After the few very indirect references to Virginia Slims cigarettes in the season finale of Mad Men, I was inspired to search for the now famous 1969 “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby” TV commercial. After finding a number of Virginia Slims ads created for the Australian market in the late 60s on Archive.org, I came across this one:
This particular cigarette commercial, this petty bit of TV ephemera that playfully yet insidiously co-opts and trivializes the feminist movement, is actually quite special to me and my family. The angry man at the gazebo in the first vignette in the ad is my late father-in-law, Jeremiah Morris, who had a long career in theater and television as both an actor and a director until his death in 2005. A framed still from the commercial showing Jeremiah in a bowler hat scolding the young woman for smoking hung proudly in my in-laws’ house for years and the ad was stuff of Morris family legend though neither Jennie nor I had ever seen it until now. Family lore also had it that Jerry’s Virginia Slims ad was the very last cigarette commercial to air on network television, on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show at 11:59pm on January 1, 1971, according to TV Party. I have not yet been able to confirm this.
According to lots of sources, that last cigarette ad featured Hill Street Blues actress Veronica Hamel (crossword puzzle freaks will recognize that name from clues and answers) but the model in Jerry’s ad doesn’t really look like her. In fact, according to this site, it appears that the last cigarette ad to run was among those in the You’ve Come a Long Way Baby campaign, but not the one featuring Jerry.
After I tweeted the link to the ad, my DS106 compadre, the great Scott Lockman, who teaches new media and radio broadcasting courses in Tokyo, went to work creating an animated GIF from the ad. Scott’s GIF is wearable in Second Life as a broach — this means that, for a small fee in in-game currency, you can purchase the broach from Scott and adorn your avatar with this piece of animated jewelry. You can listen to Scott discussing and demonstrating the Jerry broach here.
Not to be outdone, I also created an animated GIF of the last bits of the gazebo sequence:
And now Jerry runs out from behind the gazebo, chasing that poor woman ad infinitum, endlessly calling our attention to the cultural artifact that this commercial is and mesmerizing us all the while.
All that said, I am struck by on the just how easy it was to find this ad that basically vanished into the ether after that last airing in 1971, a few months before I was born. And now here it is. You can even download it and remix it or make animated GIFs or broaches or whatever. As Jim noted in this tweet, Jerry, who died when Jonah was just a year and a half old, is that much more real and present for my kids — in a very real sense, I’ve interacted with his legacy in a way that was unimaginable just a few years ago.
I’m also fascinated by how a simple activity of deriving something simple like an animated GIF of a few frames from an artifact of cultural history as Scott and I did can be, potentially, an act of critical cultural preservation. In taking that bit of the ad and engaging it in a new way, I created an opportunity to reflect on its historical context and cultural significance, not to mention the sentimental value it holds for me. There’s great potential here for us digital pedagogues. Consider this as a possible assignment: take a bit of classic nostalgia or a video that is somehow culturally and historically significant, create an animated GIF from it and reflect on the relationship of the GIF to the original and on the process of creating the GIF, particularly on the choices you’ve made in making it.
There’s more to be said about this and I am looking forward to thinking it through.
On this day..
- Eye, Razor - 2011