Union College and the Time of Schaefer. Part III.

Parsing the Parody

In Part II I referenced a 1958 ad for Schaefer beer that took the form of literary parody, part of a mini-series placed with a college newspaper in New York State c. 1960. The ad seemed to aim at a writer or style of writing, I couldn’t quite place it.

I put the question out on Twitter. Historian Maureen Ogle, author of the standard reference Ambitious Brew: A History of American Beer suggested Schaefer was aiming at a young American male audience. I’d agree with that, taken especially with its ad I discussed in Part I, a Hemingway send-up.

No opinion came from other quarters. I asked my friend Steve Rive, a poetry editor for a literary journal, about the ad. He replied:

This is clearly a parody of “existentialist” writing. Full of angst and ennui and “life is meaningless.”

This seemed on the mark too. The rhyming, comical references to “Babette, Yvette” can be seen for example as alluding to French sources. At the time, French authors such as Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre created an international wave of interest in existential philosophy.

I recall that in 1968 I was studying Camus’ novel L’Etranger in university. Quite possibly the vogue was already established on North American campuses 10 years before.

There wasn’t really an American existentialist avatar, not as far as I know. There were the Beats, a diverse group unto themselves but withal quite different I think, except perhaps in portraying sympathetically, or at least non-judgmentally, anti-social personalities or perspectives.

But more than these, if avatar there was in the Anglosphere, he was probably the Briton Colin Wilson. His landmark 1956 book The Outsider, a study of ennui and social dislocation, seems in tune with the heroine’s angst in the Schaefer ad.

Wilson was on the existentialist wavelength, a British home-grown example. Likely the copywriter had him in mind with marquee French names.

If there was a specific source for the study though – novel or memoir, say – I am unaware of it.

I thank again those who pitched in with ideas.

N.B. Steve added in our chat that to some extent the American image of Sartrian angst was exaggerated. He said Sartre apparently was known for his wicked impression of Donald Duck!

See our Final Part.





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