Friday, June 30, 2006

A Crack About Coppertone

I avoid the sun. It has never been good to me, as I go directly from pale, pallbearer white to a lobster dressed up as a redneck for Halloween, mostly because I never prepare myself for a cancer-causing skin burn. Usually, when I'm working outside, I'll wear a big straw hat and I’m usually wearing a t-shirt, so I get a farmer’s tan, and I stupidly never wear sunblock (you ever had sunblock sweat into your eyes while you’re working in the yard? Not fun). So, I’ve been charred upon several occasions, one particularly unfortunate experience was in the summer of 1990, a few days before my Senior year began, Mark Lee, his younger brother and I went to the beach. Since I’m not one to contract some skin disease by swimming in the pollution and runoff that is the Pacific Ocean in the greater LA area, I avoided the water… add to this that I don’t much care for the sand either. Come to think of it, it was quite boring and I’m not even sure why I went. Mark and his brother spent the whole time in the water, as is normal on a beach trip, and I was by myself. Knowing my disgust of the ocean, I brought a book. A half-hour later, I was dead asleep, on my back. Three or four hours later, they returned, woke me up and we went home.

You never know the severity of a burn until you get home and take a shower. Sure, you think you’re a little pink, but there’s nothing more eye-opening than scalding water on a sunburned body, and then a sandpaper lined terrycloth towel to dry off with. But then, I was so sunburned, the water didn’t really need to be toweled off of me, and I think I was so scorched that the water evaporated before it even reached my back. I got out of the shower just as dry as I went in.

The truly funny part… what, a smoldering sunburned person isn’t funny? Well, the funny part is the haircut I got a couple of days later. As if my life wasn’t bad enough, I didn’t know that you expose a white ring around your entire head when you get a hair cut after a severe sunburn. It was a chalky white halo. Added to this, I went to a barber shop that must be in the lobby of a beautician’s school, as out of the turnstile with her diploma in hand was a mangling hatch-wielding lawnmower repairman who possessed the depth perception of a one-eyed pirate with hooks for hands and the ability to brandish a pair of scissors like one would a hedge trimmer on the back forty.

I think, when school started, my friends used the term “Mon Chi Chi” if you know what that is, and I didn’t, but I got the idea. My hair was round, the same length on the sides as it was on the top, like a hair wiffle ball, and about an inch long, too short to lay down and too long to look intentional. So, I looked like an angry lobster with a fuzzy cut-pile carpet hair cut. Sadly, there are no surviving pictures. It took three weeks to grow out and about the same amount of time for my entire face to complete peel off.

The whole ordeal could have been avoided if I had applied a healthy coat of sunblock, you know, the kind made by the fine people at Schering-Plough HealthCare, otherwise known as Coppertone, the innovator in skin protection.

In 1944, pharmacist Benjamin Green invented a potion that helped sun worshipers to tan quicker and safer. You see, back in the day, it was uncouth to be tan; it meant you toil in the fields and that you were poor. Soon, being tan meant you were rich and had a lifestyle around the pools in the Hamptons. Then someone decided a tan person was a healthy person, but the pill-peddler turned lotion-potion pusher Green’s newly founded company didn’t make a dime on his product until the following year when he met Joyce Ballantyne Brand. Who’s that? See for yourself, a delightful story about an undersexed old lady:

Much to my surprise, the old Coppertone logo, really an icon of advertising and a subject of so much parody, from “Family Guy” to “Rolling Stone,” has been changed, not updated like Disney Winnie the Pooh from A.A. Milne’s “classic” Winnie the Pooh, but changed to acquiesce to the kowtowing supporters of some kind of modern drive toward a more PC world, a place where we can only bow to one another so as we don’t offend them. Mexicans are Hispanics, stewardesses are flight attendants, blacks are African Americans, janitors are custodial artisans, whites are Caucasians (I’m not from the Caucuses, so why am I Caucasian… I should be European American), and my dog isn’t a dog, she’s a Canine-American, thank you very much. We are entering an environment that doesn’t allow people to make their own choices but one that makes moralistic decisions for us, as if we lack the comprehension to decide right from wrong.

What am I getting at? Look at the two images below (sorry for the lack of quality in the modern Coppertone logo, as it appears as though they are slowly trying to get ride of it so I couldn’t find a better version). The image on the left is the original design, drawn by Joyce Ballentyne Brand after a picture taken of her three-year-old daughter Cheri. Really folks, don’t make me reiterate the article, just read through to the link above. I’ll wait.

Okay, you’re back.

The image on the right is the modern version of Coppertone’s iconic logo. Notice something different? Yep, they redrew her so the dog isn’t exposing as much of her backside as in Brand’s original drawing. The logo has been on billboards, commercials, newspapers, magazines and millions of bottles of sun tan lotion for 60 years and suddenly the sight of a drawing of a little girl’s rear end is too much of an obscene shock for us, as a society, to handle? I’m dumbfounded. Have you been down the suntan lotion aisle lately? The Coppertone girl is the most innocent looking one of them all.

Where have we evolved as a community that the image of a toddler’s bum is labeled as offensive, suggestive or moralistically damaging when we can turn on the TV on any given day during football season and see some beer-bellied porker who’s just painted his gut blue and it’s is hanging halfway down to his knees… and that’s not offensive? You see more of him than I’m comfortable with, sure, but all I see is a fat idiot with a blue stomach. It certainly solidifies my heterosexuality.

But that’s the difference… and yet it is a similarity, something the marketing lackeys at Coppertone can’t see: The similarity is that the fat guy as well as the Coppertone girl aren’t perceived in a sexual nature by normal upright citizens of moral good standing. But the difference is that we are sooner than later catering everything about our world to the lowest common denominator. If someone might find it sexual in nature, then it is the fault of the image and not that of the viewer and it must be corrected. It is the same defense rapists use when they say “she deserved it because of the way she dresses.” And how about all of this anti-religion in government? So, two percent of the world thinks that there’s no place for religion on our money, yet they’ll still spend it when they get it.

Back to the topic: I am a little put out by the use of sex in advertising in general, as it makes the product look tawdry, as if it can’t stand on its own merit and it has to tease our testosterone by dangling a woman undulating on a car in front of a hamburger. By covering up Coppertone girl, what are we protecting ourselves from? Are there roving bands of pedophiles drooling over bottles of suntan lotion? And, if so, won’t they just move on to Little Debbie cakes or St. Pauli Girl beer? Why should we change for them? What we need to do is listen to the majority of the people and their wishes and stop curtsying to special-interest groups and squeaky wheels that want to distort society to their liking.

But really, c’mon, the Coppertone girl? What I take issue with here is the progressive prudishness that is being forced on our society, and I think we are creating a world where sexuality, masculinity, femininity and the sensuality we share with people of the opposite sex will soon be labeled as distasteful, they’ll be banished from public and all of popular culture. Yet, crap on MTV will still invade our homes, distort our youth’s idea of who they are and create a twisted reality of what sex and love is all about. Hypocritical, you say? No, and here’s why. One word: Taste. The Coppertone ad is done tastefully with tact and creativity. Skanky girls in mini skirts and thongs rooting through guys’ underwear drawers to decide which one she will date is less than decent, at the most. If that’s where society is headed, cancel my satellite service, stop my mail and ship me into the woods like Thoreau to take stock in what I believe in and how I feel about the world around me.

That felt good. Since I’ve been so busy with work lately (I had a half-dozen articles due last week and I’m happy to say that I got them all done) that I haven’t had the energy or the mental capacity to entertain a rant in a while. For this I have all of the people at Coppertone to thank who feel their logo breaks some sort of new moral code the rest of us don’t agree upon. What’s next? Dutch Boy has to take his finger out of the dyke?

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