Metropolitan Digital

The Conversation

  • Written by Wendy Melillo, Associate Professor, American University School of Communication

Smokey Bear[1] turns 75 on Aug. 9.

The star of the longest-running public-service[2] advertising campaign in U.S. history is now big on social media, with Facebook, Flickr, Instagram and Twitter accounts.

Americans are also still sending the imaginary character loads of real mail. The postal service has delivered hundreds of thousands of the bear’s many letters and occasional jars of honey to his own ZIP code: 20252[3].

Some 96% of Americans recognized[4] this constant reminder to keep forests safe, according to a survey in 2013, making him about as familiar as Mickey Mouse and Santa Claus.

By the way, there’s no “the” in Smokey’s name. The word was added by songwriters to make their 1952 medley[5] dedicated to the iconic image more catchy.

Cowboy actor William Boyd, aka Hopalong Cassidy, recounted the bear’s tale in 1953.

Wartime propaganda

I researched Smokey and six other public service ad campaigns for my book about the Ad Council[6], the nonprofit that creates public-service campaigns on behalf of clients like the U.S. Forest Service. It taught me that there’s much more going on with that friendly face than you probably realize.

The fire-prevention campaign, like the Ad Council[7] itself, has a past rooted in wartime propaganda.

A Japanese submarine[8] had surfaced off the coast of California on Feb. 23, 1942, and fired a volley of shells toward an oil field. This first wartime attack on the U.S. mainland caused little property damage and no loss of life, but it had an enormous psychological impact.

The threat to America’s national security including its vast lumber supply, needed to build ships and guns to fight the war, worried government officials and business leaders alike. The Forest Service worked with what was then known as the War Advertising Council[9], and later became the Ad Council, to create a fire prevention campaign.

Smokey (the) Bear is still keeping his watchful eye on America's forests after 75 years on the job WWII posters, like this one with a caricature of a Japanese soldier, cast taking care not to start forest fires as a patriotic duty. Library of Congress[10]

Some of the early posters harnessed the power of prejudice[11]. One depicted a caricature of a Japanese soldier with a menacing grin as he held a lighted match against the backdrop of a forest, flanked by the slogan “Careless Matches Aid the Axis – Prevent Forest Fires![12].” Another featured sinister renditions of Adolf Hitler and Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo in front of a raging forest fire with the slogan, “Our Carelessness, Their Secret Weapon[13].”

With the war winding down in 1944, the Forest Service wanted the campaign to keep educating Americans about forest fire prevention, minus the scary imagery. After briefly featuring Bambi, the deer from the popular Walt Disney 1942 film, the Forest Service landed on a black bear. It hired New York artist Albert Staehle, who drew “Butch,” a floppy-eared cocker spaniel seen on Saturday Evening Post covers[14].

In 1944, Staehle created a tender-looking bear[15] pouring a bucket of water over a campfire for the Forest Service. Three years later, came the well-known slogan that told Americans “only you can prevent forest fires[16].”

Whose land is it?

Sometimes, Smokey gets caught in the middle of the campaign’s roots in World War II patriotism, propaganda and racism.

Some scholars[17], including geographer Jake Kosek[18], who study anthropology and race even argue that the campaign is a symbol of white racist colonialism.

Kosek documented how the bear can trouble Native Americans, Chicanos and other people living off the land who are unhappy with the U.S. government’s land management policies.

In the forests of Northern New Mexico, local people see Smokey’s fire prevention message as a threat because they burn off small parts of the forest to plant crops or graze animals. Kosek found Smokey’s posters riddled with bullets in protest.

Kosek said the fire-suppression campaign reflects a belief, deeply rooted in the Forest Service’s history, that people who set fires in forests are deviants and evildoers.

The Ad Council produced this Smokey Bear PSA in 2017.

A Smokey effect

There is also growing controversy about whether the campaign’s message contributes to the wildfire problem[19] since research shows that some fires help forests.

To be sure, fire suppression as a policy didn’t originate with Smokey. It started after a disastrous fire in 1910[20].

In the 1930s there were 167,277 fires[21] per year, according to a report from the Forest Service, other government agencies and the Ad Council. They credit Smokey for helping make that number fall to 106,306 in the 1990s. There may now be fewer fires, about 72,400 fires annually since 2000[22], but they have grown larger and more destructive[23] in many regards.

Contrary to Smokey’s message, fires can be good for forests[24]. There are forest management professionals who say the campaign interferes with the government’s ability to manage the problem by preventing small fires that clear out underbrush and tiny trees.

This is called “the Smokey Bear effect[25].”

The Forest Service itself said this phenomenon has made forests less healthy and increased the intensity of wildfires in some areas in its 2007 report, “Be Careful What You Wish For: The Legacy of Smokey Bear[26].”

Despite his critics, Smokey seems destined for an even longer career. That’s because the Insurance Information Institute[27] says 90% of “wildland fires” in America are caused by people.

That could make Smokey’s message as important as ever.

References

  1. ^ Smokey Bear (smokeybear.com)
  2. ^ longest-running public-service (www.adcouncil.org)
  3. ^ ZIP code: 20252 (www.usda.gov)
  4. ^ 96% of Americans recognized (www.adcouncil.org)
  5. ^ 1952 medley (www.youtube.com)
  6. ^ my book about the Ad Council (www.smithsonianbooks.com)
  7. ^ Ad Council (www.adcouncil.org)
  8. ^ Japanese submarine (www.atlasobscura.com)
  9. ^ War Advertising Council (www.thedrum.com)
  10. ^ Library of Congress (www.loc.gov)
  11. ^ harnessed the power of prejudice (msu.edu)
  12. ^ Careless Matches Aid the Axis – Prevent Forest Fires! (www.marshallfoundation.org)
  13. ^ Our Carelessness, Their Secret Weapon (digital.library.unt.edu)
  14. ^ Saturday Evening Post covers (wulibraries.typepad.com)
  15. ^ tender-looking bear (www.nal.usda.gov)
  16. ^ only you can prevent forest fires (www.adcouncil.org)
  17. ^ scholars (hdl.handle.net)
  18. ^ Jake Kosek (www.dukeupress.edu)
  19. ^ contributes to the wildfire problem (www.jstor.org)
  20. ^ disastrous fire in 1910 (theconversation.com)
  21. ^ 167,277 fires (www.stateforesters.org)
  22. ^ 72,400 fires annually since 2000 (www.hsdl.org)
  23. ^ larger and more destructive (blogs.ei.columbia.edu)
  24. ^ fires can be good for forests (www.doi.org)
  25. ^ the Smokey Bear effect (www.npr.org)
  26. ^ Be Careful What You Wish For: The Legacy of Smokey Bear (www.fs.usda.gov)
  27. ^ Insurance Information Institute (www.iii.org)

Authors: Wendy Melillo, Associate Professor, American University School of Communication

Read more http://theconversation.com/smokey-the-bear-is-still-keeping-his-watchful-eye-on-americas-forests-after-75-years-on-the-job-120207

Metropolitan republishes selected articles from The Conversation USA with permission

Visit The Conversation to see more

Entertainment News

Phish’s 2018 Fall Tour to Conclude with Four Performances at MGM Grand Garden Arena

LAS VEGAS (May 15, 2018) – Phish, the American rock band known worldwide for its dedicated fan base, recently announced a 14-date Fall tour which will conclude in Las Vegas with four performances at...

Blane Ferguson - avatar Blane Ferguson

Dave Damiani and The No Vacancy Orchestra are “Bending The Standard”

Tina Sinatra, Dave Damiani & Landau Murphy Jr. celebrate 100 years of Frank Sinatra in Los Angeles There have been stories about independent filmmakers, but how about the independent big band...

Tom Estey - avatar Tom Estey

Billboard Chart-Topping Saxophonist VANDELL ANDREW Returns With New Single

From the vantage point of 30, his age and the name of his infectious, sensually grooving new full length album, Vandell continues to be fueled by the impressive roar of accolades and achievements th...

Metropolitan Digital - avatar Metropolitan Digital

Metropolitan Business News

Best Practice For Young Professionals Working Through HR Internships

The industry of human relations is vitally important to the health and prosperity of a business.   Whether they are operating in textile manufacturing, accounting, sports, IT development or hospit...

News Company - avatar News Company

4 Easy Steps To Gaining SEO Momentum For Your Business

SEO (search engine optimisation) does not have to be a tiresome and overbearing exercise that diverts attention away from the core functions of a business.   SEO Shark affirms this as a smart and ...

News Company - avatar News Company

How to Manage An SEO Project On Limited Funds

SEO operators don’t need thousands upon thousands of dollars to become successful.   What SEO practitioners needs more than ever is the skills and diligence to identify problems that are acting a...

News Company - avatar News Company

An Introduction To Coworking For Australian Business Owners

Advancing technology is bringing with it great advantages in communications and networking, and to survive in business you need to keep up. With the rate at which everything changes these days, that...

News Company - avatar News Company

The Oldest Trick in The Book of Selling Cars Within 24 Hours

It takes weeks and sometimes even months to be able to find an appropriate car buyer for car owners in New Zealand. But we have a surprise for residents of Auckland who are trying to sell their car...

News Company - avatar News Company

5 reasons to store your goods

There comes a time in most people’s lives when storing their household goods and furniture in a secure storage facility is necessary. It’s easy to think that you’ll never need to use storage, but it...

Metropolitan Digital - avatar Metropolitan Digital

Holidays

Maya Beach Opens to Tourists

Despite recent reports that Southern Thailand's famous Maya Beach will close for three months this year, in fact no decision to this effect has been made by Thai authorities. Phi Phi Nati...

Maevadi Rosenfeldt - avatar Maevadi Rosenfeldt

SKYN LAUNCHES GUIDE TO THE BEST PLACES TO GET INTIMATE

SKYN®, Australia’s best-selling condom*, today launches its very first SKYN® Places of Intimacy Guide.   Curated in partnership with GQ Magazine and Conde Nast, the Guide features 30 lux...

SKYN - avatar SKYN

Under the Stars with Grand American Adventures

Small group adventure specialist Grand American Adventures offers a comprehensive range of thrilling tours across the Americas, but what really sets their tours apart is the unique accom...

Louise Woodruff - avatar Louise Woodruff