What I do find hard to bear is money in its role as the coinage of virtue and that, I sometimes think, is its biggest role in our society. Many people have protested about advertising and media images that make people feel inadequate. The perfect Mum using the perfect washing powder or producing the perfect meals with perfect ingredients causes other, normal Mums who also go out to work, an unjustified anxiety and sense of failure. The perfect Dad, covering his family with layers of insurance, does much the same things to men. But these messages do more than create inadequacies. They constantly, though much more subtly, correlate money-through possession-with being a good person.
The woman in the ad may be wielding a box of Magic Formula X and a silly smile but behind her and around her lies her real virtue- a(£3,000)fitted kitchen, (£1000)worth of kitchen equipment and a glimpse beyond of wall-to-wall carpets and Dralon upholstery… Take women’s magazines, ostensibly dedicated to the average and virtuous homebody, cooking her heart out on a shoestring. What do we actually see in the glossy, full-coloured photographs? Delicious food, certainly, but served in casseroles that a moment’s thought tell us cost (£40) a throw and laid on tables of a pine’s antiquity worth a month’s salary…
Worse follows. Our little screens bring frightfully nice people into our homes, telling us of their ideals, their devotion to vitamins or bread-making or some such virtue-ridden occupation and there they are, surrounded by gently glowing rosewood, sunk in velvet sofas, framed by hugely expensive potted palms and hunting prints that cost a grand a go…
Thus we learn, Pavlov-style, to associate everything we have been taught to respect-concern for others, good housewifery, good motherhood, hard work, moral excellence-with a back-ground of sumptuous living such as most of us cannot hope to reproduce…
A woman once confided in me her distress that her daughter was living with a married man. ‘I am a Christian woman,’ she said, ‘and find what she is doing wrong. Besides, they have no carpets and they sleep on the floor.’ Which sin do you suppose distressed her more?
Jill Tweedie para “Guardian”, 1978.
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