Saturday, March 10, 2012

Hearts and Minds

The Reagan Years were a curious time. For one thing, they caused a rethinking of the fashions of the time. There was the Preppy look, which made button-down shirts and Dockers popular with college students who only a few years earlier were content to wear their hair shaggy and show up for the lectures in gym shorts, flip-flops and tee-shirts (weather permitting). This was an outgrowth of the whole "dress for success" movement, which tried to convince young professionals that looking good was a sufficient substitute for being competent. Along with that went the fraternity-bred notion that anything Greek was cool, which caused some of the dormitory living groups to slip Greek letters into their names.

The early '80s also caused a reconsideration of certain discredited products, whose manufacturers must have decided that if Ronald Reagan could beconme popular with the electorate, then Taster's Choice Instant Coffee could once again be taken seriously (especially if it was hawked by a Ronald Reagan lookalike). Spam, which had been the butt of a Monty Python skit, was dusted off and promoted as a tasty and nourishing treat (that is, until it became the common reference for electronic junk mail, which it did, starting in the Clinton Years). The selling of Spam became so successful that the makers of Velveeta returned it to the grocery shelves, along with a sister product, Mexican Velveeta. There was no single cheese like Velveeta (a clever way of saying that it was a gooey amalgam of multiple cheeses), and best of all, it made a creamy Mac and Cheese (unlike real cheese, which tended to break down into clumps of protein and oil when melted, unless you blended it with flour to make it smooth). It seemed there were no end to the possibilities for rehabilitating the image of discredited products...
In fact, William Westmoreland went to his grave believing the Vietnam War was the right thing to do, and he even wrote a book stating as much.

The final act of attempted rehabilitation was the brief boomlet of attention Richard Nixon received just before his death; the party line was that he was a misunderstood forward thinker who, except for one little mistake, did a lot of good while he was President (and guess what that one little mistake was). While having George W. Bush in the White House did make him look good by comparison, the most recent Gallup survey shows the public still regards Nixon as the worst President of all time. But he enabled comedians Rich Little and David Frye to have illustrious careers.