Being under the weather for a few days recently, I succumbed to the spell of nostalgia TV. Warmed by memories of hanabata days (quite literally) and a bowl of Campbell's chicken noodle soup with a scoop of leftover rice thrown in, I watched the same old reruns that mesmerized me as a grade-schooler, home with a bad cold. Even then, they were reruns, a glimpse into the American Dream of my parents' generation.
From "Mr. Ed" to "McHale's Navy," I enjoyed reuniting with my black-and-white childhood heroes and friends. "I (still) Love Lucy" and believe that "Father Knows Best." Although I think he'd be bewildered by the slick and sassy commercials of today. Gone are the serious spokesmen touting products "recommended by four out of five doctors." Now insurance is sold by worldly, wisecracking geckos and camels celebrating Wednesdays at the office ("HUMP Daaay!").
Of course, we had animal spokesmodels back in the '60s, but they were cute little cartoon characters who sang jingles like "Brusha, brusha, brusha" and "From the land of sky blue waters . . ." Yes, Bucky Beaver for Ipana toothpaste and the Hamm's Bear for Hamm's beer. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer my spokesanimals to be two-dimensional. I do like the Hump Day camel, but I have to draw the line at pigs flirting with women. Brings up too many memories of real-life bad dates.
One of the classic templates for commercials, then and now, is to instill fear or doubt, then relieve the anxiety by offering your product as the solution. I remember taking mental notes of all the issues I would have to deal with when I grew up. Like house-itosis and iron-poor tired blood and coffee so lousy your husband never wanted a second cup. And when the accumulation of domestic crises threatened your sanity, all you had to do was throw a handful of scented beads into the bath and utter the magic words, "Calgon, take me away!"
Or you could "Take Sominex tonight and sleep . . . safe and restful sleep, sleep, sleep."
I've never taken Sominex, but I always liked their jingle. I used to get it mixed up with the Hadabug song: "Sleep tight, mmmm . . . no mosquitoes, with Johnson's Hadabug . . . Hadabug!"
From cars ("See the USA in your Chevrolet . . .") to corn chips ("Munch, munch, munch a bunch of Fritos . . ."), Pepsodent ("You'll wonder where the yellow went . . .") to Pepsi-Cola ("'Cause you've got a lot to live, and Pepsi's got a lot to give"), I'm an old jingle junkie; the older, the better. Remember the Halo shampoo song? "Halo, everybody, Halo!" They just don't write 'em like that anymore.
I'm all for truth in advertising, but I miss the days when commercials were simply meant to get your attention and place a name in your head for future reference. I don't need to hear the company history or justification for the product's existence. And I sure don't want a litany of possible side effects. Just sing me a silly song. Hey, there's an idea. If the drug companies would set those lists to music, we'd be more likely to remember their commercials.
Like the Big Mac song. I haven't had a Big Mac in many years, but I can sing you the ingredients: "two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun." I'm sure someone could come up with a catchy tune for "anxiety, indigestion, skin eruptions and insomnia."
Really, it's not the cartoon characters and jingles I miss, but the sweeter, simpler time they represent. When the stuff being "shot from guns" was Quaker Oats, and "Snap, Crackle, Pop (made) the world go 'round." When I was more concerned about how food tasted than whether I could afford it.
I always get sentimental when I'm under the weather. I guess it's human nature to crave the comforts of childhood when our grown-up selves are compromised. That's why Campbell's soups ("Mm-mm good!") and Kellogg's cereals are still around. "K-E-double L, Oh-double good, Kellogg's best to you!"
I'm feeling better now, and all this reminiscing has inspired a new project: preserving the art form of jingle writing. Hmm. . . . what rhymes with insomnia?
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.