After 35 years of defying death to deliver chocolates to his lady friends, the Milk Tray Man is being axed. Julie Burchill laments the march of 'love-lite'
Tuesday September 23, 2003
So this is goodbye; the latest lonely instalment of the long-distance Death of Narrative, commercial-break style. We have mourned the passing of the Sandeman Port Man; pined for the past-their-sell-by Cointreau Couple, who seemed to hold in their delicate post-prandial balance the whole future of Anglo-French relations; never discovered the Secret of the Black Magic Box. Flake Girl stands revealed as a serial fellatrix rather than a free spirit, while the good old midnight-at-the-oasis scenario of Turkish Delight has mysteriously slunk off with its tail between its legs, obviously fearing a right royal Orientalist deconstruction from Edward Said. While a generation who grew up yearning to follow the Bounty bar crew to their island paradise now suffer guilt-ridden summer holidays in Suffolk and Scotland rather than make the Maldives sink any quicker than they're going to anyway.
And now they're pensioning off the Man in Black, who plunged from speedboats, dangled from cable cars and jumped from helicopters for 35 years, just because the lady loved it. Instead, a £2.5m Christmas campaign will launch the new Milk Tray slogan "Love With the Lighter Touch". And can't you just see the smug, mediocre bastards who are going to replace the MIB?
Considering the absolute and deranged conviction of all ad-agency personnel that your average British citizen these days aspires to nothing more than being mistaken for a character from a Richard Curtis film - witness the red-mist-inducing commercials for Brita and Doritos, among others - you can bet your Hazelnut Whirl that the well-dressed drama of the past will be replaced by the ever-creeping plague of "Love-Lite". That is, deracinated, self-deprecating, Pret-a-Manger-munching prats, drinking Fairtrade coffee, wearing earnest jumpers and not wanting a war fought in their name (Lucy or Ben, probably), pretending against all proof that they're not entirely sexless by exchanging giggly gifts of the Milk Tray persuasion. And - ho, ho, aren't they lovable! - they both bought each other the same thing! Bless! (Shame that within two years of getting hitched she'll be frigid because she's got an irretrievably torn perineum due to ignorantly insisting on natural childbirth, and he'll be downloading photos of third-world women having sex with snakes. But there you go.)
I'm just guessing, of course. But all signs point in this castration-by-cuddles direction, considering that one of the excuses given for binning the Man in Black is that Cadbury's hope that the new approach will encourage women to - shock, horror! - give chocolates to men! It's amazing, isn't it, how dumb the consumer is believed to be by corporations and their advertising lackeys; presumably at the moment, because we've always seen a man giving Milk Tray to a lady, we think there's some sort of law which stops us from reversing the process. But the Love-Lite lobby will put that right; the same scaredy-cats who decided that condoms should be called soppy stuff like Mates instead of fun things like Thrust and Climaxxx.
Like reusable sanitary towels and breastfeeding on demand until well after a tot could open beer cans with his teeth, binning the Milk Tray Man is puritan regression masquerading as feminist progress. Obviously the idea that a lady sits around passively waiting for a chap to leap through her window delivering sweet treats is an outdated one. But why do we have to dumb down - why not dumb up? Instead of stopping the swashbuckling altogether, why not simply have a Lara Croft-type lady shinning up a drainpipe with soft-centres secreted about her person on alternate ad breaks, thus sharing the glamour that is grim-faced, death-defying perishable-gift-giving? Or even just leave it as it is. As a hardcore feminist, there are loads of things a man might do that could make me angry. But going out of his way to give me a lovely box of choccies, and then legging it without even waiting for so much as a thank-you, certainly isn't one of them.