Just as all airlines are so alike they are unable to advertise anything of greater significance than the size of their inflight legroom, motor cars are all so similar that they, too, are unadvertisable in any meaningful sense.
To its credit, the marketing industry recognises this and duly creates motor ads that are meaningless. Thus the hedgehog on whom a leaf descends shortly before a car brakes inches short of its body; the leaf rises and the little spiny fellow does a backward somersault preludial to exploding. Thus the woman who parks her car inside an indoor swimming pool and declares with a doltish expression on her face that she feels “marvellous, absolutely marvellous”.
It’s ads like those that make you wonder just how far along the evolutionary path man has trod. Language, after all, is only some 20,000 or 30,000-years-old which, in the great space-time continuum, is no different from the 40 milliseconds it takes for that blasted Ford to retune its own engine. Though, full of foolish vainglory, we pride ourselves on our communications skills and even boast a World Wide Web on which to prattle, we are no better able to articulate our thoughts than our primitive forebears.
Marshall McLuhan was right: the medium is the message. Those motor ads consist of nothing more than the miraculous technology which brings them, moving, speaking and in colour, into the heart of our own homes. That they exist is sufficient. There is no other purpose to them, no deeper meaning to be sought. Indeed, no meaning at all.
Primitive man, with no motor cars and no language save for a few grunts, was not as inferior as we like to think. The air he breathed was clear and when he wanted to leave his cave there was nothing parked in his way. His progress may have been slow, but when he reached his destination there were no yellow lines indicating that he might as well have stayed at home. Feet brought problems of their own but, when they did, there was no teeth-sucking grease monkey on hand to say that nothing could be done short of parting with half your life savings. Above all, when there were no cars and no speech, there was nothing to be said about them. Just like today, in fact, except we have the cars.
Neanderthal man was not only clever enough not to invent the car, he was also a pretty good cook. Professor Christopher (“Call me Chris”) Stringer, of the Natural History Museum, has been scrabbling around in a couple of caves in Gibraltar, whose last residents left about 40,000 years ago. To judge from what he found, they departed to open a Michelin four-star establishment further down the coast.
Those early cave dwellers, says Stringer, feasted on roasted pistachio nuts, olives and rabbit grilled on pine-scented fires. It would be nice to think that at the conclusion of the meal they delicately dabbed their mouths with napkins woven from a mammoth’s prepuce.
Such a nicety may not have been beyond them. Stringer, you see, is a man with a mission. He believes that Neanderthal man’s existence may have overlapped that of modern man, or homo sapiens sapiens, for about 15,000 years until he was pushed out and driven to extinction. Gibraltar, apparently, was his last port of call before he stepped aside 40,000 years ago to make way for the ancestors of Galileo, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Chris Evans, and Danny Baker.
If the professor is right, understanding Neanderthal behaviour is important. “They have always had a bad press,” he explains. “We are trying to see how sophisticated they were.”
The unfavourable coverage has much to do with lookism. Neanderthal man was stooping, chinless, thick-set and hairy. So like our own dear Gazza, in fact. It was because of his appearance, most kindly described as unprepossessing, that he was assumed to be unintelligent. At 1500cc, however, his brain was larger than modern man’s which is, on average, 1400cc.
It is therefore something of a mystery why Neanderthal man proved to be an evolutionary dead-end while the other lot, from whom you and I, dear reader, are descended, went on to populate the globe and invent the motor car about which nothing useful may be said.
There are clues in Stringer’s caves. Neanderthal man, he says, may have invented aromatherapy. He may have also invented roasted nuts. “These were a bit like primitive bar snacks, although there is no evidence they salted them,” says the professor. However, he adds, they would have been very tasty.
He’s going back to the caves this year, and it will not be at all surprising if he finds further evidence of an ominous import for modern man. Should he, for example, unearth clues suggesting that the Neanderthals invented counselling and crÃÂ¨che circles, those would be more pieces in a jigsaw whose emerging pattern is profoundly disturbing. Nouvelle cuisine, aromatherapy and nut cutlets are all signs of an effete civilisation drawing to its close.
Were the professor to find, discarded at the back of a cave, an early attempt to fashion from a goat’s jawbone a rudimentary sparkplug, it would be time for us to crawl under our televisions and die.