Who We Were Through The Lens Of TV Commercials

When people talk about the Sixties from a pop-cultural perspective, they generally point to such influences as the Beatles/Rolling Stones (which, for some reason, has become a rivalry akin to the Yankees/Red Sox), Twiggy and Andy Warhol. Or, in certain decidedly diametric quarters, explorers such as John Glenn or Timothy Leary.

Personally, I was partial to Fred and Barney. It has been many years since I watch an episode of "The Flintstones" but I was reminded of the primetime animated show for kids last night by a jaw-dropping spot contained in "We'll Be Right Back ... 60 Years of Television Commercials," a new online exhibition curated by the Museum of Broadcast Communications.

In it, Wilma and Betty, the ever-devoted, wiser and more resourceful wives, are nonetheless bearing the burden of the workload, as they always do. As Fred and Barney banter at a stone fence about how hard their better halves toil, Wilma trims the lawn with an alligator lawnmower and Betty beats a rug with the ardor that only a repressed house frau can summon.

"They sure work hard, don't they Barney?"

"Yeah, I hate to see them work so hard," replies Barney.

"Let's go around back where we can't see 'em," Fred offers resourcefully.

They do. Fred suggests taking a nap but Barney has a "better idea."

"Hey, let's take a Winston break," he says, whipping out a pack of smokes from the inside vest pocket of his bearskin.

"That's it," says Fred. "Winston is the one filtered cigarette that delivers flavor 20 times a pack," he informs us as he lights up Barney with a Zippo-like lighter.

Barney expounds on the special blend of tobacco that goes into the product before the 60-second spot ends with a tagline that anyone who grew up in the era will recall: "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should." Oh, yes, Wilma and Betty, hands on hips and with playful scowls, reappear and slam down their tools for emphasis.

I had never made this connection before but guess what brand of cigarette I started smoking at age 16 and loyally continued to inhale for about 20 years? Indeed, as the exhibit copy informs us, "among the more notable partnerships of the 1960s were General Foods and "The Andy Griffith Show," Chevrolet and "Bewitched," Quaker Oats and "The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet," and believe it or not, Winston Cigarettes and "The Flintstones!"

"Television programming and advertising are mirrors that reflect popular culture," says Bruce DuMont, president and founder of the Museum of Broadcast Communications, in a statement. "Preserving our television heritage is a way of preserving our past, and offers future generations the chance to experience that culture in a very real way."

I focused on watching the spots in "The Groovy 60's" section of the site, that decade being my formative TV-viewing years, and did, indeed, make other new connections even as nostalgia crept in.

Remember the majestic, orchestra-laden openings to shows, like the one to the Aunt-Jemima-sponsored "Bewitched?" Today, we often don't even get a commercial break as "The Office" blends into "30 Rock" for fear our minds will be off IMing or switching to the Rodeo-on-Demand channel.

And what, exactly, does "Grand Theft Auto" have on "Rock'em, Sock'em Robots by Marx"?

Speaking of toys, how about Slinky? I think every neighborhood had one Slinky Nerd who could make the infernal coils descend a stairway but for most of us, it registered about 20 minutes on the Frustration Meter.

And then there's General Food's Tang, one of the greatest bits of marketing serendipity ever. It was going nowhere fast until it wound up accompanying our astronauts into orbit. (No, it was not invented for NASA, though I don't think GF denied those rumors too vehemently.)

Other areas of the exhibitions include "The Cool 1950s," "The Far-Out 1970s," "Totally ... the 1980s," "The Rad 90's and Beyond," "The 2K's," "Super Bowl," "Chicago Classics" (the physical museum is housed there), "PSA's," "Product Placement," Political Advertising" and "Infomercials."

Alas, there are no video examples of the latter category, only a few paragraphs of somewhat suspect text. Last I checked -- and truth is, I don't think I really have to -- "Ron Popeil of Ronco" is indeed "one of the industry's best-known pitchmen" and is "still a key spokesperson for products including the Vegomatic and Showtime Rotisserie" but any way you slice or dice it, he decidedly did not "[win] the Nobel Prize in 1993 for his home inventions." (Ah, the dangers of not reading Wikipedia closely enough. He did win an "Ig Nobel Prize" -- a parody given for unusual or trivial "achievements" in scientific research.)

Of course, there were much more meaningful events taking place in the Sixties that we should not lose sight of. The civil rights movement was perhaps the most significant. I also listened to Dr. Martin Luther King's 17-minute "I Have a Dream" speech, which was delivered during the "March on Washington" on Aug. 28, 1963, last night. If you can't watch the entire speech, you owe it to yourself to review the last five minutes, beginning at 12:10, on this holiday celebrating Dr. King's birth.

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