Friday, December 4, 2009

Messing With A Classic

Taking on a classic is always difficult, frequently provocative, and sometimes just plain wrong. Take the example at left - Marcel Duchamp's LHOOQ [pronouncing the letters approximates a French phrase implying a portion of Mona Lisa's anatomy (not visible in the painting) is worthy of note]. Note, also, the moustache and goatee modeled by La Gioconda; it just makes me think of Jim Croce's advice of what not to do with "Big Jim" in one of his songs. Then again, dadaist Duchamp had no objection to provoking his audience [the degree of difficulty, it should be pointed out, was low: Duchamp had only to scribble his changes on a cheap postcard reproduction. He worked much hard on another of his notorious "readymades"; the piece he titled Fountain ]. But what about those whose patronage depends on public approval?

Consider the good folks that make Sun-Maid products, most notably raisins. Since the early years of the last century, their trademarked icon was a young girl, reputedly spotted drying her long black hair in a California yard. Sure, she was "updated" a few times in the 20TH Century; each time, though, the final image was undeniably that of the young girl.

Then, around three years ago, Sun-Maid decided on a major re-imaging: "Sun-Maid Girl" [she has no name currently, but may eventually get one] was aged about 10 - 15 years, put on a strict diet [too much baby fat in the original], and is now usually pictured at work in the fields [instead of in a moment of repose]. The people at Sun-Maid probably expected a little publicity with the change [after all, it had worked for Betty Crocker and the Morton Salt Girl]; instead, the change went virtually unknown until recent weeks, when it has become the object of derision and [seemingly] bad-natured humor [some critics call the new look "a Barbie doll in Amish attire". In fairness to Sun-Maid, I live near Amish country, and no decent Amish woman would wear red like the Sun-Maid Hussy does].

Looking at the whole Sun-Maid "redo" [noted in this link-packed Yahoo! feature], the obvious question is, Why? Sure, Aunt Jemima needed [and got] her racially-awkward "baggage" removed [as have Uncle Ben and the Cream of Wheat "Chef", although their modernization was less spectacular than "AJ's"; that said, when was the last time you heard the Cream of Wheat Chef referred to by his traditional name of "Rastus"?]. But Sun-Maid Girl [maybe she should have become a super-hero, her feats of strength and skill fuelled by eating raisins] seemingly had no baggage, no issues that needed correcting. So why change? [At the time. a Sun-Maid official noted it was a good time to get on the "health" bandwagon. Some bandwagons have slippery floors...]

Still, it could have been worse for Sun-Maid: original plans called for the new Sun-Maid "Girl" [I think the new image should be known as "Sun-Maid Woman"; she seems a bit long in the tooth for "Girl" status] to appear in a series of commercials, showing her at the spa, grocery shopping, etc, all made easier by the energy derived from those raisins. Rumor has it that she may become multi-lingual, reflecting the diversity of the nations where Sun-Maid grows its products [a lovely gesture, don't get me wrong. But wouldn't it be better for Sun-Maid Woman to monitor the practices of the companies that grow, harvest, and sell the produce she eats, and to speak out against any questionable actions along the food chain? I may be wrong, but the image of Sun-Maid's animated icon speaking publicly against the corporation that supplies her computer-generated living would be attention-getting, to say the least].

BTB, I'm kicking around re-writing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Maybe changing the Third Movement to a rumba. Waddya think?

-Mike Riley

PS: More "Messing With A Classic" here...-MR


Eric Davidson said...

giving the new Sun-Girl a makeover is probably a good idea since she has looked the same for the last 37 years

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