Peter York On Ads: So touchy-feely, it hurts...

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The Independent Online

When exactly was the New Age? Having nothing to do with the scented-candle, crystally side of life, I only became interested during the late 1990s. The decade itself gave me a platform to say that New Age had never happened, except in the heads of marginal lame-brains and Californian chancers. The boom seemed very like the 1980s one, only much bigger. We didn't notice because we'd become blasé about wacky wealth. And the City wasn't exciting any more, since half the nation seemed to be working there.

As I remember it, British New Age was announced on New Year's Day 1990, and it involved Rifat Ozbek, the Turkish-born dress designer popular in London clubland, doing white clothes. Or robes. And crystals. Scented candles, possibly. But weren't they always there? Because these things start with rich people with time on their hands, a wanton disregard for logical sequence, and in California, perhaps I didn't pay attention. There was Princess Ferguson sitting in a pyramidal tepee. You couldn't make it up.

The point at which I began to think I might have been wrong was in 2002 when we first began to hear about the missionary work Carole Caplin was doing for our Prime Minister and his wife. And then I started to cotton on, go back over things in a properly paranoid way. They were coming in the windows. They were under the floorboards: questy, individual, eclectic multi-spirituality people finding their salvation. Think of the first dot-com age, those three years of social and stock exchange tulipomania before the crash. And then think of the imagery, the buildings, the clothes and vocabulary. And above all, the advertising. Those people blowing back the sea for bongo.com, that prismatic sunlight reflected through crystals for epiphany.com.

TV advertising gets more New Age with every passing minute; the new boxes from Soho software effects developers are providing more spiritual megabytes all the time. They're giving us the toolkit to invent a new world. One in which buildings fall down when you touch them, where you can put your hand through a pane of glass with impunity and where the trees bend over you sighing.

Toby Young described in The Spectator how Green - another blood-and-soil, social purity version of New Age - was directly related to class; Zac Goldsmith and Tracy Worcester were mad for it but, by implication, Kerry Katona mum-goes-to-Iceland types much less so. It's about rich countries who've got stuff already telling poor ones not to pollute: China and India should shut down their industrial revolutions to save Venice and Southwold from rising sea levels.

The most extreme New Age advertising is for telephone businesses and IT. They want to own the new world and spend masses chasing the dreamiest effects. O2 is always lovely, with its therapeutic theme of bubbly blue water. The current campaign is aspirational, because it combines the bubbly blue side of things with flats in the Montevetro style.

On the balcony of a smart flat someone's throwing a sort of glass bubble out over the city. On it goes, past modern blocks and over a stadium. There's modern pulsy music and a chorus. Bubbles everywhere. Blue filters, of course. Along a great bridge crossing miles of sea. And onward goes the glass bubble until it's caught by a man on the terrace of another smart new block. This particular man - is he the original thrower or someone else? - is precisely the type you'd get in a modern men's cologne press ad. Pitcher? Catcher? In the new world it's completely irrelevant.

Peter@sru.co.uk

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