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Adverts - Smiley People

Observer, 2 February 1997, page 9


Extraordinary things are said of the Church of Scientology. For example, that its headquarters staff dress up like the stars of On the Town, and that its scriptures insist that certain sorts of body hair are manifestations of turbulent spirits left over from former lives. Given this, it seemed fair to expect that its first televised `public awareness message' would ferry us to the wilder shores of the cosmos. Instead, we've got a reconditioned Coca-Cola ad.

Much has already been written about the `Trust' commercial, as it is known, because it was banned in 1993 by the Independent Television Commission on the grounds that it breached guidelines governing religious advertising. The concern was not that the Scientologists were after your money or claiming to be the one true creed, but that their rites and forms of observance were not accessible to the general public. This decision has now been amended apparently, the ITC has decided that anyone and their Uncle Bert can go to a Scientologist wedding if they really want to and the ad can be seen on Channel 4 from tomorrow.

It's a terrible lot of slop. Twenty people representing the Designer Global Family gaze glutinously from the screen and utter the single word `trust' or its equivalent in the speaker's native tongue. A piano soundtrack then soars to a crescendo, the Family members are shown gabbing in perfect harmony, and an English male voice-over instructs us that, 'On the day when we can fully trust each other, there will be peace on Earth'. He continues: 'The Church of Scientology offers practical wisdom which it believes will help you to lead a happier and more fulfilling life.' This leaves a number of unanswered questions. Does the Church of Scientology offer more than ICI or the Midland Bank? Is the knitwear by Benetton? And where was Michael Jackson? Unlike Tom Cruise and John Travolta, Jackson isn't a convert, but this kind of schlock is so much his metier that his absence seems almost unnatural.

None of these are likely to be answered in the book What Is Scientology? which is plugged, together with an information number, at the end. Nonetheless, the Scientologists will surely regard the broadcast of the ad as a major advance. The rest of us are left searching for handholds on the rock face of infinity. Life and its aftermath once seemed so much simpler. Twenty-five years ago, a mysterious American called Les Crane was riding high in the British Top 20 with his vintage reading of 'Desiderata'. 'No doubt,' he intoned, in a sage basso profundo, 'the universe is unfolding as it should.' Les, we're having our doubts. Where are you now?

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