Barbed, dangerous and domestic?

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In a time when advertising was at its peak farmers had a love hate relationship with barbed wire. Photo credit: Trent Bates/UVU Review

In a time when advertising was at its peak farmers had a love hate relationship with barbed wire. Photo credit: Trent Bates/UVU Review

“Barbed and Dangerous” was the title of the most recent Integrated Studies lecture, examining the history of barbed wire and its role in advertising.

Presented by Dr. Lyn Bennett, associate professor of History and Political Science and Dr. Scott Abbott, director of Integrated Studies and professor of Philosophy and Humanities, the lecture took place on Nov. 11 at 3 p.m.

After World War I, advertising was at its peak and so was barbed wire. However, barbed wire had quite a history before it was how we see it today.

“Barbed wire created a lot of tension in the [American] west,” explained Abbott as he and Bennett took turns giving a chronology of the life of barbed wire.

Because of the cost and scarcity of other building materials and the wide open spaces waiting to be fenced, barbed wire was a heralded invention. Still, the fence was hostile and dangerous, and the job of creating a public acceptance of its hazards fell on the shoulders of the advertisers and manufactures.

At the core of the invention was the desire to deter animals from pushing on and breaking the panels of traditional fencing. Meant to control behavior, it soon became clear that criminals were on the list of those controlled by the fencing.

Advertisers struggled with undercutting stereotypes to convince farmers that while barbed wire may be dangerous, it was dangerous to be without barbed wire.

Marketing began to target settled areas with advertisements depicting thieves and delinquent youth as trespassers. In the advertisments, not only did the fencing provide security, but the inflicted pain served as a reminder for those that attempted to scale it.

Soon barbed wire was seen in advertisements as one of the components to a safe and happy home. It created orderliness, tranquility and security.

“Now we can go to bed at night and rest quietly,” read one testimonial in the BARBED FENCE REGULATOR, a how-to book for famers using barbed wire. Other advertisements depicted families surrounded by the comforting arms of wire fencing.

Religious images like the garden of eden were used showing that barbed wire protected innocence. Barbed wire was used to tame the west and created civilization by inflicting harm. “Uncivilized” creatures like natives and wild animals throughout America and even in Egypt were depicted as being controlled by barbed wire.

These advertisements among others are seen by Bennett and Abbott to show that many people of the time valued progress through industry. The use of stereotypical images of blacks and  Native Americans show that peole of the period were racist while other lewd advertisements show that they were sexist as well. Religious allusions show that many responded to Christian images and the dual usage of fencing to control animals and humans tells us that they were not adverse to abusing both.

For more information on the Integrated Studies lecture series visit