Thursday, June 20, 2013

Mad Men and Crayons

A child coloring quietly, possessed by a creative focus. Just a box of crayons, a piece of paper and a limitless stream of ideas.

You know this didn’t happen in my house recently. We’re still in the bumpy transition into summer made glorious agony by cold rainy weather.

The quiet scene happened in a commercial for Crayola crayons from the 1960’s that I saw a few days ago while visiting the Crayola “Experience” in Easton, Pennsylvania.

The “Experience”, once called “Factory”, was a good rainy day outing for my two girls. They designed their own labels and affixed them to fresh crayons, they watched a magic marker become filled with ink, and we sat through a twenty minute performance starring two animated crayons and an actual human who explained how non-toxic crayons are made of paraffin wax and pigment. It was before this show started that we sat captive watching old commercials.

The commercials from the 60’s seemed to be of a series, each with the same tone and intensity. The camera moves in from behind or close to the shoulder of a child, as if we’ve been invited into the inner monologue of the young person who is living out a fantasy through his or her work. We hear the voices of the children, or in other cases the voice of a male actor--slightly smug, cool, and not very salesman-like.

At the end, there’s a memorable line, setting the crayon apart from other toys or fads.

Fifty years ago the Mad Men were playing on parents' desires to give children something valuable and a box of crayons was presented as the alternative to gimmicky, battery-powered distractions. If the influx of those toys was swelling then, now it feels the wave has exploded into an overwhelming ocean of electronics. And in some ways, we are on the other side of the threat implied in the ads. Watching the old commercials, I realized not many ads or products today so overtly suggest that our children's own creativity is enough. I am more aware of the push to augment their talent, or take it to levels that would not be found within them alone.

I don’t know if it was nostalgia, brilliant advertising, or honest sentiment, but I spent a lot in the gift shop on crayons.

This commercial on YouTube was not the best of the ones I saw in Easton, but it’s a good example of the tone.

This week on The Educated Mom, we continue our summer series, asking: what's the best use of summer if your child has been diagnosed with a learning difference?

Photo credit for the box of 64 crayons to Kurt Baty, Wikimedia Commons. 


Lunch Box Mom said...

A child coloring quietly, possessed by a creative focus. Just a box of crayons, a piece of paper and a limitless stream of ideas.

Tim Morrissey said...

I still recall the line "they work on brains, not batteries". What a great series of ads.