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Kevin Mac Donnell <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 18 Sep 2000 16:53:17 -0500
text/plain (29 lines)
I don't think it's our role (whoever "our" is) to influence how American
culture absorbs, uses, abuses, or exploits Mark Twain's image or name. But
it makes a great subject for study. As early as the 1870s his name or image
was being used to promote the sale of luxury cruises, cigars, card games,
magazines, and other peoples' books. By 1900 you could add to that list
vacation resorts, flour, medicines, and fountain pens. By 1920 it included
shirts, lemons, hotels, cars, sound recording equipment, oranges, oysters,
shoes, whiskey, and cereal. By 1940, add cigarettes, trains, pants, coal,
boards games, and crayons. More recently boats, pocket knives, lamps,
banjos, and fishing poles. I don't know why Mark Twain shirts were being
sold by 1920, but pants didn't come along until three decades later... and
why we have Mark Twain shoes, but no socks.

Whitman, Emerson, and Poe, were used to sell cigars. The classic New England
authors were featured in card games, and used to promote others' books.
Melville, Thoreau, and female authors were virtually ignored. But I know of
no other author who has been used to promote such a variety of consumer
products: food, clothing, items for children, etc. In England, even Dickens
was not exploited so fully as Twain was in America.

A careful and well-documented study of the enduring power of his image, its
evolution, and its exploitation, would be welcome. Budd's book is the
closest I've seen, and several books include sections of interest, but I've
seen very little that approaches it from this angle. Who in the Forum has
the inclination and the ability?

Kevin Mac Donnell
Austin, TX