Critics of advertising, especially those of the intellectual, high-minded variety, manage to combine in one body of opinion a haughty contempt and a belief that the object of their scorn is invested with almost supernatural powers.
So, when people eat too much of the “wrong” type of food ie, the kind held by enlightened social reformers to cause rampant obesity, or drink too much, or smoke any substance at all (apart from cannabis whose association with youthful folly bestows a detached tolerance) there is, magically, a single remedy capable of saving hundreds of thousands of lives/ the banning of advertising.
It follows that on those occasions when advertising is permitted, great care must be taken to ensure that the malevolent power of which it is capable is bottled up and the cap screwed down. Thus the new regulations allowing gambling to be advertised on television after the watershed (the mythical hour when impressionable young children are held to be safely abed when in truth they are playing violent, bloodthirsty computer games) contain the provision that betting must not be associated with sexual success.
Only someone who believes that advertising is capable of miracles could have come up with that. Short of outright lying – and advertising must be legal, decent, honest and truthful – it would take a work of genius to invest gambling with an erotic allure.
I suppose the framers of the legislation might have had James Bond in mind. We have seen films of 007 seated at the roulette table, a sardonic smile creasing his handsome features, a striking brunette gently resting her eye-popping cleavage on the shoulder of his tuxedo, a sharp intake of breath by the encircling admirers as the croupier pushes a mountain of chips towards our hero. Images such as those make gambling glamorous, but as anyone who has been in a casino will testify, the reality is different.
Years ago I was invited to the opening of a casino in London. Seldom have I endured such a depressing experience. An air of sepulchral gloom hung over the tables. The players, many of them women, wore blank expressions, the only discernible emotion being intense boredom. No one smiled, no one laughed. Losing money is a solemn, soulless business.
And casinos are at the flashy, enticing pinnacle of the gambling world. To many working class Britons, Las Vegas seems the most exciting place on earth. Alluring, dangerous, big, gaudy, bright, a magnet for the rich and famous, it has everything that a dim mind might crave. The reality is different. The casinos are vast, glum palaces where yard after yard of rich, painted and ageing widows push coins into slots until their frazzled brains turn to pulp and they can do it no more.
At the tables there are no tuxedos, no adoring blondes, just fat Americans in shirtsleeves cursing their luck.
The British betting shop undoubtedly has an atmosphere all its own. The haunt of the unwashed, the desperate, the unemployed, these tawdry places used to reek of tobacco smoke and stale dreams. Today, the tobacco has gone but it would be fanciful to suggest that the newly clean air is alive with testosterone, the patrons snappy Lotharios, back pockets stuffed with winnings, the girls lining up.
As for bingo, well, there is life in old dogs, and bitches too, but I doubt that anyone goes to the housey-housey hall with a dream date as the target. A little companionship perhaps, a bit of a gossip, a chance to show off the new dentures, but little more than that.
Some of the newly permitted advertising will be for online gambling, but where is the sex appeal in that? Playing cyber-casino is a solitary masturbatory activity and, as with all gambling, is for losers.
Of course, advertising accentuates the positive – that is its purpose. The bookmakers, the casino owners, the bingo hall proprietors, all will feature the glorious prospect of winning, of achieving the modern Briton’s dream, riches without effort. But those claims, absurd though they may be, are not what trouble the legislators. They are fearful that people will be enticed into losing their week’s wages by the prospect of sexual success.
We all know that the best chat-up line of which the typical gambler is honestly capable is, “Well, love, how about it? Your place or back to the sheltered accommodation?”
Then again, maybe, just maybe, the legislators’ fears are justified. There is no accounting for sexual allure. There are women who swoon over fat, bald, tattooed men with rings in their ears and noses, and the kind of legs that couldn’t stop a pig in a passage. If these demigods were also broken losers might they be irresistible?