Over-Rethinking Perfume


And you thought it was just a smokin' hot scent...

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The intellectual vitality of Western Civilization depends upon the courage of individuals willing to stand up and challenge the popular moral, political and social assumptions of their era. Many of the names are quite familiar to us: Socrates, Martin Luther King, Jr., Affirmative Action Dad.

To this list I want to add Charles Jundt, the intellectual godfather of the stay-at-home dad movement. 

You might know him better as Charles of the Ritz, the perfume genius behind such drugstore classics as Jean Nate, Charivari, Forever Krystle and Carrington. 

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Timeless scents indeed. But hands down Charles Jundt's greatest contribution to Western Civilization is Enjoli, the 8 hour perfume for the 24 hour woman. Not only is the scent itself heavenly, but the groundbreaking Enjoli television commercials pushed the cultural envelope in ways few of us realize:



A vanguard of women's empowerment in 1978, this commercial, with its idealized vision of the modern Supermom, has fallen out of favor in feminist circles. (See, for example, this critique by NPR's Jennifer Ludden.)  

The anti-Enjoli crowd is of course right, this notion that women can "have it all" is patently absurd. I'm pretty sure the first person to link this phrase to working women was not an avant-gardefeminist intellectual, but some cynical male advertising executive (certainly not our Fair Charles) looking to exploit the growing market of working moms. 

In reality, as women like my mother know all too well, what "have it all" meant was that society "allowed" mothers to go to work, but only so long as they didn't let their their domestic responsibilities slide. So, if by "have it all" you mean two crappy jobs, one that started at nine and one that started at five, then yes, you sure could have it all--and an exciting new scent to go with it! Ba-da-da-dum.

But the anti-Enjoli intelligentsia doesn't fully appreciate the intellectual depth of Charles the Bold. He was not simply exploiting this silly myth about a non-existent woman just to sell lots of perfume; rather, he was crafting a profound commentary on the complex and paradoxical nature of the working mom's new role in society. No, I haven't been drinking the stuff. Hear me out. 

It is crucial to remember that there were actually two versions of the Enjoli ad, the second appearing in 1980. Most of the literature on Enjoli ignores this later work, so to refresh your memory: 



They're not the same, are they? The real story lies in the differences.

When you study the second version in light of its differences from the first, you see that Charles, the Sultan of Sniff, is ultimately showing us the true cost--to the working mother andsociety--of her decision to work outside the home. 

Let's first consider the relationship between work and kids. Notice that the 1978 ad begins with a narrative about the the household and parenting chores mom gets done before she gets to work at "5 to 9." In the second, the emphasis shifts to her interaction with the kids (reading them a book) after she gets home. 

Clearly, Charles saw that, in the carefree days of 1978, we as a society viewed the prospect of the working woman with wide-eyed, if naive, optimism. This was a brand new day, just let me get the wash done and kids off to school, then look out world, here I come!

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In the second, we discover what happens after mom comes home from work--and it's not all pretty.

Mom had a good day at the office (check out that wad of cash). But by not being home she has put her kids in danger of illiteracy. It is only by reading to them that can she "redeem" herself. Only thus can she prevent the permanent damage looming over the heads of all those latch-key kids left to rot in front of the TV as they ached for mom's tender caress. 

Charles trusted that by 1980 we were experienced and resilient enough to confront this danger. We no longer need to be shielded from reality as we did in the more optimistic first version. But even in the light of such harsh truths, Charles, the Socrates of Smell, gave us reason to hope: the kids will be alright--Mom just has to read to them. Easy enough. 

But we're not out of the woods yet, and indeed we may never be. In Charles's world, as in life, very few good things come without cost. Something has to give. And here's where it gets interesting. 

In the first video, the narrator calls it the 8 hour perfume "for the 24 hour woman"; in the second he says "for your 24 hour woman." The husband is now drawn into the commercial, literally and figuratively. No longer can he sit on the couch and passively stare at the smokin' "mom" with the Aqua Net 'do. He has to get involved. And in the second video look who does the cooking: that's right, dad. 

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Whereas the first starts out with the reassuring image of mom wielding the frying pan like it was an extension of her body, the second intimates that mom can't be Mary Richards and June Cleaver at the same time. If the family is going to survive, dad has to step it up a notch.  

Thus the idea of the stay-at-home dad was born. In 1980 the Seer of Scent was holding the future right under the Boomers' noses, so to speak. All they had to do was inhale. Some did, most didn't.  

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But whether society was ready for it or not, Charles had written the first chapter of the enlightened-dad-meets-breadwinning-mom story that we are only now just beginning to understand. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, NPR. 

But what about the sex?!

Of course we can't talk about this alluring scent without acknowledging the importance of sex in the Enjoli narrative. After all, the primary purpose of perfume--aside from covering up the stink of an 8 hour day--is to make yourself sexy for your man. And Charles knew his pheremones like nobody's business. 

But before you start revving your engine dad, you've got some listening to do. Mom's making some changes around here. 

In the first video, the sexy part of lyrics contain the line "and if you want lovin'..." Just like the dutiful wives of the past, the Superwoman makes herself available to her man, when he wants it. Dad's driving this boat.

In the second, the sex-power relationship between mom and dad is much more ambiguous. 

It all boils down to money. In the first ad, notice how mom holds her cash: she's flipping it around playfully, like it was monopoly money. Isn't this cute? I've got all these big bills, I don't know if I can count them all! In the second, Charles hits us with that powerful shot of mom proudly, and tightly, holding her hard-earned wad of cash in an outstretched fist. Mom's telling the world that this little career-girl is serious. Mom's telling dad she's got a little walkin' money.

But don't worry, dad, she's not really going to use it. Even the second ad sends the clear message that a loving wife wants to make herself sexy for her man. (And now that mom's got some cash of her own, she'll even give it away for free!) 

At the same time, however, the second ad shocks us with the news that sex is about her pleasure, too. Watch mom's face light up when dad says he's going to cook dinner. You know dad's gettin' a hungry tiger tonight! RRRow, RRRow! 

Thus, Charles leaves us on an optimistic note: the future of marriage is safe, even in this brave new world. Maybe it's even better than we thought. At least in the bedroom it can still be win-win. Just so long as dad doesn't burn the pot roast again.  



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Bonus Feature: 

The original "I'm a Woman" by Peggy Lee. This gets my vote for the best live performance of all time. She's like an end-of-days Elvis stoned on hormone replacement.


Copyright 2013 Paul J. Rasmussen