The Popular Culture Reader by Jack Nachbar and John Wright

An excerpt from the book The Popular Culture Read by Jack Nachbar and John Wright, a look at various elements of pop culture such as the Marlboro Man.

THE POPULAR CULTURE READER. Edited by Jack Nachbar and John L. Wright. Bowling Green, O.: Bowling Green University Press, 1977.

About the Book: This group of 30 essays is an attempt to create a basic reader for introductory college courses in popular culture. As the first essay explains, popular culture embraces all of the world in which we live. In seven sections dealing with popular beliefs, myths, rituals, stereotypes, heroes, icons, and formulas, contributors examine such diverse topics as TV weather programs, songs of frustrated teenage love, monster movies and sexuality, and the Marlboro Man. The essays provide a fascinating perspective on aspects of everyday experiences which we accept routinely.

From the Book:

Doubtless the finest exemplar of the merchandised metaphor is the Marlboro Man, who for the past half decade and more has served as the emblem of Marlboro cigarettes. Rugged, vigorous, and robust, he strides across the television screen or through the pages of a magazine. . . . In every case he is "lighting up," and suggesting that you follow his lead. He is the archetypical cowboy, to be sure. But he is much more.

There was a time when he was not even that. For 30 years the "man" in the Marlboro commercial had as often as not been a lady-and always in plush, upholstered surroundings. Marlboro cigarettes in the days before the Marlboro Man had been "America's luxury cigarette," a genteel smoke available with either an ivory tip or a red "beauty tip."

Then the 1950s brought the first cancer scare and, subsequently, a bromide in the form of cigarette filters. . . . Marlboros, an old brand in new clothing, now had a "filter, flavor, [and a] fliptop box." Moreover, lest the effeminacy of old be augmented by the sissiness that surrounded the earliest filtered cigarettes, Marlboro was given a new, masculine image-the tattooed man.

By chance, the first tattooed man was a cowboy. No Marlboro Man, he was simply the result of an advertiser's desire to identify his product with "regular guys." . . . "Obviously," advertisers erroneously reasoned, "we couldn't keep on showing cowboys forever, although they could be repeated from time to time." In his place came a succession of he-men-explorers, sailors, athletes, and an occasional tuxedoed but no less rugged gentleman. In each case the common denominators were an elemental masculinity and, of course, the tattoo-emblem of those who look "successful and sophisticated but rugged . . . as though [they] might have had interesting experiences."

But the tattooed man, like the imagination of the culture that smoked his cigarettes, kept returning to the open spaces of his birth. . . . In the early 1960s the cowboy was promoted to supremacy over other tattooed men. By 1963 the tattoo had disappeared and the Marlboro Man had emerged as the exclusive inhabitant of Marlboro commercials. A cultural symbol had evolved; a metaphor was ready for merchandising.

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