It's people, not dogs, who are being demeaned

No dogs were hurt and they weren't doing it for real - unlike teenagers, who do it for real and certainly may get hurt

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We are a strange, strange people and we are getting stranger. Yesterday, if you were over 18 and went along to the local multiplex, you may have been one of the first to see the new and hotly controversial screen advertisement for Club 18-30. This company – which seems to specialise in getting youngsters to pretend to fellate each other in front of beachfuls of bemused Germans – has previously sold itself with jokes about "package" holidays ("package", for the less worldly among you, being a colloquialism for the entire male assemblage). But this time it may have gone too far. What follows is a shagging dog story.

We are a strange, strange people and we are getting stranger. Yesterday, if you were over 18 and went along to the local multiplex, you may have been one of the first to see the new and hotly controversial screen advertisement for Club 18-30. This company – which seems to specialise in getting youngsters to pretend to fellate each other in front of beachfuls of bemused Germans – has previously sold itself with jokes about "package" holidays ("package", for the less worldly among you, being a colloquialism for the entire male assemblage). But this time it may have gone too far. What follows is a shagging dog story.

The ad apparently features a mongrel looking through the window of a Spanish apartment. Inside, we are led to believe, are two (or more) Club 18-30 clients. Having watched and learned, the dog turns and trots off back into town. There it engages in a desultory series of sexual acts more familiar to an adventurous human than to an adventurous dog. The idea being, I suppose, to show what a bonkfest can be enjoyed on a Club 18-30 holiday, given the voluptuousness of those who travel with the company.

It is tempting to imagine that – somewhere in the vastness of the universe – there is a planet on which vacationing pooches are shown as instructing humans in the transferable delights of canine sex. But until this place is discovered dogs will need – and find – protection. So, to the obvious delight of Club 18-30's advertising agency and its publicists, the ad has been under assault from dog-lovers. The RSPCA was concerned that the dogs involved (including an Afghan, a sheepdog and – inevitably – a poodle) might have been "exposed to indignity and ridicule". A man from the Kennel Club of Great Britain warned of a backlash from the 15 million dog-lovers in this country, saying that he would imagine "that the vast majority of dog owners would find it offensive". "This kind of advert is exploitative," he added.

It is a mildly interesting reflection on the difference between dogs and humans that the animal actors had to be enticed into simulating some sex acts, by stratagems such as the careful positioning of dog food. Their human handlers were, apparently, digitally air-brushed out of the picture. But is this, as some charge, demeaning for dogs? It is hard to know, since you can't just ask one.

Do dogs really dislike eating Winalot from close to the groin of a strange terrier? Or do they prefer being given ridiculous names and being dressed up in silly clothes by children and rich New Yorkers? Can you ever demean an animal that enjoys rolling over and showing you its balls, that tries to have knowledge of your leg and that actually prefers to crap on the pavement? And why is it somehow less demeaning for them to appear in movies talking and chasing criminals?

I'm sorry. That's all a diversion. The real question, of course, is how we could get cross about depicting dogs like this, but be perfectly happy to depict human teenagers in the same way? Week in, week out holiday docu-soaps show inebriated kids baring their tits, going into club loos for a shag, or boasting that tonight is the night that they'll have their first threesome. That's demeaning.

Demeaning is to be encouraged to French kiss an acne-riddled skinhead in a Greek resort, when the producer knows perfectly well that – in 10 years' time – you'll want the tape buried in a lead-lined vault lest the kids get to see it. And what about their poor, bloody parents? If any of mine ever make it to ITV prime time half-cut and boasting on camera of how many "lads" they've slept with, then I'm going after the executive producer with a baseball bat. I know where you live.

But it won't be the company's fault. James Griffiths, the 18-30 account manager at Saatchi and Saatchi, praises his clients for their simple honesty. "If you get a lot of young people on holiday," he says, "sex happens". Sex happens? When I was a teenager I used to lie around all day unsuccessfully waiting for sex to "happen". How does it just "happen"? Do you go to sleep on a lilo in the middle of the hotel swimming pool, only to wake up and find yourself covered in a blonde?

Saatchi and Saatchi are at pains to reassure animal lovers. "No dogs," they say, "were hurt and they weren't doing it for real". Unlike the teenagers at Club 18-30, many of whom having been doing it for real and some of whom most definitely will have been hurt. It can only be a matter of time before a class action is launched by some enterprising lawyer, claiming compensation for diseases contracted, ova fertilised and young hearts broken.

Even so, we certainly treat our animals better than our children. And better than our police officers. The Metropolitan Police were not behaving stupidly when they appealed to the public's disgust with the football riots last week, not by using images of injured cops, but by referring to the police horses that were crocked. A correspondent in our letters page yesterday complained that police horses shouldn't have been used at all – not when water cannon could have been deployed instead.

To return to the matter in hand, and to Club 18-30. Its spokesman told a journalist at the weekend that the company was following fashion, not making it. They'd done surveys. "Girls in particular," he said, "are more liberated than boys were, even 20 years ago. Without a doubt the girls are more confident than before." Minxes. And who sits watching Club 18-30 on the telly, and wishing that they were the right age to go on holidays like this and pull and pull and pull? No, not sad fortyish men like the author. It's the younger teenagers who see this and want to be in the Club.

Follow me please, over a rickety bridge of logic, and to another story that has been exercising me this last weekend. This one concerns the Sussex parents of a 12-year-old girl, who are pretty certain that she has been having sex with her 22-year-old "boy-friend". They have found a used pregnancy testing kit in her handbag, and suggestive text messages on her mobile phone. The girl has confided to other relatives, apparently, that she and the man have had sex.

So the parents have reported their suspicions to the police and the police have spoken to the girl and have decided that there isn't much that they can do. The girl is making no complaints, the mobile texts are inadmissible under the Human Rights Act, and the pregnancy kit just doesn't constitute evidence. The local MP, LibDem Norman Baker, is furious. "Under those circumstances," he complains, "I don't understand why they [the police] can't for example set up surveillance or tap the telephone or even get a search warrant."

I dare say the police, for their part, can't quite understand how a 12 year-old gets to be on her own with a 22-year-old man in the first place. Mr Baker now intends to raise the matter with the Prime Minister, inviting him perhaps to interpose his body between the two alleged illicit lovers. But possibly, friends and countrymen, he and we would be better served by raising it with Saatchi and Saatchi instead.

David.Aaronovitch@btinternet.com

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