Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Letters To The Ad Men

This is my new weekly column on the dark hole that is TV and advertising. For any idiots out there who can't recognise a joke, I must stress the mock consumer letters that will appear in this column are NOT real!

I recently obtained this letter that was meant for the manufacturers of Lynx deodorant:


I recently purchased some of your new chocolate deodorant and I must say I'm rather upset. The first, most pressing concern being the fact that this product does not smell of chocolate. I am quite frankly appauled and saddened. I also must protest at the fact that my once fleshy body has seemingly turned into a hard chocolate-like substance. I am afraid to leave the house, last time I did I was eaten and gawped at, it was awful, but hey it got the 'ladies' looking! Well done Lynx! I am currently writing this letter with my teeth as i have no arms and half an arse. But it's not all bad, I am also in talks with Channel 5 about starring in a documentary, 'Help! I'm A Chocolate Misogynist'.


Ha, not really. This is of course my clever way of expressing my digust at the new Lynx campaign, a fascinating glimpse into the unpopulated chasm of the male psyche. Basically the premise is this: man sprays himself with deodorant, man turns into grinning chocolate man, man becomes irresistable to women, man gets eaten by ravenous hormonal women. There are so many things wrong with this televisual monstrosity that i have found myself becoming baffled and appauled by something different every time i view this weird campaign...

Firstly I am appauled by the depiction of women as lusty, unbalanced beasts who devour chocolate men with non regard to their safety. Are we, as men, so afraid of women that we believe they will one day devour us all?! You have to be really worried about the man who came up with this advert, was he not given enough attention from his mummy or was he quite simply the witness to his dad, who was incidently made entirely of chocolate, being eaten by a pack of marauding women? Who knows, one thing is certain though, this is a disturbed view of gender politics, the writer is informing us that if you let women too close they will rip you apart, literally.

The other thing that really jumps out when viewing this advert is the constant stupid grin on the chocolate man's face. Is he enjoying being devoured, eaten alive? Is this supposed to be some sort of male fantasy? Are men now so desparate for affection that they will be gladly pulled apart just to be desired by women? After years of objectifying women have we finally, as a gender, begun to see ourselves as the object? Does this advert have an undercurrent of male guilt, we feel we should be punished? I just dont understand how this is supposed to sell a product! I mean, the Lynx 'message' has always been:

'Hey, you over there! Bit geeky and awkward aren't you?! Bet you don't get the ladies like us studs here at Lynx! It doesn't matter dear boy as we have come up with some magic potion to make women fall at your feet! Apparantly the smell of a teenage boy at the back of the cinema is what women want!'

Personally I'd rather rub a dead cat under my arms than use their stench, but that's my personal choice. Their message now seems to have now changed to:

'Hey you in the mirror! Quite attractive aren't you, probably have no trouble getting women. How would you like to be turned into a hideous grinning chocolate man whose last grim day on earth will consist of being ripped apart and eaten until you are lying on the floor, a glutinous mess of goo? Go on, the ladies love it!!!'

Their website, and I'm not lying here, actually has a section called 'Bird Watching', and tips on where to 'spot' girls. OK, are women now an endangered species? Last time I checked there were women, shock horror, walking around on the street! It out points the best places to spot these 'women' as a high class chocolate shop, a Mark Ronson gig (?) and 'Australia Day' at Walkabout pubs! It even suggests booking a seat on the Eurostar to be 'surrounded by fashion babes', in reality you'll probably more likely be surrounded by a family of four from Essex, the youngest of which insists on being violently sick on your new Topman shirt.In these extreme lengths of catching a glimpse of women, we really are reducing ourselves as a gender to dribbling men in dirty macs, this is not cool or macho it is deranged and unhealthy. Women are not a scary new species who we have to track down and hunt like animals. For god's sake grow up.

Ah Lynx, you dirty great misogynists!

Monday, 7 January 2008

Aidan John Moffat - I Can Hear Your Heart (Chemikal Underground, 2008)

While his former partner in crime Malcolm Middleton has been exploring his poppier side with last years 'A Brighter Beat', Aidan John Moffat has been cooking up a rather less commercial, distinctly darker and far filthier offering. Essentially a collection of what Moffat describes himself as 'erotic poetry', I Can Hear Your Heart is an exploration into adultery, domestic violence and the dangers of going out to parties in your pyjama bottoms. A mish mash of musical influences pepper the soundtrack to these mini poems, from crackling, aged samples of film scores and torch songs, through to monotone electric accordion sounds and crunchy drumbeats.

Opening with the found sounds and brooding strings of 'Atmos', the album then hits you square between the eyes with the wonderfully frankly titled 'Cunts'. Effectively an old Arab Strap rarity about colloquialisms for genitalia (how darling!) given new life as a short little ditty about gender politics, the woman refuses to use 'the c word' as a euphemism, instead using it to, in Aidan's words, 'deflate my wee ego'. 'Nothing In Common' is the first real stand out track, an exploration of the slow burning decay of a doomed relationship. That moment when you realise that beyond the basic lust of attraction, you have nothing in common. A kitchen sink drama, the couple sitting watching films they despise, he 'hates Dirty Dancing with a passion' and she 'hates words on the screen'. In the adjoining track 'Hopelessly Devoted', Aidan shows why he has always been a great writer, his uncanny ability to take a moment in life we take for granted as a happy time and distort it to make it bleak and darkly funny. In this case, the preppy teenage daydream that is Grease, imagining Sandy and Danny's relationship a few years on, reduced to a boring, sexless mess. Here it is in full...

'How did it work out for Sandy and Danny? Did she turn into a cow, did he turn into a fanny? Did they run out of joy to turn into song, was their sexless pretense dragged out too long? Did their cute little habits soon become bains, did they try not to fight in front of the wanes? Did he swing for her once, but stay open handed? How long did love last when greased lightning landed?' ('Hopelessly Devoted')

The next real stand out moment is the wonderful 'Good Morning', a strangely beautiful piece about cheating and guilt. Amongst the depravity and acerbic wit of the rest of the album, this is a little glimmer of beauty and love. Basically a man who, having just cheated on his girlfriend moments before, climbs into bed trying not to wake her. She awakes briefly laying her head on his chest, quietly exclaiming 'I can hear your heart'. There is something utterly, heartwrenchingly beautiful about that phrase and I must admit my eyes were a bit damp upon hearing it. The rising, swooning strings in the background only adding to the romantic intensity of being so in love that you listen to your lovers heartbeat. A quietly beautiful moment in an album of sorrow, violence and lust.

Following this rare moment of clarity and beauty there is the wonderful contrast of an interlude that breaks away from the overall story of the album, in which Aidan delivers one of the most daring pieces of poetry to ever come out of his mouth. Entitled 'All The Love You Need', it is a brave and shocking dissection of racism and prejudice. Essentially the poem is a stream of all the worst racial terms known to man, in the wrong hands this could be a horrific piece of pure hatred, but there is no chance of this when handled by a deeply intelligent thinker like Moffat. I believe the point of this poem is to highlight just how awful it is to be racially abused, as the listeners ears are filled with racial slurs, we experience what it must be like to hear them shouted at you every day. I think it shows us that if we wince and shy away from these words, then how will we ever defeat the bigots that use them. Within this 30 seconds of poetry, Aidan Moffat has gone from been a delightfully sleazy Scottish version of Serge Gainsbourg to becoming a peoples poet, a radical voice for a generation.

As the album rattles back on to the story we are presented with bleak tales of domestic violence ('You Took Well'), affairs with American girls ('International Valentine) and angry boyfriends ('4sex Message 2'). 'I'm Not Bitter' sounds not unlike very early Arab Strap, a mix of wonderfully out of tune singing and a filthy, scratchy cheap drum machine. There is a naivety and amateur feel to this track, it ends up being very charming. 'The Boy That You Love' is the nearest the album gets to a real song, longer in length (even though it still doesn't reach the two minute mark) and more tuneful in approach than the other short bursts of poetry and sound. It's a story of desperation and love in late night Glasgow, a girl enamoured with a boy who 'made her make up run' and 'made her heart hurt', all underpinned by a lilting, looped sample of a simple piano. 'Double Justice' is a strange tale of an awkward threesome between a girlfriend, her boyfriend and her ex, a song stinking of filth and guilt and, like all the greatest songs Arab Strap ever recorded, it makes you want to go take a shower after listening.

The closing track is where this record really stops being a musical project and becomes a collection of Moffat's writing. Entitled 'Hilary And Back' it is a nine minute plus short story, unaccompanied and uninterrupted by music. In short it is a story of Aidan, under the influence of too much drink, crashing a party dressed in his pyjama bottoms and a jacket full of beer due to 'leaving the flat in a drunken hurry, with no thought to my outfit'. He enters the party as a new person as he assumes a false name, and a false back story (including wonderful lies about driving an ice cream van and being abandoned in Australia as a baby!). Then follows a romantic tryst with a 16 year old, a bus journey in a blonde wig and a broken mobile phone, the last words of the album being 'And then I remembered my phone was fucked'.

The wonderful writing and effortless construction of a story within this album makes one hope that one day Aidan John Moffat will write the great British novel of the 21st century. He could even write a film, as there is something beautifully cinematic about this record. For now I guess we have this amazing work of art to tide us over.