Thursday, October 8, 2015

How to avoid bow legs, knock knees, weak bodies and much more

All you have to do, kids, is do what Mr. Codfish says!

(There's a line I never imagined I'd write.)

"Tails of the Sea" is a shameless, 16-page staplebound booklet that was published in 1930 by McCoy's Laboratories in New York. In masquerading as a children's lesson, its only goal is to pitch the virtues of "nice-tasting, sugar-coated McCoy's Cod Liver Oil Extract tablets."

The tablets are, as the cover states, "for boys and girls who don't want Bow Legs, Knock Knees, Flat Chests, Stoop Shoulders or Weak Bodies." (Or to be slaughtered by Native Americans. More on that in a bit.)

The tale begins with spectacle-wearing Mr. Codfish serving as the teacher of a classroom full of students, who at first want to know how he's surviving as an, ahem, fish out of water. Mostly dodging that question, Mr. Codfish goes on to explain how the "invisible ultra-violet rays of the sun" (and their healthful vitamins) end up inside codfish, which are then whisked away to McCoy's Laboratories in New York City and turned into the aforementioned tablets.

Barely addressed is how the creation of the tablets necessarily requires the slaughter of Mr. Codfish's species. He states, somewhat ghoulishly, "The next picture shows the barrels1 of golden-colored, sun-drenched cod liver oil that has been taken from the livers of my relatives and friends." If we weren't discussing fish, we'd be in full-blown Hannibal Lecter territory at this point.

To make things more disturbing, here are a pair of excerpts from the brochure. This was 1930, remember.
"Bobby, what does resistance to disease mean?"

"I don't know, Mr. Codfish."

"Well," said Mr. Codfish, "it means fighting against sickness with your back to the wall."

"Oh, you mean the way the cowboys fight the Injuns when they get cornered?" Johnny eagerly shrieked.

"That's about it, Johnny," Mr. Codfish agreed. "If you will take McCoy's Cod Liver Oil Extract Tablets regularly every day, the wonderful vitamins they contain will help your bodies to fight off colds and many other ills which make little folks feel awful."

* * *
"When disease germs attack us like treacherous redskins," Johnny replied, "lots of vitamin A in our bodies is like a Winchester repeating rifle in our hands. We blaze away out of both barrels and put the pesky Injuns to rout."

"A very clever answer, Johnny," Mr. Codfish said admiringly.

Cod liver oil remains a very popular supplement today. It is, however, hard to find unbiased information about its benefits because — surprise! — almost everyone who writes about it is pitching or recommending a product.2 Regarding the question "Is there any good reason to take cod liver oil?" Consumer Reports weighs in with "No" as its answer.

I'll leave you with the centerpiece illustration from "Tails of the Sea."

(The message on the chalkboard reads: "It takes 9 HENƧ — each hen laying 1 egg a Day or 1 COW chock full of milk and butter to give boys and girls as much health and growth vitamins as McCOY'Ƨ Cod Liver Oil Extract Tablets can give them.")

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1. According to Wikipedia: "Cod liver oil was traditionally manufactured by filling a wooden barrel with fresh cod livers and seawater and allowing the mixture to ferment for up to a year before removing the oil."
2. Mr. Codfish, however, is long since retired from his job as spokesman.

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