Andrew T. Coates

PhD Candidate in American Religion, Duke University.

Tag: consumerism

Teddy Bears: Destroyers of Christian Civilization?

In today’s installation of bizarre historical tidbits, I present an article about teddy bears from the fundamentalist journal The Institute Tie (1907). The author argues that teddy bears are a sign of the End Times, because they promote “unnatural affections” in children. Rather than learning to love fake babies (dolls), girls are learning to love fake animals (teddy bears). This prepares them to be pet owners rather than mothers. The author of the essay takes this as a sign of the imminent destruction of American society.

“We should never have thought it ourselves, but a breezy contemporary sees in the popular Teddy bear an active agent in the promotion of the crime of race suicide. The philosophy of it is this: the Teddy bear is robbing the doll of her right and honor. As the canine pet takes the place of the real baby in the heart of the society woman, so the Teddy bear takes the place of the imitation baby in the heart of the child. Little girls are no longer to be taught to mother babies since that will unfit them for society, while the nursing of the bear in youth is good training for the nursing of the dog in later years.

One smiles at the fancy, and yet wonders whether it is merely as playful and humorous as it seems. The Spirit says that in the last days men will be ‘without natural affection.’ We certainly see this in the adult in many ways today. Let us do nothing to encourage it in the child. If the Teddy bear is a bad thing, let the nursery take warning and re-install the doll.”

— “Teddy Bears,” Editorial in The Institute Tie, November 1907, p165-166

Bethany Moreton, “To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise” (2009)

Bethany Moreton, To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise (Harvard, 2009).

Wal-Mart Moms forged today’s America. It seems a cheap compliment to call a book smart and well-written, but this one sets a new bar for each adjective. First, the smart argument. Moreton tells a new story about the rise of conservatism after World War II. Instead of towing the party lines of economic, political, and religious history, Moreton demonstrates that neo-evangelicalism, free enterprise, and political conservatism mingled promiscuously. And they met each other in Wal-Mart. By wedding value with family values, Wal-Mart turned consumerism into a Christian duty. A responsible Christian mom became a Wal-Mart mom. By modeling the service industry on a patriarchal Christian family, Wal-Mart managed to bring the evangelical wives of Sun Belt yeomen through the doors as employees and customers; they also made it culturally acceptable for old-fashioned Sun Belt men to work in the service industry. This family business headquartered in the Ozarks helped shift the nation’s economic and political might from the unionized industrial northeast/Midwest to the freewheeling Sun Belt—and the nation shifted, so Wal-Mart’s fortunes lifted. They ran the best mom and pop store in small towns across the country, then became global missionaries of down home capitalism. In Moreton’s telling, the story of Wal-Mart’s rise does not represent manifest destiny or commonsense logic: “[Christian free enterprise] was an unstable compound, the product in part of impressive agglomerations of power and money. But it was also the progeny of pragmatic responses to real needs, of idealistic hope in redemption, and of the elevation of service from its devalued position in the broader culture” (269-270).

Second, the sizzling writing. Moreton’s prose cooks. Practically every paragraph includes an apt metaphor, a clever turn of phrase, a spicy verb, or some kind of witty wordplay. Here is an arbitrary example: “Like postwar evangelicalism, the country music industry, or the Republican Party’s ‘Southern Strategy,’ the [Sun Belt] region’s service sector spun traditional straw into radical new gold” (50). This sentence sits mid-paragraph. Mid. Paragraph. This is how Moreton’s book works so well: she shows how ingredients as diverse as country music and Richard Nixon stewed together in the world of Wal-Mart. There’s no monocause or grand narrative here, but only ad hoc, unstable mixtures of cultural ingredients held together by superb writing. Form supports content.

Review by A.T.

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