Monday, April 29, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 17 - I for Image

Q for Quaker by William Nicholson 1898
For a group so concerned with simplicity and plainness, Quakers have been surprisingly concerned about their image over the years. Friends could be disowned if they acted in ways that were perceived as bringing the reputation of the Society of Friends into disrepute. Friends' testimony for simplicity meant that they were not supposed to pay too much attention to how they looked or to fashion but in practice this led to a kind of uniformity, a 'Quaker grey' that was increasingly policed. Quakers dressed, spoke and acted in ways that set them apart from the rest of Society and to outsiders they sometimes appeared intimidatingly serious and lacking any sense of humour.

Present day Quaker Oats logo

First image of 'Quaker Oats man'
Of course one of the most iconic Quaker images, the Quaker Oats man, has absolutely no connection with the Religious Society of Friends. He was created to embody the perceived honesty and straightforwardness of Quakers and to associate these qualities with the products he advertised. The first image used is reminiscent of portraits of William Penn but the latest incarnation is jolly and smiling - not the older image of a Quaker at all.There are other examples of this advertising association, such as Quaker Maid motor oil which uses the image of a demure young girl in a Quaker cap to tell buyers that their product is pure.

Nowadays the image of a Quaker is often that of a campaigner for peace, equality or the environment. Quakers are seen as 'good people' if perhaps rather naive. I worry about the condescension of this view and would rather ally myself with the message of the recent outreach posters produced for Quaker Week in the UK - here are a wide range of people who are all Quakers whether they fit the Quaker image or not!

1 comment:

Lightly said...

Yes, this picture of Quakers as 'good' people can be very irritating. I sometimes say to non-Quaker friends that we have the same variation in our membership and personality types as any other social group. Recently one such friend said that the Quakers she knew (thankfully, not just me!) were more serious people and more concerned about social issues than the average. She put this down to the fact that those she knew had actively chosen to belong to the Society rather than just ending up there by parental lottery, as it were. I think it's more that she is more serious and socially concerned than average and has friends a bit like her!