Cory Doctorow recently posted about a subject near and dear to my heart: Betty Crocker. Doctorow's post directed Boing Boing readers to yet another brief post by LiveJournal blogger spuzzlightyear about the changing image of Betty Crocker through the decades.
Yes, it's difficult to accept, but Betty Crocker -- that coldly efficient and distantly affectionate homemaker whose love and approval we have always sought but never quite attained -- was never a real person. Her portrait and personality were developed by an advertising agency during the Roaring '20s to put a human face on the theretofore impersonal General Mills corporation.
Of course, since then, the courts have ruled that since corporations hold personhood status, they may exercise 1st Amendment rights by purchasing political candidates anonymously* -- so, who knows? Maybe Betty Crocker is a real woman now. A fabulously rich, immortal and powerful woman. Hell, maybe it's even legal for her to run for public office. And, if she did, who ever could possibly hope to oppose her? Betty for President: She'll cook up a better America.
Anyway, the Doctorow/spuzzlightyear posts brought back a flood of fond memories from the mid-1990s. Now, the '90s were a happier time, when the consumer Internet was brand-new, comfortable clothing was de rigueur, and the best possible way to rebel against depressing corporate rock was to consume cheerful martinis and listen to crazy, ultra-square, early-'60s cocktail music.
Yeah, that's how we rolled back in the day.
So imagine how excited we all were when we heard General Mills' announcement that its publicity department would use computer technology to update Betty Crocker's image: The company's plan was to generate the new Betty by digitally averaging photos of 75 lucky American women. Not only did this pique our curiosity about all things technological (the exciting new verb "to morph" was bandied about quite a bit), but it satisfied our instinctive multicultural fetish since, for the first time, images of ethnic minorities would be incorporated into this American icon.
I even published a Sept. 29, 1995 column in The Daily Utah Chronicle ["One Nation Under Betty (Crocker)"] expressing my dissatisfaction that all the component Bettys had to be women -- I felt I deserved a chance to be morphed into General Mills' composite "Ultra-Betty."
(Oh, yeah, I tried and tried to scan in those pages from my huge, heavy Chrony bound volume. But my little 9-by-11-inch consumer scanner just isn't enough to handle them. And, since the DailyUtahChronicle.com archives don't seem to reach that far back into history, I was forced to upload the original text of the Betty Crocker column here, complete with original typos for historical accuracy. Gotta thank David Thometz for the mugshot. And that flowing mane of long hair figures into the story later.)
As it turned out, the 1996 Betty wasn't really any more "ethnic" than the previous several ultra-white Bettys. (Her eyes became slightly more almond-shaped, but that was about it.) Still, in 1995, the Betty Crocker thing became such an obsession for me that, a month after writing that column, I decided to appear at our annual Halloween party as 1965 Betty -- whom I still regard as the most attractive Betty of them all. I used my own hair, not a wig (see the above mugshot depicting that flowing mane).
Now, this Halloween party was legendary, each year attracting intellectuals from all over the valley to the sweet, sweet domicile I was fortunate enough to share with Noreen Rathbone in Holladay for 17 years. As usual, I was still in the bathroom putting my costume together when the guests began to arrive. And, unfortunately -- once I put on the makeup, pulled the curlers off my head, brushed out my hairdo (again, with the help of David Thometz) and spent three minutes staring in shock at my reflection in the mirror muttering, "Ye gods, I look just like my mother" -- I turned out to be, not 1965 Betty, but the less attractive 1972 Betty! (David Thometz consoled me in his brilliant costume as Natalie from The Facts of Life.)
Despite my Betty Crocker mishap, the party was still a success. Pumpkins were carved, bonfires were burned, drinks were drunk, and drunks were drunken. And a fine time was had by all -- hell, it was the '90s.
Note: Yes, I know the headline "Are You Betty to Crock?" is rather lame and perhaps a bit hard to follow, but it seemed less offensive than the other candidate: "You Crocker, You Brought Her."
*[This post was edited March 5, 2012 to clarify the fact that the Corporate Personhood Doctrine predates both Betty Crocker and the Citizens United decision. Thanks, Duke!]