Arriving in (class) war-torn Bethnal Green yesterday afternoon, possibly the warmest on record for April, I was struck in the face by a billboard ad featuring a just-about reanimated Sylvester Stallone and a host of other hand-gun-toting ghouls standing in a Blackwater-style phalanx beneath heavy metal typography. The product? War(burtons) bread.
The latest outdoor media instalment from Campaign award-winning agency WRCS would appear to be pitched at ornery inner city folks raised on that peculiar subterranean-yet-mainstream diet of violence–now worked into the degenerate and desecrated grain formerly known as wheat. A bastardisation concocted by Global Machine Culture [GMC], wheat has become the edible monoculture version of Agent Smith, viral shadow of the Matrix.
Whether the “grain” used in Warburton’s “bread” is GM or not is pretty much irrelevant. Fracking, corporate tax evasion, Blairism–take your pick from a plethora of parallels–you can bet your bottom dollar that chemical corners have been cut. GMC is certainly betting its bottom dollar on it. Am I saying Warburtons “bread”–let’s call it “edible product” is harmful to your health? Let’s not go there. GMC already has the “scientific” answers ready to roll on surface-to-media missiles that crop-dust public discussion with enumerated bullshit. Is GMC harmful to the environment? If you can answer no to that, I’d love to see your arguments in the comments box below.
But this is not so much a “green” as a “green psychology” article–if you like, a “deep eco” more than an “eco” piece.
Ecology: The branch of science
Sure, it’s tongue-in-cheek, concocted by “clever”, middle class executives and “creatives” in the rather sexier environs of 60 Great Portland Street, leveraging the already tongue-in-cheek Stallone movie “The Expendables”. But what is the relationship between the residents of Bethnal Green and the award-winning Warburtons “Family” campaign? Or the Britain’s Got Talent-watching, edible-product-toasting masses who lap up the TV commercial in the ad breaks? Does thegame for a laugh messaging not rest on cultural channels of violence? Is “family” not tongue-twisted to mean “mafia”, i.e. glamourised gang culture? Is it only coincidence that WRCS’s other clients include the Army, Navy, Airforce, Artemis (The Profit Hunters) and–on balance–that benign old giant, HMRC?
Perhaps it’s unfair to piss on WRCS’s award dinner chips. They’re not alone in this war business. How about BBH’s ad on the right?
Of course, it’s all tongue-in-cheek, game for a laugh, simply a reflection of modern, urban society. But whose tongue is in whose cheek? WRCS’s in Stallone’s? The clever folks at WRCS might say I’m patronising the working class, who understand the joke just fine.
Maybe we can go further then, with rape, racism, ISIS beheadings and Israeli F16s worked up in a tongue-in-cheek commercial for underarm spray, say.
According to the Metropolitan Police, Violence Against the Person in Tower Hamlets has risen 21% in the last 12 months, keeping up with the London-wide trend of nearly 30%.
Grab a free rag off the floor of the tube if you want examples. To be fair, the same rags print articles (juxtapose ads for Warburtons and other edible product) about 10-year old boys frazzled on hardcore porn, teenage girls bullied into anal sex, bartered between local mafias like objects in Grand Theft Auto. (What is this reporting really? Assimilation? Social lip service?)
In this light is there really any defence for depictions of violence, no matter how clever or tongue-in-cheek, in the billboard overhanging your local station, high street, park or playground? Are inner city children really that urbane and ironic? Do we want them to be?
What’s your response? Maybe like the protagonist of Charlie Booker’s Black Mirror: 15 Million Credits, the bit where he stands in front of the Cowell-esque panel and sums up his blistering polemic with the words: FUCK YOU!
It’s tempting to leave it there, to openly encourage that these billboards be defaced, torn down, burnt. I’m supposed to play the game, push my tongue into some clever, Great Portland Street cheek, let it all wash over me. Take the cash and shut the fuck up. For many years I tried to do just that. But I couldn’t, not really.
Increasingly, I don’t think you can either. Not really.