Have you ever looked at photographs from the 1970s and thought, "Was everybody a serial killer between 1970 and 1980?" Until the entire decade answers for its skeeviness, I'm just going to assume that all adults of the era were Charles Manson's former acolytes.
Is this the Manson cult or Portlandia extras? Or both?
Maybe you're thinking I shouldn't judge people by their looks, that we all went through an ugly phase and who am I to condemn an entire decade for looking like Spencer's Gifts threw up all over it? To you I say go to your grandpa's closet and get his porn magazine stash. Ignore the body hair, natural boobs, and healthy-size women for a minute and flip to the back. There you're going to find some mail-order ads for novelty products that will unequivocally tell you everything you need to know about our past: that everyone was a creep and it's a miracle we as a civilization didn't devolve into walking gold medallions.
For those of you who don't have a grandpa or his vintage porn collection, here are six novelty products that prove that, despite everything you've heard, the past was a perverted creep.
#6. Bronzed Lips from a Narcissistic Psycho
South Mountain Passage
If you've ever been in love, you know that the thoughts that go through your head during the early stages of infatuation aren't necessarily the thoughts of a sane person. "This song reminds me of him." "I wonder what he's doing." "These bushes are scratchy, but it's worth it to watch his front door for a while."
"I've already bought my wedding dress and named our first five children."
It's OK, because love is supposed to be obsessive and weird at first. But there's a fine line between "excessively infatuated" and "John Hinckley Jr.-esque." Do you know what that fine line is made of? Bronze. Which is why making a bronze statue of your own lips as a gift for another human was never a good idea. In 1972, a company called South Mountain Passage disagreed, so they advertised a service for young women in love. For only $21.95 (that's about $120 in 2013 dollars), you could order a foolproof Take-My-Lips Kit, which was probably less horrifying than it sounded. The ad doesn't tell us how the kit worked, but I'm guessing it wasn't much more that a small vat of paste you were supposed to apply to your lips.
Elisabeth Schmitt/Flickr/Getty Images
You missed, dummy.
After the plaster dried, the girl was instructed to send the cast of her lips to South Mountain Passage in Garrison, New York, where they'd definitely make a bronze statue of her mouth right away and definitely not use it for masturbatory purposes. For $2 extra, the company would mount the lips on a walnut base before sending them back to her. And when I say "mount the lips on a walnut base," I mean they'd complete that task in two different ways before the girl got her lips back.
From there, the girl would presumably give her lips to the object of her affection, which was where the whole concept took a turn for the crazy. It doesn't matter what year it is, giving the gift of a bronzed version of your own body parts is the worst kind of message. You can't pull it off unless you're a pharaoh, and I'm guessing only three pharaohs responded to this ad, tops. If the whole thing wasn't creepy enough, South Mountain Passage had a whole mess of bad speculations as to what the guy would do with the metal lips: ideas like wear them on a chain, or on a belt buckle, or as a bicep band. As if anyone on the receiving end of a mounted mouth replica wouldn't shut down that relationship faster than a guy regrets wearing a bicep band.
#5. Stalking Pillow for the Stalkiest Stalker
Between Snapfish, Photoshop, and everyone's Christmas cards since about 2001, most of us are familiar with the idea of plastering our own faces on crap and then giving said crap away as gifts. We've grown pretty conceited as a people in that respect.
George Shelley Productions/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images
"Merry Christmas! We got you discomfort."
But it's one thing to stick your own family portrait on a jigsaw puzzle or mug or billboard and another to do the same thing with someone else's face. Especially if that someone doesn't know you from a hole in the ground and you're putting his face on a pillowcase so you can sleep with him at night. Worst scenario of all: You're 13 years old and your crush is old enough to be getting his first gray pubic hairs. The Portrait Pillow people had no problems with any of this.
Despite the creepy, sleepy-eyed look on the guy on this pillow case, make no mistake about this novelty product. Whoever the guy is, he's the victim here. It's the girl who's the real predator, what with her bubble-gum-machine engagement ring that she bought for herself, her lust-filled eyes, and her fingers on the facsimile of chest hair. Who could her fake boyfriend be? One of her dad's younger co-workers at the factory? The substitute teacher who insists that everyone call him by his first name? Her uncle? Maybe we'll never know who this mustachioed stalkee was, but we do know that the Portrait Pillow people encouraged girls to send in magazine pictures of their favorite TV and recording stars and they'd faithfully reproduce their likenesses on pillow cases.
Actually, this might be one instance when the '70s were grossly prescient.
#4. Sexual Harassment on a Light Switch
Just like butts and sheepdogs, penises are funny looking until they're doing a specific job. Ask everyone who's ever participated in an Apatow movie. Or, for that matter, any human. It can't be helped. While many of us are fine with making the occasional morning wood joke or the even rarer erectile dysfunction reference, we get that you can only take dong humor so far before you become the weird guy who's obsessed with laughing at male genitals. And even if you're a gay porn star who messes with dudes eight times a day but also has a great sense of humor, you still don't want to be the guy who can't get enough ding-a-ling jokes.
"Why did the penis cross the road? Because it was penis! Ha ha ha ha!!!"
Even that guy would have been disturbed to find a mail order form for Tricky Dicky, the light switch plate that forces you to erect or unerect the genital member of a severely obese and visibly depressed man every time you want to not be in the dark. The idea, according to this ad, was to dress up your playroom, bathroom, or den with this hilarious and not at all sad conversation starter. In exchange for the ability to see, your party guests or your children pretend to raise the sad man's penis.
Amber Norris Photography/Flickr Open/Getty Images
"I'll just stick to natural light, thanks."
For the sake of this column and my own personal sanity, I have explored every possible scenario in which this cry for help could have been purchased, and none of them add up to a good idea.
Example 1: Tricky Dicky is a gag gift given at a raunchy bachelorette party. No one laughs. "My house is already decorated in shades of orange, brown, burned orange, and avocado green," says Farrah, the bride-to-be. Tricky Dicky falls limp.
Example 2: In a fit of Tab-fueled frivolity, a "funny guy" orders this light switch for a fun get-together at his home, not realizing that the only time that anyone actually turns on a light in someone else's house is when they're alone in the bathroom. There's no "Ha!" moment over the fat man's light switch penis. There's a quick questioning of how well you really know the host and a triple hand wash and a frantic excuse that you need to relieve the babysitter and no, you probably won't make it to the next party, thanks. You don't even have kids, and you don't care if he figures that out.
Example 3: You are an overweight middle-aged depressed man with actual erectile dysfunction and this novelty toy is a therapy-prescribed tool to get better. OK, that one makes sense.