What are we to make of the news that a television ad for Land Rover featuring a woman firing a gun has been banned by regulators after it prompted more than 300 complaints from viewers, all of whom declared themselves to be deeply offended?
What, do you suppose, caused their offence? Was it that the ad was silly, juvenile and feeble (which it was)? Was it some kind of feminist outrage that a woman should be seen firing a gun without actually killing anyone? Was it perhaps that four-wheel drive vehicles are, by their nature, offensive to some? No, it was none of those things. It was, said Ofcom, because the advertisement “made light of genuine public concern about gun culture”.
Before examining the logic of that ruling, what are we to make of the people who complained – all 348 of them? After all, it takes effort to complain, what with finding out how to contact Ofcom in the first place, then putting pen to paper, then trying to remember where you put the stamps, and finally tramping in pouring rain from the Old Rectory, Crackpot Lane to the postbox in Much Wittering.
The answer, I fear, has more than a little to do with fanaticism, of which there is a lot about. It used to be called having a bee in one’s bonnet, an obsession that buzzes in the brain until it drives out all other thoughts and anesthetizes reason. Fanaticism is the enemy of logic. It starts with a conclusion and works fitfully back to a premise without ever quite getting there.
A logical assessment of the Land Rover ad might lead to a number of conclusions, but banning it on the grounds that it depicts a gun is not among them. Logic is notably absent from every aspect of the ad. Viewed objectively, the people it features and the actions they take are mad.
Take the woman. She sees a man leave the house to get into his car. There are a number of things one might do on seeing another about to drive away. If it is your car and you suspect it is being stolen, you might call the police (though, to be fair, the Old Bill hasn’t much time for that sort of thing these days); you might, assuming you know the driver and all is well, wave him goodbye; you might, if you are glad to see the back of him, pour yourself a stiff drink and emit a relieved sigh.
But what does the woman in the ad do? She runs up the stairs, rummages in a knicker drawer, pulls out a gun and races back down the stairs and out into the drive, where she takes careful aim at the back of the car. Is she going to shoot at it? If so, why? Not to worry: she raises the gun to the sky and pulls the trigger.
Then we see the driver’s face. He has seen the crazy woman in his rear-view mirror. As she fires the gun, he smiles to himself, revealing that he too is crackers, and drives off.
And that’s it. There is no conclusion to be drawn other than that the pair of them are truly barking.
At first this seems a daringly honest advertisement since most well-adjusted people long ago drew the conclusion that drivers of 4×4 vehicles are, if not quite mad, certainly unbalanced. But thanks to Ofcom’s inquiry, we are given a rare insight into the adperson’s reasoning. The gun, we learn, was not an offensive weapon, but a starting pistol. Why? “To promote the message that the Freelander Sport triggered sporting behaviour.”
This falls so short of the threshold of reason that one can conclude only that the person who spoke those words is as daft as it is given to man to be.
What in heaven’s name is sporting behaviour? Is is to chase a young lady around a sofa, moustache a-bristle and sap a-rising? Is it to gather a few like-minded souls together for an ad hoc game of beach volleyball? Is it to place &£5 each way on Bob’s Your Uncle in the 2.30 at Kempton? No, it’s none of these things. It’s to drive off in a car.
Note the babyish association of ideas. Gun, trigger, trigger sporting behaviour. What if it had been to “spark off” sporting behaviour? Would the crazy woman have fired off a rocket?
Ofcom concluded that the starting pistol was used in an “apparent casual manner and just for fun… the gun simply lying in a drawer normalised the ownership of guns”.
It seems to me that because the gun was used just for fun showed that it was not to be taken seriously. As for keeping it in a knicker drawer, is that, I ask you, normal behaviour?
How many knicker drawers have starting pistols nestling among the gussets? Fewer, I would guess than 348. Fewer, therefore, than the number of people so overcome by offence, so apt to swoon, that one must fear for their safety. Who, I ask you, is the most likely to have been touched by the giddy hand of the fruitcake fairy? Those who made the ad, those who complained about it, or those who took the complaints seriously?