York on ads: No 26: Speed kills

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The Independent Culture
HAUNTING used to be central to notions of guilt and hence to drama. After the Americans did away with guilt through diet and surgery, haunting could only reappear in lite, sitcom forms such as the rather odd So Haunt Me, and in freak-show stuff. But the COI has brought this classical device back full- tilt for its new anti-speeding advert.

Pretty girl, studenty, long skirt, strides off pavement (is it tampons? first-time buyers?). She is hit by a speeding car - on to the bonnet, against the windscreen - and falls horribly hard on to the road. Blood wells from nose and mouth: she has to be dead. And then there she is at the kerbside watching her death. It's Ghost, of course, as you see when a policewoman strides through her to get to the body.

The new ghost goes over to remonstrate with the driver - laddish mobile-phone-salesman type, jaunty haircut, hard mouth, suburban Cockney - who is already in denial. 'She stepped right in front of me / I didn't see her coming / I wasn't speeding.' But her dialogue is compelling. 'You've taken my life just like that. D'you see? You were going too fast. That's why you killed me. D'you understand?'

It will worry some thinking viewers - nice girl, nasty man, woman-as-victim stereotype - but I think the correct reading of this is as a reclamation of a powerful dramatic device for persuasion, rather than as a 'political' sex-war set-piece. However, it is not at all certain that people know how to respond any more. Will it be seen as OTT? Will they laugh? Will it become part of Smith-and-Jones, Hale-and- Pace-type comedy routines?

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(Photograph omitted)

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