The ADgenda: this week's most offensive advert

Captain Morgan rum.

While it's easy to huff and puff over countless ads that portray woman as nothing more than a pretty, smiling shell hell-bent on her next Botox fix, we should spare a thought for man – who is routinely subjected to advertising stereotypes so Neanderthal that it's a wonder the menfolk of this world don't up sticks and shamble into the wilderness on all fours.

The sharp branding brains behind the rum brand Captain Morgan had a good old think about their latest ad, drawing inspiration from such modern visual masterpieces as WKD's "Missus Alert" (the gist: women are the enemy, go to ridiculous lengths to deceive them), and have come up with a particularly muddled little number.

So worn thin is this man v woman territory that the exec brainstorming session clearly got a little confused. As a result, we're left with an advert that is suffering from a massive identity crisis, the lad equivalent of bringing your best female friend down the pub on a Friday night.

A group of men are standing in a bar, smiling and congratulating each other. What could they have done? Found a cure for cancer? The brand's need to explain exactly what they're drinking by printing it in big letters on the glass – "Captain Morgan and cola" – suggests that these guys aren't concerning themselves with the knottier conundrums in life. No, they've successfully managed to slip out from under their girlfriends' watchful gazes for the evening, eluded the ol' ball and chains. So far, so predictable.

But here's where it gets a little muddy. The camera cuts to "the girlfriends", one of whom is in a bikini carrying a tray of cocktails back to a hot tub only to find that her man has gone; the next is about to cheekily slip into the shower to join her guy for soapsud frolics; finally, the last girlfriend is watching in a concerned fashion out of the window as what she presumes to be her boyfriend (but is actually a straw replica) goes round and round the garden on one of those sit-on lawnmowers, only to receive an almost heart-attack-inducing shock when "he" falls off and is mown to smithereens. As far as I can tell, all these women are beautiful, attentive and fun – yawn, get off my back with your delicious cocktails and constant desire to have sex with me.

Perhaps the message is that even if you're in an idyllic relationship, Captain Morgan will always tempt you away back into the arms of your brotherhood. It's "bros v hos" and these guys are definitely winning, the ad is telling us. So as the camera switches back to the men in their brightly lit, cheap and sterile surroundings, grinning inanely as they drink a toast – a drink so teeth-achingly sugary that it stays suspiciously still when the glasses are clinked – it's with an affectionate smile that we say to ourselves: "Ah, the male ideal." Men of this world, tune out.

A still from the Captain Morgan advert
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It's easy to see where Berlin is being rebuilt – just hit the streets

My week, from walking the streets of Berlin to class snobbery and the right kind of gentrification.

Brick by brick, block by block, the people are rebuilding the city once called Faust’s Metropolis. To see it clearly, put your boots on. One of the most bracing walks starts by the Gethsemane Church, which served as a haven for dissenters in the last days of the GDR and takes you down ­towards the Hackescher Markt.

Here, in what is still the eastern half of a divided city that wears its division more lightly, is a Berlin experience both old and new. In three decades of frequent visits, it has been fascinating to note how much this part of town has changed. Even a decade ago these streets were rundown. With crumbling buildings showing bulletholes, it wasn’t hard to imagine what the place looked like in 1945. Now there are lilacs, blues, and yellows. Cafés, bars and restaurants abound, serving the young professionals attracted to the city by cheap rents and a renewed sense of community.

 

Breaking the fourth wall

Looking north along Schliemannstraße, you’ll find a delightful vista of well-tended balconies. It’s a pleasant place to live, notwithstanding the gaggle of grotesques who gather round the corner in the square. On Kastanienallee, which forms the second leg of the walk, an old city feels young. It’s a kind of gentrification but the right kind. There’s more to eat, to drink, to buy, for all.

Berlin, where Bertolt Brecht staged his unwatchable plays, was supposed to have been transformed by a proletarian revolution. Instead, it has been restored to health by a very middle-class one. Germany has always had a well-educated middle class, and the nation’s restoration would have impossible without such people. The irony is delicious – not that irony buttered many parsnips for “dirty Bertie”.

 

The new snobbery

The British Museum’s survey of German history “Memories of a Nation” is being presented at the Martin-Gropius-Bau as “The British View”. Germans, natürlich, are curious to see how we observe them. But how do they see us?

A German friend recently in England  said that the images that struck him most forcibly were the tins of food and cheap booze people piled up in supermarkets, and the number of teenage girls pushing prams. Perhaps Neil MacGregor, the former director of the British Museum who will shortly take up a similar role here at the new Humboldt Forum, may turn his attention to a “German View” of the United Kingdom.

There’s no shortage of material. In Schlawinchen, a bar that typifies Kreuzberg’s hobohemia, a college-educated English girl was trying to explain northern England to an American she had just met. Speaking in an ugly modern Mancunian voice that can only be acquired through years of practice (sugar pronounced as “sug-oar”), she refer­red to Durham and York as “middle class, you know, posh”, because those cities had magnificent cathedrals.

When it comes to inverted snobbery, no nation can match us. To be middle class in Germany is an indication of civic value. In modern England, it can mark you as a leper.

 

Culture vultures

The Humboldt Forum, taking shape by the banks of the Spree, reconsecrates the former site of the GDR’s Palace of the Republic. When it opens in 2018 it will be a “living exhibition”, dedicated to all the cultures of the world. Alexander von Humboldt, the naturalist and explorer, was the brother of Wilhelm, the diplomat and philosopher, whose name lives on in the nearby university.

In Potsdamerplatz there are plans to build a modern art museum, crammed in between the Neue Nationalgalerie and the Philharmonie, home to the Berlin Philharmonic. Meanwhile, the overhaul of the Deutsche Staatsoper, where Daniel Barenboim is music director for life, is likely to be completed, fingers crossed, next autumn.

Culture everywhere! Or perhaps that should be Kultur, which has a slightly different meaning in Germany. They take these things more seriously, and there is no hint of bogus populism. In London, plans for a new concert hall have been shelved. Sir Peter Hall’s words remain true: “England is a philistine country that loves the arts.”

 

European neighbours

When Germans speak of freedom, wrote A J P Taylor, a historian who seems to have fallen from favour, they mean the freedom to be German. No longer. When modern Germans speak of freedom, they observe it through the filter of the European Union.

But nation states are shaped by different forces. “We are educated to be obedient,” a Berlin friend who spent a year at an English school once told me. “You are educated to be independent.” To turn around Taylor’s dictum: when the English speak of freedom,
they mean the freedom to be English.

No matter what you may have heard, the Germans have always admired our independence of spirit. We shall, however, always see “Europe” in different ways. Europe, good: we can all agree on that. The European Union, not so good. It doesn’t mean we have to fall out, and the Germans are good friends to have.

 

Hook, line and sinker

There are fine walks to be had in the west, too. In Charlottenburg, the Kensington of Berlin, the mood is gentler, yet you can still feel the city humming. Here, there are some classic places to eat and drink – the Literaturhauscafé for breakfast and, for dinner, Marjellchen, a treasure trove of east Prussian forest delights. Anything that can be shot and put in a pot!

For a real Berlin experience, though, head at nightfall for Zwiebelfisch, the great tavern on Savignyplatz, and watch the trains glide by on the other side of Kantstraße. Hartmut Volmerhaus, a most amusing host, has been the guvnor here for more than 30 years and there are no signs that his race is run. The “Fisch” at twilight: there’s nowhere better to feel the pulse of this remarkable city. 

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage