Always outnumbered. Generally overdresssed.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Stabba bredda bang (ft. Stabba Shanks)

I have my digital radio set so I’m woken by the Today programme. Edward Stoughton is a spluttering imbecile and clearly no reasonable person can believe that James Naughtie is anything but a dirty-minded little beast. I can’t say I enjoy it, but there’s nothing quite like it to get me in the mood for the day’s bickering.

This morning I was actually moved to laughter by a report on knife crime in Edmonton. I could tell they were pleased with it because both presenters assumed their solemn voices, usually reserved for child kidnappings and the deaths of members of the royal family.

For this special investigation a reporter had spent 15 minutes cruising MySpace looking at the profiles of members of a gang called "Dem Africans". He’d watched this video of them playing with a gun and it had clearly scared the bejaysus out of him.


Nice atmosphere in that video, like twelve year olds with a porn mag.

He'd also gone round Edmonton, trying to get someone to talk about this gang. No-one would talk to him, not out of fear of reprisal, I imagine, but just because listening to him saying the words “Dem Africans” over and over, in his classless BBC accent, was terribly dispiriting.

The one person they did manage to interview (I think they'd met him at the bus stop or something) was so totally overcome by self-importance that he started spouting urban platitudes about how it’s “life and death on the streets” and wound up describing himself as an “outlaw”. There's clearly nothing urban youth likes more than "drama". Besides being listened to by enraptured BBC journalists.

Anyway, it all reminded me of this anti-knife crime ad from MCBD, that I think has fallen for the same breed of solemn, upper-middle-class stupidity. Frankly the last thing teenagers need to be told is that their lives are like a particularly well-produced and gritty urban drama.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote that the really important thing is the humanity of the ideas that you propagate in your lifetime. I think this ad propagates a dangerous and stupid idea. It imbues knife crime with a pathos that it does not deserve. While the consequences may be unpleasant, the act of knifing someone is not tragic. Although tragedy may appeal to teenagers, because of its relation to fame, the act of stabbing someone in the stomach is, no doubt, a terrible disappointment, ugly and meaningless. Sans stabbing (that's French), nothing London's teen gangs do is in the least serious, the suggestion in the Today report that they're mafia organisations with a cellular structure is just fucking absurd. These are teenagers ripping one another off over eighths of weed and the new Sony Ericsson. A boy was stabbed on Hammersmith Grove quite near where I live and the gang that got him were after his dog.

What you want to do is make knives look uncool. What this ad does is to remind a group of people who want nothing more than to be thought of as bad and and scary just how bad and scary knives are. That'll work now won't it?

PS: Why is no-one commenting? I know you're out there. I've got a sitemeter remember.


Anonymous said...

I'm a young Australian and this post appealed to me because our public service ads all follow the same formula. Be it anti-smoking or anti-binge drinking, they all inadvertently glorify the product they're supposed to be warning you about.

All of them except this brilliant anti-speeding campaign by Clemenger BBDO Sydney. Aimed at young men, it uses the tagline, “Speeding. No one thinks big of you”, to such ego-shattering effect.

Dave Trott said...

I think that commercial you linked to is brilliant.
That's the way to do propaganda.
That device (crooked little finger) would work great on bus backs, petrol pump nozzles, and lots of ambient.
As a device punters can use, it would catch on and create absolutely tons of free media.
Wish I'd done it.

mm said...

don't think this problem can be solved with advertising and I'd really like the powers that be to stop spunking my hard earned cash on a load of tosh.

matt mcarthur said...

You've described exactly the same kind of empathy failure that ostracises young people in the first place.

The job of the creative team is to be able to understand a given group and, through that understanding, speak to them in a credible and convincing manner. That they have failed so comprehensively in this instance - and that the commissioning body has suffered a simultaneous brainmelt - is a hell of a lot more troubling than the kids drinking Buckfast at the end of my street.

Although I agree that advertising alone can't solve a social problem, I do believe it can help - it's just that it's never going to gain any traction when the driving force is a mixture of hysteria and lazy stereotyping.

Gordon Comstock said...

I've described it? Or displayed it?