A Journal of The Plague Year, And Other Tales

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The Worst People In The World

The Worst People in The World

A couple of weeks ago, I had a mind to write you something about the screenwriter Aaron Sorkin – creator of the acclaimed US political drama series, The West Wing. I admire his use of snappy dialogue and wanted to pull out a few killer quotes from the shows.

Channel 4 have thoughtfully stored all eight seasons of The West Wing in their online archives. However, its curators – stern moralists that they are – want us freeloaders in cyberspace to know that nothing comes gratis.

So for every seven minutes I got to roam the world of President Bartlet and his smart-talking White House staff, I also had to ingest three and a half minutes of dingbat Christmas advertisements. After repeated doses, they started sinking deep into my brain – like gamma radiation.

Not that I disliked my first viewing of TK Maxx’s ad. The creatives had dressed up a nanny goat in a multi-coloured costume and had her strutting past a flock of admiring sheep.

“Super-dooper co-ordination. Where did you get that from?” cooed a husky, disembodied female voice. “I know, right?”

A bluff-looking bearded farmer and his wife observed her from their window.

“Did you give the goat a designer outfit?” asked the wife.

“Yes. She’s had such a hard year,” declared the farmer. “She blooming well deserves it, if you ask me.”

Then there was the chipper Geordie dad determined to lift the spirits of his family with all the great grub that Asda is selling this Christmas. He had them rolling on the floor in merriment by putting pies in his mouth and looking like a gorgon. The point, I suppose, is that Asda’s cheap, unfussy food is richly seasoned with his irrepressible cheer.

The advertisement for Daisy perfume from Marc Jacobs featured three young women of various ethnicities skipping through a flowery summer meadow in petticoats and chanting “Daisy! Daisy! Daisy!” while hugging each other. It had a curious lesbian vibe. More than that, it carried the promise of brighter days to come next year.

I had plenty of time to deconstruct these advertisements because I worked my way through all eight seasons of The West Wing within ten days. This exposed me to over five hours-worth of the ads that Britain’s retailers are throwing at the viewing public this Christmas, the better to empty its pockets.

“Super-dooper co-ordination.”

“That’s an Asda price Christmas. Ching, ching!”

“Daisy! Daisy! Daisy!”

Channel 4 will not allow you to skip this cycle of mind-bending pap. If you open another tab on your screen and play music to try and drown it out, the ads will come to a halt and wait unbudgingly until you start playing them again. Like a golem.

After Day Three, the tag lines had lost all connection with their original sense and had become white noise – aural abuse designed to soften the mind.

This is how General Noriega went down. The US Marine Corps cornered him in the presidential palace in Panama and played ‘Barney the Dinosaur’ through loudspeakers at him, day and night, until he stumbled out onto the front lawn, ears bleeding and half his hair torn out, begging for a merciful end.

I tried to resist where Noriega had succumbed - retreating to defensive positions in my kitchen and bathroom to escape each fresh advertising salvo. My sink, toilet and shower unit are now gleaming. My dishes are so clean you could eat your dinner off them. I have counted and logged every teaspoon and teabag I own. Yet the jingles and tag lines have nevertheless lodged themselves deep in my cerebellum. The “Daisy” chant has become a hellish incantation from a trio of modern-day furies, turning sweet dreams into nightmares.

Channel 4 must know that after such prolonged exposure to their ads, viewers like me – if they have remained sane – are bound to develop an acute allergic reaction to them.

So why does it waterboard us with all this commercial bilge? A little note they put up in a corner of the screen betrays their true motive. It says that if you give them monthly payments, you can watch Channel 4 content ad-free. The longer you resist their offer, the longer the torment will continue.

I didn’t give Channel 4 a bean and by the end of The West Wing’s run the ads fell silent and I felt I had scored a moral victory.

Yet, at what cost?

I remember almost none of the episodes from The West Wing and I didn’t commit any snappy quotes to mind. Aaron Sorkin might as well have served up alphabet soup for a script.

I did, however, acquire total recall of all the advertisements. I can recall the precise colour scheme of the fashionista nanny goat’s apparel, from her strawberry beret down to her pink pullover with its scarlet trim. I know that a vegan Beef Wellington will cost you £2.99 at Lidl. I have spent hours in bed considering the merits of a vegan Beef Wellington. I have woken up having dreamt of eating one and feeling ill.

After roughly 4,000 hours into my troubled viewing stint, Channel 4 slipped into the mix the most insidious advertisement of all.

It was Tesco’s flagship ad and it decreed that at the end of this dismal year, no one would be on Santa’s naughty list. Everyone should therefore give themselves a big reward and splash out on the most scrummy and costly treats Tesco has to offer.

It was a chiselling piece of work and it was atrociously acted, even for an advertisement. These, however, were not its main crimes. What made it stand feet and ankles beneath all others was its lack of anything even approaching Christmas spirit.

Asda had put family and parental love at the centre of Christmas. The Daisy perfume girls are a triad of maddening harpies, as we have seen, yet they had at least held out hope for sunnier times ahead. TK Maxx had urged us to bring seasonal cheer to the downhearted.

Each of these ads was a miniature morality play, distant successors to the spiritually-uplifting ‘mystery’ plays put on at Christmas by businesses and guilds in medieval times.

Tesco’s ad, on the other hand, portrayed Christmas as modern corporate executives would ideally have it: a festival of high-spending yet socially-acceptable self-indulgence; a middle-brow Saturnalia of Lambrusco and deluxe vegan mince pies.

If hell exists, the entire management board of Tesco will surely go there.

They are the Christmas season’s winners of the Worst People in the World Award, despite stiff competition from Channel 4. When they pass on from this life they should be left in no doubt of Santa’s iron laws.

There really is a naughty list, and grasping, grinch-like grown-ups go straight to the top of it.

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