We often speak about the onslaught of images we see in the digitized 21st century as overwhelming, but I see this as normal. We have long been conditioned to quickly read and process the visual barrage and store what we can for future reference. Experiencing visual stimuli before the digital revolution depended more on our proximity to the sources: TV, newspapers, magazines, movies, books, window shopping, and all matter of print media. Advertisers specialized in “finding viewers” and getting us to choose their channel, or pick their magazine off the rack. Access to images was diverse and fairly dependent on the fickle agency of the viewer. “Browsing” was a physical act which moved your feet from store to store. Now, the images are all on The Screen, and we carry that screen in our pockets, and we pull it out one hundred times a day. Now, we “research” items and seek the Holy Grail called “free shipping”. Now, we go directly to the advertiser. Now, we actually pay to wear his logo.
In the Analog Age our stimulus was less diverse but far richer. C. M. Coolidge’s Poker Playing Dog paintings have had a special influence on kids for over 100 years, myself included. I vaguely recall my uncle had a copy of the dogs in his basement card room where they played Sheepshead and drank Blatz beer in Milwaukee during the early 1960′s. The kids might wander downstairs into the loud smokey room to snatch a handful of pretzels or a piece of the “good” sausage. There it hung as a backdrop to the real poker players. Originally intended to sell cigars, those bad dogs were smoking and drinking and gambling — three major vices we were warned about as children (which our parents practiced religiously).
Black and white Popeye cartoons had beautiful black shadows under the characters. Mickey Mouse was in his purest form in Steamboat Willie. The Camel cigarettes pack was my only glimpse at the “Exotic”. The tiny drawings within the Mad Magazine logo represented camp, burlesque, nudity, and the secret world of the forbidden.Why are we as children so drawn to the scatological, the naughty, and the bad? It was a working class visual fantasy world of low-brow mischief and cool, and I couldn’t get enough. If you want to get to Heaven, ya gotta raise a little Hell. Here’s to A Little Hell.