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11 Questions for…Roger Wilkerson

Roger Wilkerson, suburban legend and American everyman, represents the mid-century optimism of American culture. Updating every day, expect many original posts of advertisement graphics, photographs, pin-up girls, videos illustrations and more.

We recently caught up with the blog’s author, to discuss American history, blogging, consumerism and James Bond.

1: If someone asked about your blog at a party, how would you describe it?

ROGER WILKERSON: My blog is basically a personification of the upbeat post-war time in American history, starting from 1946, and ending abruptly on November 22, 1963––the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

I basically choose images that give me a good feeling, whether they be advertising art, illustrations, photographs, songs, etc. which reflect the happier times in American history, most of which would have appealed to the mid-century, everyman, suburban dad that Roger Wilkerson represents.

2: Who is Roger Wilkerson? How do you picture him in your mind?

RW: Roger Wilkerson has been an idea floating around in my head for years. I adopted the name “Roger Wilkerson” as an alter-ego when calling people at work to get around their bosses, when signing up for e-mail addresses, etc. I always envisioned him as this cool, suave, smooth talking, mid-century man.  I found his image in a paperback book of clip art from the 40s and 50s and Roger Wilkerson was “born.”

Roger Wilkerson is the quintessential mid-century everyman. He’s the happy homeowner in the Bermuda shorts who mows his finely manicured suburban lawn with his pipe firmly clamped between his teeth.  He’s the 9-5 businessman who takes the commuter train to the sprawling metropolis every weekday morning with his newspaper tucked under his arm and his briefcase in his hand. He’s the suave guy in the cardigan, slacks and argyle socks who whips up Manhattans in the paneled basement rumpus room while Perry Como plays on the hi-fi. He’s the suburban dad who takes his wife Mary and their two kids in the station wagon to the Howard Johnson’s for ice cream on Sunday afternoon.  He’s the good, hard-working American who lived through the turmoil of the World War and enjoys the benefits of better living through technology.  In general, Roger Wilkerson is the eternal optimist who faces the future with a smile on his face.

Grilling, from Roger Wilkerson.

3: Reading this, I was reminded of Adam Curtis’s documentary, “The Century of the Self.” Your description of Wilkerson is very vivid, and so much of what you described involves consumer goods: Bermuda shorts, newspaper, argyle socks, paneled basement, hi-fi stereo, station wagon, etc. How much of Wilkerson’s optimism is due to the post-war plenty––after living through (presumably) the Great Depression and the Second World War?

RW: Considering the post-war era was basically considered America’s “Great Spending Spree,” a lot of Roger’s optimism can be traced to how he can now afford those things that he had to do without.  America unleashed its pent-up consumerist fury after the Depression and the War. Roger is just along for the ride. 

Sure, we could discuss the morality and political issues that a hyperactive exorbitant spending created when the good times came to an end, but it’s all about living in that moment and enjoying it while it lasted.  So yes, I would say Roger’s optimism may be strongly related to surviving those rough times.

4: What first made you interested in this era of American culture and history?

RW: I remember as a small kid being extremely interested in the 1920s and reading anything I could find about gangsters, prohibition, etc.  When I got a little older, my interests moved up to the 1950s.  My parents grew up with doo-wop music, drive-in movies and all of the stereotypical 1950s imagery. I on the other hand began listening to Frank Sinatra and got interested in the whole “cocktail culture” of the era.

I didn’t want to be a teenager in the 1950s, slick my hair back in a D.A. and drive a deuce coupe, I wanted to be part of the Greatest Generation whose suffering and sacrifice made these frivolous things possible.  I have an enormous amount of respect for that generation and I wanted nothing more than to celebrate with them. Roger Wilkerson is my way of doing just that.

Marquee, 1957, from Roger Wilkerson.

5: Since at least the late 60s, adolescence seems to keep expanding, to the point now where 26 year-olds, or even 35 year-olds, are still sort of “teenagers.” Does that focus on adulthood, which we seem to have lost, appeal to you?

RW: During the late 40s and early 50s, parents were able to provide for their children, more than what was ever previously possible.  The hyper-consumerism of the era, helped along by the creation of the then-burgeoning television media saturation, bred a new “kiddie” market that had been previously untapped by American corporations and manufacturers.

This, I believe, created an ongoing fascination with children, teens and adolescents. Companies have learned that catering to kids is a sure-fire way to cash in. It is interesting from a sociological level, but not something that I spend too much time considering when doing the blog.

6: What is your favorite part of blogging?

RW: Roger Wilkerson is my first foray into photo blogging. It’s very spur of the moment…you find an image, you like it, you post it.  I like the spontaneity of Tumblr.

Once I got started, I found myself scouring books, vintage magazines, vintage brochures and the internet for imagery that follows my mid-century theme.  I started becoming obsessive with tracking down images that conveyed the mood or theme I had layed out in my head.  I have since slowed my pace, because posting the maximum Tumblr posts per day took it out of me real quick.

7: Do you use the queue feature at all?

RW: I do use the queue feature… oftentimes when I find images that work appropriately for upcoming or even distant holidays I load them into the queue. I actually have images lined up for as far away as December 31, 2012! I use the queue feature for weekend posts, because I don’t spend as much time in front of the computer on weekends as I do on weekdays. 

8: Do you post everything yourself, or do you reblog some posts from other tumblrs?

RW: When I first started, I reblogged many pictures. That was only until I started my compulsion to find “original” items.  I still click on the heart/love icon daily, but I don’t make it a habit of reposting things. It would make my life a lot easier if I reblogged pictures, because I am always blown away by some of the amazing things you see on Tumblr.

Roger Wilkerson’s archive for June, 2012.

9: We’ve talked a bit about the image of America’s halcyon days. What are some of your favorite books, movies, music, etc. from that era?

RW: Favorite fiction from the era…Sloan Wilson’s The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit, Thor Heyedahl’s Kon Tiki, Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and James Michener’s Hawaii. I’m also a huge fan of 1950s pre-code horror comic books.  

As for movies…The Apartment, Strangers On A Train, The Day the Earth Stood Still, North by Northwest, Pillow Talk, Bachelor In Paradise and countless other sci-fi and horror films from the era. 

Music is also something that I could drone on forever about…jazz (Mingus, Miles, Coltrane, etc.), exotica (Denny, Baxter, Lymon, etc.), calypso, easy-listening, lounge, and even a dose of pre-Beatles rock and roll.

Sean Connery, 1962, from Roger Wilkerson.

10: It’s interesting that you mention Casino Royale. At the moment I’m plowing through all of the James Bond books, and I just read that one last week. How did you first start reading Ian Fleming?

RW: I’ve been a fan of the James Bond movies since I was a kid. I bought a paperback copy of Casino Royale at a yard sale for a quarter. It lent itself well to intermittent, summer reading.  I’ve yet to read any of his other James Bond books but they are on my “to-do” list.

I read a lot of non-fiction, particularly related to American pop-culture, American history and music.  This morning I just finished reading a book by Kirk Demarais called Mail Order Mysteries and I just started on one called Palm Springs Holiday by Peter Moruzzi. My problem is, I usually have 3 or 4 books going at a time, and I’m always busy reading something.

11: If you had any advice to offer someone who maybe has an idea like you had––they want to express an aesthetic, or have an alter-ego they want to develop through a photo blog––what advice would you give them?

RW: Just have fun with it and be committed to keeping it going.  Tumblr blogs are a great way to convey your personality to followers. If you’re going to express a singular aesthetic, I think it’s important to remain consistent––believe me, I would love to post some images from the 70s and 80s, but Roger wouldn’t, so they have to be left out.  I’m tempted to start specialized Tumblr blogs for more of my varied interests but I don’t want to open another can of worms.

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