Dear Virgin Interactive

Jacques Chirac shares a poster with Stalin and Hitler. The aim: to sell a computer game. The result: another victory for the nerds over culture and history

Tom Wilkie
Monday 02 October 1995 23:02 BST

It's only October but the Christmas commercials have started. Your marketing people are celebrating the season of peace and goodwill to all mankind by hyping violent video games for children. Their latest wheeze is to display posters, on the London Underground, for a CD-Rom game called Command and Conquer. Under the heading "Previous High Scores", the poster carries 16 portraits of politicians and military leaders, including photographs of the mass murderers Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. Among other villains of popular demonology on the poster are Mussolini, Mao Tse-tung, Emperor Hirohito of Japan, Saddam Hussein - and the French President, Jacques Chirac.

What sort of nerds are you employing? I can imagine them saying to themselves: "Gosh, that's really witty. Using mass murderers to promote a consumer product."

It's not witty. It's crass, ignorant and stupid. It's also, I would have thought, actionable. If I were the French Ambassador, I would already have drafted a note of protest to the British government and would be consulting my lawyers to see how much money Mr Chirac can take you for in libel damages.

I don't like Mr Chirac's decision to pop off nukes in the South Pacific. He has made himself globally unpopular for doing so but - do I really have to point this out? - that's just not in the same league as Hitler.

Your cheeky chappies have included Napoleon on the poster, too. What is this, get the French week? Or are we simply witnessing an American entertainment company (Virgin Interactive Entertainment is owned by Viacom) displaying to Europe how ignorant it is of European history?

For the record, the Napoleonic armies of revolutionary France swept away medieval despotism across Europe, destroyed the archaic Holy Roman Empire, and broke the repressive hold of the Catholic Church on secular states in what is now Germany. Of course, Napoleon later turned towards autocracy and had himself crowned emperor, but that just illustrates my point: real life is more complicated and more interesting than the nerdish simplicities of advertising and computer games.

I thought you would have learnt a lesson last year when you promoted the game Doom II with photographs of entrails and reportedly sent packages containing sheep's entrails to journalists as a public relations stunt. The campaign was over by the time the Advertising Standards Authority managed to ban it. What worries me is that the lesson you learnt was that crass, nerdish ignorance sells. That you can not only get away with this, but make money from it hand over fist.

We are being deracinated by you and your kind. Your nerds probably will need to consult their CD-Rom dictionary for that one: basically it means that you are tearing us away from the roots of our culture, our history, and our sense of ourselves. George Orwell once lamented how commercial technology in his day was so undermining any popular sense of what was right and wrong that children were growing up knowing more about the workings of the magneto than the contents of the Bible. For our day, read CD-Roms and history.

When I was a child I used to cringe at the prospect of Bing Crosby's "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" being trotted out yet again. But at least then the abyss of Americanised bad taste had a bottom. With your poster we are in moral free fall.

I hope Mr Chirac sues for every penny you have.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in