I hope you’ve noticed the symbolic recapitulation of American history on TV and in print ads lately. I’m talking about the Rozerem and the Alamo commercials. In the first (“your dreams miss you”), there’s Abraham Lincoln (in top hat and beard), an either stop- (or replacement-) motion or CGI to-look-like either process- animated beaver who talks, plus a guy in an old-fashioned diving suit (in the one set in the kitchen, he’s making pancakes) —anyway there’s this guy who’s not sleeping (no sleep = no dreams), Lincoln and the beaver are trying to get him to take Rozerem, a sleep-inducer (no side-effects, unlike the publicized troubles of Ambien CR, where you drive down to Apu’s Kwik-E-Mart while you’re sound asleep, or cook a 7-course meal at home, ditto—Rozerem supposedly has no side effecrs and is not habit-forming).
The Alamo car rental ads are a CGI’d buffalo and a beaver (with its tail doubled up and tucked in its Bermuda shorts) having trouble with the car-rental machines at the airport while trying to, in the old Fifties’ slogan, See American First.
You’ll notice there’s a beaver in both ads, the animal more responsible even than the buffalo for the settlement of the US from sea to shining sea.
You’ll also notice Lincoln is wearing a stovepipe (“beaver”) hat. It’s all surrealistically related.
In the 1820s, the European beaver (Castor fiber) had been hunted almost to extinction, about the time plug and stovepipe hats became popular.
The Louisiana Purchase had pretty much lain there since Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery to find what was out there. Mainly, Native Americans, a couple of trading posts, and the British and Russians out on the Pacific coast; to the South the Spanish (by the 1830s, Mexicans) in between. There were still a few Frenchmen out there, the same kind of malcontents as the Anglos who would later be attracted there.
The beaver changed all that: suddenly there was a rage for the pelts and skins of the (European) beaver that the American beaver (Castor canadensis) could fill. So we quickly got the Anglo mountain men out there on the headwaters of the Missouri and the Arkansas and over on the Columbia. Sterling types like Big Foot Wallace and Liver-Eater Johnson, running their traplines in pursuit of Castor canadensis and anything else with hair on it.
So we had a thin homespun-and-buckskin line stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific for the first time. Westward the course of Empire began to wend its way.
And along with everything else that was wrong with it (slavery, genocide and removal of Native Americans, some of whom lived in brick houses and owned slaves) the USA began to look at those lands being stubbornly claimed by a bunch of greasers . . . and of course, religion got thrown into the mix, and the Mormons pushed their handcarts to Deseret (which even the Native Americans didn’t want) and in 1846 there was the splendid cause of the Texas-Mexico boundary to go to war with Mexico over (the Republic of Texas had dissolved and entered the Union as a state in 1845. Later, Sam Houston was a unionist during the Civil War—“I worked too hard to get this damned state into the Union to see it leave”—and he flew the Union flag over his house til he died in 1862. As someone said, “You go tell Sam Houston,”—the only man to be governor in his lifetime of two states, the President of a sovereign Republic and leader of a Revolution—“to take down that flag.”)
And two years later, in 1848, we owned everything from sea to sea, except the lumpy parts of Arizona and New Mexico that we bought a few years later as the Gadsden Purchase.
Then we got busy killing each other in Kansas and Harper’s Ferry and then Sumter and the Civil War (“The War for Southern Independence” if you’re from the South.)
What about the guy in the diving suit in the Rozerem ad? After the Civil War and the croaking of Lincoln in his beaver hat (it was in his lap when he was fleetingly introduced to Mr. Booth that night), anyway, a couple of years after Lincoln’s death, we bought Alaska (completing our continental Rendezvous with Density, as Back to the Future has it) and we drove the Golden Spike on the Transcontinental Railroad linking the Union and the Pacific and we laid the Transatlantic Cable to Europe, putting us in contact with the rest of the world.
One of the advantages of the railroad was that you could shoot buffalo from the parlor car (since the railroads bisected the migration routes of the Northern and Southern herds of the Plains buffalo) and collect only their tongues to eat, and leave the carcasses to rot, so the Native Americans, instead of starving, would have to move onto the reservations and be given diseased, scrawny beef by the Great White Father in Washington (and his corrupt buddies and brothers). Hence the Alamo ads, with the beaver (alpha) and buffalo (omega) of Westward-immigrant-sucking wildlife resources.
I’m not sure all this occurred to the people behind the ads (I’d like to think it did). I think the Rozerem people were looking for some home-grown Surrealism: Lincoln, beaver, diver. And the Alamo people: two species of Western wildlife (see America first, before we’re gone).
If you think I’m wrong, consider this: the last US President to wear a hat to his inaugural was John F. Kennedy. It was a stovepipe (“beaver”) hat—probably silk in his case, and probably referred to as an “opera” hat. Anyway, it was there that he gave his “New Frontier” speech.
Coincidence or what?