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Back to the Future

by Phil Thornton

With the likes of Little Britain bringing back good old fashioned racist comedy back to our screens – hey it’s ironic racism so that’s OK – isn’t it heart-warming to see that the advertising industry has quickly followed suit. The YOP campaign (it’s a drink and nothing to with government training schemes) features various very tired looking young people mouthing the words to Eddie Grant’s anti-apartheid record, ‘Give me Hope Joanna.’ Except – get this – those clever marketing folks have changed the words to ‘Give Me Yop Me Mamma’ and, even more hilariously, their lips extend in CGI cartoon coon-o-vision to resemble the thick full lips of real life black people. But look, one of the kids featured is black OK so it can’t be racist right? And when the typical white middle English ‘mamma’ appears at the end and out comes a Paul Robeson baritone, why it’s the funniest thing I’ve seen since, let’s see, Titty Bang’s Bang Bobby Chariots rip-off darts player. The fact that Yop sounds vaguely like the word ‘Hope’ - if you say it fast enough and speak in a heavy Serbian accent, that is – is the starting point, the creative catalyst for this entire campaign. You can see them now, sat around a table, working it all out.


“OK so, Yop, what can we do with a name like that? I know Give Me Yop, sounds a bit like give me hope and remember that Eddie Grant guy, the crap reggae fellar, he had a hit called Give Me Hope Joanna didn’t he? So, our slogan is Give Me Yop but not Joanna as that wouldn’t work, so why don’t we have our target demographic of bone idle students saying ‘me Mamma’ instead, after all Yop’s a pick me up, a tonic, it’s just the thing binge drinking yobs need after a night singing Kaiser Chiefs choruses and downing bottles of alcopops. Also chaps, me mamma is the kind of thing Negroes say isn’t it, so let’s have a mum at the very end saying ‘Give Me Yop until the night is through.’ It’ll be fackin’ side splitting.”


Now you may think I’m taking this all a bit seriously but let’s put things into perspective. When we were at junior school we were taken on a trip to the Jewish Museum in Manchester . It was supposed to teach us respect and understanding of different religions, races and cultures. Now we came from a town where there were at the most a handful of black or Asian families and this was the early 70s. Love Thy Neighbour, Enoch Powell , NF . There was an advert for Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut that parodied Belafonte’s ‘Banana Boat Song’ that went ‘Nuts whole hazelnuts, Cadbury’s take em and they cover em in chocolate.’ It was a favourite kid’s song and, as we passed through Moss Side and saw all these black faces, we knocked on the bus windows and pointed and jeered at all the darkies and sang ‘Nuts whole hazelnuts, Cadbury’s take em and they cover em in chocolate.’ And instead of remonstrating with us and punishing us for our outrageous racism, the teachers just let us get on with it and grinned. So much for understanding different cultures then.


Ofcourse we had an excuse in that we were very young, uneducated and came from racist families. The point is that a song about the punishing, back breaking world of the Caribbean plantation worker – slaves in other words - was purloined to advertise chocolate bars. I remembered this a few years ago when another advert, this time selling some sort of breakfast cereal featured a middle aged white man convulsing as he spat out ‘Day-O, day-ay-ay-o,’ Tourettes style as he peered into a posh car carrying a pair of what seemed to be black businessmen or diplomats. Why they had to black was never made clear but the advert worked on a similar racist premise; white people with cod patois voices are inherently funny. And what could me more ‘black’ than ‘The Banana Boat Song?’ ‘Day-o, day-ay-ay-o, daylight come and me wanna go home.‘ It’s a song of fucking desperation not a daft excuse to takk like a Jam-ay-caaan. Again, Titty Bang Bang’s white dancehall sistas works on much the same level.


So, let’s rewind, Eddie Grant’s irritating yet well—intentioned anti-apartheid song becomes a Tom n’ Jerry fat mamma yoghurt drink slogan. Belafonte’s re-working of an old slave song becomes both chocolate bar and fruity cereal slogans. Next you’ll be telling me that I dunno, extra large Pot Noodles will be promoted via large invisible black men with comedy afros or that middle class white comedians will be able to black themselves up and pretend to be overweight, African women. Is it really 1973 again?


It is on new cop show, Life On Mars, starring the always engaging yet somehow always unconvincing, John Simm. Now John, he’s OK in boys’ roles but just can’t cut the mustard as a man. In this respect he’s like Leonado Di Caprio who we can believe as a retarded boy in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape or even as a love-struck young castaway in Titanic but as a street-fighting gangleader or Howard fucking Hughes? Come on! So, John Simm, he’s been in some half decent stuff and he’s a good lad at heart and in LOM he plays a modern copper transported back to the early 70s after an accident and you can imagine the pitching meeting where this codswallop got commissioned;


“it’s a cop show with a twist, the twist being it’s a time travel cop show aimed at showing the disparity of modern and 70s cops because y’know in the 70s cops were all hard-drinking, hard-living, corrupt, sexist, racist animals whereas today…..”


Life On Mars could be described as Quantum Leap meets The Sweeney and it may well introduce yet another new formula for clueless TV execs; the time travel excuse to plunder past successes; we could have Rosemary and Thyme meets the X-Files, Monarch Of The Glen meets Doctor Who, Tracy Beaker meets The Tomorrow Children, Strictly Soap Star Superstar Come Dancing On Ice Factor Meets Summertime Special. Millions would watch it for that cosy nostalgic glow of fondly remembered days of childhood and then they’d go and watch The Dukes Of Hazard on DVD and listen to School Disco compilations on their iPods and pretend that that everything was OK with the world, like the 70s and 80s were some golden era before those darned suicide bombers ruined everything. Welcome to the future.



Pimp My Voice


When Suggs asks us to ‘let Norwich Union Direct quote us happy’ I get a really warm glow inside and inwardly say to myself ‘Good luck to yer Suggsy old boy, you’ve managed to reinvent yourself as a kind of amiable cheeky Cockney geezer who appeals to ex-skins and old dears alike and deserve to be voice of cheap car insurance.’ Indeed Suggs’ reassuring voice has been put to good use on countless other adverts and this is a big money spinner for the member sof the TalkBack backslappers circle; Wossy, Fry, Vic n’ Bob, Robinson; as if appearing on eachothers moronic, ironic quiz shows, lame self-congratulatory talk shows, piss poor, banal comedies and vomit inducing spin-off Radio 2 and 6digital shows wasn’t enough for them. Even good old Saint John of Peel succumbed to the lure of voicing over ‘product placements.’


Now ofcourse, in the words of the Pop Group, to some extent ‘We Are All Prostitutes’ but some street girls and rent boys sell their bodies out of necessity and others do it out of sheer greed. I’m sure Carol Vorderman, Phil Tufnell and that fellar who looks like Mr Creosote from Monty Pyhton’s The Meaning Of Life can all rest easy in their beds knowing that they’ve personally helped thousands of families out of crippling debt by saddling the poor fuckers with an even bigger crippling debt (one that’s simply paid off over a much longer period). Happy Days indeed. These people pimp their souls because they are familiar faces and trusted ‘celebrities’ (although as with most celebs they’re nothing of the kind being simply mildly famous and not celebrated for anything they’ve done).


Phil, he’s a decent lad isn’t he? If he says taking out a 15 grand loan that’ll pay off my credit card bills, car loan and I’ll still have enough left over to repair the roof, then who am I to argue? His honesty and trustworthiness are vouchsafed because he won ‘I’m A Serial Adulterer and Coke Fiend Get me Out Of Here.’ As for Carol, well she does sums, she’s dead clever, she’s worked it all out for us and we really CAN afford it. All it takes is one phone call and everything will be OK. Mr Creosote? He obviously owns the company and has ordered the agency that he’s gonna be the face of the campaign regardless of the fact that he makes your flesh creep every time you see his seedy, bloated, features. That cunt’s so obviously a shark he’s got a dorsal fin.


But hey, Her Majesty The Queen is only a pimp for the city; she turns up, she gladhands all manner of despots and torturers as long as it gets orders on the tables. Blair pimps his bony bourgeois arse off for his corporate chums and when he gives up the thorny throne to Gordon, he’ll be rewarded for his kindness. So don’t worry Cherie, you’ll be able to buy that big house and forget all about your humble childhood once and for all. You’ve made it all on the blood of Iraqis and it was a heavy price to pay in order to ingratiate yourself with the illuminati but heck at least YOU didn’t have to get YOUR hands dirty eh?


In light of this maybe it’s pretty trivial to get wound up by the new generation of voice whores like Radio 1’s Edith who targets the 20 something consumer with Curry’s Badly Drawn Boy soundtracked adverts or Mr Scruff’s ‘it’s not really sugar’ animation or Vernon Kaye’s hilarious Knorr panda ads. I’m sure they all need the dough. I’m sure they all do lots of work for charidee. Coming soon Spoony fronts the British Nuclear Fuels ads that convinces us that childhood leukaemia in Cumbria is all the fault of a poor diet and fuck all to do with stray isotopes from Windscale. Someones gotta do it.    


And Now For Something Positive


The Root All Evil finally brought back the much neglected genre of Polemic TV. One of my heroes, Richard Dawkins put the boot in on medieval superstition parading as mysticism or – God forbid – morality ie religion. Christopher Hitchens and other professional controversialists have had this realm to themselves for far too long so it was good to see someone with Dickie’s scientific background finally getting a crack of the theological whip. Infact theology isn’t an ology at all – how can you study something that isn’t there? That doesn’t exist? Never argue religion with the religious, it’s pointless and unfortunately Dawkins shot himself in the foot somewhat by trying to get rational thoughts from fundamentalist Christians and Muslims alike. This didn’t help his cause. Statistical analysis of the supposed 66 miracles that have occurred at Lourdes was more insightful. Even taking the 66 as ahem ‘ gospel’ that’s 66 from millions upon millions upon millions of visits from the poor, desperate people who will try anything to cure themselves. Dawkins is a Darwinian evangelist himself and has been accused of being as narrow minded as those he seeks to mock, yet atleast Dawkins has evidence on his side. Ofcourse you can’t disprove God just as you can’t disprove any conceptual entity. It’s up to those who believe to do the proving. I’m an atheist and a humanist and I believe we are here as the result of countless chemical accidents and statistically it must be possible for millions of planets in the known universe to be able to sustain life of one sort or another.


Religion is just howling at the moon, a primitive response to forces beyond our knowledge. As a basis for morality it’s flawed but atleast it puts down a few groundrules. You can be a Christian without believing in all that Virgin Birth, miracles, and resurrection bullshit. You don’t even have to believe in Jesus, just take him as a symbol, an ideal. The kingdom of heaven, hey it’s a metaphor dummy! Take the message of peace n’ love and apply to your life but don’t expect a pay-off in the hereafter. That’s not the point. Dawkins is the rationalist icon, a kind of Darwinian Chomsky who sheds light on the layers of lies, distortions and hypocrisies of our world without the self-obsessed, iconoclastic ego-tripping of people like Hitchens.  Give him a quiz show!    








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