Where has all the treacle toffee gone?
It’s the end of October and the fifth of next month looms large in this house yet still I’ve not found treacle toffee in the shops. Our tradition is to eat treacle toffee on bonfire night but buying treacle toffee this year is almost as difficult as finding the traditional Jimmy Savile mannequin to burn.
The problem we face is that we live in a brand culture and there is no brand ‘treacle’. Supermarkets rarely stock something as old and established as ‘treacle toffee’. Instead, they want to stock familiar modern favourites repackaged for the month. They want to sell me Cadbury Scream Eggs for Halloween…
You might say it is clever marketing but it is also the dreadful bastardisation of multiple traditions. Remember when Easter eggs were just for Easter and would be sold off cheap the Monday after Easter Sunday? Now they’re all year around. Perhaps it made sense to accountants that Cadbury Creme Eggs needed to have 365 day stock levels to justify the costs of the machinery. However, I suspect it’s probably marketing people who knew that brand identification is far more potent than mere tradition. They adapt their products in order to make them suitable for the occasion. You can eat Easter Eggs at Halloween, Christmas, the height of summer and some whiz with a catchphrase gun will put his knee on the back of your neck and fire a catchy slugline into your brain. Suddenly Easter eggs at Halloween make sense. No doubt they’ll soon be available for Black Friday, a consumer holiday which has wormed its way over here from America. Indeed, have you noticed that we seem to have more ‘Days’ than in the past? It’s as if the marketing geeks had realised there were too many large gaps in the year when we weren’t being ordered to buy their crap. Since when did Valentines Day, Father’s Day or Mother’s Day have the same significance as Christmas and Easter?
Yet it’s not just Creme Eggs that have taken over or traditional festivals. Brand recognition is everywhere as if to prove that people are effectively too lazy to think for their selves. You like Mars Bars so Mars sells you the confectionery in every format: large and small, fingers and toffees, ice cream and cake bars. You can wear Mars Bar clothing and carry your lunch in the Mars Bar lunch box inside the Mars Bar rucksack on your back. One Brand to Rule them all and in the darkness bind them.
Novelty and individuality are outmoded in this crass consumer culture. Product lines are converging everywhere. Will Smith not only acts in a film but writes it, sings the theme song, produces the monstrosity, and then franchises out his seed in the form of his largely talentless offspring. Movies are become dominated by the same staple of figures from comic books. Soon Batman will meet Superman. The Avengers brought together difference franchises which will be spun and varied until the Church of Stan Lee stops converting every new born freckle into a DC neophyte. New films can’t get funding but franchises are rebooted at every opportunity. No sooner does Christopher Nolan finish a definitive Batman series than Warner Brothers want to start again.
‘New’ is disappearing from our lexicon or it now simply means ‘more of the same’. The ‘new’ iPad is pretty much like the old ‘iPad’. New chocolate is simply old chocolate given new wrappings. Nobody wants to invest the effort to make new products. Why can’t Cadbury make Creme Skulls for Halloween? Zombie heads might have been more appropriate or even Cadbury Creme Pumpkins. Does it take so little imagination that I can come up with these ideas in the span of writing a sentence? Of course not but that would require retooling of an entire production line. So we have eggs instead, despite their having no significance to the ancient festival of All Hallows Eve. It’s utterly postmodern, utterly calculated and utterly dehumanising.
How easy must it have been to make creme eggs with a slightly different coloured fondant rather than create a new product that people might enjoy? We see it everywhere we look with crossovers. Comparethemeerkat produce the Meerkat toys and books. Don’t invest in a writer you’ve never heard about because you can buy a book written by Jordan whose breasts you’ve previously admired…
Yet it’s not just banal celebrity slime who have their own product ranges. Guillermo del Toro has written and directed some sublimely good films but when he hands a 12 page outline for a novel to a writer with whom he then shares credit, you have to wonder about artistic credibility.
Not that artistic credibility matters. We’ve passed the point where consumers can vote with their feet, wallets or purses. The markets are too large for companies to care. What is one lone voice of dissent when Tesco make pre-tax profits in the first half of 2013 of £1.39bn? I complain about their bike stands and they do nothing because I’m insignificant as you are insignificant unless, of course, you are also a brand. Stephen Fry is a brand. He could change things because he is more recognisable than Tesco. He has real power. Almost as much power as the brand Beckham, though Fry, to his credit, puts it to more sensible use.
Beckham, of course, will apparently sell anything, however tangential it might be to his footballing career. He is refashioning himself as the male modern Britannia, a symbol of Britishness. And Beckham is certainly the perfect fit for this modern Britain. He embodies our culture because he is the ultimate vessel: good looking but empty, devoid of much significance but capable of being filled with any corporate message. He is so boring and bland he can advertise anything that doesn’t require him to open his mouth. Indeed, his horrible nasal whine is to his benefit because it means that he can spend his time brooding in ads with his white teeth and rank ugly tattoos, the golden boy of a gelded generation. He is the Cadbury Creme Egg of celebrities; just an empty impotent shell of sugary milk chocolate. One size fits all. Just slip a nozzle up his arse and fill him with whatever different coloured fondant meaning we want this week.