America’s middle class is vanishing before our eyes, fading away like a once cherished Kodacolor snapshot.
Today the possibility of obtaining the American Dream feels as outmoded as these vintage advertisements from Kodak.
The sad fall from grace for American icon Eastman Kodak, the very recorder and reinforcer of middle class America, seems to sadly coincide with the decline of that very ethos of upward mobility it once helped encourage.
American Dreams in Kodacolor.
Once upon a time the promise of middle class upward mobility was fundamental to the American Dream, and for over half a century those dreams were expertly captured in Kodak moments.
If the seed of the American Dream was planted during the dark days of the Depression, it was nurtured and cultivated during the solidarity, sacrifices and deprivations of WWII. By wars end it was ripe, ready to be harvested and it would blossom into full bloom in the post war years and beyond.
This high yielding seed would turn out a bumper crop of dreams. And with a press of a button, Kodak was there to record it all.
Now something is fundamentally wrong. The core elements of the American dream are increasingly unaffordable for the majority.
Kodak and the American Dream were made for one another.
Painting the perfect portrait of that vision, the wholesome images of All-American family fun portrayed in their long running advertisements would saturate our Kodacolor dreams for decades creating a model for the middle class and the good life.
These uplifting, homogeneous tableau’s created by Kodak, along with the familiar yellow and red logo, insinuated themselves into the very fabric of American family life.
Kodak and the Pursuit of Happiness
The turn of the last century marked the arrival of the groundbreaking Brownie dollar camera.
Snapshots were the great equalizer, the perfect tool for a democratic society available to one and all. For a buck (with film costing 15 cents for 6 shots) everyone could now archive their lives.
Suddenly this camera – so easy they advertised a child could do it – could be seen everywhere.
We The People
Bristling with their box Brownies, Americans were suddenly hard at work recording the spectacle of the their middle class moments, cameras clicking away at birthday parties, picnics, communions and vacations.
War Time Memories
When America entered WWII folks on the home front were encouraged to send snapshots to the boys overseas to remind them of what they were fighting for – mom, apple pie and the American Dream that awaited them when they returned.
Unlike today’s troubled vets who are returning to an American Dream itself suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the greatest generation of WWII soldiers came back to a robust America, the American Dream gift wrapped just for them in red, white, and blue.
The post war future it promised would be filled with homes, harmony and upward mobility. It heralded a time when the American dream was indeed within reach of most middle class families and the achievement of the better life was fundamental to the American Way.
Kodak Developed Family Memories
After WWII Kodak ramped up their already heavily sentimental ads to fit in with the ethos of domestic post-war America, the middle class family idealized as never before.
The idyllic snapshots of the American dream family that Kodak used in the ads all portrayed an eerily homogeneous landscape of spacious suburban homes and smiling, prosperous, cheerful, Anglo-Saxon families enjoying fun times together in their rumpus rooms and backyards.
This “Happy Family Living” was the image that most advertising and entertainment seemed determined to project and Kodak excelled at the iconography.
TV’s June and Ward Cleaver or Jim and Margaret Anderson – no slouches when it came to the nuclear family – would have fit right at home in any of these dozens of tableau’s of the American Dream. Is it any wonder that Ozzie and Harriet the quintessential American TV family were Kodak’s spokesman.
You Press The Button-It Does The Rest
“Nobody gets more fun out of making a good snapshot,” Kodak assured us,” than a rank beginner – a kid or maybe a woman who was always afraid of a camera!”
Knowledge of technology was unimportant for a Kodak picture.
The film was made for all who wanted to get a good picture of their good times…without any bother. No fuss, no muss. With its automatic push-button ease Kodak was the epitome to the easy living push-button world that would characterize mid-century America.
It made picture-taking so easy, so sure, the ads promised even a child ( or a woman) with film in her brownie could take a good picture. Why wait for dad to be around? Even an ordinary homemaker could be a first class shutterbug; taking pictures was as easy to operate as a pop up toaster they assured us.
Every man could be his own Norman Rockwell recording and replicating those saccharine filled moments captured so brilliantly in those light drenched ads.
In this bliss no one knew what went on in the darkroom nor did they need too. Like the telephone the camera was this simple magical black box that could be used without being understood.
Ghosts of America Past
Happy to bask in the sunny Kodacolor optimism the ads projected , we were blissfully ignorant of those that lived shadows of society.
This is the America some retro Republicans pine for.
Like an aging and fading photograph in need of restoration, the Republicans want to restore the American Dream and the middle class back to this mythical place – a conflict free, whiter-than-white America.
But that cherished myth has been exposed.
Dark Room Secrets
The red, white, and blue America that once sparkled in Kodacolor… did not sparkle for all.
The sweet sentiments these photos evoke belie the fact that these years were far from fair to Blacks, women, Latinos or Gays.
For those who lived in the shadow of the American Dream, it would take decades for the light of tolerance and inclusion to shine on them.
Though for many the vivid Kodak world of possibilities shimmered in glorious Kodacolor, but for people of color it was still pretty black and white.
These ghosts of America’s past still haunt us.
Today some Kodak moments are best not remembered.
© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.