Who listens to head girls?

23rd September 2005 at 01:00
There was a frisson of incredulous excitement at the news that the bright boys at Universal Records who are marketing Jamie Cullum, the jazzpop idol, have hit upon the wheeze of sending posters, promos and a CD to the head girl of every all-girls school they can find. The theory, presumably, is that the distinguished recipients will be converted and draw fellow pupils in their wake.

Aaaah! There is something deeply touching about the existence of marketing men so innocent that they believe head girls are considered groovy role models by the pouting, hip-jutting, sighing, hair-flicking little ravers halfway up the school.

You would have thought that by now the pop world would have worked out that it makes its best profits out of another type entirely: it owes its Porsches to rebellious rollers-over of school skirt waistbands, undoers of shirt buttons, bunkers-off for concerts. It is difficult to get used to the idea of a head girl looming over your snarlingly hormonal 13-year-old self with the words "Tuck your blouse in, Samantha, pull up your socks, pick up that PE kit and tomorrow I want to see uniform shoes. Oh and by the way, hep-cat, Jamie really rocks, you want to get on down to those mellow sounds, wooah yeah, and DON'T RUN IN THE CORRIDOR!".

There was a bit of press excitement about the enterprise though, not least because next to the erotic fantasy of the Convent Girl, few things excite male journalists of a certain difficult age more than the idea of a head girl. From Bruennhilde to Joan Hunter-Dunn to Virginia Bottomley, something Germanic in our national make-up causes our men to respond excitably to the idea of a tall, strict-but-fair figure with a level gaze, a hockeystick and something pleated clinging to her long muscular thighs. The caricature has little validity now, what with head girls tending to be future Nicola Horlicks rather than Lady Mucks or tennis champs, but you can see how it would endure in the minds of chaps at Universal. Maybe the marketeers confused their own profound interest in head girls with the likely reaction of little girls of 12. As they say, whatever.

But never mind. I discern here a fabulous lesson for the citizenship and PSHE departments. Let the head girls, on receipt of their schmoozy parcels, gather the school in the assembly hall, solemnly.

"Girls!" they can say. "Pay attention! This week I received in the post this picture of a young male musician - who sounds, as you may know, like this ..." (pauses, plays a few bars).

"It came from something called a mar-ket-ing department, because the people there believe that I might like the music. The reason they send it to me free is that they honestly believe that because I am temporarily a leader, you are so much in my power that if I like a particular kind of music, you will too. The poster indicates that they also think that if I fancy a particular bit of trouser, you will want him as much. Thus by converting me, they will make a profit out of you.

"Now, how insulting is that? It's a bit like those mass conversions of the Middle Ages that we did in history, right? It's as if you were sheep. It's an insult to your individuality. But come to think of it, girls, it's no different to the celebrity consumer culture that is fed to you from every medium. Designers think you'll want their clothes because they offer them free or to It Girls, or indeed Mrs Blair. Advertisers think you'll buy their sofas because they hire Linda Barker to sit on them, or shop at Sainsbury's because they pay Jamie Oliver. Even charities think that evidence of their work is not enough unless they get actors to click their fingers or royalty to pose with sick babies. You'd think that the sick baby or the smart sofa could be allowed to speak for themselves, to anyone but a moron: but no, marketeers think you're sheep and celebrities are your shepherds.

"So what I say is: if you like this jazz boy, go for it. If you don't, ignore him. But remember that I, your head girl, like any political leader or public figure, am but a passing spectre in your life, with limited responsibility. I am appointed to display and promote certain codes of behaviour which stop school being chaos, but that does not make me a better judge of music, or clothes, or even ideas. Stay free, decide what you like, have the courage to like it even if nobody else does. I am your head girl but I have no sway inside your head.

"Oh, and don't run in the corridors. OK. Dismiss!"

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