Snake Oil

There’s an artist here in town with just gobs of tattoos all over, including her lovely face, which is quite startling when you first see her if facial tats aren’t a thing at your particular locale.

I cannot IMAGINE how many times she’s been asked, “are those real?”

Anyway, I’m kind of obsessed with her and her art, even though it’s in the folk category, which isn’t really my style.

I’m obsessed with her because she’s an unapologetic FREAK, like, sideshow circus/carny/gypsy freak, but with a modern edge.

On top of all of that, she has (at least) three kids, is happily married, and regularly posts things about #momlife, including breastfeeding and child rearing.

She keeps it real.

Best of all, her message goes into her art, which is a charming mix of handmade wooden frames surrounding images like beating hearts, whiskey, guns, religious icons, fortune tellers, etc.

The images are narrated by little handlettered quips like:

“I’m fearful of the future and I’m running from the past”
“Is this the work of an angry God?”

So, it was inevitable that by following this artist I would run across the phrase “snake oil” at some point.

It makes sense. That’s her vibe.

The Snake Oil Salesman lives on in her art. He endureth. He even prosper-eth.

But then I started noticing that the phrase snake oil is indeed thriving in these here modern times.

Like in an herbal remedy brand that I follow on Insta that specifically says in their bio “No snake oil” meaning….”our shit works.”

And, as a maker of bitters, a lover of most things natural, and an avid consumer of anonymous internet comments, I’ve seen the phrase thrown around by a troll or two.

The gravity of snake oil has always been pretty clear to me, but not the origin.

So, I cracked open volume XXIV of my trusty encyclopedia to get some answers and found this NPR article about how it came about. *

I had no idea that snake oil was actually made from snakes. Yeah, that’s weird.

But on second thought….
Is it any weirder than using mercury in Ayurvedic medicine?
Or, ahem, leeches? Or *cough* bloodletting?

Ideas about health and how to restore it are in constant evolution.

No one wants to be seen as a huckster.

And no one wants to be duped.

If there are snakes in the oil, they better be authentic Chinese water snakes.

Have you been the unsuspecting victim of a medicine show huckster?  How have you dealt with the shame?

May your snake oil be authentic and effective!


*TL; DR: Snake oil was originally made from a special Asian snake. The oil from it was reportedly beneficial, but Americans tried to replicate snake oil using the wrong kind of snake (and sometimes no snake). This adulterated product proved ineffective thus giving snake oil everywhere a bad rap for all time.