Joe Camel and Stonewall Jackson
The Creative Soul
In 1997, Stuart Elliot reported for the New York Time regarding the demise of Joe Camel. Joe was the graphic that helped turn the tide for the R J Reynolds Tobacco Company, along with his brother camels known as Buster, Max, and Floyd. While commercial art often is considered the bastard child of visual arts, it cannot be denied that many successful logos are seen by more people than any painting ever is.
As Elliot reported: gains in sales and market share for Camel, the nation’s No. 7 cigarette brand, came only at a high cost as anti-smoking activists convinced President Clinton, the American Medical Association, several Surgeons General, the Federal Trade Commission and other authorities that Joe Camel was emblematic of what they maintained were the insidious, underhanded marketing gimmicks by which cigarettes are sold in America. Particularly, the activists hit home with contentions that slick, colorful presentations of a grinning cartoon animal were intended to appeal specifically to children to take up smoking.
”Joe Camel represented an icon that refueled the moral outrage of the anti-smoking movement,” said Eric Solberg, executive director of Doctors Ought to Care, an anti-tobacco group in Houston. Reynolds has always denied that Joe Camel — introduced to Americans in 1988 after more than a decade of selling cigarettes to Europeans — was anything but a standard marketing tactic meant to persuade adult smokers to switch to Camel from bigger brands like Marlboro. The White House cheered the demise of Joe Camel, which now appears only in the United States. ”We must put tobacco ads like Joe Camel out of our children’s reach forever,” [then] President Clinton said in a statement.”
Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson (January 21, 1824 – May 10, 1863) served as a Confederate general (1861–1863) during the American Civil War, and became one of the best-known Confederate commanders. Born in what was then part of Virginia, Jackson attended the US Army Military Academy at West Point. He then served in the US Army during the Mexican-American War with distinction. Afterwards, he taught at the Virginia Military Institute for nine years where he was very unpopular with the students. When Virginia seceded from the Union in May 1861 after the attack on Fort Sumter (12 April 1861), Jackson joined the Confederate Army. He distinguished himself commanding a brigade at the First Battle of Bull Run (21 July 1861) the following month, providing crucial reinforcements and beating back a fierce Union assault. In this context Barnard Elliott Bee Jr., allegedly highlighting Jackson’s courage and tenacity compared him to a “stone wall”, hence his enduring nickname.
In late April and early May 1863, faced with a larger Union army now commanded by Joseph Hooker at Chancellorsville, Lee divided his force three ways. On May 2, Jackson took his 30,000 troops and launched a surprise attack against the Union right flank, driving the opposing troops back about two miles. That evening he was accidentally shot by Confederate pickets. The general survived but lost his left arm to amputation; weakened by his wounds, he died of pneumonia eight days later. Military historians regard Jackson as one of the most gifted tactical commanders in U.S. history. His tactics are studied even today. His death proved a severe setback for the Confederacy, affecting not only its military prospects, but also the morale of its army and the general public. After Jackson’s death, his military exploits developed a legendary quality, becoming an important element of the ideology of the “Lost Cause”.
Yesterday in one southern city a rally was held to encourage town officials to remove statues like those of Stonewall Jackson. Much like the campaign to remove Joe Camel these commemorative sculptures represent one form of the visual arts. The reason I am dedicating this blog post in a series about creativity to two such instances of censorship is because they raise a very interesting set of questions. While I certainly do not want anything or anyone to encourage any human being to smoke cigarettes and I disdain war and the concept of slavery, I think banning such images and statues means we are sacrificing an excellent learning opportunity. If the arts are to continue and serve their purpose, we must address these questions.
Joe Camel would make an excellent case study for a student of graphic arts. Joe Camel was actually born in Europe. The caricatured camel was created in 1974 by a British artist, Nicholas Price, for a French advertising campaign that subsequently ran in other countries in the 1970s. The character lacked many typical camel traits, essentially appearing as a muscular humanoid with a camel’s head. Feet were always to be covered, in footwear consistent with the rest of the outfit. The character also lacked a tail or hump. Advertising presented Joe Camel in a variety of “fun and entertaining, contemporary and fresh” situations, wearing “bold and bright” colors, blue and yellow where appropriate. His face remained the same in different advertising pieces, and images of his hands only used when necessary.
In 1991 The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study that reportedly showed six-year-old children who not only knew Mickey Mouse was the logo for the Disney Channel but that Joe Camel was associated with cigarettes. The Reynolds Tobacco Company, under great pressure, ultimately pulled all Joe Camel ads and ran rather boring public service announcements stating that smoking cigarettes was “an adult custom”. While the numbers for underage smoking have decreased somewhat, last year 6200 smokers below the age of 18, the legal age in the USA to smoke, were caught, some in grades 1-4.
Since Joe Camel was so attractive to this age group, why did they not use Joe Camel to educate both children and adults about the actual dangers involved with smoking? Public Service announcements regarding people with open laryngectomy holes who died after making the commercials are far scarier to some children than a friendly half-human/half-camel. Even with the increased taxes which have more than doubled the price of a pack of cigarettes since Joe Camel went away people are still beginning the lifelong habit of smoking. Perhaps Joe and his brothers could have been utilized in helping people stop smoking or never start instead of the bland commercials that replaced them.
The commemorative statutes that adorn many public venues in all parts of the country are, in part, educational. However, few if any contain the artist’s name or even the name of the subject. Instead of removing and destroying these works of art, why not add a sign that explains their subject and the consequences of his/her actions. If we continue to ignore history, we have consigned ourselves to the fate of repeating it over and over.
Art at its core is educational. Even art created for pleasure also serves to educate us. When we censor our past, we destroy an important part of our history. We are not perfect and our past is certainly embarrassing and disgraceful at times. However, paying homage to our mistakes opens the door for discussions about lessons learned and efforts to repair those mistakes. Whether it be a smiling cute camel, anatomically incorrect but fun, or a stone-faced old guy, art can be used in proactive measures. We owe it to ourselves to celebrate the successful art and use it to better our world.