The High Life hat’s clown-show past
Plus: The ultimate dive bar playlist, murdered darlings + more
A couple weeks back, your fearless Fingers editor opened an investigation into Miller High Life’s iconic “girl in the moon.” More specifically, what sort of hat she wears.
I wish I could tell you I cracked this case wide open in the intervening weeks, but alas: the official-official word on our High Life gal’s head-topper continues to elude me. I even watched the entirety of With This Ring, the live-action dramatization of the Miller brand’s 19th- and 20th-century history that the company produced in 1954, because a tipster told me the answer might lie therein. But there was nary a mention of the hat in the film. (Unless I missed it, which is possible: I was drinking.)
That’s not to say I gave up, dear reader. To the contrary: since my last dispatch about the High Life hat, I’ve made a LOT of progress at unraveling this mystery. My quest got a vital assist from Peter Frost, who works in the Molson Coors comms department:
The girl in the moon’s hat does look a bit like a bandido, but it’s hard to square that Southwestern/Mexican style choice with the brand’s Germany-via-Wisconsin heritage. The post Frost linked to includes a vague mention of the hat, situating it in the circus tradition (emphasis mine):
Soon after its release, the beer was advertised with a drawing of a woman in what looked like a circus costume, standing on a wooden High Life crate holding a tray of High Life Beer. Her whip and tall hat resembled a circus trainer or ringmaster.
At first, this seemed wrong to me. But as Frost pointed out, there was some sort of crossover Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey programming in the early ‘40s that incorporated Mother Goose. Narrow brim aside, the hat the fairytale mamacita is wearing in the promo poster does look a little bit like the one the High Life girl in the moon sports in some of the earlier logo renditions.
This poster dates to 1941, three and a half decades after Miller High Life introduced the girl in the moon in 1907. So it couldn’t be the inspiration for the hat in question… or could it? Intrigued, I did a little more digging, and soon found myself on CircusWagons.org, “an Educational project of the Circus Historical Society, Inc.” Thanks to these intrepid clown-show archivists, I learned that Mother Goose’s mainstream circus career actually began back in the 1880s, when the Barnum & London Circus built a “Mother Goose Float” to march in the daily street parades that it used to promote its European tours. This thing was utterly cursed-looking, but the hat resemblance is unmistakable.
So does the High Life girl in the moon wear Ma Goose’s cap? It seems plausible! The timeline tracks, and we know that the German-American community in Milwaukee would have been familiar with the circus acts of the day, given their popularity both Stateside and on the continent from whence they’d emigrated. Because no one knows who drew the original design, or the woman that modeled it, only documents from Molson Coors’ archivist (if they exist) could say for sure.
But get this: during the circus offseason, Ringling Bros. (which bought the Barnum circus in 1907, roughly the same time the girl in the moon came to be) stored its wagons at its original winter quarters in Baraboo, WI—just 115 miles or so from Milwaukee, where Miller began brewing the Champagne of Beers in 1903. Coincidence?! I think not!!!
Actually, I’m not sure what I think. But I’d very much like to know what you think, so if you know anything about the High Life girl in the moon’s hat, or just want to implore me write about literally anything else, let me know:
Seriously, I think I went too deep down the circus history/High Life rabbit hole. Someone please help.
📬 Good post alert
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💀 Murdered darling: “The triumph of consumerism over citizenship”
In journalism, “killing your darlings” means cutting stuff from a story that doesn’t quite fit, no matter how much you love it. You kill your darlings to hit a wordcount, or to help the pacing of a piece, or because it just won’t properly integrate into the story’s structure. It’s a necessary part of the writing process, but it means that a lot of great material will never see the light of day. So, with a nod to fellow newsletterer Emily Atkin of Heated who (I think?) started this practice, I’m introducing an occasional “murdered darling” feature here at Fingers: a place to publish reporting odds-and-ends that I loved from a recent piece that didn’t make it into publication. Cool? Cool!
First up: an email I received from Mark Andrejevic, professor of media studies at at Melbourne, Australia’s Monash University. I had asked him for his take on the nascent rise of right-wing beverage alcohol (a story I recently published at VinePair.) Andrejevic, who co-edited the anthology Commercial Nationalism: Selling the Nation and Nationalizing the Sell, immediately connected companies like We The People Wines and Armed Forces Brewing Company to a longer tradition of “right wing grift.”
Here’s a lightly-edited excerpt from Andrejevic’s email that I found particularly interesting (emphasis mine):
My first approach to this was through noting the right wing grift when I signed up for email notifications from a right-wing site for a project I was doing. They kept pointing me to columns criticizing public health care, but the columns were larded with ads for "the secret cure for X that doctors don't want you to know about." Pure snake oil stuff -- that catered to a mistrust of experts for being, you know, "elites."
It became pretty clear that the support system for this kind of content was based on scamming a particular demographic. Alex Jones is a master of this, and Trump is the king. At the same time, of course, Fox News was on the rise -- and I was interested by the convergence of techniques for using nationalism as a marketing tool (for everything from survivalist swag to bogus health remedies) with political strategies that drew on viral marketing techniques.
I've got a range of thoughts on this, but the organizing one is that this convergence marks the triumph of consumerism over citizenship. I lean on [American legal scholar] Cass Sunstein's stuff for this, but the idea is that right-wing populism has elided the characteristics of political citizenship (which relies on seeing oneself as a member of a polity, and therefore as someone whose political preferences take into account forms of societal interdependence) and replaced them with a kind of pastiche of the consumer as absolute individual, whose tastes are purely self formed and autonomous (and for whom the notion of interdependence is viewed as a threat to consumer choice.)
This formation really lends itself to using nationalism as a marketing tool -- since people are already primed to see their political identity as a form of brand loyalty.
That is a lot of really smart shit! I played around with the draft for awhile but ultimately couldn’t find a home for Andrejevic’s perspective in the final story, so instead, this murdered darling gets a second life here at Fingers.
🎵 The 150-hour “Cool Dive Bar” playlist
Ernest Wilkins, publisher of the Office Hours newsletter, curator of vintage sports shop Gameday Grails, and self-proclaimed “King of Very Specific Vibes,” recently posted this Spotify playlist he put together for a friend’s soon-to-open joint. The prompt was “a Cool Dive Bar, but it’s 150 hours long,” and even though Wilkins’ playlist is only (“only,” lol) nine hours long, goddammit, I think he pulled it off. I’ve been listening to this all week, 10/10 highly recommend.
Sort of reminds me of the “I Miss My Bar” audio project from the barroom team from Monterrey, Mexico’s Maverick MTY. Good work all around, more very specific vibes like this please!