Wednesday, 4 November 2009

TV ads to the sum of human knowledge

A surefire way to discover the priorities and preoccupations of a nation is to watch its TV ads.

I'm now in The Philippines where I've squeezed in a spot of telly amid the sun, sea, sand and sightseeing, from which I've learnt that its people worry about the colour of their underarms, lean towards hypochondria and don't understand milk.

One oft-shown commercial is for a deodorant which not only stops sweat but also bleaches the armpits.  The attractive young woman featured is thrilled to be killing two birds with one roll-on.  Dark underarms are a complete no-no, it seems.  Women attend beauty parlours regularly to have that area of skin lightened.  My Filipino partner says even modern males are at it.  Indeed, he confesses to weekly sessions himself until he came to London where the cost of living and the exhaustion of nursing in the NHS taught him to love pigmented pits.

A higher porportion of ads than we are used to is for medicines and health products.  Coughs, headaches, fatigue and indigestion can all be banished with a spoonful of syrup or by popping a pill.  Is your liver below par?  Don't worry, just purchase the preparation endorsed by a handsome tough guy ("It's the liver lover!").

Beautiful toddlers bounce with vitality because their mothers feed them a particular brand of formula milk.  "It's the best!"  Unfortuantely, the advertiser is legally required to immediately follow this claim with the contradictory full-screen rider: "Breast milk is best for babies up to two years and beyond".  Two years and beyond?  They'll be emulating David Walliams' 'bitty'-demanding Little Britain character if they're not careful.

I don't speak a word of Filipino but I don't need to to glean all this because many of the ads are in English.  This is a trilingual nation; pretty much everyone speaks Filipino plus the dialectical language of wherever they come from, and English.  In their soaps (based on the American model, so expect wall-to-wall good-looking actors, background music and lengthy close-ups but an absence of EastEnders grit and Coronation Street whimsy), one furious character might launch into a Filipino tirade but tag it in English ("So, tell that to your precious sister and see where it gets you!").  Similarly, in their equivalent of American Idol, nearly all the songs are American and British pop classics sung in English but the compere asks for the judges' comments in Filipino and they might answer in either.

These people understand English but don't have a clue about milk.  Another ad shows cute teenagers enjoying sterilised milk straight from the can.  Sterilised milk!  This vile substance was already on its way out in the UK was I was a kid 40 years ago.  Universal home refrigeration meant we all switched to pasteurised and realised what a thug sterilised had always been, nuking tea and tainting breakfast cereal.

And now, decades later, young Filipinos are being entreated to swig it neat, and from cans!  Such bad manners!  Such bad milk!  Such indoctrination should surely concern the country even more than its young women's disinclination to accept the colour of their underarms.  It's the pits!

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