MFI’s decision to use Ruby Wax as part of an ‘upmarket campaign’ illustrates how the realms of taste have shifted. But let’s not be judgmental, says Iain Murray
Among the greatest of contemporary sins is to be judgmental, about some things at any rate. By all means discriminate against racists, sexists and other fashionable outcasts: they deserve all they get. But let’s not be too hard on those people whose tastes and preferences would have been decried by an earlier, less caring society as coarse and unrefined.
After all, who is to say that, in the art of rhyme and poesy, Keats has the edge on Eminem? Or that Mozart, were he alive today, might outshine McCartney? And what are the rules of grammar for, if not to be broken? As for heterosexual marriage, that is just one among numerous, exciting alternatives, all equally “valid”. Happy indeed is the post-Diana Briton, in touch with its emotional side, caring, tolerant and forgiving of others.
And yet, beneath the placid, untroubled surface of easy egalitarianism there are dark currents, swirling, agitating and throwing up a new order. The anathema of elitism may have been cast out, but rising in its place is the tyranny of populism. The outcome threatens to be a world in which what used to be bad and inferior is now held to be good and superior. Nowhere is this more obvious than in much of the output of the BBC, which proclaims vulgarity as a virtue. The corporation may be harsh in its judgment of those who do not subscribe to the liberal left consensus, but judgmental? Never!
For some of us, adjusting to the new order can be difficult and confusing. It is, for instance, easy to understand that the old, landed aristocracy is a spent force, more to be pitied than decried. But strive though we may, we cannot summon much enthusiasm for those who have usurped it in terms of riches and social standing and who, indeed, increasingly live in the mansions it has vacated. They are the celebrities, those whom fame has anointed and who are worshipped accordingly. They, above all others, are testimony to the truth that the tawdry and the meretricious are goals for which we should all strive.
The revolution is not yet complete. The tectonic plates are still shifting and colliding, and until the new social landscape is firmly settled some surprising and odd features will be thrown up. For instance, it was announced last week that the flat-pack furniture group MFI is making a multi-million pound effort to move upmarket. It wants to transform its image as a seller of cheap and cheerful wardrobes and promote brands such as Schreiber and Bosch.
Nothing wrong with that, except perhaps that “cheap and cheerful” is perhaps a little judgmental and might imply criticism of those whose stressed denims and designer thongs hang in MFI wardrobes. What is surprising, until you take into account the shifting values of our time, are the people MFI has recruited to get across its new image. In its attempt to move upmarket the company has engaged the services of Ruby Wax, Martine McCutcheon, Lenny Henry, Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer.
A pretty grisly bunch, but one name stands out above the others as the very antithesis of upmarket, and that of course is Ruby Wax, the living embodiment of crass vulgarity, a woman who exudes sheer awfulness from every pore. If Ruby Wax is upmarket, then Billy Connolly is quiet and demure, Paul McCartney modest and self-effacing, Lily Savage the epitome of taste.
However, seen in the light of the new social order and the new scale of values, MFI’s decision makes perfect sense. Ruby Wax, loud, brash, pushy, successful, rich, in the papers and on the telly, is a new aristocrat to be admired and emulated.
Another example is the current television campaign for Renault, a motor manufacturer that once traded on being chic, stylish and very French. Today’s commercials are screened to the soundtrack of a song whose refrain is “I see you baby, shakin’ that ass, shakin’ that ass”, and show various people doing just that. What it has to do with cars is not immediately apparent. But when you realise that Renault is proclaiming its earthy, non-judgmental credentials to an audience for whom ass-shaking is a way of life, it makes sense.
Mercedes, and BMW should take note. Neither Rolls-Royce nor Bentley advertise on TV, but do from time to time buy space in glossy magazines of the type that old-fashioned aristocrats used to read. To move upmarket they ought perhaps to take a page or two in Hello! with a catchy slogan such as “I descry you milady, wavin’ those tits”.
A poignant reminder of the passing of the old order came in a valedictory address by Lady Williams at a memorial service for the life of the Late Lord Jenkins. Lady Williams, who as the dishevelled Shirley Williams was once memorably likened to an unmade bed, said: “Roy never took to television. It was, quite simply, too crude a medium for a politician of such depth, such historical sensitivity.”
I know how he felt. I, too, would rather communicate in mediaeval Sanskrit, a language of infinite nuance; but times move on and we must with them. That television is a crude medium is today its virtue. Men of depth and historical sensitivity must learn to shake that ass with the rest of us. To do otherwise would be judgmental.