Month: October 2015

Campaign Hats, Opposable Thumbs and Evil Space Loggers (Smokey Bear)
We dig into the history behind America's favorite topless fire hater.

Smokey Bear is a mythical sentient forest creature with a penchant for wearing jeans but going topless. He has been the official mascot of the US Forest Service (Official Motto: “The Trees… So Many Trees… Everywhere… Who Knew? WHO KNEW?!?!”) since 1947, although he was first introduced on a 1944 poster as part of an advertising campaign for the “Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Campaign,” the world’s least interesting campaign name containing the word “fire”.

Evil Space Loggers vs. The Shrewd Ad Council

[x_pullquote type=”right”]Smokey was the original creation of Harold Rosenberg, an art critic who apparently felt there weren’t enough anthropomorphic bears in modern art…[/x_pullquote]An original story from 1955 depicts Smokey as an orphaned cub rescued from a forest fire, who later after years of grueling martial arts training in the Chinese Changbai Mountains, returns to wreak bone-cracking vengeance on the person who started the fire, only to find out it is his long-lost father, who started the fire in order to save Smokey from some evil space loggers, and from there it gets even more complex and dark. Shrewd Ad Council executives ditched the last, but definitely more interesting part of this back story, leaving Smokey an orphaned cub who pays off his debt to the US Government for saving him by learning how to hold a shovel, point, and speak. Smokey was the original creation of Harold Rosenberg, an art critic who apparently felt there weren’t enough anthropomorphic bears in modern art, who designed it for the Ad Council (Official Motto: “Making That Native American Cry Because Of All The Trash Since 1971.”). He is always featured with his trademark “campaign hat”, leading some ursine biologists to speculate his hair was burned off and he is actually bald.

Only YOU have opposable thumbs

Forest Service worker Rudy Wendelin was the official artist for Smokey, creating hundreds of drawings of the spokes-bear from his debut in 1944 until Wendelin’s retirement in 1973. Wendelin described Smokey during these sessions as “approachable, sensitive, yet with a deep primal mystery he kept just beneath the surface. He refused to pose nude because he did not want to scare the children.” The slogan originally associated with Smokey: “Remember… only YOU have opposable thumbs — for the love of all that’s holy put down those matches!” was replaced with the more familiar “Remember… only YOU can prevent forest fires” in 1947. The word “forest fires” was updated to “wildfires” in 2001 as a reminder that California seems to be constantly burning.

Smokey Bear facts

  • According to the Ad Council, Smokey is recognized by over 95% of adults, 77% of children, but only .02% of bears.
  • Smokey happily celebrated his 70th birthday in 2014 although, due to an ill-advised use of birthday candles, he smashed his cake flat with his shovel.
  • Only two people in the United States have their own ZIP code: Smokey Bear and Chris Christie.
  • A real version of the firefighting icon was designated in 1950 when a burned cub who had survived a forest fire in Lincoln National Forest was named “Smokey Bear.” The cub later successfully sued the Forest Service for negligence and spent the rest of his days in a penthouse suite in Miami.
Photo Credit: Wendy cc

Gotta Have That New World Smell (Columbus Day)
Uncovering the unsordid history behind the not-quite discoverer of America

Every American schoolchild is probably familiar with that famous poem about Christopher Columbus, so if some of you schoolchildren out there know it could you please send it to me? Because I can’t think of it right now and I’m too lazy to Google it. In the meantime, let’s take a look at the day behind the man behind the day celebrated as the time Equatorial Guinea declared its independence from Spain in 1968, except we call it Columbus Day, and we celebrate it because a Spanish guy discovered the Bahamas 600 years before Carnival Cruise lines.

Colorectal Polyps and Colusa, Illinois

Although Columbus is traditionally celebrated as the first European to discover America, it is now commonly known that that honor goes to Leif Ericson and his Vikings, who beat the Packers 26-10 sometime in the 11th century at a settlement called “L’Anse aux Meadows” in Newfoundland (Official Motto: “We’re Not Only A Dog, We’re A Country!”). Even so, Columbus has secured his place in history, right between colorectal polyp and Colusa, Illinois, as the discoverer of the New World®. #NewWorldColumbus #NWRocks #IndigenousSlavery

That New World Smell

Columbus began his journey where most explorers do: at the local bank, which in this case was the King and Queen (Ferdinand and Isabella) of Spain. After lobbying for two years he was finally able to procur funding from the court in the sum of 1.14 million maravedis, or 555,000 guildergroats, or 3.5 million guineafrancs; an amount so large that in today’s dollars it could only be measured in Kelvin. So, while Isabella and Ferdinand presumably waved their hankies from the dock, Columbus set sail on August 3 in a small fleet consisting of a large carrack called the Santa María, two smaller caravels, the Pinta and the Nina, and three tiny caramels named Dick, Bartholomew, and Leon, which Columbus kept in his right pantaloon pocket. After a voyage of however many units Spanish people used to measure the time it takes to sail to the New World with back then, a lookout on the Pinta spotted land at 2:00 in the morning while he was watching the Late, Late Show. He immediately alerted the Captain, who was able to verify the discovery and alerted Columbus by firing a lombard, who, being part of the Lombards Local 128, later sued Columbus for wrongful termination, but that’s another story. Calling the new land “San Salvador“, because Finland was already taken, Columbus began a long career of making scholars write history books about him of which you can read if you want to know more. After three more trips the intrepid explorer decided to settle in what is now Haiti while it still had what he called “that New World smell”.

Columbus Day Cards and Frank Sinatra

Columbus’s voyage has been celebrated since colonial times in the United States; many cities celebrated the 300th anniversary of his landing in 1792 by taking a day off from wearing their itchy powdered wigs. In 1892 President Benjamin “Yes, I Was A President, Too” Harrison called upon the people of the United States, apparently with a gigantic megaphone, to celebrate Columbus Day on the 400th Anniversary of the day he landed, which was October 12 if you haven’t been keeping score. The first state to officially recognize Columbus Day as an official holiday was the famous, tropical seafaring land of Colorado in 1906. In 1934 Generoso “Not Actually A Real” Pope, an Italian leader in New York City, along with the Knights of Columbus lobbied to make Columbus Day a Federal Holiday, until they realized that “lobbying” did not mean hanging out at the bar in the foyer of the Biltmore Hotel on West 47th Street hoping to score some free drinks. It wasn’t officially recognized as a federal holiday until 1937, when the Hallmark Company reluctantly agreed to make a couple of Columbus Day cards: “New World? I was just getting used to the old one!” and “Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, Columbus sailed under the auspices of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain in the context of emerging western imperialism and economic competition between European kingdoms through the establishment of trade routes and colonies in 1492”. Many Italian-Americans celebrate Columbus Day as a reminder of their heritage, for although Columbus wasn’t an American, he did apparently like to listen to Frank Sinatra.

So the next time you’re eating a caravel, watching the Vikings beat the Packers, or just firing your lombard, remember Columbus, the man who’s memory we honor in the most American way possible: by not getting our mail for a day.

Photo Credit: puritani35 cc