The Black Farmer advert had people spitting out their Nandos in horror, disgust and amazement during the Googlebox commercial break last night. Inured to advertising as I am, strung up on a crucifix in the basement of a Soho agency, eyes pinned open, I barely registered a flash of interest.
This new advert is for a range of meat and dairy products from an erstwhile television executive who ‘got farming’ in the way people used to get God – the proscribed life journey for arseholes who want to be arseholes among animals rather than humans these days. After years of being an abysmal person (“a bastard, a real shit”), Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones decided to build a sausage empire. And then he decided there was only one person he wanted to direct the inevitable advert: Tony Kaye.
One of the best adverts ever – indeed one of the best things you’ll ever watch – is Tony Kaye’s iconic Dunlop advert, in which a car shod with the brand’s rubber evades a number of tricky physical conditions. Sounds straightforward, right? Wrong. Kaye combined The Velvet Underground’s Venus In Furs with the sort of nightmarish psycho-sexual imgery that would have Davids Lynch and Cronenberg scuttling under the duvet. And this is advertising tyres.
It’s a high watermark in television advertising and there was also a series of decent ads for Volvo around the same time. So who better to launch a range of foodstuffs with an original and unlikely provenance – not to mention a charismatic owner – on an unsuspecting public?
Kaye has been in a kind of celluloid purgatory for some time now, largely thanks to being as mad as hatter. He may be brilliant but there’s a litany of bad behaviour to take into account. It simply doesn’t matter how amazing you are – act like a dick long enough and, for all your talent, the phone will stop ringing. And advertising deleted Tony Kaye’s number some time ago, before blocking him and reporting his Twitter account.
Emmanuel-Jones gets props for being Tony’s resurrection then. And the man himself can still frame a shot. The Black Farmer advert looks beautiful. Unfortunately the sum of the parts looks like a bad parody of Kaye. It’s a haphazard mish-mash of references (while battling cancer the self-titled Black Farmer, a former Parliamentary candidate for the Tory party, promised himself he would learn to dance flamenco – see if you can spot the references) and throws a lot of Englishesque references at a wall that has meaningless words daubed on it in monochrome 90s typefaces. I’m only surprised we didn’t see KEEP CALM AND EAT SAUSAGES pop up in Gill Sans.
This is a portrait of England that could only have been made by someone who is only vaguely familiar with it, a pot-pourri of archetypes that might be used ironically elsewhere. Here they just seems clueless: a snapshot of our country as reported by a hapless American reporter, earnestly stating that Muslims rule Birmingham, dentists are illegal and Billy Connolly is married to The Queen.
The strains of Rule Britannia towards the end smack of hauntology and austerity nostalgia – a queasy requisitioning of jingoistic vintage, repackaged to make us hanker for something that never really existed. This too has presumably come from somewhere in the subconscious of Emmanuel-Jones, a yearning for something that is probably most vivid in the imagination of people like Sajid Javid, who believe that Britain could be great again if only the plebs stopped whinging and went to work in the mines for six days a week and animals exist to be killed for the pleasure of humans.
The Black Farmer advert was designed, says Emmanuel-Jones, to make people think: “What the bloody hell was all that about?”. I’m afraid it doesn’t succeed by that meagre metric, beyond an initial raise of the eyebrow.
It’s all too familiar now in a world that hums with this stuff: post-modern references; jump cuts and clashing audio; the kind of imperial appropriation that union-flag waving and militaristic music reek of. In a world where fucking bad poetry is already plastered across social media networks “I’m a black cat… with a white tail” doesn’t even startle through its inherent badness. It’s just another fart in a flatulent world.
Can a pack of sausages not simply be a pack of sausages? Must we reify everything in our lives, to force meaning upon things where none exists? Tony Kaye’s advert pitches The Black Farmer as some sort of embodiment of British eccentricity, brilliance, glory. But sometimes a sausage is just a sausage. And, Kaye or no, a turd is a turd.
Favourite Black Farmer advert tweets
— Caroline Nicholls (@CJGIRL27) April 8, 2016