When We Had a Sense of Humor

When this ad was first brought to my attention, it was suggested that it might be a fake. It is easy to forget how uptight we have gotten about viewing the human body these days, but with careful analysis, I think it is clear that something like this would not have been that unusual in 1974 Germany.

Elefanten Schuhe Ad (1974)

It is worth noting some of the motivations and circumstances associated with this ad. First of all, this image was meant to convey humor as in “look at how cute and silly these children are!” For those who can understand the text, Elefanten Shoes is advertising the fact that their children’s shoes come in three widths, just like the girls—wide, medium and narrow.

The other thing is that although an ad like this would not have been so out-of-place at that time, still it would not have been used to target the general market. Clearly, this ad appeared in a publication targeting the countercultural demographic with money to spend.

There are certain advantages to using bare bodies to advertise this product. Any clothing might have distracted from the shoes which the company wished to emphasize and there is also a timelessness that would have been lost if the girls were wearing clothing of a particular era and nationality. Clothing would also have obscured the noticeably different figures of the girls as would a calves-down only view which we might see in a more mainstream ad.

So, who out there is going to make a fuss about this ad? And what does it say about our capacity for humor?

10 thoughts on “When We Had a Sense of Humor

  1. Over my lifetime. society (most extremely so in the UK, a little less so in the US) has sexualized children, turning images that used to be cute into “pornography” — and a type of pornography which is considered evil even while other types have become more acceptable! My interest in this subject was piqued when I thought about advertising my invention (see link to my legacy page; I quit trying to sell this stuff a while back) and noticed that child (but not adult) models are posing in bath scenes very unrealistically in prominently visible swimsuits, a striking departure from the common practice of 40-50 years ago. While an adult modeling soap in the shower or tub would be photographed from angles so as not to show their crotch or breasts, and wear a skin-colored suit (or at least have the clothes not show up in the shot) so as to give the impression of nudity, the children’s coverings are deliberately made visible and are often brightly colored, as if to show that even the photographers are not seeing nudes. This is true even in many ostensibly casual family YouTubes, as well as ones commissioned to model bath toys. They don’t stop to consider that some viewers might find THAT practice offensive, because of the inference that we would find the children sexually attractive otherwise; they’re not keeping the child’s image from appearing sexual, they’re doing the exact opposite.

    I also have to wonder what they think they’re accomplishing even if some viewers would be titillated by the images. Do bad vibes get transmitted in the opposite direction, from viewer to exhibitor, if the viewer’s a pedophile?

  2. German people are open-minded. They’re not very much disturbed with nudity, at least not as much as Anglo-Saxon people.

    • For the most part that may be true. But I think there are plenty of people in every country with sticks up their butts. -Ron

    • Yes, that would probably have been the approach in the US. But remember that even a simple article of clothing like a bikini is subject to the whims of fashion. Also the countercultural/naturist community this was targeting would not have taken this seriously. They would have thought it a feeble attempt to appeal to their demographic and that it demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of who they were and what they were about.

    • When first seeing this picture I thought “why has the third girl got her hands folded?” and I think the answer is because the right hand two girls are not different enough in ‘width’ for the effect the advertising team were trying to achieve. Adding panties would also mess up the effect, but would that approach allow the image to be used today? Fully clothed I think the third girl would have to be unnaturally thin to achieve the same effect?

  3. Yes, that picture is beautiful, cute and humorous.
    In today’s Europe, it would probably be unthinkable.
    In today’s America??………….well, even in America THEN it would have not been permitted.

    • 1974 in America it probably would’ve flown, possibly with some controversy. By 1984, no. In 1964 it wouldn’t even have been controversial, and those who objected would’ve been chastized as perverts.

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