Roland Marchand. Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity, 1920-1940. Berkeley, CA. University of California Press,1985.

Thesis:  Roland Marchand argues that American advertisement from the 1920s to 1940s did not provide a “mirror” of social life, but rather represented what upper-class admen perceived were the “aspirations” of consumers, many of whom did not belong to the same class, gender, and race as the admen. (Marchand calls this a “Zerrspiegal”).


On one hand, Americans “aspired” to integrate themselves into modern life and advertisers would serve as the “apostles” of modernity. By using techniques pioneered by tabloid press and cartoon strips, advertisers instructed consumers how to avoid embarrassment and adjust smoothly to the new values of the pre-depression decade. Fleischman’s yeast, Listerine, and Kotex established a new technique of the “sociodrama” and its emerging style of “dramatic realism” to depict a personal problem (bad breath, for instance), a social moral judgment, and a product-oriented solution.  He demonstrates convincingly, for example, that the Cellucotton Company presented modernity in the guise of comforting advice from the fictional "Nurse Ellen J. Buckland," but it existed to make and sell Kotex, a product that modern women had reason to want.


On the other hand, Americans “aspired” to distance themselves from modernity. Advertisers were “mediators” of modernity. Betty Crocker provided a personal touch. As compensation for the loss of individuality, advertisements offered personal attention as well as the ‘democracy of goods’. The less well-off could afford the same vacuum cleaner, soap, and toothpaste as the most wealthy in America.  Advertised products offered ready solutions to modern problems as portrayed by the frequently repeated parables of the First Impression, the Democracy of Goods  Afflictions, Civilization Redeemed, and the Captivated Child. Visual imagery conveyed messages that would be absurd or exaggerated in print. businessmen with an unobstructed view out a large window overlooking the factory or countryside (suggesting power), family scenes slightly blurred (suggesting sentimentality), family seated in circular pattern, often with the advertised product completing an otherwise broken circle (suggesting harmony and unity.


Intervention: Prevailing wisdom either celebrated advertising as the “lubricant” of modern democracy or denounced it as a control mechanism of late capitalism. His argument also follows the argument previously provided by Jackson Lears, who in No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880–1920 (1981), argued that movements like the Arts and Crafts movements provided Americans respite from industrialization and individual anonymity.