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September 1974

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Age of the Product



I was squatting in front of the tube the other day watching Educational TV (after all, you have to do something about your soul). Anyway, this Englishman comes on and is lecturing me on the Age of Reason. He makes a couple of passing references to other Ages ... Romantic ... the Dark ... of Reptiles. The sound track was a bit fuzzy, as it often is on the good old Educational channel, along with a lot of other things that come over it, when it suddenly hit me-just what the hell Age are we living in? "Yes, the Age of Reason was a rich bountiful time, full of exploding concepts and towering intellects which . . . " I couldn't stand it any longer and finally gave in to my baser impulses. I flipped the channel switch to "Cannon" for some good honest fake fist fighting and car chases. By God, it was good to get back to my century! But I couldn't shake a nagging thought that had been set off in my skull What are they going to write about our century? What are they going to call it? The Age of Boobery? The Age of the Clown? The Age of Unbelievable Total Fat-headed War? What the hell are they going to call it? My thought was interrupted, as it so often is these days, by a break in the action of the re-run I was watching. Cannon was just about to karate-chop seven wild..eyed hoodlums wearing Hawaiian shirts in a waterfront warehouse-which seemed to be located near Phoenix-when everything stopped for a barrage of commercials. Kids' eyes rolled maniacally as their ivory teeth chomped into MacDonald's Quarter Pounders. Next, we were riding a merry-go-round with another horde of singing, dancing kids and out of the sky came a thousand balloons bearing a bucket of the Colonel's chicken. The kids cheered and again ivory teeth chomped ecstatically, eyes alight with adoration and reverence. Next came a touching scene where a tremulous, dewyeyed young girl confided in all 31.4 million of us about how much she "gets moist" in the "underarm area" and how Ultra Ban 5000 is what she really and truly believes in. There was a brief station break and next Rod Serling, looking grim and speaking with that mouth action which looks as If he were biting down on a frozen ice pick, intoned about the "horrors of banking," telling me that the ultimate insult is what he called "rejection" as an actor on the screen banged a huge rubber stamp and cackled maniacally, rejecting another hapless would--be borrower. Finally a short, fat announcer rode around on a field of grass hysterical with joy over his Toro lawn mower which apparently chews up, digests and replants your grass as it cuts. And then finally, back to Cannon who grunted and sweated his way through another six and a half minutes of action before we were back in the world of commercials and happy faces, bright sunlight and shiny Mercury Cougars where nobody would ever think to write "shit" in the dust on the door panels. It hit me like a bolt out of the blue. Of course! Why hadn't I seen it before? We are living in the Age of the Product! After all, the other ages are named after what the people of the period believed in: Reason, Romance, Exploration. We believe, all of us in one way or another, in The Product. Guys go around wearing hats which they actually buy made of Budweiser labels. T-shirts are sold proclaiming the owners' allegiance to Zig Zag papers. We have Datsun shirts. Fiat jackets, Goodyear caps, Guinness Stout cufflinks and now, finally, the decal. NASCA A and USAC machines roar around the track so covered with decals these days that it's hard to tell what their actual color is. The more successful the driver, the more decals. Make no mistake about it, these decals are actually approaching true functional art . . . art in the classic sense in that it both propagandizes and comes from the soul, all the way from the flaming reel of STP to the discreet, cool silver ovoid with the stylized "G" and screaming beak of the Gumey Eagle. Automobile people are the first of the True Believers. It's now part of the routine and totally accepted: the product, the plugs after the race, the decal, the kids on the Colonel Sanders merry-go-round, the girl next door spraying herself with Ban 5000, the Gucci belts with their obvious and vulgar "G." The Label is everything. Cannon finally subdued the bad guys after a last burst of gunfire and on came the news . . . and another bouquet of reassuring commercials. Then Jim Bouton and the sports. He showed us a film clip of Billy Jean King scoring with a scorching backhand. I felt good about it because I knew that she "started off every day with carnation Instant Breakfast." Then came the news that Hank Aaron had hit number 720 that night and I felt a kinship with Hank because I knew that he had done it with the help of Brut, which he always uses "after every game." It drew us together, Hank and I, because somewhere in the rubble of my bathroom there's a dusty bottle of Brut 33. Yep, I thought, it isn't too bad living in the Age of the Product. After all, the Age of Reptiles probably happened because you couldn't buy a can of 0-Con. Another thought hit me and I'm making a prediction right now. This Decal/Product Identification in auto racing is bound to spread to other sports. It's just got to come. The idea is too good. Jack Nicklaus crouches down on the 18th green at the U.S. Masters, squinting along his putter, a study in concentration as he lines up a 27 -footer for the championship. The camera plays lovingly over the great golfer as he prepares to putt. On his back a huge embroidered patch reads Johnson and Johnson, The Supporters of Champions. A little lower down a brilliant red patch says: Hickok Belts. On his flank we read Slacks by Hickey-Freeman. Just think what the Kentucky Derby will be like when the same product worship that we see around NASCAR and USAC tracks hits the Sport of Kings. Fourteen horses enter the gate in the classic Run for the Roses. And they are off! As one, the magnificent thoroughbreds plunge out of the gate and begin to pick up stride. The crowd roars as they go to the first turn. Son-of-secretariat, the horse of the century, striding long and strong, moves to the rail. They round the first turn and go into the backstretch still tightly bunched. Millions are watching on television. But no one heads Son-of-Secretariat on this day. He leads the pack into the last 16th. As he flashes over the finish line we see that great proud decal on his rump: Purina Horse Chow. A decal on his withers reads Absorbine. Decals on his flashing hoofs read Hooflex Hoof Dressing. Another on his heaving ribs reads Belmont Saddles - With The Ply-Bond Tree. Another, attached to his nose, says Allison Blinkers Choice Of Winners. Ron Turcotte Jr. crouches low over the neck of the great horse as it thunders over the finish line. The jockey eases up in the saddle and we see plastered across his seat an emblazoned emblem - a natural - Jockey Shorts. Proudly they gallop into the winner's circle to accept the classic blanket of roses-bearing a large silver sign reading Burpee Seeds. Yep, the Age of the Product. "Yes, the Age of Reason was a rich bountiful time, full of exploding concepts and towering intellects which . . . " I couldn't stand it any longer and finally gave in to my baser impulses. I flipped the channel switch to "Cannon" for some good honest fake fist fighting and car chases. By God, it was good to get back to my century! But I couldn't shake a nagging thought that had been set off in my skull What are they going to write about our century? What are they going to call it? The Age of Boobery? The Age of the Clown? The Age of Unbelievable Total Fat-headed War? What the hell are they going to call it? My thought was interrupted, as it so often is these days, by a break in the action of the re-run I was watching. Cannon was just about to karate-chop seven wild..eyed hoodlums wearing Hawaiian shirts in a waterfront warehouse-which seemed to be located near Phoenix-when everything stopped for a barrage of commercials. Kids' eyes rolled maniacally as their ivory teeth chomped into MacDonald's Quarter Pounders. Next, we were riding a merry-go-round with another horde of singing, dancing kids and out of the sky came a thousand balloons bearing a bucket of the Colonel's chicken. The kids cheered and again ivory teeth chomped ecstatically, eyes alight with adoration and reverence. Next came a touching scene where a tremulous, dewyeyed young girl confided in all 31.4 million of us about how much she "gets moist" in the "underarm area" and how Ultra Ban 5000 is what she really and truly believes in. There was a brief station break and next Rod Serling, looking grim and speaking with that mouth action which looks as If he were biting down on a frozen ice pick, intoned about the "horrors of banking," telling me that the ultimate insult is what he called "rejection" as an actor on the screen banged a huge rubber stamp and cackled maniacally, rejecting another hapless would--be borrower. Finally a short, fat announcer rode around on a field of grass hysterical with joy over his Toro lawn mower which apparently chews up, digests and replants your grass as it cuts. And then finally, back to Cannon who grunted and sweated his way through another six and a half minutes of action before we were back in the world of commercials and happy faces, bright sunlight and shiny Mercury Cougars where nobody would ever think to write "shit" in the dust on the door panels. It hit me like a bolt out of the blue. Of course! Why hadn't I seen it before? We are living in the Age of the Product! After all, the other ages are named after what the people of the period believed in: Reason, Romance, Exploration. We believe, all of us in one way or another, in The Product. Guys go around wearing hats which they actually buy made of Budweiser labels. T-shirts are sold proclaiming the owners' allegiance to Zig Zag papers. We have Datsun shirts. Fiat jackets, Goodyear caps, Guinness Stout cufflinks and now, finally, the decal. NASCA A and USAC machines roar around the track so covered with decals these days that it's hard to tell what their actual color is. The more successful the driver, the more decals. Make no mistake about it, these decals are actually approaching true functional art . . . Art in the classic sense in that it both propagandizes and comes from the soul, all the way from the flaming reel of STP to the discreet, cool silver ovoid with the stylized "G" and screaming beak of the Gumey Eagle. Automobile people are the first of the True Believers. It's now part of the routine and totally accepted: the product, the plugs after the race, the decal, the kids on the Colonel Sanders merry-go-round, the girl next door spraying herself with Ban 5000, the Gucci belts with their obvious and vulgar "G." The Label is everything. Cannon finally subdued the bad guys after a last burst of gunfire and on came the news . . . And another bouquet of reassuring commercials. Then Jim Bouton and the sports. He showed us a film clip of Billy Jean King scoring with a scorching backhand. I felt good about it because I knew that she "started off every day with carnation Instant Breakfast." Then came the news that Hank Aaron had hit number 720 that night and I felt a kinship with Hank because I knew that he had done it with the help of Brut, which he always uses "after every game." It drew us together, Hank and I, because somewhere in the rubble of my bathroom there's a dusty bottle of Brut 33. Yep, I thought, it isn't too bad living in the Age of the Product. After all, the Age of Reptiles probably happened because you couldn't buy a can of 0-Con. Another thought hit me and I'm making a prediction right now. This Decal/Product Identification in auto racing is bound to spread to other sports. It's just got to come. The idea is too good. Jack Nicklaus crouches down on the 18th green at the U.S. Masters, squinting along his putter, a study in concentration as he lines up a 27 -footer for the championship. The camera plays lovingly over the great golfer as he prepares to putt. On his back a huge embroidered patch reads Johnson and Johnson, The Supporters of Champions. A little lower down a brilliant red patch says: Hickok Belts. On his flank we read Slacks by Hickey-Freeman. Just think what the Kentucky Derby will be like when the same product worship that we see around NASCAR and USAC tracks hits the Sport of Kings. Fourteen horses enter the gate in the classic Run for the Roses. And they are off! As one, the magnificent thoroughbreds plunge out of the gate and begin to pick up stride. The crowd roars as they go to the first turn. Son-of-secretariat, the horse of the century, striding long and strong, moves to the rail. They round the first turn and go into the backstretch still tightly bunched. Millions are watching on television. But no one heads Son-of-Secretariat on this day. He leads the pack into the last 16th. As he flashes over the finish line we see that great proud decal on his rump: Purina Horse Chow. A decal on his withers reads Absorbine. Decals on his flashing hoofs read Hooflex Hoof Dressing. Another on his heaving ribs reads Belmont Saddles - With The Ply-Bond Tree. Another, attached to his nose, says Allison Blinkers Choice Of Winners. Ron Turcotte Jr. crouches low over the neck of the great horse as it thunders over the finish line. The jockey eases up in the saddle and we see plastered across his seat an emblazoned emblem - a natural - Jockey Shorts. Proudly they gallop into the winner's circle to accept the classic blanket of roses-bearing a large silver sign reading Burpee Seeds. Yep, the Age of the Product.


Copyright: 1974 Car and Driver