This is NOT the official weblog of Mark Thomas; this is a place to post his articles and news to bring them to a wider audience. This blog is in no way endorsed by the activist/comedian Mark Thomas. Most of the posts appeared on - hopefully they won't object to them being republished here.

Monday, February 09, 2004

My brief career among nipples

It was a brief and charmless flirtation and now after two editions my career as a columnist for the new lads magazine Zoo Weekly has come to an end. In case you hadn't noticed there has been a bunch of weekly lads mags launched this year (I think the collective noun is "a spray"). They boast titles like Zoo, Nuts, Thrust, Spurt or Cock. They feature a high celebrity nipple count, football stuff, endless Top 10 Lists and a good dollop of graphic injury/snuff photos. In between all of that is woven the odd article and column.

I am assuming that the level of cross over readership of Zoo Weekly and the New Statesman isn't that great. If it is the New Statesman is in trouble, and expect to see a new politicians wives section. Followed by a photo feature of Noreena Hertz and Naomi Klein wrestling in oil for the crown of "anti globalising queen" and John Kampfner takes Gordon Brown to Spearmint Rhino for a consumer report.

When Ben Knowles, a nice man and ex editor of the New Musical Express, asked if I would write for a new weekly lads mag. I wanted to know what did they expect me to write about? Going to one Wimbledon AFC game this season hardly qualifies me to write about football. And my stunning lack of interest in Angelina Jolie's topless cinematic past didn't seem to bode well either. Reassured that the normal mix of a couple of gags, an extended rant and a dash of utter hatred for the politicians would be fine, I wanted to know a bit more about the publication.

"It's a basic lads mag except weekly. Our market research shows that our target audience of men between 18-30 really like you." said Ben. What! "I know "Ben continued, " We were as surprised as you." And that was what made me agree to write for them; half arsed flattery.

Friends debated the merits of doing it. "Isn't it worth trying to reach people who aren't part of the activist scene?" said one. "But are you really going to have any kind of impact amidst the tits and arse?" asked a woman friend. "Maybe you could recruit some of the models to come and demonstrate at the next arms fair?" fantasized a crusty from behind the rim of a can of Tenants.

In the end none of us could have known how banal it would be. A prominent picture in the mag shows a woman masturbating with a cats head where her vagina should be, accompanied by a quip about the size of pubic lice these days. This is the kind of website trash that bored office workers e-mail to each other to break the monotony of the day.

A list of Top 10 terrorist organisations is merely an inaccurate excuse to show a photo of soldiers parading over body bags. Two items appear about a survey that shows women like sex with strangers. It is predictable, voyeuristic and dull. It's pseudo prole culture of the uber dog begs it to be read by the City boys, "Look at a picture of these wankers" it cries "everyone is a tosser but you! Everything is a commodity. Everything exists for your pleasure."

I read one edition and left. Obviously this was an error of my own making and I should have known better. So I have ordered an inquiry into my behaviour. Fortunately I have been completely exonerated.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Indians who won't drink Coke

There is no justice in this world, if there was all advertisers would be forced to walk in public wearing sandwich boards with the text of their adverts written in large letters and the words "I am responsible for this" scrawled on their foreheads in marker pen. Advertisers are the pushers of the most pointless crap that invades our lives and the only creative thing they have ever done is steal the word "creative" to describe what they do.

In the recent Coca Cola advert a 30 something woman walks through a crowd of people on the street singing some life affirming Whitney Huston meets Tracey Chapman dirge handing out bottles of Coke to complete strangers, which she produces ready opened from her hand bag. And this is supposed to make us buy a sugary drink. Try doing that in real life. Try singing loudly in South London walking up to a complete stranger and offer them an opened bottle of drink from your handbag. And when you've tried it let me know what hospital you are in, I'll bring the grapes.

In India Coke's adverts are not so much inept as cruelly ironic. In one of them a group of women walk in the heat to a village well, they look disappointed when a stranger starts to pull up a bucket of water. Suddenly the stranger reveals himself to be a well known Bollywood star and the bucket turns out to be full of bottles of Coca Cola. Hurrah let the party begin. The irony here is that you can buy a bottle of coke in an Indian village that has no clean water.

Nowhere is this more true than in Plachimada in Kerala, which I visited on a trip with Action Aid. Here Coca Cola's subsidiary company the Hindustan Coca Cola Company opened a bottling plant in 2000 and promptly dug 6 bore wells. You might have thought that some bright spark would have questioned the opening of a highly water intensive industry in a drought area but both the national and state government eagerly bought into the notion that a Coca Cola factory equates to "development".

These little glitches crop up every now and then in "development". Back in the Marcos era in the Philippines, the US Ex/Im Bank (the US government export credit agency) backed the building of a nuclear power station in an earthquake region near a still active volcano. Thankfully it has never been given a license to operate.

With dull predictability the local inhabitants noticed their water diminishing. Wells went dry and what water there was became undrinkable, a study by the district medical officer concluded "This water is unfit for drinking." Faced with no local water people have to walk long distances to the nearest clean wells. In the excellent BBC Radio 4 report on the Coca Cola plant one woman was quoted as having to travel 7 kms to get water. Coke are reduced to bussing in tankers of clean water to the village. Strangely enough some people have not exhibited much gratitude to the company for their largesse.

Thousands have been affected. People I spoke to said they used to earn about a £1 a day as harvesters and they used to get about 20 days work a month. Now they are lucky if they get 5 days work a month, as the local crops have failed. They felt they had no option but to fight the company and set up a 24 hour a day vigil in a shelter opposite the plant. At the end of the month they will have been there for 647 days.

In 1950's style logic Coke's response has been to claim that the protests have been the work of Marxist agitators. Maybe their advertisers find some Ealing Comedy type Indian Peasants to appear in the next ad, standing in front of the bottling plant saying "It's an 'onour to be oppressed by a company such as Coca Cola and I don' mind a goin' thirsty either. Not like them there whingin' Marxists and their politically motivated thirst!"

Coke are mounting a legal fight to stay in Plachimada , despite the local council refusing to reissue them with a new license to operate. But the resistance to Coke is growing, in Tamil Nadu the neighbouring state to Kerala, Coke have built a plant in a joint deal with a local sugar mill company, thousands protested before the plant has even been opened and as yet it remains closed.

After the front page news that the level of pesticides in Pepsi and Coke in India is about 3 times the level of that permitted in the USA and Europe it is fairly safe to say that Coke have an image problem that the advertisers might not be able to solve.

A new report by Christian Aid "Behind the Mask The real face of corporate social responsibility" contains a case study of the Plachimada Coke plant.