To a young boy growing up during the ’60s, the life of a housewife as shown on TV seemed full of curious challenges and potential disasters. So many crucial product decisions to be made! Which floor wax was most likely to seal against black heel marks? How could you keep that “fresh as a daisy” scent in your home, even with smelly husbands and children around? And, perhaps most importantly, which detergent could avoid the dreaded cry of “ring around the collar”?
Of the awful humiliations that could befall a loving wife, “ring around the collar” was the worst. She could be packing a suitcase, or happily enjoying a cruise with her husband, when the suitcase, or the cruise director, or countless other buttinskys would bray “ring around the collar!” And then all attention would focus on the grimy markings on the inside of the husband’s white shirt collar, and the wife would shrivel with embarrassment. She’d tried soaking them out and scrubbing them out — but nothing worked! You couldn’t help but identify with her feelings of horror, shame, and frustration.
Why wasn’t this the husband’s fault? After all, he must have been a sweaty slob who couldn’t keep his neck clean, even while working a cushy white-collar job. Such questions were not even acknowledged, much less answered, for boys trying to understand the mysterious ways of grown-ups. What was clear, instead, was that “ring around the collar” was to be avoided at all costs — and Wisk could help.
Eventually I started wearing white-collared shirts, and at some point, I realized that I was not experiencing ring around the collar. In fact, the insides of my collars didn’t seem to get dirty at all. Collar buttons occasionally fell off, and ties could get stained during lunch — but the collars remained pristine. And apparently I wasn’t alone in that experience. You just didn’t see “ring around the collar” commercials anymore, either.
Did Wisk finally prevail in its life-and-death battle, and eradicate “ring around the collar” just as surely as the Salk vaccine eradicated polio? Why was there no public acknowledgment of this great triumph? Isn’t the final defeat of “ring around the collar” at least as deserving of attention as, say, the results of the Iowa straw poll?