Jun 2, 2016

Borden's Elsie: Alpha Bull Dad and Gay Son

Sometimes when we were visiting my Grandma Davis in Indiana, my brother and I got permission to go up into the attic and browse through her piles of old magazines. Good Housekeeping, Saturday Evening Post, Grit...nothing really exciting, but we liked to marvel at the craziness of the past.

One day we stumbled upon a series of illustrated stories from the 1940s starring Elsie the Cow, the mascot for Borden's Milk.

Wait -- was this cow selling the milk that came from her body?  Disgusting!  And who would name it "Hemo," after blood?

The stories were about a battle of the sexes between housewife Elsie and her alpha-male bull spouse, Elmer, with an incredibly sexist passive-aggressive vibe and the hint of violence:

"But Elmer, all the answers in the book can't be wrong!"
"I'm not trying to turn the child against you, darling!"
"Why do men lose their temper more easily than men?"
"It's possible to kill a wife with kindness, dear."

Was this an idealization of the 1940s nuclear family, or a critique?

Borden created a whole back story for the cow couple, including a teenage daughter, Beulah, a mischievous son, Beauregard, and infant twins.  Stories of their domestic life appeared through the 1940s, and for the kids, there was a 1950s comic book series.  And so many advertising tie-ins that there's a whole book devoted to them.

Elmer the Bull, future mascot for Elmer's Glue, was blustering but, oddly, sexy.  He was naked though his family wore clothes.  He had thick bull-muscles.  And, most provocatively, his sex organs were coyly obstructed. I had seen bulls on the farm -- I knew what was being hidden.

Beauregard was a general mischief maker, but he also had some gender-transgressive qualities that lent him some gay symbolism.  Here he seems to be trying on green lipstick and hair dye.

In the 1950s comic books, he's a teenager, and also rather muscular.

By now I imagine he looks something like this.

(Image borrowed from Roberto Linares on YGallery).

See also: Grit