Dead Hamsters' Society


There is currently an advertisement on UK TV for something called Starburst Joosters.

The Starburst bit is easy; Starburst are what used to be called Opal Fruits. Opal Fruits were made to make your mouth water. You would be sitting in a car, bored and depressed, and suddenly your dad would pass you an Opal Fruit and you would be miraculously transported to a Hawaian beach. In my experience, what actually happened was that you munched through all the interesting chocolate treats in your Christmas selection box and found that by New Year, you had nothing left but some rather gooey and flavourless chewy cubes. But never mind; you knew where you were with an Opal Fruit. There had always been Opal Fruits. Granny ate Opal Fruits. Napoleon's Army had marched to Agincourt with Opal Fruits in their sporans. Who could have predicted that there would come a day when Opal Fruits would be no more? Never mind the Euro; we should be campaigning about the rebranding of our traditional English confectionery. We should resist the neologism which forces us to say 'Snickers' when what we really want is an M, A, R, A, T, H, O, N Marathon, 'comes up peanuts slice after slice'. Has anybody in the history of the world ever sliced a Marathon Bar? People slice Mars Bars, certainly, when the student bar has closed and they huddle around their traditional grease-covered sandwich toasters because they read somewhere that toasted Mars Bar sandwiches are a good idea (which they aren't). But who in their right mind would slice a Marathon? It is probably only a matter of time before Smarties are re-named Happy Pills, and then the triumph of the Dark Lord will be near.

Starburst Joosters are not simply Opal Fruits under a different name, for they are small and come in a bag where the true Opal Fruit is large, square and comes in a tube. No, the Starburst Jooster is a hybrid entity, a sort of jelly bean; an Opal Fruit flavoured Tooty Fruity, if you will. For with re-branding comes diversification. A Mars Bar is no longer just a Mars Bar. Like a Zerg Hatchery, it has cloned, spreading its tentacles indiscriminately. Not only are there distinct species of Mars Bars--Mars Bar Lite, Mars Bar Plain, Mars Bar with Almonds and Mars Bar Classic--but there are also numerous Martian Spawn, subsidiary products clad in the Mars Bar livery. First came the Mars Bars Ice Cream, a clever-choc ice packaged to look like a Mars, containing toffee and caramel and so bloody delicious (albeit fattening) that we did not resist. And so, our shops filled up with Mars Bar Milkshakes, Mars Bar Deserts, Mars Bar flavoured cocoa and before you could say 'horizontal integration' Opal Fruits were in on the act too. An Opal Fruit is no longer a sweetie. It is a line of sweeties; a genre of sweeties. Opal Fruit Joosters; Opal Fruit Ice Cream, Opal Fruit Fizzy Drink, Opal Fruit Private Dental Insurance. The line stretches out to the crack of doom.

The advert for Starburst Joosters is, one might say a barometer of the zeitgeist. In it, we see a cartoon of a woman with an upper-working class accent. This woman owns a spice rack. (My mother owns a spice rack; but it doesn't actually have any spice in it. I own several different sorts of spice, but have nowhere to rack them.) The lady in the advertisement not only owns the item, but she finds it useful, and narrates to the implied audience how it enables her to easily find the correct ingredient for her recipe. This is interrupted by a narrator saying, in a silly accent, 'Eat Starburst Joosters or this will happen to you.' Another advertisement shows a man purchasing a pair of slippers, with the same dire warning.

Clearly, possession of kitchen utensils and indoor footwear is thought to be undesirable and it is claimed that this frankly rather uninteresting sweetmeat will enable you to avoid this terrible fate. I would infer that spice-owning and slipper-wearing are regarded as symptomatic of the onset of middle age or at any rate evidence of a boring mundane life, and it is this which the sweeties will enable you to avoid. Once upon a time, the only claim made for Opal Fruits was that they transformed testy, ill-behaved children into happy, likeable ones. But science has moved on and the boffins have impregnated their fruit gums with a more potent form of spiritual Viagara. Opal Fruits contain now contain both the Fountain of Eternal Youth and the Elixir of Everlasting Happiness. And all for only 32p in Woolworth's.

Before you rush out and embrace Starburst Joosters, be aware that there are alternative religions on offer. Somewhere a man is turning down an invitation to a friend's birthday party in France, on the grounds that he cannot afford to go. What you and I know (having already seen the ad during last weeks Frasier) is that by the time he accepts this invitation, appalling middle aged will have settled on his friend; he will have a wife, children and very likely a spice rack and his parties will be no fun. Another man is forfeiting his chance at life-long marital bliss because he has only bought his girlfriend a pizza, instead of taking her to an expensive restaurant which he can't afford. Both of these awful fates could have been avoided if he had been prepared to use his credit card. To be fair, these adverts do not claim to be able to keep you eternally young; they only tell you that youth is fleeting and easily wasted, and that the way to avoid wasting it is to run up a huge debt on your Barclaycard.

Or again, Mr Richard Branson may not be able to make his trains run on time, but his aeroplanes, it is explicitly claimed, will enable you to escape the clutches of the Grim Reaper. 'When your life flashes before your eyes', intones the guru 'Make sure you have something to watch'. We witness a young hooligan who, on the point of death, recalls spending his life doing the sorts of things which we would all wish to have spent out lives doing; being thrown into swimming pools, going to drunken parties and vomiting on his shoes and so on. The message again, is clear. 'Be exciting. Be Young, Be Male, Be Raucous, Be Badly Behaved. If you do this, then you will live forever, or at any rate, be able to face death with resignation and magnanimity. And the best way to do this is to buy expensive holidays from Virgin Atlantic.' We live in a more caring, more spiritual society. Princess Diana died for your sins.

Given my stated opinions about state education and English literature it should come as no surprise to anyone to learn that Dead Poets Society is one of my favourite movies. The message of the film, it will be recalled, was 'seize the day', or specifically, that you are more likely to obtain happiness by pursuing the things which you really want than by necessarily conforming to society's expectations. This was interpreted in spiritual terms; happiness was to be achieved through artistic channels; reading poetry, listening to rock'n'roll, performing Shakespeare, getting thrashed, committing suicide etc. But this message of salvation through leisure activities has increasingly become the only one which Western Society is capable of buying into; and 'carpe diem' has been transformed into a commodity, a thing to be bought and sold in sweetshops. It is not merely okay to have a good time. It is positively your duty to have a good time. If you have a good time, you are being virtuous and spiritual. The best good time to have is a loud, naughty, new-laddish one. (Does our friend in the Barclaycard ad wish he had used his hideously over-inflated interest rates to hear Pavorroti at Covent Garden? Does our dead friend with the Virgin Airticket picture himself looking at Picassos in Barcelona?) In the new Calvinism, to be young and drunk is to be one of the elect; to be middle aged and sensible is to be pre-destined for damnation. And the only way you can make your election sure is by eating Opal Fruits.

If anyone has any idea what the Levi Jeans advert involving the dead hamster is about, could they please write and tell me?