Vintage Booklet: The Return of the Square by Charles H Brower (One of the Original "Mad Men")

I've spent most of my life feeling like a stodgy old lady. "Little House on the Prairie" was one of my favorite TV shows as a kid, tied with "The Brady Bunch" and "Leave it to Beaver." 

"Remember one thing: Wrong is wrong even if everyone else says it's right - and right is right even if everyone else says it's wrong," Ward once said to the Beav.

Armed with moralistic rhetoric that meant something to me, I found myself ill-equipped to deal with the hoods from my new NYC neighborhood after we moved from Fort Lee, NJ in the summer of fourth grade:

"You shouldn't steal!" I said to one of the girls who ripped off a bag of potato chips from the store.

"Why not?" she asked as she re-feathered hair with the comb from her back pocket.  

"Because..." I paused. "It's dishonest."

Oh boy was that the "wrong" thing to say. She and the other girls laughed at me in a way I'll never forget. (Incidentally, I adore that girl and we are still in touch. She traded stealing chips for saving lives professionally in a veterinary office and wolf rehab in upstate New York.)

That was before I went punk rock for awhile, but it didn't take long for me to go back to pearl-clutching and feeling like I'm not interesting. I just realized while typing this that it was my childhood friend I mentioned who corrected me when, after I stopped drinking, I confided in her that my "partying" days were over and now I was boring.

"No you're NAWT!" she said and smacked me on the arm. "Just because you don't drink doesn't mean you're a bore!"

With that in mind, I really appreciate many (but not all) of the "square" sentiments in this little early 1960s booklet, The Return of the Square: The Fight for Independence, since I still often feel so "irrelevant" and old-fashioned. It's the text of a speech by "Madison Avenue's favorite phrase-maker," an original Mad Man, Charles H Brower.

I think this is a great summation of the origins of square:
The only time a novelist uses a long word these days is when he adds in "i-n-g." So I am going to start on six-letter words.
The word is "square"-- S..Q..U..A..R..E.

Back in Mark Twain's day, it was one of the finest words in our language, among the top ten on any lexicographer's hit parade. You gave a man a square deal if you were honest. And you gave him a square meal when he was hungry. You stood foursquare for the right, as you saw it, and square against everything else. When you got out of debt, you were square with the world. And that was when you could look your fellow man square in the eye.
Then a lot of strange characters got a hold of this honest, wholesome word, bent it all out of shape and gave it back to our children. 

About those beatniks:
Always tearing down these days. Never building up. Always knocking. Belittling. Down-grading. A sneer rather than a grin. A mocking laugh rather than a belly laugh. Poking fun at other people rather than ourselves.
And speaking of those laugh tracks I mentioned:
Laughter today is stored in Hollywood in cans, just as the gold was once stored at Fort Knox. It is taken out as needed and pasted onto TV films. Laugh tracks tip us off to when things are funny. But I want to laugh when I am amused. And I want to decide what I think is funny. And this, I suppose, will mark me as a square.
This sounds discouraging:
For the forces of conformity are still strong. Too many of us are still sitting it out instead of sweating it out. Too many of us haven't got the guts to stand up straight and dare to be square. 
The solution?

S.O.S.: The Society of Squares!
It doesn't even exist but it could. Not a left-wing organization. Not a right-wing organization. Just an organization with wings!
We might have to go underground for awhile to avoid being trampled to death by the coast-to-cast rat-packs of cynical saboteurs and the canned wit commandos whose devotion is to destroy.
We might even have a secret handshake consisting of mainly grabbing the other guy's hand as though you meant it and looking him in the eye.
We would be for participation and against sitting life out...for simplicity and against sophistication...for laughter and against sniggering...for America and against her enemies...for the direct and against the devious...for the honest way and against the short cut...for a well-done job and against the goof-off...for education and against the pretense of learning...for building and against tearing down...


  1. Oh, I love this, Averyl! I, too, love "mushy" old shows and movies, and often feel "out of" time.

  2. Well said, Averyl! I'll join your S.O.S! Who would have thought that old-fashioned square-ism would be thought progressive. Have we come full circle...I mean square?!

  3. Three people are enough for a "society" I think!

  4. No right-wing, no left-wing, "Just an organization with wings!" I love that! (And thus no more clipping each other's wings!)

  5. I want to join! We've become addicted to the early Andy Griffith shows lately..lots of messages about doing the right thing.

  6. Replies
    1. What are you "really?!"-ing, lo_lo??

    2. Because I've been hoping for four years you'd creat a Facebook club.

    3. Oh! I'm not creating a Facebook group. Sorry to disappoint!

  7. That would be me, too. I've always felt different and out of touch even as a child. My daughter does, too. :)


Post a Comment

Comments are now closed on Outdated By Design which was retired in April of 2017. I am leaving my blog archives online. If you need to reach me please use the handy contact form. Thanks!