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Saturday, July 12, 2014

American Propaganda Versus Japan: Prophylaxis

At first glance, you might think this is just someone having some fun with the former three leaders of the evil Axis of WWII...

And they are - but this is actually a serious advertisement created by artist Arthur Szyk in 1942 on behalf of John Wyeth & Brother, Inc., a pharmaceutical company founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA in 1860 - until it was purchased by Pfizer in 2009. It is, as you can see, a poster for the prevention of venereal disease, or what we now more common refer to as sexually-transmitted disease (STD).

Then known as John Wyeth and Brother, in 1864 they began supplying medicines and beef extract to the Union army during the US Civil War.

When John Wyeth died in 1907, he left the company to his son Stuart. Stuart, when he died in 1929, he left the company to Harvard University, who sold the company in 1931 (a year after it purchased Anacin) for $2.9-million to American Home Products, who kept the name as Wyeth.

While I can understand the need to make a few bucks during the depression, Harvard might have a had a whole lot more if they had held onto it just 20 more years... Not so smart, I guess. Go Cornell! 

Interestingly enough... Wyeth began expanding its business, and even owned Chef Boyardee.

During WWII, the U.S. military commissioned Chef Boyardee to produce army rations - which had them running 24/7. When the war was over, and to protect the employee jobs, it sold the company to American Home Products in 1946. It's now owned by Con-Agra. I owe half my growth to Chef Boyardee, as I loved to eat the cheese mini-ravioli. Love it!

Anyhow, back to Wyeth. When the U.S. entered WWII after Japan's bombing of its naval base in the U.S. protectorate of Hawaii. Wyeth was a huge supplier of wartime drugs such as sulfa bacteriostatics, blood plasma, typhus vaccine, quinine, and atabrine tablets. Wyeth was later rewarded for its contribution to the war effort.

During this time, Wyeth launched its penicillin research facility with G. Raymond Rettew.

Which seems like a perfect segue back to our Wyeth poster.

The ink on paper 56-cm wide x 44-cm high poster, while a warning against venereal disease, it is also more of a promotion of the use condoms or prophylactics or punningly awesome as prophylaxis.

Wyeth et al knows that while G.I. Joe is busy fighting Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini, and that being shot at all day and night long will cause some stress, and the best way to relieve stress might be with some of the local painted ladies of the evening - hookers... and failure to use a condom could lead to some very grotesque and painful venereal diseases.

So... let's combine the Axis of Evil with the Trinity of Venereal Disease. Man! This poster works on so many different levels! 

The poster depicts caricatures of (from left) Italy's Benito Mussolini, Japan's Tōjō Hirohito (surname first) and Germany's Adolf Hitler, each representing a venereal disease with portions of uniforms missing to reveal skin lesions caused by the disease, each figure holds a large syringe.

The leaders are wearing banners representing their afflictions:
  • Mussolini: Gonorrea;
  • Tōjō: Chancroid;
  • Hitler: Syphilis.
I had no idea what a 'chancroid' is, and when I Google-d it, a photo image came up that nearly made me chuck my Mini-Bites - and this is me... a guy who can eat a pizza while lending a hand during childbirth... not really, but the implication is that nothing phases me. Or so I thought.

I'm NOT putting a link to 'chancroid'. You can find it yourself, if you wish. You've been warned.

Do you know what I like most of all in this poster, besides the wonderful cunning linguist word play?

Take a look at  the 'syringe' held by Mussolini (far left). It's actually a woman with black thigh-high silk stockings and garters, wearing a purplish dress with a garish skull and crossbones draped conveniently over her lower naughty bits. If it was black medium-hole fishnet stockings, I would have been done before this sentence was written.

The overall grotesqueness of the poster is quite fascinating, and if Johnny wasn't all that concerned about keeping his gun clean before, one look at any of these three venereal disease representations would probably be enough to turn the trick, so to speak.

If you would like to get an extreme close-up of the poster, I can direct you HERE, where you can see the pencil/ink line drawings quite clearly.

Wyeth was, by the way, back in 1944, one of 22 companies selected by the U.S. government to produce penicillin for the military, and later for the general public.

See? Just two years earlier with this Prophyaxis poster, Wyeth tried to warn everyone.

And... I'll bet know one is more surprised than me to learn that there is a link between this poster and my beloved mini ravioli lunches.

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph

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