e., the brand), people might not hear it at all, or worse, they might hear the opposite.  Ever since fact-checking went public in a big way a few years ago, we’ve seen corrections to the lies that politicians have told about one another.  But as Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler have shown, corrections can boomerang, especially when they clash with ideas the reader already has.

Can these false or unsubstantiated beliefs about politics be corrected? … Results indicate that corrections frequently fail to reduce misperceptions among the targeted ideological group. We also document several instances of a “backfire effect” in which corrections actually increase misperceptions among the group in question.

By insisting that they weren’t old after all, Oldsmobile might have done more harm than good.

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Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University.  You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

Mocking the Honda Fit “She’s”

The internet is exciting, in part, because it offers people an opportunity to produce as well as consume content.  This is why it’s sometimes called “democratizing”; it spreads around the power to influence our collective conversations.

One reaction to the new Honda Fit She’s illustrates a form of resistance through the production of media content.  The She’s is a 1950s throwback being marketed to women in Japan.  In addition to coming in several shades of pink and the inclusion of a heart in the logo, it has pink stitching inside, windows that cut ultraviolet rays (to prevent wrinkles) and a special air conditioning system designed to improve skin quality (to erase wrinkles).

A website, called IdeasForHonda, has emerged in response.  It mocks Honda’s stereotyping of women with satire, offering its own ideas for what women want. Here are some of the entries:

This is just part of  a wider internet response to the She’s and this type of reaction has prompted companies to make changes.  Recently, for example, Gap pulled a t-shirt with the phrase Manifest Destiny and we’ve posted about successful resistance to the Obama sock monkey, the Pretzel Crisps “You Can Never Be too Thin” ad campaign, Nivea’s “Re-Civilize Yourself” ads, and the Abercrombie push-up bikini for kids.  Here’s to democratization.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Honda Fit She’s and the Dodge La Femme: History Repeating Itself

About a gazillion twitterers and three readers — Andi, Ria, and Jenna B. – have asked us to comment on the new Honda Fit She’s begin marketed in Japan. It’s a car. For ladies. It’s pink.  It reduces wrinkles. The apostrophe in the logo is a little heart. Etc.

My only response to this is: “how very la femme!”  Dodge La Femme that is.

The Dodge La Femme  was sold for two years in the U.S. — 1955 and 1956 — and could be considered a fore mother to the She’s.  We originally posted about it in 2007.

Here is some of the advertising:

Here are some pictures of a restored La Femme:

Pink rosebud patterned upholstery:

It even came with matching accessories!  An umbrella and raincoat:

A compact:

A coin purse:

One of the reasons that the La Femme didn’t sell was because women were, frankly, offended.  Gender politics are different today, and they’re certainly different in Japan than they are in the U.S., so it’ll be fascinating to see how the She’s is received.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

An Ounce of Creativity: Mustang’s Ad with a Twist

Elisabeth R. sent in a commercial that, I admit, I kinda like.   As the ad progresses, a Mustang driven through urban streets gets a new paint job as a diverse group of people project their personalities onto the car.  At the very end a little girl holding the hand of her father, wearing a pink ballerina get-up, spies the car.  The car turns pink and then goes black.  As it drives by her, she’s reflected in the mirror as a bad-ass black angel pictured above.

What I like about the commercial isn’t the fact that they portray the girl as resisting girliness.  Suggesting that girls who are less girly are better than those who aren’t is just another form of sexism, one that demeans femininity.  Likewise, the characters are diverse, but that’s par for the course these days, especially when an item is being marketed as urban and modern.

What I like, instead, is just the fact that the ad has an ounce of creativity, that it ends with a twist.  Advertising is so stereotypical today and relies so strongly on tropes, that I find it exhausting to watch.  So, while the twist wasn’t totally subversive, I was relieved that the marketing team for Mustang did something interesting.  Really, at this point my standards for not-horrible are pretty low.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Ron Paul Doubles Down On His Popularity Among Young Men

In an interesting article at Slate, Libby Copeland observes that Ron Paul has disproportionate support from young people and men.  Why?  She cites political scientists explaining that young people, on average, think in more black-and-white terms than older people:

…age and newness to politics predispose young voters to a less nuanced view of the political world. They’re less likely to take the long view, less likely to have patience, less likely to spin out the implications of their political theories.

Ron Paul does, indeed, articulate a straightforward ideology, especially compared to the other candidates.

Copeland doesn’t do as good of a job of explaining why men tend to like him more than women.  I wonder, though, if it maybe has something, just a little bit, to do with his branding.  Consider this ad:

This ad is a clear adoption of masculinity and a strong rejection of femininity (symbolized by the Shih-Tsu and its supposed weakness).  In this sense, his ad is centrally in the genre of ads designed to associate products with MEN, partly by the deliberate exclusion of women and mocking of anything feminine.  Compare it, for example, to this commercial for the Ford F-150:

It seems to me that Paul has decided to double down on his appeal, focusing on the market that he thinks is most likely to support him, and throwing everyone else out along with the social programs.

Thanks to Letta and Alex for sending along the article and commercials!

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.