I was back in San Francisco this week and paid a visit to the Musee Mechanique. This is a warehouse full of old arcade games that are restored and maintained by a private owner in return for your plunking in many quarters for a chance to experience a thrill from yesteryear that probably cost a penny back in the day.
There are early video games, tests of strength, and machines that tell your fortune along with your weight. But the really charming exhibits are boxed dioramas which come to life to show a man trying to calm a crying baby (whose jaw is repaired with what looks like silly putty), the horrors of an opium den, or the flatulence that results from eating too many beans on the prairie in the example below.
O for the good old days, in which consumers could be amused by simple thrills like this and marketers could get them to read long copy ads like John Caples’ “They laughed when I sat down to play the piano” or the Charles Atlas ads. Today they demand amped-up computer graphics, and they wouldn’t have the patience to watch to watch the full two minutes of “The Inquest”, a large exhibit in which buffalo shuffle their heads while investigating the body of an Indian warrior who has frozen to death in the snow. Today’s consumers also lack the generous acceptance of our wiles that made advertising a welcome, entertaining part of daily life.
Our job is a lot harder, which makes it more interesting I guess. Happy Labor Day.