Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Picture. A Thousand Words.

Having just completed a freelance assignment wherein I had to edit and organize a 24-page brochure, (I overestimated my time at 12 hours and delivered in a mere four, once again failing to master the subtle art of milking a job) I am now in need of a writing exercise. So I will write exactly 1000 words about the image found within the text below.

Back in the old days, there was apparently some sort of union of beer makers that promoted the general consumption of beer - any American beer - so long as you drank beer. Their true and main purpose was lobbying. They kept pressure on Congress to limit the taxation of beer. Like any good lobbying organization, they kept their constituency riled up for the fight. “Beer is your right. It is your God-given inheritance as a freeman of these great United States. You should enjoy it in health, just as Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Adams did.” (Historical note: It is said that none other than George Washington would ply voters with “strong beer.”)

The Association would place full-page ads in popular periodicals showing how much better life is when you have plenty of beer on hand. The organization operated much like the American Dairy Association, which doesn’t care what brand of milk you drink, just please support the dairy industry. The brewers were a cooperative lot in those days. During World War I, “the income tax replaced liquor taxes as the primary source of federal revenue,” and after promoting their beverage for over a hundred years - with a brief intermission during Prohibition - the Association disbanded in 1986. So apparently we can thank the lobbying efforts of this organization for limiting taxes on beer, but giving the government nowhere else to turn but to your income for money. That thought saddens me, making me want to drink a lot of beer right now.

This ad from the Association, apparently from the 1950s, gives us a whole lot to look at, with plenty of suggestions as to what is transpiring during this magical afternoon in a suburban garden that has been interrupted by a sudden spring shower. Like many great illustrations of that period, it tells a story, making you look deeper, inviting you to draw your own conclusions and assign your own roles to the players.

1) “Let’s just sit awhile.” The copy suggests that the beer said that. I doubt it. One of these two middle-aged planters uttered that phrase as the rain came down.

2) The “blocks of primary colors” style of décor, popular in the day, suggests that whoever lives here, likely the woman, is a person of taste, up with the times, her off-the-patio gardening room a pre-Ikea shrine to fastidious organization.

3) The illustrator has added what appear to be some cryptic writing and a drawing above the hanging yard implements in the gardening room. This is probably a hidden message known only to him and the copywriter. (I say “him” only because men dominated the field in those days.)

4) This last block of copy is awesome, making no bones about its call to action: “Wouldn’t you like a refreshing glass of beer or ale – say, right now?” Stop what you’re doing and go get some beer!

5) It was no oversight on the part of the artist not to include a wedding band on the woman. This is meant to intrigue you, leaving you to wonder why a woman of her age is not married. Divorced? Widowed? A professional who hasn’t wanted to “settle down” yet, despite all her sorority sisters having done so a decade and a half ago? You make your own story.

6) It has been raining long enough that the wheelbarrow is overflowing with water. Either this little party has been going on for some time or this is a freak storm that the couple isn’t really freaking out about.

7) Jim, or Ted, or Mike or Jack - some generic Anglo name of the day – is making it clear that he’s had a tough day and this beer is really what he needed, and perhaps a shoulder rub, if the lady would be so kind as to please take the hint.

8) Again, we are promoting any beer – green bottle, brown bottle, labels facing away from us – doesn’t matter, just drink any American beer. The lady keeps plenty of varieties on hand for occasions such as this.

9) I am not positive, but a tight zoom-in on the man’s wristwatch seems to indicate that the little hand is on the 12, big hand about 10 past. As long as it’s after noon, it’s beer time. Quit thinking of 5:00 PM as the time to drink. That was meant for wine and spirits. We’re talking beer here. Besides, this is probably Saturday or Sunday and you can have beer for breakfast on those days.

10) Again, the couple has been out here for some time, the cheese starting to curl and brown in the heat. They are too involved in this beer-drinking respite to have even bothered eating the cheese and crackers.

11) Sanitation be damned. These folks are in a party mood. They will throw caution to the wind and lay their dirty implements and gloves on the table with the cheese and crackers. They will also likely forgo the use of birth control later.

12) In order to be able to read the copy, the illustrator was asked not to color in the feet and the area under the table. Today they would just dial back the opacity or desaturate this section of the photograph, but this style shows you the art behind the work and was a trendy technique used by many illustrators of the period.

13) The drinking couple are getting flirtatious, her foot under his chair. And while we can’t see his left foot, it would appear from here that it is under her right knee, likely touching. Beer helps subordinate the inhibitions, the social lubricant that can turn an afternoon of gardening into a rainy-day romp in the sheets.

14) “America’s Beverage of Moderation” was how they used to say “Drink Responsibly.” I like their version better because it’s far more subtle and undemanding.

15) A nice little panel shows the American beer drinker that the brewers would prefer that you enjoy a foamy head on your beer. “Tastes even better that way!” Don’t tilt the glass.
    (Word count: 1000)

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