Peter York On Ads

Dogs ... brown bubbles ... Are we all too PC to say we're not thinking chocolate?
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The Independent Online

I've had those elephants in my room. Time and again the great wall of middle-class politesse, squeamishness, and now, PC, blocking your view and shutting you up, daring you to say the unthinkable, inedible thing.

I'm hugely in favour of the original drive for political correctness (and what right-wing think-tanker thought up that name to make it sound Cold War thought-police-ish?). If you don't say awful unthinking things about people's gender, race, orientation, disabilities and so on, then eventually, through an uncomfortable trail of silences, things get better. I'm not sure where that leaves anyone on the subject of Bernard Manning – how do you bad-mouth a dead, white working-class, racist, Northern comedian who came to look increasingly pathetic (remember the TV documentary shot just before he died?) without feeling rather bad about it?

The Bernard Manning thing tied the liberal commentariat in knots. They wanted to condemn his Seventies-style casual racism, but they didn't want to sound down on a relic of working men's clubs. In the end the formula was to imply that while he was a sinner, he was a victim too (of his time, class, lack of education, etc).

There was a regular strand in 'Spitting Image' in which gaggles of, say, old Home Counties Conservative Association crones would moan "Political correctness gone mad!" about any sensible initiative – like ending capital punishment or apartheid. It caught the mid-market tabloid/Ukip world-view precisely. But there's another consideration for the sensitive heart here – that these old ladies feel beleaguered by modern life. They've been traduced by New Labour; they're too old to be the beneficiaries of the women's movement. They're victims too.

Michael Collins's brilliant book 'The Likes of Us' changed the climate and made everyone uncomfortable about the open season on the white working class, but no one's quite done that for Middle England yet.

The problem with PC is when ideologues and lame-brains extend the natural boundaries so that, for instance, people feel reluctant to argue the toss over the provisions of Sharia for north London or get tongue-tied about the real class or race profile of anything.

There's an age-old formulaic advertising set-up, used by big US global agencies for big US global clients in the Fifties and Sixties – and beyond – before agencies were obliged to pretend that "creativity" was what mattered. Adland workers short-handed it as "two Cs in a K", and I'm much too squeamish to spell that out. Anyway, it involved two women in a kitchen, a brief "narrative", a mild joke, the product claim and slogan and a final pack-shot. Acres of domestic wisdom about useful things in tins and packets and bottles have reached us this way. And because it's deadly dull and predictable, there's usually not much that can go wrong.

The current Aero Hot Chocolate commercial follows the pattern. Two suburban women, early 30ish, are in a bland kitchen drinking the product. There's something different about it, they decide. It's very chocolately, for sure. And kind of creamy too. As they witter on, the room fills up with ever larger brown bubbles, drifting out from an open drawer, setting the dog barking. And still they don't notice a thing.

"Lovely bubbly," says the voiceover, because the polystyrene elephant in this room is supposed to be the bubbliness. Only it isn't. The sight of large brownish bubbles filling a room will provoke quite different thoughts in most viewers. I'm not saying anything – except, I blame the dog.