Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Quick, What Connects Hot Chocolate, Fractals & Yellow Journalism?

I found this the other day in a antique mall, which means I paid too much for it, but I just couldn't pass it up. I was drawn in by the lovely muted aqua and the still-bright persimmon, but almost choked once I'd finally processed the nature of the product name and graphics. I realize that trafficking in racial stereotypes has long been a theme in the advertising world, but it seems doubly egregious that the
designers seemed to have mixed their racial slurs. And, for the insult to injury category—this is not even a vintage tin—it's a 70s era reproduction. Astounding.
Though I hate to admit it, there is one other aspect of the tin that I really adore—the little recursive graphic.
In case you're wondering, no, I didn't actually know there was a term for this sort of image, but I do happen to have a husband who is essentially a walking encyclopedia. I asked him and immediately he came up with "recursive." He was familiar with the term from its use in mathematics—specifically with fractals. Of course, he was right. Just a few quick google searches later and I was reading all about the Droste effect. If you are into baking, you might recognize the name Droste from their excellent cocoa powder. It was near the turn of the 20th century when they first printed this image on their tins and boxes.
They used the image for decades and, as it says on the wikipedia page "[it] became a household notion." Dutch columnist Nico Scheepmaker is credited with disseminating the term to wider usage in the 1970s.

So, from a random graphic on a vintage tin we've gotten to fractals and hot chocolate, but yellow journalism is a stretch, right? Apparently not. In the course of creating this post it occurred to me to search around for other mentions of my specific tin. I did find an ebay listing for a similar tin, but most of the citations lead back to references of an original version of the tin that, coupled with a Yellow Kid puppet, sold at auction for over $10,000. When I saw the puppet, my interest was piqued. It seemed like Yellow Kid was something more than a brand of ginger wafers. A few more google searches and I came across the article "Know Thy History: The Yellow Kid"  from The Webcomic Overlook. The entertaining article starts out with this image of the Yellow Kid
original yellow kid art from Hearst newspaper comic
and goes on to talk about the connections between W.R. Hearst, Joseph Pulitzer, the Spanish-American War, the sinking of the USS Maine, Yellow Kid, yellow ink and yellow journalism. It's too much for me to distill here, but here is an excerpt from the article:
"The term isn’t as directly tied to the Yellow Kid as previously thought (even Wikipedia makes this error, claiming that “yellow journalism” was shortened from “yellow kid journalism”). However, there IS a connection, as reported by Comic Book Resources. “Yellow journalism” referred more to the fancy new yellow ink that the new newspapers were playing with. That ink was most visually seen in a popular comic where a kid wore a loud yellow shirt. In addition, the editor of the New York Press who coined “yellow journalism” was totes mad with this newfangled trend his competitors were using of mixing comics with serious, honest news reporting… and this bald-headed interloper wasn’t making matters easy."
When I sat down to post about this tin, I was planning to just upload a picture and rant a bit. I wasn't planning to script an episode of a TLC show. (Is there a show about weird connections about seemingly unrelated things? If not, there ought to be.) It's interesting to me not only for the little history lesson, but also makes me wonder a bit more about my chosen material. What once contained nothing more than ginger wafers now holds both information and questions about our collective past. I wonder what our contemporary tins will say about us 100 years from now.


Carol B said...

Christine -

Did you notice the yellow kid looks a lot like Alfred E. Neuman from Mad Magazine? To add to your TLC documentary, look up Alfred E. Neuman on Wikipedia and skip down to the "Genesis" section. Voila! :)

Betty Warner said...

Very, very interesting. You never can predict where curiosity and interest will lead. Somehow I fear that 'stuff' from our current time will be far less interesting. Thanks for sharing.