Speaking softlyA friend sent me this image over the weekend. It is an ad for a clothing company’s Presidents Day Weekend sale. He made the interesting observation that former presidents seem to be used more and more often in today’s society to signify something to an intended audience. One sees this invoked in shows like Mad Men all the time. We reflexively use “Eisenhower” as short-hand for the repressiveness of the 1950s without even thinking about it. Juxtapose that with how we invoke “John F. Kennedy” as shorthand for the country’s “innocence” in those years just prior to the escalation in Vietnam, racial unrest, college protests, and assassinations that came in the wake of the young president’s own shooting. Invoking JFK just begs one to think of what might have happened had he not gone to Dallas. We have seen this in a slightly different way these past few months with calls to remove Woodrow Wilson’s name and likeness on the campus of Princeton University in response to his segregationist and other race-based policies.

I know that companies had to pay the Lincoln family to use the 16th president’s name and likeness in the decades after his death. It would be interesting to know more about the hows and whys of using presidents’ images for commercial and other purposes. That said, I have no doubt TR is now safely in the public domain. The purpose of the image above seems to be more mundane than segregation, Vietnam, or misconceptions about 1950s’s America; it’s an ad for a Presidents Day sale. As I mentioned to my friend, I’ll take a stab at this one. The retailer seems to be saying that one should should be reserved (“speak softly”) but also be a little bold (hence the red hat).

(Hat-tip Darrow Wood)