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[Detail] Krazy Kat goes a-wooing. 1916.

World War I | Consumer Culture | Vaudeville | Prohibition

2) Consumer Culture

Late-nineteenth-century industrialization created a culture of high consumption and low self-esteem. Advertisers regularly marketed products on their ability to improve the consumer's social standing and cultural worth. Successful ad campaigns often increased a product's demand and kept the consumer prepared to buy into the next new trend.

"Pop" Mormand satirized this consumer culture in his comic strip, "Keeping Up With the Joneses," a chronicle of Ma and Pa McGinnis's quest to become as refined as their neighbors. Harry Palmer later adapted the strip in a series of animated cartoons, represented in this collection with two related films.

Men's Styles (1915) begins with Pa McGinnis spotting an ad for an exclusive hat in a men's fashion magazine. Pa travels to a store featuring "The Latest London Lid" and declares, "To keep up with the Joneses, I gotta have one of them new kellys."

Ma McGinnis later teases her husband about his purchase. Pa, however, dismisses her insults as proof that "women folks don't appreciate art in millinery." He places the hat under his bed and awakes to find that a cat used it to give birth to a litter of kittens. The final intertitle declares, "The latest in hats is the latest in cats."

The companion piece, Women's Styles (1915), focuses on the female fashion sense. Pa criticizes his daughter for wearing trendy, revealing, "hyphenated dresses." He turns to his cook and wife for support but discovers that both women have embraced "this reckless display of limb." The film ends when Pa buys extremely dark glasses to protect himself from seeing the disturbing fashion trend.

  • Why do you think that fashion is the means for "keeping up with the Joneses"?
  • How does each family member do their part to "keep up"?
  • What do you think are the implications if a family does not "keep up"?
  • Why do you think that Ma disparages Pa's new hat?
  • Why do you think that Pa is disturbed by the new dress styles?
  • What do you think that these responses imply about the affect of advertising on both the individual and society?