Sunday, May 15, 2005


A ghastly television commercial for KFC’s Zinger Chicken Salad shows a group of young women emergency call centre workers trying to sing with their mouths full.

Heads lolling and food dripping from their parted lips, they look as if they have been binge drinking and staggered into KFC to soak up some of the alcohol before they reel back into the street.

Far from encouraging you to sample the salad at your local branch, it’s enough to put you off ever going there again.
In two weeks the Advertising Standards Authority has received 1,133 complaints about the ad, whose loud and clear message is that these young women not only have no table manners but no respect for themselves — or anyone else.

Nor do the bride, the vicar and the guests slamming piled high plates into one another’s faces at a wedding reception in the new Wall’s ice cream TV commercial.

Both ads reflect that the culture of no respect, which used to belong to underground, marginal worlds, has now become mainstream.

Mayhem on the local High Street on Friday and Saturday nights, hooligans high on drugs and the horrific expansion of mugging into ‘happy slapping’, in which assaults on victims are photographed on mobile phones to be gloated over and laughed at later by the attackers, are now part of everyday life.

The decline and fall of education and family life are undoubtedly big contributory factors. People who don’t have a decent home life and leave school unable to express themselves adequately in their own language quickly turn to violence and crime, to which there seems to be no proper response.

Almost every day the papers are full of stories from the courts about the guilty getting off with light, inappropriate sentences while victims are left wondering what they did wrong and why the system seems loaded in favour of the criminal.

Stand up for yourself, as Linda Walker did when she fired an air gun in the street in as a warning to her tormentors, and you could get an 18 month prison sentence.

Though she was released after only five weeks in jail, Mrs Walker’s conviction stands.

The message is that if vandals or thieves harass you or invade your property, you had best do nothing and let them get away with it.
The appalling irony of the Human Rights Act, which was supposed to recognise and respect the rights of all of us, is that it so often seems to undermine deterrents to bad behaviour and be weighted more in favour of the sinners than the sinned against.
The prevalence of targeting is also part of this ugly picture. We are all targets now.
Details of our lives, likes, dislikes and habits are ruthlessly collected and stored on data bases, often to be sold on, so that we can be targeted.
Whether it’s the government with the NHS, banks irresponsibly lending vast sums to people who have no hope of repaying them, supermarkets with loyalty cards or a gang or ‘hoodies’ lining up a ‘happy slapping’ victim, targeting is the name of the game.
But once the target has been hit, the commercial targeters distance themselves from their victims as fast as ‘happy slappers’ who’ve mugged and videod a man on a bus.
Try complaining when something which cost a lot of money goes wrong and you get fobbed off with a stream of voicemail messages before you can reach a human being. When — or if — you do, he or she is probably in a call centre halfway across the world and all they can do is pass on your message, not solve your problem.
You are left feeling helpless and frustrated and that once the targeters have got your money, they don’t really want to know.
For our lives to make sense we need to be respected, to feel that we count and our feelings matter. We also need to be confident that our property, be it a suburban home, a car or bicycle or even just a pencil of our office desk will not be vandalised or stolen. Or there will be a fitting penalty.
We believe this is only justice. And there is a deep longing in our hearts for justice and respect.
Few of us want to go back to the cap doffing days of unquestioning submission to authority when people knew their place and stayed in it. But we need sufficient redress.
Perhaps it is time to review the Human Rights Act and the work of judges. The Data Protection Act might also benefit from inspection. That could at least be a start to showing some respect. Copyright Rebecca Hamilton 2005. All Rights Reserved