By Samantha Friend, Ellen Guirl, and Michelle Parker
The early 1900s were a period of great cultural turmoil: between the variety of artistic, poetic, and literary movements, let alone the presence of WWI, the time between the turn of the century and the end of the war mark an era of rapid change. There is no better place to study these movements than through the literary magazines, especially the “little magazines” that became immensely popular at the time. One of the best ways to understand how these magazines related to the world surrounding them is through their advertisements – what better way to understand a culture than by analyzing its goods and services? In looking at those in modernist publication from America, England, and France, we came away with a wide range of results regarding how each country treated the war, a distinct turning point in European and history, in their advertisements. Essentially, by looking at different countries' approaches to advertising during wartime, we can gain a better understanding of how each country coped with The Great War, and on a deeper level, how it affected the national psyche as a whole.
Looking at Scribner’s Magazine between 1914 and 1916, it comes off that America really did not care that there was a war going on in Europe. The advertisement content that does mention the war seems to be just various book ads. Then after a few travel ads stating that Hungary was a great place to visit and a trip to Munich was just what the doctor ordered for 1914, there came three advertisements that blatantly used war language and imagery. Yet these advertisements were not your usual war bond ads, but three cereal ads.
The first of these was for Shredded Wheat (Vol. 56, No. 5 1914). This advertisement, instead of blatantly supporting the war, commented on food shortages and the rising price of certain food items. The advertisement begins with in large bolded font the title “In Peace and in War” and then goes on to state:
-in Sickness and in Health- in Good Times and Bad Times- in all climes and in all seasons – for children and grown-ups - the food that builds strong and sturdy bodies, fit for the day’s work or the day’s play, is…
This seems to be a play on the average marriage vows, yet considering that certain words are capitalized and others are left lower case it becomes obvious that there is a meaning to be taken from the ad itself. After the exclamation above, the ad goes back to the title stating:
The one staple, universal breakfast cereal that sells at the same price throughout the civilized world. War always furnishes an excuse for increasing the cost of living, but no dealer can raise the price of Shredded Wheat. It is always the same in price and quality – contains more real nutriment, pound for pound, than meat or eggs and costs much less – is ready-cooked and ready-to-serve.
The advertisement itself instead of commenting on the war effort just comments on the food shortage, showing that, as stated above, America really did not feel the need to raise awareness in their advertisements but instead felt the need to almost complain about the food shortage, but at the same time use it to their advantage.
This was not the only advertisement from Shredded Wheat that had a war tone to it. Another advertisement found in Scribner’s Magazine (Vol. 57, No. 1 1915) a year later has as a title “On the Firing Line” which seems to parallel both a “front line” imagry and then also a firing squad. The advertisement itself just depicts a group of people working and states:
The man or woman who accomplishes anything in business or in the home must be on the firing line. Keeping at the front in any department of human activity calls for a good brain and muscular energy, and these must come from the foods you eat.
The only thing that seems out of the ordinary are the uses of “firing line” and “front” in this description. The rest of the advertisement just focuses on the ability of Shredded Wheat to help build strong bodies, which could be used as a method of creating soldiers, but more explains just health advantages. The rest of the advertisement also just explains what Shredded Wheat is:
Contains all the body-building material in the whole wheat grain prepared in a digestible form – a natural, elemental food that builds healthy tissue, sound bone and good brain.
Neither of these advertisements come close to the Grape Nuts ad found in Scribner’s Magazine (Vol. 57, No. 4 1915). The title of this advertisement states “For Valor” and then straight underneath sits three war badges. The first is titled the “Victoria Cross of England,” the next is the “Legion of Honor of France” and the third is the “Iron Cross of Germany”. This imagery comes across as a bit extreme, considering Grape Nuts is a cereal and not some form of ammunition or medical supply or vehicle. The text underneath the various badges then goes back to the title idea and states:
Deeds of Valor come from men of sturdy strength and active brain… builds stout bodies and keen minds…. “There’s a Reason”
This advertisement seems a bit different than most due to the fact that instead of paragraphs of text, there is just this one, simple, straight to the point sentence that seems to invoke a sense of strength yet false honor. Considering the United States had still not joined the war, this advertisement seems to think that they would care about the “valor” of the countries involved. But, the addition of “There’s a Reason” and then the small “Made in the U.S.A” seems to contrast or make the above medals seem not as important. It could be said that this advertisement instead of embracing the war effort is actually making fun of it. But that also seems to be just a waste of advertisement space for something that was changing Europe forever. It’s not possible today to go back and find out why Grape Nuts decided to run this advertisement, at the time they could have truly thought that this was the best possible way of embracing the war, or showing that the war was as meaningless as cereal itself.
All three of these advertisements seem to be a bit extreme, but that must be since today it would be impossible to really find this obvious of war references. Just think of grabbing a box of Lucky Charms and on the front Lucky is dressed in the uniform of a soldier stating “There’s a reason you can never catch me lucky charms.” Scribner’s Magazine is a magazine that was published and printed for the masses. It is filled with advertisements of varying degree. Many are for books, some are for schools or cars, but out of all of them it is the breakfast cereal advertisements that try to make a comment on the war.
Its not surprising that the attitude towards war on display in the American magazines is very different from that of their European counterparts. Even the little magazines, known for expressing views outside the mainstream, displayed the American attitude of isolationism. In the May 1917 issue of The Crisis there is an ad on the first page of the magazine advertising for memberships in the NAACP and subscriptions to The Crisis. While this ad is a consistent presence in the magazine, this ad has a noticeable new element to it. In a large, mostly empty space in the center of the ad, it says “The fight for 1917 is to be against DISFRANCHISEMENT and JIM CROW CARS. If this is your fight, join and support us.”
Its clear that the war has finally become a concern for everyday Americans. Instead of embracing and encouraging this attitude, this ad attempts to quell it so that the readership can focus on issues that the magazine believes to be more relevant to their lives. This attitude is one that stays consistent in the magazine. The same ad is presented in the next issue, with the central text changed to say, “A time of National Crisis must be a time of redoubled effort and vigilance if the Negro is to advance his status during the war as the women of England and the oppressed masses of Russia have advanced theirs. The N.A.A.C.P. never needed your support more than now.” Here the war is more directly addressed than in the previous issue, demonstrating again that entering the war has become more of a concern for Americans than it was when the war first started. This represents an interesting twist on the isolationist theme. It draws on an implied knowledge of international political movements in order to reemphasize the importance of a local focus. In terms of the isolationist policy, The Crisis is fairly typical. By this time, however, the mass market magazines have largely embraced the war as a marketing concept. The Crisis, being specifically dedicated to an ideal, only invokes war imagery when it becomes inescapable.
For obvious reasons, the British magazines were much more involved with the war during this period. The New Age has no advertising, war related or not. It seems unlikely that a magazine with such incendiary rhetoric would be able to attract the kind of advertising seen in Scribner’s, even if they wanted to. In the April 6th, 1916 issue the Notes of the Week column on the first page demonstrates this attitude.
“Things are as they are, and no mere opinion about them alters them one way or the other. That we were persuaded at the outset of the war that the Germans would not or could not fight may be recalled by a glance at the Press of those days; but our then pessimism has had no effect upon the facts themselves; for here we are, after eighteen months of war, still engaged in the struggle which everybody thought would long ago have been over.” This is the antithesis of mass marketing, encouraging critical analysis of the war instead of blind patriotism. The fact that it is coming from those who are closely connected with the effects of the war serves to further highlight the ludicrous nature of the American advertising technique of glorifying the war in order to sell breakfast cereal.
France's modernist movement, as we have seen, has a different approach to its subject matter in text, a difference which carries over into magazines' structures as well. Two of the most prominent (or more specifically, two of the only) French Dada magazines still publishing during WWI were L'Élan and Dada. The International Dada Archive has 10 editions of L'Élan between April 1915 and December 1916/January 1917, and three of Dada between July 1915 and December 1918. In perusing them, I came to a number of interesting conclusions regarding advertisement in French wartime magazines. Firstly, I noticed a distinct lack of traditional advertisement, such as products, books, and the like that appeared in their English counterparts. Secondly, the type of advertisement that was there was either to promote the magazine itself or its direct associates, or was more closely associated with general cultural manifestos, especially those involving anti-German sentiment.
What I noticed immediately is that L'Élan is very much void of advertisements such as those of Scribner's. Instead of full pages displaying specific products or services, L'Élan concerns itself with much larger cultural issues. For example, in No. 2 (1 May 1915) there is a plea made to Camille Saint-Saëns, a beloved contemporary composer, regarding the music performed at his Sunday concerts. Titled “Le Cornet à Bouquin,” or “The Cornetto,” (though this could be interpreted in a number of different ways), this 2-paragraph, full-page article translates to:
It is announced to us that Mr. Saint-Saëns has just discovered an American Beethoven and that the Sunday concerts would be devoted mainly to him from now on, which would have the double and priceless advantage to attract the sympathies of a neutral nation and to replace the old Beethoven, with deplorable ancestry.
We dare however to acknowledge our fear that this new passion (or infatuation, depending on how you read it) does not leave sufficient place in the programs for the music of our venerated master Saint-Saëns. We could not in any case rent (or praise?) too much patriotic disinterest of this one that would be however indicated to keep the first place in these sorrowful moments.
Again, this is not exactly an advertisement. However, by comparing it with, for example, The Little Review's advertisement for a violin recital by David Hochstein from the November 1915 publication of The Little Review (http://dl.lib.brown.edu/jpegs/1289229449963407.jpg), one can definitely see the “little magazines'” interest and investment in the arts outside of literature, poetry, and art. This is important to note, as national identity here is closely tied in with the arts, hence the importance of replacing a German composer. What these varied interests showcase is the magazine's relationship to the war raging around it by displaying the same patriotic attitude which exists inside the public, as well as artistic, communities; the editors of L'Élan obviously felt the need to remind both France and Saint-Saëns himself that the music that should be most heard by the French should itself be French. The author does add, however, that currying the political favor of a then-potential ally in the United States by playing an American's music is indeed in France's best interest, even in an alliance beginning with musical tutelage. This reinforces the message that Wyndham Lewis was attempting to convey in his “Editorial” from BLAST's “War Number”: that the arts play a significant role in national dialogue during wartime. L'Élan No. 3 (15 May 1915), like No. 2, is almost entirely lacking in ads as well. One of the only actual advertisements made in this release is for the magazine itself, but unlike its cohorts, it is not for a yearly subscription to give as a gift. Instead, it is an advertisement for a special edition of the magazine printed on Japanese paper – it is more of a collector's item than anything else.
Dada unfortunately has a significantly smaller catalog to work from in the IDA, but what it lacks in number it makes up in substance. Actually, it is also almost entirely void of traditional advertisements, so perhaps it is what the magazine does not say that is of interest. The way Dada chose to place its advertisements is true to the absurd and random nature of the movement itself. The advertisements themselves are very subtle; the first actual example I came across was on page 4:
On the page containing Pierre Reverdy's poetry, there is a small, diagonal section in the blank space that states the names of some of his poetry collections and their prices; the text running down the right side gives another poem and its price as well. A number of the other pages featuring different poets follow the same formula, though in a number of typographical variations. Instead of featuring these ads in large text and with images, they are tucked away in small text, going in different directions from the text itself. I had to hunt through the pages to find these ads, and it is interesting to see the difference in how prevalent ads are in French magazines, as opposed to its British and American counterparts.
However, what I found most interesting about Dada is that certain numbers, such as No. 3 (December 1918), have dual publications; one contains submissions from German authors, whereas the other replaces these submissions with those of French authors. The reasoning behind this was so that the magazine was able to pass through French censors, and so the separate edition become known as the “International Edition.” This title is particularly notable, as it implies a certain unity of nations under the banner of the Dada movement, including Germany. Though this publication originates from Zurich, Switzerland and is entirely in French, it also gives France the appearance of a certain inward-looking perspective, given their (understandable) complete rejection of all things German. The edition on the IDA is entirely in French, and I was unfortunately unable to find any with the German content to make a comparison. However, that Dada was able to transcend the hatred of the war in propagating a literary movement involving a coalition of different countries, let alone their success in doing so, is truly impressive.
Maybe it was due to the trenches marring the French landscape, and war invading every day of the French conscience, that they distanced themselves from references to this reality in their advertisements. Since it was part of the fabric of every day life, it seems as if the French did not feel the need to call further attention to its existence. The U.S., on the other hand, did not engage in this conflict until 1917 and did not have three years of death preceding. This may lend to the more casual use of war imagery, such as the strangely close association in Scribner's of war imagery and cereal advertisements. Ultimately, what we came away with after this endeavor was a sense of the immense impact WWI had on every facet of life. Its effects are innumerable, but for the purposes of this class, these all seem to relate to the obscure and often inconsistent use of advertisements within the early 1900s.