The pros and cons of advertising and maak-a-ting

A lot of anger over that hair advert has been directed at Clicks. But they didn’t make the ad. Let’s not forget where it all originated. Here’s something I wrote a while ago about the industry that caused the trouble.

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Word on the street is that the advertising industry subsists on a diet of pure cocaine. I don’t believe it for a minute. Their coke, like everybody’s, is cut with headache powder and phenacetin, a yummy substance virtually guaranteed to give your children an early inheritance.

Personally I don’t give a hamster’s rectum if creative directors stuff crushed seal testicles up their nostrils. I do, however, have a problem when the substances they ingest result in the rest of us having to bear the consequences.

If the pony-tailed product pimps with pinprick pupils are dipping into the pharmaceutical goodie bag to help them come up with ever more ludicrous ideas, then the least they can do is provide us with drugs to help us cope. Every time we renew our TV licences (which should be never), we must be offered a year’s supply of the neuroleptic of our choice. I’ll take the Thorazine, thank you. It helps with mania and depression, illnesses common among those who are too lazy or stupid to hit the mute button when the commercials come on.

Advertising is not a science. It is witchcraft. Creative directors and copywriters are sorcerers by trade. They are spellbinders and dreamweavers. They are voodoo merchants trained to control minds. Bloodletting rituals have been replaced by coke-chopping rituals and instead of using bile of bat and eye of newt, they use aerial shots and digital effects.

These necromancers gifted in the dark art of enticing and entrancing do not go short in life. For their power to turn people into sheep, the warlocks and witches are richly rewarded by the kings and queens of commerce. They drive, use, wear, drink and eat everything that made it into this year’s Top Brands list. First they create, then become their creations. They are like glittering mortal gods.

Television advertising has encroached so deep into programming that you’re unsure whether the blonde repeatedly washing her hair is a new character in the movie. It has also become more obscure, more deranged, more … of the same. Bigger, better, faster, more. But nothing new.

I tried watching a movie the other night. I have no idea what this was about because for every six minutes of movie, there were four minutes of people shouting at me to buy a new car, change my deodorant, drink something else or switch to “the bank that moves you”. Yes, indeed. You will find yourself moving about a week after you miss a bond repayment.

Hang on. What this? By purchasing a Natura laxative I could win a free trip to the Maldives? Woohoo! Even if I miss my flight because of a prolonged bowel evacuation in the airport toilet, the experience will have been worth it.

A woman with glycerine eyes showed me how easy it is to get chocolate, grass, egg yolk, engine oil and blood stains out of my sheets. What the hell is going on in that house? Where I live, semen and wine stains are about as wild as it gets.

My palpitations had barely subsided when a silver car came rocketing out of a riverbed, up a mountain, down a cliff, through the sea and along a beach. I was told that dozens of motoring journalists had voted it Car of the Year. I wasn’t told that motoring journalists would sell their sisters on eBay for a prawn cocktail and two shots of whisky.

Just when I thought the movie was about to come back on, the screen was filled with half-naked women carrying on as if the world were suddenly free of men. Were they celebrating the end of genital mutilation in Somalia? The end of death by stoning for committing infidelity in Saudi Arabia? The end of gender-based salary discrepancies everywhere? No. They were celebrating the end of dry skin.

I was suffering from the onset of dry throat so I went to the kitchen to fetch a fresh six-pack. I returned just in time to see a woman coughing as if her swine flu had developed tuberculosis. Should this happen to me, I was advised to speak to my pharmacist without delay. Then she keeled over onto the bed. Dead? I hoped so.

A man appeared, stroking his unshaven chin. Not unshaven like a homeless man, but unshaven like a man who has been too busy negotiating a good price for Necker Island to bother about shaving. Our hero reached for the hydrogel nanoparticles that would leave him soft and smooth and ready to single-handedly overthrow Egypt’s military junta.

By now I had forgotten what movie I was watching. Oh, look! A Formula One racing car has just pulled into a petrol station, filled up and roared away. This is clearly the car to drive if you want to avoid having to wait for a surly attendant to finish his mutton curry pie and get off his fat arse to ensure that you miss your appointment by washing your windows and dropping your change.

Then the movie came back on. A giant anaconda was eating an entire village. Once it had finished it waddled back to the murky waters of the Amazon and a man in a white coat looked me in the eye and recommended that I change my toothpaste. He was deeply concerned about my dental health and urged me to visit my dentist regularly. He said it would put the smile back on my face. But it won’t. My face will be numb for days. It is my dentist’s face that will be smiling. Open your mouth in a dentist’s chair and the first charge incurred will be for infection control. When your dentist goes to Bangkok on holiday, he will convert this money into baht and buy a bag of condoms. So you end up paying for his infection control as well as your own.

Back to the movie. Damn. Missed it while looking for an opener. But what’s this? A family is camping out in the bush. They are sitting around a fire. Maybe this is the movie. That won’t keep the anaconda away. Maybe they had guns. But they didn’t. They had Snuggets. Blankets with arms sewn into them. Of course. Why didn’t I think of it?

For all these years, whenever I felt chilly I put on my jacket. Sure, my jacket had arms. But it wasn’t fleecy and purple, nor did it reach all the way down to my feet. In the pre-Snugget era, I would sometimes wrap a blanket around myself when the weather turned really cold. But then I found I was unable to use my arms. The only way I could eat was to shove my face into my plate and grab whatever I could with my teeth. Eating soup was hell. I could never hug anyone or point at anything. I couldn’t even read because my hands were trapped inside that damn blanket – the blanket with no arms.

I no longer cared what happened to the anaconda. I am addicted to infomercials. The longer I watch, the more it feels like I am hallucinating. After the first minute my head starts spinning. The colours become sharper and my heart begins pounding. It’s like being on acid without the blind terror or uncontrollable laughter.

It’s not just television, either. Much like men, newspapers are getting thicker by the day and my heart leaps when I see a fat, new one sprawled in the shop. I mean a newspaper, not a man. Next to women and beer, I love newspapers the most. If I see a woman drinking beer and reading a newspaper, I am finished.

But when I take it home and open it up, it is – like so many of the women I have brought home – filled with nothing but lies and empty promises. Sandwiched between the feature on lesbian Panda bears and the latest corruption scandal is page after page of stuff that I have to possess if I do not wish to become a lonely outcast whom children pelt with stones on the rare occasion that I stray from my wretched hovel in search of a half-jack of gin and a couple of loose Lexington’s.

Oh, look darling, we simply have to acquire a case of 25-year-old Chivas Regal. It’s going for only R5 499 a bottle! This is a family newspaper, for god’s sake, and I don’t mean the Oppenheimer family. Does Patrice Motsepe circle the specials in the Ultra Liquors insert while checking his gold shares? Perhaps, but I doubt it. Ordinary people like you and me, well, you mainly, need to know where to find semi-sweet white wine in plastic bottles.

Normal people want supplements advertising guns with their serial numbers filed off. They want to know where they can get hijacked cars, stolen cellphones and speed that isn’t cut with strychnine. They are looking for pirated appliances and clothes that are cheaper to throw away than take to the laundromat.

Most of the supplements I come across are filled with glittering baubles and glamorous gizmos that I will never be able to afford. A Toys R Us supplement is enough to plunge me into a black depression. Growing up in a cardboard box on the N2, the only toys I had were the marrowbones I scavenged from packs of stray dogs once they were done sucking on them. And now I am too old for toys.

What the producers of merchandise and their marketing hit men are doing is akin to bombing Sudanese refugee camps with Woolworth’s food supplements. The longer I gaze upon these glossy pages offering a lifestyle I will never have, the more I realise what a waste it has all been. If only I had worked harder at school. If only I hadn’t overslept that day of the interview. If only I had enough rope to hang myself with.

Hold on. What’s this? Rope World has a special on nooses! What extraordinary luck.

Crime Me A River

I went to a braai on Friday night. It was either that or give heroin a try. The house was full of normal people with normal faces and normal jobs. I should have gone with the heroin.

Braais aren’t what they used to be. It could be a generational thing or it could be location-sensitive. It could also be organised religion up to its old killjoy ways. Put any six people around a braai these days and at least one of them will be offended if you happen to shout, “Jesus!” for any reason other than being spontaneously suffused with the glory of God. Even if your flaming sambuca has set your hair alight. It’s epiphany or nothing.

Braais used to be things you went to so you could relax. I have been to braais so relaxed that it would be way past midnight before anyone remembered to light the fire. Or buy the meat.

Many of our braais simply turned into fires, some of which burned out of control for days. Our braais were an opportunity for friends to let their hair down. Or dye it purple. Or shave it into a mohawk.

The women weren’t in the kitchen making salads. They were staggering about the garden shrieking like lunatics and chucking tequila down their throats. The children, bless their little hearts, were kept busy rolling joints for the grown-ups. It all worked very well. Until someone with a heart murmur would arrive with a bottle of amyl nitrate.

This braai I went to was attended (in the old days it would have been invaded) by your common-or-garden SABS-approved types. Creative accountants, financial advisors who lie for a living, paunchy tax evaders laughing the loudest, property developers with blood on their teeth, doctors milking the medical aid system and sweaty divorce lawyers fresh from bayoneting the wounded.

Once the chops are down, the talk turns to crime. Or rugby. Same thing, really. As far as I’m concerned, rugby is a crime. “Ja ay, speaking of the Stormers getting robbed, I know this oke down the road that got hit by a bunch of them who cleaned his house out and then sommer ironed his face.” Disgruntled domestic workers, probably.

The stories get wilder. It turns into a game of oneupmanship. I take the gap. “That’s nothing,” I shout. “A dingo ate my baby!” It was the wrong moment to lose my balance and almost knock the braai over, but I think my point was made.

I bet when cops braai, they talk about the books they’ve read and argue about what Descartes really meant when he said, “Cogito, ergo sum.”

The fire appeared to be dying to I began throwing bits of scrunched-up newspaper onto the coals. Those who take their braais seriously put this kind of behaviour on a par with paedophilia. Rather than getting a braai fork through the throat, I wandered off and read the newspaper instead.

It was a community paper, a mine of useless information swaddled in lashings of sunshine journalism. Under the headline, “Safety in North Durban”, residents shared their views on the darkie problem. They don’t call it that, of course. They call it the crime problem. It’s a delightful euphemism that helps keep accusations of racism at bay.

Here’s a good one: “I feel unsafe knowing KwaMashu, the crime capital of South Africa, is on our doorstep.” I imagine her, sitting at her William IV mahogany writing table in her horrible house dress and sensible shoes, dashing off one outraged letter after another in the hope that someone will take notice and move KwaMashu a little further to the north.

Madam, I do not know what your name is, but I shall call you Maude. It rhymes with bored. Which, I assume, is what you have been ever since your husband left you for someone who didn’t hear intruders in the house seventeen times a night.

If you are looking for someone to blame, Maude, which I expect you are, then may I suggest you follow the lead of our president and blame apartheid? Prior to 1958, a not-inconsiderable number of Africans lived in Cato Manor, a safe distance from suburbia.

When the arch-liberal Hendrik Verwoerd came to power, he heard about the plight of these people and created an entirely new town for them. He called it KwaMashu – Place of Indescribable Beauty.

In a speech he made at home on a Saturday afternoon before going across the road to watch an international rugby match between Transvaal and the Orange Free State, he said all Africans deserved their place in the sun. Now, thanks to fifty years of deforestation, they have it.

Hold on. Where is this information coming from? Wikipedia has a completely different version. They claim the township’s name means Place of Marshall, in honour of Sir Marshall Campbell. An English settler, he was partly responsible for covering most of Durban’s hills with sugar cane.

We also have him to thank for introducing rickshaws to Durban. Without having a black man to pull me around, I would never have gone anywhere as a child.

Sorry, Maude. Got a bit carried away there. That was a rickshaw joke, in case you didn’t get it. So. What are we going to do about your problem, then? Either we move KwaMashu or we move your doorstep. I imagine you aren’t keen to move, and rightly so. I have no doubt you were living in your house long before the Nguni-speaking upstarts swarmed into the area two thousand years ago.

I am offering to spend the next couple of days driving through KwaMashu with a loud-hailer fitted to my roof informing half a million people that Maude of Durban North has requested they disperse in an orderly fashion to a place that is nowhere near her home.

These people will listen to me, Maude. I am known in these parts as the Zulu whisperer. Zulus are shouters. When you whisper they become confused and follow you, if only to find out what the hell it is you’re saying.

If all goes well, Maude, you will be able to safely leave your house by the end of the year. Just imagine – Christmas lunch next to the pool instead of in the fortified panic room!

Someone else wrote, “I can’t even pop to the shop to buy bread without worrying if we are going to be caught in a robbery. What is happening? It’s like the devil has discovered Durban all of a sudden.” Don’t be ridiculous. The devil discovered Durban a long time ago. Why do you think it’s so damnably hot? And have you seen the city centre lately? If that isn’t hell, I don’t know what is.

Someone else wrote: “They aren’t scared of dogs either!” What? This is terrifying news. “They” have always suffered from cynophobia. Dogs were our last line of defence. Now what do we do? I’ve got it. I bet they are still scared of water. Dig moats, people! Dig for your lives!

Here’s another: “I really wish shoot-to-kill can be reinstated in SA. That way criminals are being eliminated, not just being thrown in jail for a day or two.” Someone needs to tell this concerned citizen that the government’s shoot-to-kill policy was never repealed. Also, that it was never policy in the first place, but more the demented yearnings of a frustrated estate agent with a penchant for Panama hats and powerful weapons.

And a last one that says it all: “We need to all join together to help get rid of crime in Durban. Release those locked-up policemen!”