Thursday 10 July 2008

Soda Fountain Nightmare

If it were possible to compile an Atlas of Human Happiness there is no doubt in my mind that its very epicentre would be at the soda counter in an American drugstore as portrayed in Coca Cola publicity between the 30’s and 50’s. Such a concentration of ecstatic smiling faces, unblemished complexions and perfect teeth is a wonder to behold. The talk is all of proms, math tests, barbecues, football games, Saturday night dances and the innocent pleasures of the wholesome Christian life. I like to imagine the intrusion of a long dark shadow into this idyllic scene, as the door swings open to admit the figure of Robert Mitchum in his role of Max Cady or the Reverend Harry Powell. Smiles freeze and all colour drains from the picture as Mitchum slowly crosses the store, takes a seat at the counter and tips his hat to his fellow customers with affable insolence.

Artists of the calibre of Andrew Loomis and Haddon Sundblom were employed to create these radiant visions of the triumph of commerce over human isolation and misery. Week after week they graced the pages of ‘Saturday Evening Post’ and ‘Life’ gradually accumulating into a vast aggregation of happiness unlimited until the default position of the American consumer would be that the soda fountain is the undisputed and exclusive territory of the Coca Cola corporation. The text makes much of the democratic virtues of soda fountain culture, open to all in the spirit of companionship and good humour. The imagery possesses an intensity that promises a quasi-religious transfiguration into an elevated condition of exhilaration – no mean achievement for a blend of sugar, water and colouring agents.

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