Diary by Laurie Taylor
My long campaign against FCUK has run into the buffers. Not one of my chattering liberal friends seems in the least bit bothered that a significant proportion of the women one currently encounters in public places now have the letters brazenly tattooed across their chests.'Brazenly', said Gerald. 'Haven't heard that expression in a long time. Try and relax. I thought you rationalist lot were all in favour of free speech. For God's sake, it's only another round in the cheeky advertising campaign by French Connection. Actually, Sarah and I thought that their World Cup T-shirt - what was it? - Ah yes - FCUK Football. What About Me? - was really rather clever. Even vaguely feminist'.
I clenched my fist behind my back and tried to explain once again that they were missing the essential point. Didn't they realise that my objection to FCUK being paraded around town on billboards and T-shirts had nothing at all to do with the actual word (or its crafty deformation)? My moral outrage was entirely prompted by the fact that its shock value had been appropriated and exploited by a bunch of overpaid amoral advertising executives who'd happily auction their own grandmother if it helped to sell a few more packets of Cornflakes.
Didn't anyone remember Abbie Hoffman complaining back in the early seventies in Steal This Book that the word 'love' no longer had any meaning at all when we were routinely confronted by posters announcing that 'Cars Love Shell'? It wasn't the message that was exercising me: it was the messenger.
Why, I remember being positively elated when I read that D.H.Lawrence had once tried to restore the word to its proper material sexual use by sending out postcards to friends and colleagues bearing the single word 'FUCK'. And I'd nearly jumped from my sofa in delight when Kenneth Tynan stutteringly embarked on a rather similar crusade on British television. And didn't I join in with more gusto than some of those around me when invited to shout out 'Cunt' midway through The Vagina Monologues?
'Leave it'. Said Gerald
There's one other depressing consequence of this form of commercial appropriation (yes, I'm still gnawing at the same bone). The graffiti writers may still have walls and billboards on which to spray paint their radical and ironic take on consumerism and consensual politics, but what on earth is the point nowadays of even bothering to read a passing T-shirt when we know already that it has been designed not to subvert or even to amuse but merely nudge us towards another retail opportunity?
Perhaps we should fight back by initiating an annual award ceremony for wholly original logos, for the sort of slogan or statement that can, like a poem on the side of a crowded underground carriage, provide a sudden glimpse of some other reality. I have one retrospective nominee.
Back in the seventies during an anti-Vietnam demonstration I'd found myself in the front row of a crowd in Grosvenor Square that was pressing forwards towards the American embassy. After an hour of push and shove the mounted police who were guarding the building decided enough was enough and galloped into the crowd.
As we ran to escape the charge, ducking behind any bushes or trees that might provide some protection, I remember glancing at the crowd of sightseers lining the periphery of the square. One man stood out. He was wearing a large T-shirt with the simple inscription, INNOCENT BYSTANDER.
Another more up-to-date nomination. A car sticker this time. Until now my favourite example of this genre has been the exuberant cry to be found in the rear windows of large new cars solely occupied by a cheery elderly couple: 'We Are Spending Our Children's Inheritance'. But last week that was upstaged by a late night sighting on the M1.
I was driving back from Birmingham in the early hours after having given a very poorly received after-dinner speech to a bunch of corporate executives who had earlier been demonstrating their thoroughgoing commitment to an evening of serious conceptual debate by lobbing chunks of bread roll at each other.
At that time of night, motorways are entirely taken over by slow moving juggernauts and speeding private motorists. How strange then to find that I was about to overtake a relatively new private car that was dawdling in the inside lane. Was there a mechanical problem? Was the driver lost? As I began to overtake I glanced at the rear view window.
It was immediately and wonderfully obvious why this car was moving at its own sweet pace. Its driver had no particular place to go. For there, plastered across the window in very large hand-written capital letters was the single word, INSOMNIAC.