Peter York On Ads: No 219: Virgin Atlantic: He's just poetry in promotion

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The Independent Culture
DISTINGUISHED veteran poet Michael Horowitz recently put the Today programme in turmoil; it sounded as if they practically had to drag him off, declaiming Byron at the top of his voice. He was very angry about all the attention and money being lavished on Murray Lachlan Young, a new young poet who, according to Horowitz, is a hopeless fraud, a disgrace to poetry's fair name, etc. True enough, there has been a lot of coverage for Master Young of the isn't-he-hot, isn't-he-big, isn't-he-young, isn't- he-the-cool-crossover variety. Well, now the whole nation can join in this Poetry Society debate and come to its own conclusions, because, bearing out Horowitz's worst fears, here is Young appearing in a Virgin Atlantic commercial.

He certainly looks the part of the pop/poet crossover, as surely as Scaffold did in the 1960s and John Cooper Clarke did in the 1970s: long hair, long face and body, aristo-London, 1968-revival, velvet clothes.

And his concerns, judged on this tasting, are very metropolitan and media- ish. The ad is selling the cool entertainment package in Virgin Atlantic's economy class - as distinct from the limos-and-legroom concept in Upper Class pitched by grown-ups like Helen Mirren and Terence Stamp. So Lachlanisms like "Personal audio-visual sensation, plug yourself in to the pleasure machine," seem pretty good ways to dignify a screen in the back of the seat ahead. "Position yourself on the sensory surfboard, then wait for the wave of the digital daydream ... multi-digi-psycho-senso-maxo-pleasuronomy," he says (which, handily enough, rhymes with "Virgin economy").

It isn't exactly "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", but then nor was Clarke's "Ten Years in an Open-Necked Shirt". And it has to be said that Murray Lachlan Young appears to be telegenic, right for the product and for the marketplace. There is always a place for a useful poet, modishly dressed, who can run up something current to order and act it to camera.

The commercial looks very nice: particularly its opening frames, in which we take off at night along the guiding lights of an airport runway with furious jet noise to end on a mauve, velvet-covered Arne Jacobsen Egg Chair with Master Young in it. After this, appropriately enough, it's an MTV-like collage of movie clips, interspersed with Young in surreal settings - Eastern babes in go-go-dancing cages, flaming guitars, computer games - that kind of thing.

But to return to the central issue: should this sort of poetry be allowed, let alone rewarded? Obviously this is a question which Chris Smith, the Broadcasting Standards Council, Demos, Helena Kennedy, Lord Puttnam and the Creative Industries Task Force could usefully spend a couple of months considering.