In my summer camp, one of our favorite break activities was a card game called “Bull Shit!” It was all about calling your opponents’ bluffs, and screaming “Bull Shit!” as often as possible. Hmm, I wonder why the counselors didn’t like us…
“Bull Shit!” is one of those inventions of American slang that makes our language so endearing. Allegedly, Leonid Tarassuk, former curator at the Hermitage in Leningrad and noted jokester, fell in love with this phrase when he was fighting against Soviet anti-Semitism and applying to leave the country. It became his favorite slogan, according to Soviet Jewry activist Fabian Kolker, and he stamped it on every visa request the government denied. At some point, he even wore a belt with “Bullshit” engraved on the buckle.
But this pack of cigarettes takes the cake for Bull Shit ingenuity. The label features a bull, you guessed it, fertilizing the field with a patty of his excrement. And he looks so happy, with a smile that reminds me of that look my friend’s baby makes while making a “deposit” in his diaper. This is genius advertising, because the first thing a cigarette smoker wants to be reminded of is that his tobacco was fertilized with poop.
My grandfather got a kick out of these cigarettes and used to show them off. He had a whole series of cigarette packs – including horse shit, rabbit shit, cangaroo [sic] shit, chicken shit, donky [sic] shit, and bear shit – all produced by a tobacco manufacturer in Tijuana. They were gifts from my father and a friend of the family. Yeah, they were real shitty gift-givers.
For fun, check out the text on the back of this pack in the picture below. Apparently, these were real tobacco cigarettes (as indicated by the Mexican tobacco stamp. But the manufacturer had a blast, writing “We ar[sic] happy with Our Cigarettes Shit” and “Bull Shit Cigarettes… You really taste good!…” on the side of the label. These are great gag cigarettes to show your friends, but as the pack warns, you probably wouldn’t want to give them to a young cow in love.
When it comes to cigarettes, symbols of American culture pop up everywhere, sometimes in the strangest of ways. My grandfather’s two Norwegian cigarette packs – a Tiedemanns Teddy and a South State Specially Toasted – tell intriguing tales of the ties binding Norway and America.
Short of the Vikings’ discovery of the New World several centuries before Columbus, not much about Scandinavia appears in your standard US History textbook. You might find some all-too-brief praise for the Danish resistance in WWII, which protected nearly all Danish Jews from the Nazi terror. (Read further: The US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s “Rescue in Denmark.”)
Swedish culture made it to America in the form of ABBA’s timeless pop music (revived by the great Meryl Streep in the 2008 film Mamma Mia!). Norway emerges on the American scene at least once a year – sometimes stirring more than a bit of controversy – announcing the Nobel Peace Prize.
A few years after US President Teddy Roosevelt visited Norway in 1910 to claim his Oslo Peace Prize, Tiedemanns introduced the “Teddy” brand. According to Keri Youngstrand’s post on the Teddy Roosevel Center, the American President especially enjoyed the newly-enthroned King Haakon and his family, especially Little Prince Olav.
Some of the packs bore an image (see below) of the Bull Moose himself. An image from the Norsk Folkemuseum shows the slogan “Tiedemanns Teddy Allemans Venn” (Tiedemanns Teddy Everyone’s Friend).
Roosevelt had a way of looking friendly and ready for a fight at the same time, and the classic Teddy cigarette image captures him wonderfully. Cigarette in hand – after all, it is a cigarette pack! – the President seems to be welcoming Norway to taste the cigarettes. He’s all smiles with that wide grin and fashionable monocle. But be careful that you don’t breathe a word against their flavor. If you do, his fist is already in a ball and he’s got a mean right hook!
*Check back later this week for Part Two, featuring South State Cigarettes and the Deep River Boys!
The end of World War I broke the Austro-Hungarian Empire apart and years of political and economic disarray, culminating in the Anschluss of 1938 that united Austria with Nazi Germany.
But this period also witnessed great cultural growth. Austrian respect for the arts was sufficiently strong for a ground-breaking opera, Jonny Spielt Auf (Jonny Plays), to earn its own cigarette brand, known simply as Jonny. Of course, back when Jonny hit the scenes in 1925-1926, you could probably still smoke in the opera house. Today, most opera-goers have to stand outside the building to smoke, so they’d do better checking out the opera on YouTube.
Czech-Austrian composer Ernst Křenek incorporated Jazz and Blues elements into the score, along with an assortment of mundane sounds like loudspeakers and alarm bells. Not your typical Mozart and Haydn composition – Křenek wanted to infuse Austrian culture with energy from the New World.