I found the following Web site, PzG, as I was comparison shopping on the Web for a 1:6 action figure that I wanted for customization [to strip of the Nazi associations and use for other, fictional purposes!]. PzG bills itself as “Your Third Reich Nazi Adolf Hitler HQ!” According to its index page, it sells

Distinctive Panzer, Kriegsmarine, Luftwaffe, Waffen SS, and German WWII Nazi resources for hobbyists, teachers,museums and all students of Third Reich history in one convenient location.

As I clicked through the various pages of the site, I quickly realized that it was an Aryan supremacist/Nazi apologist storefront.  Interestingly enough, though, PzG knows that its views are objectionable to many and even addresses this on the page selling mousepads.

One of many mousepads for sale at PzG
One of many mousepads for sale at PzG

The mousepad page says:

No place to hang your favorite war art or recruitment poster? Wife or roomate [sic] dosn’t [sic] approve of your artwork selections? NOT A PROBLEM ANYMORE! Get your perfect piece of historical nazi artwork in an everyday usable format. Get all your favorite designs and change your mousepads often to keep your workspace an inspiring and motivational headquaters [sic].

Note how the page acknowledges that spouses and housemates probably won’t like pro-Nazi displays in their houses. Nevertheless, the page accentuates the “positive” attributes of Nazi culture and iconography [creating an “inspiring and motivational” work place], but never forgets its militaristic origins [mousepads are used in “headquaters”]. This site especially sparks discussions about the use of language to construct a societally acceptable image for a group that most people would find viscerally objectionable.

Incidentally, on the same site, you can also find the site owners’ discussion of the Mothers’ Cross [medals given to women under the Third Reich who birthed many children]. The historical discussion of these medals shifts almost seamlessly into a glorification of the site owner’s large, expanding family, with photos of wife and children as they grow. Is this family practicing the principles elaborated in our earlier discussion about the Mothers’ Cross medal?

Via Feministing, I found this SuperBowl ad for Bridgestone tires, wherein Mrs. Potatohead shouts driving advice to Mr. Potatohead until her mouth flies off and he looks relieved. Silencing women is hilarious apparently.


Inspired by a recent post about a T-shirt where an Asian stereotype was saying I SPEAK ENGRISH, I thought of the perennial online popularity of “Engrish” in general. Engrish.com, one of the oldest such compendia on the Web, offers a selection of photos from clothing, packaging, menus, signs, etc., largely from Asian companies. All of these photos have been collected for their supposed humor value because they contain text poorly translated into English, English text that seems incongruous with whatever it’s describing, and/or place names that sound taboo in English. Examples below the cut [some taken from the Adult Engrish section and thus possibly NSFW]. 

In the “poor translation” category, there are examples such as this menu, found in Saigon, Vietnam:

In the “incongruous” category, there is this T-shirt, possibly quoting Nirvana lyrics:

In the “homophonic to a taboo” category, there is this restaurant sign:

I have mixed feelings about the prevalence of the online mockery of “Engrish.” While computerized or poor translations provide hilarious results, no matter what the source and destination languages, Engrish.com and Engrishfunny.com, two main sites of “Engrish” stuff, show a disproportionate amount of examples from Asian countries. The comparatively large number of Asian examples of “Engrish” probably relates to the common use in Asian countries of English as a lingua franca or “international language” [see this discussion about “Japalish,” or the incorporation of English loanwords into Japanese, here at the Internet TESL Journal]. Sites such as Engrishfunny.com eschew the broader cultural context of English use around the world in favor of a dismissive laugh at the expense of supposedly ignorant foreigners.

Only Hearts Club Dolls
Only Hearts Club Dolls

Because Barbies and Bratz dolls are so popular with young children, the products regularly get flak for revealing, sexualized clothing. [The Black Canary Barbie, for example, provoked outcry, which we covered in a previous post.] Old Hearts Club Dolls consciously set themselves in opposition to Barbies and Bratz. The About page on OHC’s Web site states:

Unlike any other doll, Only Hearts Club™ dolls combine detailed and realistic facial features with soft, fully-poseable bodies. The dolls bodies and clothing actually look like those of the young girls they are intended to be. The dolls’ fashions are hip, based upon what real girls are wearing, and are also age-appropriate.

“Realistic facial features” are in contrast those of Barbies and Bratz, who feature stylized, large eyes and lips. The “soft” bodies of OHC dolls are explicitly different from the hard plastic used to make fashion dolls. Finally, “age-appropriate” is code for “non-sexualized, non-revealing.”

While other alternatives to the popular fashion dolls have tried and failed to get off the ground [see August 15, 1991 New York Times article about the Happy To Be Me doll], OHC dolls have been going strong since 2004. For example, I have seen them in independent toy stores around the Boston area; toy stores have even sold out of them, much to my frustration when I want to purchase one.  You could use the story of these dolls in a conversation about portrayals of femininity in toys or current debates about “modesty” in fashion.

Speaking as a 30-year-old who still cherishes a threadbare, 29-year-old specimen, I can personally testify that teddy bears are objects highly charged with affect in modern U.S. bourgeois white society. Along with blankets, stuffed animals are frequently given to young children to play with. Many times, children grow attached to their animals and blankets, naming them, talking to them, sleeping with them and taking them everywhere.

In 1951, Donald Winnicott called such stuffed animals and security blankets “transitional objects.” I’m probably grossly simplifying this, but he posited that transitional objects occupy an important position in children’s emotional lives as mechanisms by which they soothe themselves as they differentiate their identities from those of their parents. Parenting advice emphasizes that transitional objects are part of a “normal and healthy phase of development” and even a “good thing” that parents may want to voluntarily introduce to anxious children.

In short, modern middle-class bourgeois white society associates teddy bears with a deep emotional connection between people. Teddy bears symbolize comfort and a nurturing parent-child bond. To many, they are images of love.

Over on its Web site for investors, Vermont Teddy Bear literally capitalizes on the “bears=love” connotations by couching its business in terms that suggest relationships and closeness. In this screenshot from the investor relations home page, for example, you can see that the over-the-phone sales staff are called “Bear Counselors,” suggesting that they give advice and mentoring about relationships.

On the page entitled “Our Bear-Gram Story,” Vermont Teddy Bear positions its product as equivalent to the emotional work of creating and sustaining authentic relationships. The “story” says:

Once upon a time, people connected with people simply and directly. They took the time to nurture personal relationships. Then it all got crazy, fast-paced, and hectic and people didn’t have time anymore to pay enough attention to other people.

Of course, the thought that it was so good back in Ye Olde Non-Hectick Tymes is problematic, but so is the thought that teddy bears will suffice instead of “pay[ing] attention to other people.” Why expend all that effort relating to someone when you can just toss him or her a teddy bear instead?

On the company’s site for customers, the same association between the toys and love appears, as evidenced by this banner proclaiming the teddy bears as “heartfelt,” an adjective usually used to describe significant declarations of sentiment:

For occasions that require difficult, emotionally draining “relationship work,” there’s even a whole category of “I’m Sorry/Apology” bears available to send.

The I’m Sorry Bear comes with the following descriptive copy:

Whether you’ve broken their heart or their favorite coffee mug this Bear has got it covered. Holding a light blue pillow embroidered with the an “I’m Sorry” message and wearing a matching light blue bowtie, this Bear is a sure way to earn their forgiveness.

Ah, what price forgiveness?

Well, it’s $73.95. [Shipping and handling excluded. Insurance and rush orders extra. Please ask for international rates. Customs taxes may apply outside U.S. Order early to insure delivery by Christmas!]

I suppose that Vermont Teddy Bear’s deployment of a stuffed animal to do your emotional work for you is in the same category as ad campaigns for diamonds and credit cards that promise viewers intimacy through purchase of the products. However, Vermont Teddy Bear’s use of the “objects will fulfill you” trope is slipperier in part because a substantial number of potential consumers have experience with teddy bears as transitional objects that did [or still do] make them feel happy and calm.

In an amusing postscript, I grew up in Vermont, where we were kind of expected to support Vermont Teddy Bear Company. But when someone gave my younger brother a Vermont Teddy Bear as a gift, he never touched it. Finding the bear stiff and kind of lumpy, he preferred to drag around smaller and more squishable stuffed animals. No one else in the family was impressed with its cuddlability, not even me, and I was the one who collected stuffed animals to line the edges of my bed every night. The bear is now sitting on my mom’s desk as a display item, having not created an emotional connection at all.

From AdGoodness come these three print ads for a new digital camera, the Nikon S60, which apparently has a feature that allows it to auto-detect and focus on faces. The three examples include a bunch of people rubber-necking at two young “porn lesbians” [the top one of which has a horribly Photoshopped head!], a bunch of people of color sneaking up on a white safari dude, and a bunch of ghosts looking at a woman in a hotel room.  Of all the possible examples that could be used to highlight this face-finding feature, who thought it was a good idea to use some hackneyed stereotypes about sexual orientation and race?

Spam Fiesta Peach Cups, Family Circle, 1956
Spam Fiesta Peach Cups, Family Circle, 1956

I can safely say that most readers of this blog probably think that broiled Spam + canned peaches looks and sounds unappetizing.  But this is only one of many creative food combinations that appeared in advertisers’ recipes and cookbooks during the 1950s and 1960s. Here’s another:

Yankee Doodle Pizza Pie, Women's Day, October, 1954
Yankee Doodle Pizza Pie, Women's Day, October, 1954


Why, yes, those are baked beans on pizza.

While there are plenty of interesting angles on these old recipes, from their use of color to their emphasis on saving money, I’d like to bring up the way that modern writers treat recipes from this period. James Lileks, for example, has an entire site, The Gallery of Regrettable Foods, which eventually spawned a book covering much of the same material.

As the index page to The Gallery of Regrettable Foods says,

What were they thinking? How did they eat this bilge? Good questions, but you won’t find them answered here. This is a simple introduction to poorly photographed foodstuffs and horrid recipes. It’s a wonder anyone in the 40s, 50s and 60s gained any weight; it’s a miracle that people didn’t put down their issue of Life magazine with a slight queasy list to their gut, and decide to sup on a nice bowl of shredded wheat and nothing else.

This [admittedly funny] type of snarky commentary has inspired other Web sites, such as Wendy McClure’s mockery of 1970s Weight Watchers recipe cards. The vintage_recipes community on LiveJournal frequently contains less formal versions of the snark.

Such modern commentary erases much of the historical significance and interest of these recipes. The radio program Engines of Our Ingenuity recently commented on the cookbook in episode 2403, with a special focus on recipes such as those shown above. As the transcript of episode 2403 suggests, many of these recipes relied on canned, gelled or prepared foods, highlighting both the Atomic Age’s fascination with technologically advanced cookery. But the mockery is way more popular these days.

These images could be used in a discussion about how “retro” images are regularly reappropriated as “cool” with little regard for their historical context.

We were shopping for my 6-year-old stepdaughter in Walmart in the Boston metro area this weekend. I took a picture of a display of T-shirts for sale for girls, available in size 6X-14. Clockwise, these 4 say “Peace, love and lipgloss,” “it’s a girls [sic] world! (we just let the boys live in it),” “”Friends are forever / Boys are whatever,” and “My favorite things: 1. My mom, 2. Fridays, 3. Shopping, 4. My best friends, 5. My brother (Just kidding).”

Here’s another one from the same display that says “My dad’s awesome…when he buys me stuff!” Presumably a dad is therefore not awesome when he is trying to raise a happy, healthy kid with techniques that do not include purchasing sparkly pink shirts with pro-capitalism messages.