Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Anne Taintor

I first became familiar with Anne Taintor's hilarious 1950's ad alterations when I worked at the UMFA gift shop and could smirk at her merchandise all during my shift. They appeal to the feminist in all of us. I eventually purchased the magnet, notebook, and keychain.

Witty and irreverent, they take the idealized views of women in 1950's advertisements and give them a modern bite. What perhaps were these women actually thinking about their narrow, pre-determined roles as housewives? Were they fulfilled, or made to think they should be if they had the right house, car, husband, kids, and newest appliances? They remind me of those WWII propaganda posters, but vamped up to perpetuate gender stereotypes and white male dominance in the world.

Born in Lewiston, Maine in 1953, Anne Taintor attended Harvard and graduated in 1977 with a degree in Visual and Environmental Studies. As a student she enrolled in a class on collage animation which would become her technique of choice (hey, me too). She eventually moved back to Maine working as a cartographer drawing maps for state atlases. She continued collage, but her art was more of a sideline than a full-time occupation.

Then, in 1985, after working many odd jobs as a single mother to support her daughter, she began to develop a line of collaged pins and magnets she would sell at local craft fairs. They were an instant hit with her customers, though it took awhile longer for her to be brave enough to “quit her day job”. In 1999, with her daughter away at college, Anne and her husband moved to a tiny town in North-central New Mexico, and in 2011, they returned to her native state of Maine where she now resides.

What is it about these 1950's ads that is so ridiculous? Perhaps it's the ever-gleaming smiles of the freshly done-up models in the midst of household drudgery. What better way to propagandize something so menial than by making it appear glamorous.

No wonder housewives took so many valium pills and drank too much. I'd be depressed too if society told me I had to look perfect, clean perfect, cook perfect, and act perfect every second of the day whilst doing some of the most soul-sucking, humdrum labor there is. And you were supposed to like it. If not, there was something wrong with you.

I don't blame Anne for her tongue-in-cheek critiques. I mean, have you ever really looked at 1950's advertisements? They're extremely sexist and racist. I'm grateful times have changed.

While on the surface some of these ads may look harmless or even appealing, the underlying messages is everything dark and insidious. Instead of encouraging healthy human relationships built upon mutual love and respect, they encourage ones built upon competition, insecurity, and jealousy.

"Men, make your wives self-loathing and insecure as they realize you're unhappy with their looks or domestic performance and may act out in passive-aggressive, violent, or unfaithful ways. After all, it's their own fault."

"Women, make the other housewives in the neighborhood jealous of your cooking and appliances."

"Girls, make the others at school jealous of your large breasts, tiny waist, and loads of oggling boy friends."

"Ladies, you're dainty, delicate flowers so play helpless.

Wives, your sole purpose is to adorn the home, so dress accordingly, and use your 'delicate disposition' to get overly emotional and manipulate others into cohersion--especially men."

Some people may look back to the 1950's with fondness and nostalgia, but if you look closely under the glossy veneer and glamorous smiles, you will find a dark underbelly of racism, sexism, ignorance, and oppression. It was a time when women were restrained to lives of domestic slavery, and anyone who didn't fit the mold--blacks, asians, jews, homosexuals, socialists, the mentally ill--were portrayed as backward or sinister and had their rights limited, or they had to stay hidden altogether.

Thankfully, times have changed, and even though things are not perfect today, more people than ever before have Equality of Opportunity, and are not restrained by societal prejudices. Thanks to smart women like Anne Taintor, we can all look to the past with a giggle, feel empowered as individuals, and really be grateful for how far we've come. Anne Taintor, I salute you.


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