I’ve been musing on heroes lately. One of my greatest is Jarvis Cocker whose pop anthem, Common People, is one of the greatest songs ever written. Is it any wonder that any time Pulp played it at festivals, the audience reacted with such glorious enthusiasm and energy? There is no-one who hasn’t at some time felt an outsider in a world where so many others seem to be confident and glamorous, and rich. What Jarvis does so perfectly is to articulate the allure while showing the absurdity.
But now, here is Jarvis, hero of common people like us, and what is he doing? He is using his beautiful voice on ubiquitous TV adverts in which he describes recipes – Omelettes with goat’s cheese? Really? – made from luscious items, courtesy of Sainsbury’s.
I have struggled with this. Why did he accept the job? Surely he must know that every time people like me watch him describe in soft, seductive tones yet another dubious concoction of ingredients, our immediate reaction is one of disappointment and disillusion.
But now I see that I have been unfair. It is never wise to put individuals on pedestals. Charles Dickens wrote passionately about social injustice and yet he behaved with great cruelty to his middle-aged wife. Elizabeth Jane Howard wrote with searing wisdom about the follies of love and yet her private life was chaotic. There are charismatic actors who turn out to be husbands from Hell; there are likable politicians who prove to be ruthless in their pursuit of personal gain. It is unfair to expect Jarvis to be the ever-principled outsider. In the grand scale of things, providing the voice-over to Sainsbury adverts is not such a great crime, however irritating the adverts are. (And they are SO irritating.)