BRIANWAVE COLUMN No 30: September 1996

Uglies of the World, unite

Brian J Ford

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I shan’t buy a bottle of Martini again. Their television advertisements are quite the most irritating I have seen, more puerile and patronising than the worst of the motor-car commercials. The thrust of the theme is that Martini is suitable only for beautiful people. Uglies aren’t served.

It is true that a dour-faced individual can look completely different if they cheer up and smile. Princess Diana, radiant little thing that she is, can look not unlike a stewed haddock if her little brain is clouded by unworthy thoughts.

That, however, isn’t Martini’s point. They jokingly say that a person with an ugly face isn’t worthy of their drink. Have they no idea how insidious is the notion of ugliness in society? Victorian scientists nurtured a discipline known as physiognomy, which tried to relate the external appearance of someone’s face to what went on within.

Half the global population is below average attractiveness. I am not sure where the cut-off point between acceptable and ugly kicks in, but I do know people who regard themselves as ugly and hate the fact. They’d give anything to be beautiful, and the advertisements for Martini would annoy them publicly, if only they could pluck up courage to say so.

Our culture is based on a rejection of ugliness. Only one attractive exception comes to mind, for there is a succulent fruit named the ugli. It is a hybrid between the grapefruit and tangerine, and tastes like a ripe blackberry. It peels well, falls easily into segments, and is the most delicious citrus I know. Doubtless it owes its name to its external appearance, which is wrinkled, blotchy and thoroughly unappetising.

Elsewhere, ugly means bad. Cinderella was picked on, not merely by a wicked step-mother, but by her two ugly sisters. In the tale recounted by Hans Christian Andersen, the life of the ugly duckling was transformed by its maturation into a wonderfully attractive swan. No mention is made of the other ugly ducklings who grew, simply, into ugly ducks.

Some people are ugly because they hold themselves in an unattractive fashion. Others acquired ugliness from an accident of birth, or through a failure to correct a surgical abnormality. Most are ugly because of their genetic constitution. Ugliness is a burden. Indeed, I spent much of my adolescence regretting the fact that I was clearly the ugliest young man for miles. Many teenagers feel much the same way.

Ridiculing a sector of society for something they do not like, and cannot help, is distasteful. Ugly people will not wish to drink Martini, after that, and beautiful people will treat it with contempt. Only the mindless minority, easily bought through cheap commercial subterfuge, will stand a chance of being taken in.

Martini is one of the many brand names given to herbal wines from Italy. They are steeped in herbs to produce that characteristic taste. As a group, they are known as Vermouth, a word deriving from wormwood, the name of one of the principle herbs used to impart the distinctive flavour. They were originally used to disguise the repellant flavour of inferior Italian wine, and the taste caught on.

Wormwood, is of course, known for leaving a bitter taste in the mouth. I have to say that Martini have left one in mine.

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