Speak Spanish, Chat Up Showgirls! (1946 comic book ad) This comes from the inside back cover of The Fighting Yank comics #16, dated May 1946. It shared the page with an advert for “Learn to Fight! Wrestle! Jiu-Jitsu!” books, but I thought I’d limit myself to a brief discussion of the “Speak Spanish” part only.
Spanish is “The Language of Romance and Opportunity,” and if the scantily-clad showgirl at right is any clue, we know what sort of “opportunity” they’re talking about (wink, wink). Let’s not quibble about the showgirl’s Carmen Miranda-esque headgear (since Miranda was Brazilian and spoke Portuguese, not Spanish), because there were plenty of dancers in other Latin countries (and in the USA for that matter) who wore similar outfits. It’s the sentiment that counts: Romance and Opportunity (i.e., Sex and Money) can be yours if you speak Spanish. [Note: I’m still waiting.]
The ad copy makes a strong pitch for learning foreign languages in order to triumph in the “postwar” world. The period at the end of World War II saw a considerable amount of optimism about (more or less) universal peace and international cooperation, which meant business opportunities for all (but especially Americans). Millions of people had, due to the global conflict, been introduced to foreign travel and culture, and—before those pesky things such as the Iron Curtain, the partition of India and China, the Korean War, etc., made the postwar world difficult—it looked like clear skies and fair winds all the way. “Plan your postwar campaign now,” reads the text. In other words, prepare yourself to take advantage of opportunities in places like Latin America (Spain isn’t mentioned, because screw Franco, that’s why).
Spanish is highlighted but the fine folks at the Pickwick Co. also offer the chance to study French, German, Polish, and Italian, and “easily master all 5 languages without any trouble.” “Just 10 minutes a day [for how long? 20 years?] and you’ll master the most difficult tongues.”
French is “A language used everywhere.” Okay, “everywhere” is sort of vague, but French-speaking countries include Canada (parts of it, anyway), French Guiana, quite a few African countries, and French Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia), not to mention France itself. Might be useful.
German is “A post war language.” Um, I guess that means “now that we’ve defeated the Nazis and are occupying Germany, it might be a good idea to learn German so we can give the people orders and communicate with your fraulein girlfriend.” Now if Hitler had won, a lot more people would have been speaking German, but that’s neither here nor there.
Italian is “Fluently used every where.” Doubtful, but not quite as doubtful as…
Polish is “Universally spoken now.” *record scratch, double-take* What?! That seems a little hyperbolic to me. I’m pretty sure that, aside from various Polish enclaves in the USA, most Polish speakers (now and then) live in a relatively narrow geographical region of central Europe (it’s called Poland…well, and various neighbouring countries, to a lesser extent). I’m not questioning the value of learning to speak Polish, per se, but if only five language courses are offered, I’m not sure I’d put Polish on the short list. Maybe Russian or Chinese or Arabic? Or Portuguese (then you could chat up Carmen Miranda). The fact that the five languages offered are all Euro-centric is not surprising (and to learn Russian or Chinese or Arabic you also have to learn a new alphabet, which has always seemed daunting to me).
Still, you have to give the Pickwick Co. credit for selling in a comic book something which—in theory at least—is useful rather than frivolous. I’m not sure exactly how much material you’d get for $.50 per book: although at the time this ad was produced, paperback books were priced at $.25, so I’d imagine these language “courses” were fairly substantial volumes. And there’s a money-back guarantee!
One final point of interest: this advertisement appeared, as mentioned earlier, in The Fighting Yank comic book, a superhero title (although the Yank himself mostly fought run of the mill criminals) from the Nedor line. Most of the ads in the Nedor comics of this era were aimed at adults (“I Will Show You How to Start a Radio Service Business,” “Do You Want Longer Hair,” “Ladies’ and Men’s Rings,” and so forth), or were at least relevant to “all ages” (Baby Ruth candy bars, for instance). This suggests that comic books were aimed at (and appealed to) a much broader demographic than one might casually assume. In fact, the same ad appeared in the “funny-animal” title Happy Comics #13 (also May 1946), which may be because (a) Nedor sold blocks of ads in all of their publications, rather than targeting them by title, and/or (b) that Happy Comics, despite its assumed younger audience (for features such as “Little Billy Bear” and “Scamper Squirrel”), also had readers who might have an interest in learning Spanish (or, possibly, Polish). As Fats Waller would say, one never knows, do one?