By Lynda Goetz
Sainsbury's Christmas TV Advertisement
I have hesitated a long time before writing this article*. At a time when apparently even prospective Conservative election candidates are being taught how to be more ‘woke’, lecturers and teachers have lost jobs and the Twitter ‘mob’ descend like a ton of bricks on those with the ‘wrong’ opinions, what I am about to write is seriously out of kilter with what we are led to believe is the prevailing ‘group-think’. I am not at all sure however that it is out of touch with at least half of ordinary British people.
I am talking about television advertisements. Over the last year or so, the world I have seen reflected back at me from those irritating interruptions on commercial television channels is a world I do not recognise. This is not the England or the Britain in which I have lived and am living my life. Yes, of course things have changed. I am no spring chicken and over the decades my generation has had to give way to younger generations with new ideas, new discoveries, different ways of seeing the world. However, I am certainly not yet so old that I feel unable to adapt to these changes, even if not all of these are welcome or fully embraced. I, like many others of my age, am not inflexible, even if at times there is a temptation to refer younger people to study history properly and to point out that there are things to be learnt from it even if it cannot be changed retrospectively.
We may well be grappling with our ancestors’ appalling records on, not only slavery, but their treatment of those in lower social positions, of those who did not fit the mould of ‘ordinary’ or ‘people like us’. This was true across all the classes. The prejudices of so many with closed minds can seem shocking today, but they were normal for the different times and to try to rewrite history by viewing it through the lens of modern sensibilities can lead to ridiculous and often patronising labelling of people, as well as of paintings and museum objects. Leaving all that aside, it is an objective fact, (not my perceived truth) that this country, in spite of the changes, remains largely white, largely heterosexual and largely family-oriented (even if those families are not the same as the 1950s: Mum, Dad and two children).
Adverts are not reflecting these ‘truths’. I am not in any way suggesting a return to the days of the old-fashioned Fairy Liquid ads (left), nor the happy family promotions of the old “Aah, Bisto!” ones, but it would be good to see a more truthful representation of this country as it is today. Clearly, the population of this island is more diverse in many ways. There are a lot more people of African or Afro-Caribbean descent. They, like people from Asia, who may be Hindus or Muslims have now been here for generations and form an integral part of our society at all levels. We have also come a very long way in our acceptance, understanding and integration of those with disabilities and those rather paradoxically linked as LGBTQ+ (when in so many ways their needs and interests are at odds with each other). These groups together – and of course there will be some crossover - make up, at most, around 18-19% of the UK population (in 2019, according to the census, 84.8% identified their ethnicity as white; 1.5% as gay or lesbian; 1.3% as bisexual; and 0.5% said their gender identity was different from their sex registered at birth).
Watching television advertisements however, this is absolutely not the impression one gets. The world of television adverts is now largely black or coloured, which, living in a country which is nearly 85% white is weird. It is easy to appreciate that if you are one of the 15% of black, coloured or multi-ethnic people in this country you might have, in the past, got rather fed-up with an on-screen world which did not in any way reflect the community in which you lived or the people around you and with whom perhaps you mostly associated. Nowadays this is no longer the case. The current situation is that four-fifths of the UK population (which by any calculation is the majority) find it hard to see themselves reflected in advertisements or sometimes even in dramas. This is unrealistic and actually wildly annoying. I, and I suspect many of the others in this country who make up the majority, can no longer see our world represented on television. Ads for everything from supermarkets to banks, from car sellers to cereals, from insurance to dog charities show us a world in which those of us who are the white majority appear to have been largely erased. Why on earth has this happened?
As with so much else that is happening currently, the vocal minorities and those who support them appear to have largely taken control of the agendas. Within politics, academia, education and the media the pendulum has swung so far the other way that the white majority are at risk of being disadvantaged. A number of publishers are concerned that ‘box ticking’ could result in the future of books being threatened. In a recent interview in the Daily Telegraph, Stephen Rubin, one of the most successful publishers in the USA and at 81 still a consulting publisher for Simon and Schuster, expressed the worry that “potentially wonderful books” were being rejected because the “almost knee-jerk response to diversity and inclusion has ultimately – and ironically – made publishers less diverse…. If you’re publishing mostly books by people of colour and people who are gay, then where’s the diversity?” The Society of Authors (SoA) has been mired in controversy and argument for a couple of years now. Phillip Pulman and the late Carmen Callil, both resigned after very public arguments about the SoA’s lack of support for its writers including J.K Rowling and Kate Clanchy, both accused of crimes against wokery.
A few weeks ago, Russell T. Davies, one of the scriptwriters of the children’s television series Dr Who, criticised a new wave of “rubbish” scriptwriters more interested in diversity than television. He points out that “there are a lot of voices wanting to be heard – of any gender or ethnicity – who consider themselves invisible. They hate the media which ignores them and they’re trapped into wanting a job in that medium purely to increase representation”. I would suggest that most of these voices, apart from being rubbish writers are also now over-represented in so many areas that it is time to find some new writers who do not have an axe to grind and who are merely good scriptwriters – whether that be of drama or of the humble TV advert. It is time for the majority to fight back. Could we please see some ads where whites are not outnumbered by people of colour. This would be proper representation.
*First published in Shaw Sheet magazine on 2 February, 2023 [Lynda felt it deserved a wider, and perhaps more international, audience. We agreed, Ed.]