"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Smokin' and jokin'

You think you know him well; he's been exhorting you to "prevent forest fires" since 1944, but relatively few people are aware of how zealously the Department of Agriculture maintains the image of good ol' Smokey Bear. Here's a few Bear Essentials: did you know that Smokey has his very own zip code (20052)? Or that the nation started taking wildfires more seriously after a Japanese submarine attacked the coast of Southern California during WWII, prompting fears that enemy incendiary shells could set off raging forest fires, which in turn led to the ad campaign from which Smokey eventually evolved? Or that Walt Disney's "Bambi" was the first forest service mascot for one year, paving the way for the idea that a cartoon animal could heighten public awareness of forest fire prevention? Or that there was a "real life" Smokey the Bear, who died in 1976?

I learned all this and much more today when I stumbled across Smokey's web page. If you've got too much time on your hands like I do, it makes for some fascinating reading. Most interesting of all are the guidelines under which Smokey can be presented in the media; a 17-page PDF document details everything from the type of educational activities and materials Smokey may be associated with, down to the specific pantone colors that are to be used for the various elements in the Smokey Bear logo. Commercial licensing of the character is allowed, with this caveat: "Smokey may not be depicted as endorsing a product, but he may appear with the product. Smokey's message should always address wildfire prevention."

For anyone who might be thinking of donning a Smokey Bear costume for a party, parade, or any other reason whatsoever, think again. Not only are costumes licensed by the USDA to be used only by US and Canadian Foresters, Community and Volunteer Fire Departments, but the regulations governing such use sound like they were written by a military tribunal. Some of these are unintentionally hilarious, for example:
Individuals who wear and use the costume must agree to:

1. Use the costume only to further public information, education, and awareness of the prevention of wildfires.

2. NOT TO SPEAK during appearances. Conversations or explanations should be carried out by the accompanying official (escort).

3. Never appear in less than full costume.

4. Remain anonymous at every appearance and in any publicity connected with an appearance. This includes being photographed without the head.

5. Appear dignified and friendly. Avoid clowning and horseplay.

6. Refrain from using alcohol or drugs prior to and during the Smokey Bear appearance. This condition applies to officials as well.


1. The person wearing the costume must exhibit appropriate animation to be effective. Express sincerity and interest in the appearance by moving paws, head, and legs.

2. There shall be at least one uniformed escort to accompany the Bear. The escort shall guide the Bear at the elbow.

3. After donning the costume, the escort shall inspect the suit. Check for the following:
  • Is the drawstring tucked in?
  • Is the zipper out of sight?
  • Are the buttons fastened?
  • Is the belt firmly fastened to the pants?
  • Are the pant cuffs neat?
  • Is the hat crown up?
  • Is the head straight on the shoulders?
  • Is the fur brushed generously?
4. A private dressing room is necessary for putting on and taking off the costume.

5. The costumed Bear should not force itself on anyone. Do not walk rapidly toward small children.
Wow. That's a lot of rules for putting on a lousy bear suit, but I guess the US Forest Service goes a long way towards protecting Smokey's image. Which means they probably wouldn't be too happy at this Photochop job:

Like Billy Bob Thornton's "Bad Santa", I call my creation "Bad Smokey". But at least his fur is brushed generously.


  • At 3/27/2007 02:17:00 PM, Blogger SupaCoo said…

    Heehee. :)

    My husband has an "intimate" photo with Smokey the Bear. Smokey has one hand up in the air and the other one cupped back and to the side... and of course, my honey was the perfect height to pose with the dirty ol' bear grabbing his genitals.

    (We're classy folk 'round these parts.)


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