Exhuming the Good Humor Man

The Good Humor Man has accumulated a heap of social capital. After all, he gives children, mommies and daddies something that dare not speak its name, because it’s a ridiculous name—“ice cream novelties.”

Ting a Ling a Ling
Ting a Ling a Ling

What’s more, there are no purses, wallets, bills, coins, or credit cards visibly evident in The Good Humor Man’s transactions.

It would be ridiculous to assert the 2001 reissue of the 1964 “classic” Little Golden Book, The Good Humor Man, more than coincided with the uptick in  liar loans and the metastasizing of the shadow banking system.  Did getting something for nothing ever go out of fashion? Similarly, it would be unscientific to make anything of the fact that the wife of Michael Meehan—the first broker banned by the SEC for stock manipulation ,in 1937—owned the Good Humor company. So I won’t.

Besides, if I really wanted to make an analogy between predation in the U.S. economy and the messages relayed by LGBs, I would have to incorporate the other five “classics” Random House reissued in  2001, including The Little Red Hen. So let’s move on.

The Good Humor Man has several other interesting messages to its (dis)credit.

There’s the “different” kid. His nom de goldenbook is Little Johnny Slowpoke. If the name doesn’t knock you over the head with his particular kind of difference, his jowls and chubby elbows and knees will. Even his puppy is fat! This hapless, pal-less fellow is befriended by a peer only in the story’s denouement, and then only through an almost magical adult intercession. That intercessor is—yup, you guessed it—the Good Humor Man.

Little Johnny Slowpoke sharing his pineapple pinnacle with his puppy

Who is the kid who befriends Little Johnny Slowpoke? Why, it’s Dick, the only other named kid in the story. He’s also “different”—he’s the only one who isn’t depicted gravitating to the Good Humor truck amongst a gaggle of mommies and daddies. He’s been farmed out to granny for the summer. Dick’s grandmother isn’t the boomer kind with running shoes who staffs Little Golden Books’ Pat the Puppy, a descendent of Pat the Bunny. Instead, Dick’s granny comes complete with rocking chair, bun and knitting. They live high up on a hill away from the others. “I want an extra-special treat for Dick,” says granny. “I don’t know any children, and I’m afraid he finds it a bit lonely up here.”

So not only does a high-fat, sugary ice cream bar compensate for a difficult social situation, but it’s delivered door to door.

As the insidious plot develops, the neighborhood kids and parents gather when they hear that siren song—“ting a ling a ling.” Again, Johnny Slowpoke comes only at the last minute. But this time he is crying. He has lost his puppy!

The Good Humor man shook his head sadly and handed Johnny a comforting coconut cone.

Well, The GHM is on task if nothing else. When he continues his route to Old Lady Griggs’ house , he spots the puppy, who’s wandered up there. He tells Dick and his granny whose it is. They descend their lonely hilltop, return Puppy to Little Johnny Slowpoke, and the two boys become (apparently) friends.

So, the takeaway? Feeling good—feeling better, that is— is indistinguishable from consuming something soft and sweet (and branded), even when your BMI is pushing the limit.  David Kessler’s The End of Overeating would be a great pairing with this book.  Kessler demonstrates the multiple and multifarious ways that the food industry has ramped up the comfort quotient in comfort food to ensnare us, like something out of the Little Shop of Horrors (or, in this case, Little Golden Books).
Little Johnny Slowpoke Has Lost His Puppy

And now, to flash forward a bit. From the publisher:

Little Golden Books have mirrored children’s popular culture over the years, having featured Lassie, Raggedy Ann, Uncle Wiggily, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Howdy Doody, Annie Oakley, Captain Kangaroo, Bozo the Clown, Gene Autrey, The Lone Ranger, Smokey Bear, Disney, Warner Brothers, Hanna Barbera, Sesame Street, Pokemon, and Between the Lions characters, Mister Rogers, Barney, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Underdog, Peter Cottontail, Barbie, and others. Dr. Ruth Westheimer has just penned a story about grandparents starring herself.

via Little Golden Books.

Wait a minute—Dr. Ruth? Yes, she’s Dr. Ruth Wordheimer on the PBS series Between the Lions, but if Dr. Ruth as a children’s author exemplifies the imprint’s accomplishment of “mirroring children’s popular culture,” then we’ll have to redefine “children’s popular culture.”  I’ll propose “media industry constructs of what will sell to children via their parents.” After all, you can’t get something for nothing.


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