A bright new moment to soak up your time in the bar. Significations are ablaze, globalisation appears at its micro-moment, culture in a mass-reproduced, absorbent, four inch square: there is no other way to adequately describe advertising other than the ubiquity of abundance – we got it all here, ready to buy.
It would be bad humour to complain of the new gimmicks dreamed up by the marketeers of Cobra and Kingfisher beers, but there are reasons to wonder if the sales pitch of these Indian refreshments isn’t self-defeating. How many beers can a lager lout down before closing time [as it then was] and still have room for a couple more alongside the post 11pm balti. The popularity of a ‘late night Indian’ has been attested to in all manner of cultural style-watch forums – from the literary world of Jeff Noon (Nymphomation) to the Eastern Eye curry awards through to the British Prime Minister’s recognition of the Asian community’s ‘contribution’ to catering. But isn’t this all a bit of a mythology? Doesn’t the equation of Asian culture with brightly garnished and turmeric coloured post booze-up stomach filler mitigate against any recognition of Asian culture as more than a flavoursome trinketizing accompaniment to business-as-usual service economy. ‘Good news for Curryholics’ the Cobra placemat add proclaims. Yet, with humour Cobra beer offers to ‘ventilate your vindaloo’ and with less gas than ‘fizzy Euro brews’ you can also avoid any ‘internal argy-bhaji’. The Kingfisher approach avoids the cheap word puns (formed no doubt through the malicious influence of waking up in time for one or two lectures in postmodern design during third year of ad-school) to tell us that Tikka or Balti is not compete without a lager. Why am I concerned? What can you expect from beer sales publicity? Its just a beer-mat John. I wonder if I am getting too grouchy. No surprise that it reinforces all the stereotypes and clichés, but at least its not a nodding-head Peter Sellers style melodrama… Well, I get all grumpy at the way Australia is advertised too, even at the very same time that I laugh out loud at that Fosters’ commercial with the Kangaroo on skis taking the piss out of pretentious Europeans. The point is not that I’m left unamused, but that the side-effect of these cheap jokes is that everything else about the country is occluded, thus reinforcing all too easy drunken assumptions. And anyway, Australia has a great many better beers than Fosters (a beer company owned by the right wing conservative politician John Elliot). But only to keep to the association of Australia with that symbolic kangaroo (or a koala, or the Sydney Opera House and so on) is to occlude the less savoury realities of that society – its racism, the continued expropriation of Aboriginal people’s land, the profiteering of the mining industry, the war on Bougainville, its growing class privilege and wealth for some, poverty for more, and so on. The kangaroo image is also a way of faking and forgetting the egalitarian element in Australian popular culture, the refusal of conscription, the ‘fair-go’ ethos, and other aspects now lost to commercialisation and cheap sentimentality. India too, is much more than a curry and most people know this most of the time (but not always after downing six pints in the last half hour before the bell). So, if our mass media were no more than just a string of crap ads this wouldn’t worry at all, but these days everything else is sequestered to a few obscure journals, and Sky Sports, The Daily Mirror and lousy billboards call the tune. There is a whole world of politics sitting there underneath your pint, soaking up the spillage.
ps. (‘D’ya fancy and Indian tonight?’ was a slogan used by Outcaste records club night in London 1997)
(from Crash Media 1998)
[the pic is to remind us that none less than V.I.Lenin used to collect German beer mats]