How did advertising come to seem natural and ordinary to magazine readers by the end of the nineteenth century? The Adman in the Parlor explores readers' interactions with advertising during a period when not only consumption but advertising itself became established as a pleasure. Garvey argues that readers' participation in advertising, rather than top-down dictation by advertisers, made advertizing a central part of American culture. Garvey's analysis interweaves such texts and artifacts as advertising trade journals, magazines addressed to elite, middle class, and poorer readerships, scrapbooks, medical articles, paper dolls, chromolithographed trade cards, and contest rules. She tracks new forms of fictional realism that contained brand name references, courtship stories, and other fictional forms.
As magazines became dependant on advertising rather than sales for their revenues, women's magazines led the way in making consumers of readers through the interplay of fiction, editorials, and advertising. General magazines, too, saw little conflict between these different interests. Instead, advertising and fiction came to act on one another in complex, unexpected ways. Magazine stories illustrated the multiple desires and social meanings embodied in the purchase of a product. Garvey takes the bicycle as a case study, and tracks how magazines mediated among competing medical, commercial, and feminist discourses to produce an alluring and unthreatening model of women bicycling in their stories.
Advertising formed the national vocabulary. At once invisible, familiar, and intrusive, advertising both shaped fiction of the period and was shaped by it. The Adman in the Parlor unearths the lively conversations among writers and advertisers about the new prevalence of advertising for mass-produced, nationally distributed products.
At the heart of modern American capitalism lies the consumer. But it wasn't always this way; middle-class American shoppers, primarily women, had to first be educated on the benefits and uses of products. Advertisers and editors at the end of the 19th century worked together to seduce magazine readers with then-new promises of a lifestyle of consumption. Author Garvey examines the sophisticated dynamics of the advertiser-consumer relationship during this pivotal period. She focuses primarily on how admen abandoned traditional boastful copy in favor of a more emotional, feminine appeal and thereby insinuated advertisements into Victorian hearts and homes. These ads blurred the lines between advertising, fiction and fine art, utilizing tactics that would raise eyebrows today. For instance, editors frequently published "puffers," advertisements masquerading as short stories, and justified it as part of the natural union between information and commerce. Also included is an exceptional piece on how advertising reversed longstanding taboos against bicycling for womenin order to sell more bicycles. But the exchange worked both ways; women often took what they wanted from advertising and jettisoned the rest. Garvey clearly knows her subject matter; however, her prose is occasionally dry, and the chapters often read as though they were different articles strung together by a few qualifiers. Nevertheless, The Adman in the Parlor is a fascinating investigation of an often overlooked period in American history when the consumer, and not the thrifty-minded, was first celebrated. (May)