Demographic trends have profound implications for marketing, hence the past emphasis on targeting the young, the old, ethnic minorities, men, or women, depending on which way the statistical wind is blowing. But these challenges are as nothing compared with the prospect of marketing to a male population composed entirely of the grotesquely fat and impotent.
That, however, is the fate that awaits us, unless something – no one knows quite what – is done. The scientists and the doctors have spoken and, as always, their word is laden with irrefutable credibility. For these were the very same experts who transformed smoking from a chic pleasure into an anti-social crime, and made us so conscious of the fragility of our hearts that we now spread vegetable grease on our bread and see in a family butcher the eyes of a cold assassin.
Thanks to the diligence of the researchers, we know that the number of obese people in Britain is doubling every two or three years and that, unless we jog faster or subsist entirely on Alpine straw, depending on which school of remedial thought one finds more convincing, we shall by the year 2001 require our entire stock of furniture, floors and lavatories to be reinforced.
Admittedly, we have heard little of this for the past couple of months, but a fresh warning cannot be far off. It is in the nature of modern scientific persuasion to eschew the steady drip-drip effect in favour of the infrequent, violent cold douche.
That explains why the second great alarm that assails us descended with such sudden and unexpected ferocity. Scarcely a fortnight ago, we foolishly imagined that all we had to worry about was Aids, heart attacks, passive smoking, meningitis, cancer, mad cows and, of course, galloping obesity. Those concerns aside, we could pursue our pleasures and exult in our status as a free and proud people conscious of our history and mindful of our destiny. Now, like a vasectomy out of the blue, we are told that our nation’s manhood is seeping away into a bottomless drain from which it may never be retrieved.
Scarcely had this column made light of the pending European Commission inquiry into the alleged paucity of our sperm count, when our own Medical Research Council’s reproductive biology unit (surely destined to burgeon from a unit into a division, and possibly a corps) announced, or rather bellowed, that British men’s semen is declining at such an alarming rate that they will be infertile within 60 years.
Even by the high standards of contemporary medical alarmism, this is strong, not to say apocalyptic, stuff. We have come to accept not only our own individual mortality, but also that at some unspecified time, billions of years into the future, when the sun loses its fire, mankind as a whole will be doomed. True, in the shorter term, we are threatened with extinction by nuclear explosion or global warming accelerated, according to some sources, by the anal emissions of cows. But, until now, no one had suggested that we would simply lose the ability to reproduce ourselves, rather in the way that we might misplace a glove or forget to put out the milk bottles.
Is this how it is all to end? Not with a bang nor a whimper, but a feeble dribble.
Plainly, we have no time to lose. But first we must establish the cause of this strange, unexpected weakening of seminal fluid. And here, at least for the time being, the experts confess to being at a loss for an explanation.
Various theories are being advanced, none of them especially convincing. Most are linked to the belief that the men of today maintain their testicles at a higher temperature than was the custom of their virile forebears.
One does not have to go back as far as Cro-Magnon man, whose loins were lightly girded when girded at all and amply lashed by northerly winds, to see the truth of this.
The Victorian paterfamilias would eye his plentiful brood with a back to a roaring fire, but in bed his sheets were icy.
It is only since the Second World War that we have bred a generation of males who grow up in a centrally heated atmosphere, sleep beneath duvets in temperatures suitable for the cultivation of mangoes, and dress by day in underpants as tight-fitting as a cardinal’s cap.
To all these causes of overheated gonads, a separate study adds the possibility of excess warmth owing to long periods spent sitting in cars. Who could have dreamt that three-mile tailbacks on the M25 between junctions 23 and 24 (Potters Bar) were insidiously sowing the infertile seeds of our own destruction?
But, before taking fright, we should ask more of the scientists. The sample upon which the doomwatch forecast was made consisted of “nearly 600 men”. Who were they, where were they found and are they in the habit of performing the act required of a donor?
My own theory is that jogging does the testicles no good whatsoever. And, since the desire to prolong active life in this way is primarily a middle class ambition, useful data may be compiled by examining the fecundity of the slothful, obese masses.
The key to our survival may lie in their jeans.