Getting to the bottom of girl power

As the Spice Girls’ star fades let us not forget their lasting gift to womankind – the knowledge that life’s a gas.

If, as is widely reported, the Spice Girls are teetering on the brink of oblivion, Marketing Week must take its share of the blame.

More than two months ago, these pages were the first to pose the awful question, “Too much Spice?” and to argue that the girls were doomed to die of over-exposure. Within a few weeks they had sacked their manager and been booed off stage in Barcelona. The boos were heard again at this year’s Smash Hits Poll Winners’ Party where the Fabulous Five were voted Worst Group and Geri “Ginger” Spice was awarded the title of Least Fanciable Female.

Commentators, ever wise after the event, declared that the Spice Girls were always a perishable commodity and never amounted to more than “a piece of inspired marketing”.

So, once again, the activity to which this magazine is devoted finds itself derided as so much flotsam. But were the Spice Girls really a product of marketing? The Institute of Marketing’s definition is the “management process of identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably”. If that is applied to the Spice Girls, we are being invited to believe that Simon (Svengali Spice) Fuller, the deposed manager of the group, identified an unsatisfied demand for a brash all-girl group willing to flash their knickers and stick out their tongues.

Now while it is perfectly true that among certain sections of the population there will always be an unsatisfied demand for wanton knicker-flashing lovelies, these potential admirers turned out not to comprise the Spice Girls’ mass following, which was in the main made up of young children who have since switched allegiance to the Teletubbies.

Not for the first time, ignorant people are confusing marketing with publicity. Svengali Spice was a skilful publicist and a shrewd salesman who took a gamble. He manufactured the group and trusted that, excited by sufficient hoop-la, the public could be made to like what he had set before them. A large number did, in much the same way that they would take a passing interest in anything sufficiently colourful, noisy and different.

Unfortunately, the interest was always going to be no more than passing. The creation of a craze that rises like a firework rocket and falls back to earth as a spent piece of debris is, however profitable, a parody of marketing.

And yet… maybe the Spice Girls did, after all, identify, anticipate and satisfy a customer requirement, and one, moreover, which cannot have been imagined by a crusty observer of the marketing scene. Daily Telegraph columnist Alice Thomson unveiled the surprising truth thus: “Then came Ginger, Baby, Scary, Sporty and Posh Spice. They taught girls that they could laugh at their farts…”

Even in the world of showbiz, where reputations are inclined to have the substance and durability of a puff of smoke, there can be few epitaphs less monumental than that.

There must have been some moment in the progress of the Spice Girls, unknown to those of us who have followed their careers too carelessly, which was shaped by flatulence and celebrated in laughter. It must have been public, for how else could the female population have profited from the incident? Did it escape on stage, and who released it? Which of the girls is Methane Spice?

We are allegedly one nation. We are, for heaven’s sake, all human. But such is the gulf that divides young from old and male from female that there are those us of ashamed to admit we did not know how girls suffered and hid their misery before the advent of Spice.

I am indebted to m’learned and artistic friend Mr Gray Jolliffe for reminding me that in an earlier age the consequences of an unguarded outbreak of wind could be severe. In his Brief Lives, John Aubrey records that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, “making of his low obeisance to Queen Elizabeth, happened to fart, at which he was so abashed that he went to travel [for] seven years. On his return the queen welcomed him home and said, ‘My lord, I had forgotten the fart’.”

Seven self-imposed years of exile is a high price to pay for a minor digestive eruption. But that was long ago, and who could have thought that in our liberal tolerant times, when equality of the sexes is a compulsory credo, men could still enjoy a luxury denied to women? For the British male has long relished the joy of laughing at his farts. Indeed, many laugh at little else. Amid their selfish glee, however, they neglected to see how women were being excluded and how, when they, too, farted, they did not laugh.

Well, thanks to the Spice Girls, that shameless stain in our recent past has been expunged. And now when you see a group of girls so crazed with mirth they have to lean on each other for support and cross their legs for safety’s sake, you’ll know why.

Although, strictly speaking, marketing proper had nothing to do with the lifting of a cruel repression, it can bask in the reflected glory of that liberating moment in the Spice Girl’s brief eminence which will go down in history as the People’s Fart.

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