What with today’s world of streaming services and TiVo, television commercials are no longer the cultural milestones they once were. But back in the day of rabbit-ear antennae, black-and white broadcasts, and only three or four channels, commercials were as much a part of the consumer’s life than the shows they interrupted. YouTuber Fred Flix has compiled a handful (about 15 minutes’ worth) of ads from this bygone era, and they reveal some disturbing elements from mid-20th-century culture.
Especially for women: There are a few coffee commercials here in which nice housewives become absolutely distraught over the thought that their coffee is below par, or that they might have run out of Maxwell House for the man of the house. Even the working women depicted feature a deodorant-wearing secretary that’s looking for a lunch with the (presumably male) boss to move her career ahead, or a Marilyn Monroe soundalike who can’t type, file, or take dictation, but can still work the buttons on a fancy new copier. The manly menfolk, meanwhile, wrangle heavy machinery and outdoor spaces as they enjoy their tobacco, whether in chaw or cigarette form. Even The Flintstones’ Fred and Barney steal off for a smoke break while their long-suffering wives do all the housework. (Congress finally banned cigarette advertising on TV in 1971.)
These ads were not only sexist but racist as well, as in a commercial of an early soft-drink mix brand offering painful flavors like “Injun Orange” and “Chinese Cherry,” complete with caricatures of those cultures. Although these ads are certainly cringeworthy, they do offer an interesting look at how much some societal attitudes have thankfully evolved over the past few decades.