Meet Davy Crockett. According to the ballad that accompanied the 1950s Disney television specials, he was born on a mountaintop in Tennessee, raised in the woods so’s he knew every tree, and killed him a b’ar when he was only three. He also, on wilderness jaunts, subsisted largely on a diet of good old-fashioned meat, cheese, and nuts—not fancy protein shakes, as one might expect.
Or so this campaign for Oscar Mayer P3 Portable Protein Packs would have us believe.
The pattern of the Crockett spot is typical of the whole batch: We open on a young person in normcore garb. She is engaged in typical young-person behavior—using a laptop on a park bench. (In the Paul Revere version, the young man is getting ready to bike home from the office.) The young woman is also in the act of ingesting a modern-day protein snack: in this case a shake.
Enter our historical figure—in this case, Davy Crockett. The young woman calls the figure instantly by name (thus saving our time-strapped audience the trouble of figuring it out for themselves before the 30-second ad is over). The figure rhetorically asks the young woman if she thinks he relied on protein shakes when he wrestled “all those bears.” She hesitantly replies “No.”
He touts more “traditional” protein sources: meat, cheese, and nuts. Oscar Mayer, which is owned by international food conglomerate Kraft Heinz, supplies the ham or turkey portion, while the nuts and cheese are by Planters (another Kraft Heinz brand) and Kraft, respectively.
It’s interesting that Kraft has chosen pioneer legends such as Crockett (or Lewis and Clark) to represent its “timeless” offering of meat, cheese, and nuts, since by the company’s own account, their founder James L. Kraft was something of a pioneer of food distributing and convenience. In the very early 1900s, Kraft had his initial success by buying cheese from wholesale warehouses and delivering it, via horse-drawn wagon, to small storekeepers. He also patented a method of processing cheese so that it could be preserved in tins, which is doubtless how Lewis and Clark were able to make it last from Missouri to Oregon. Wait—do I have that timeline quite correct?
But it’s hard to fault Kraft for choosing more familiar historical icons, especially because their irreverent take on these hallowed American icons has such an absurdist edge–one that will appeal to a demographic steeped in ironic sketch comedy and Funny or Die parody, including the Comedy Central hit Drunk History.
What’s perhaps more ironic is that this comical, exaggerated version of Davy Crockett is not a new phenomenon. And it didn’t start with Disney, either (though that would have been a good guess). Astonishingly enough, the first exaggerations of Crockett’s attitudes and mannerisms occurred during the man’s own lifetime, and while he was a United States congressman. (Or maybe it’s not so astonishing, given our recent political landscape.)
You may recall how, in the song, Crockett “went off to Congress and served a spell.” He did so in life, too, serving a total of three terms between 1827 and 1835. His abiding concerns were the land rights of settlers in his home state.
It was during his second term that Crockett became the inadvertent hero of a farcical play called The Lion of the West, by a writer named James Kirke Paulding. (Washington Post writer Bob Thompson tells the whole story in an article based on his book, Born on a Mountaintop.) The hero of Lion of the West, a Crockett parody named Nimrod Wildfire, was recognizable to all at the time as being based on the congressman, though Paulding denied the charge. Wildfire was an over-the-top frontier hero who boasted “the prettiest sister, the fastest horse, and the ugliest dog.”
An unauthorized biography of Crockett, published a few years later, mixed actual facts with colorful legends that had the pioneer figure riding lightning and grinning raccoons out of trees. A few authorized biographies, published to set the record straight, were less absurd, but still fairly well varnished.
It just goes to show that a little processing and packaging goes a long way toward making a more lasting “truth.”
Speaking of which, have you heard the one about Davy Crockett’s ears?
I think I heard it first from a box of Kraft macaroni. It goes like this:
Q: How many ears does Davy Crocket have?
A: Three. A left ear, a right ear, and a wild front ear.