“America’s Greatest Movement: The Jaw Movement” (E14)

“America’s Greatest Movement: The Jaw Movement” (E14)
Originally Published: World Outlook, October 1916
First Reprinted: Never reprinted
Byline: Robert C. Benchley


A true oddity in the Benchley canon, in that it seems to be almost entirely about what it purports to be about, earnestly chewing over a set of facts filtered through the quaint, by 1916, lens of Victorian liberal free trade philosophy. There are glimmers of the author’s sense of humour in the introductory and concluding sections, but for the majority of its length, this article really does aim to communicate historical and economic information about chicle, the basic ingredient in chewing gum (until it was replaced by cheaper, synthetic materials during the middle of the century).

Printed soon after Wilson-Villa era tensions along America’s southern border reached their boiling point (US army “punitive raids” occurred throughout the spring and summer of 1916), the piece warns against any actions that might disarrange the “entente cordiale” between central American chicle gatherers, U.S. manufacturers and their millions of peacefully masticating customers. Most of this sincere tone is undoubtedly an artifact of the unusual publication venue – World Outlook was a typeset creature of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church – however, as every Benchley aficionado knows, there was an extremely earnest side to this genial exponent of absurdity and apostle of fair play in facetiousness. Presumably, the same impulse which led RCB to consider devoting his life to social work also allowed his journalistic muse to vibrate in tune with a magazine written by and for progressive clergymen; if only, thankfully, this once.

Favourite Moment:
“Thus it is that Mexico and the United States are joined by ties that transcend diplomacy, and woe to the Administration or the Opposition through whose machinations the supply of chewing-gum is cut off and the bulwark of our Democracy shattered.”