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Offbeat – 17 August 2012


Sanitised living isn’t great, except for makers of horror movies who make money with swarms of flies and patches of grime that make you gag when you wonder what it would be like if you licked your fingers.

Once upon a time, there was a detergent ad which came close to revolutionising the ad industry. Instead of showing how white and clean clothing could be as it fluttered in a gentle breeze over green grass, it showed how dirty kids could become.

I liked that ad because it reminded me of childhood, building dams in the front yard and washing off with a hosepipe before getting in the bath to wash the rest of the mud off. The ad caused quite a stir in marketing circles, but then everything went back to the housewives with their whiter-than-white toothy smiles. As everyone in the ad industry knows, albeit on a subconscious level, a good detergent beats a handful of Prozac any day.
Somehow we got divorced from dirt over the years. My guessing is that there was also a health lobby sniffing about the detergent ad, grumbling about how unhealthy a bit of mud can be.
I don’t get to see muddy people anymore except in those look-at-these-dumb-hillbilly-hick photo shares on Facebook. The hillbillies may have something going for them though. Recent research showed that our preoccupation with hygiene is depriving us of valuable exposure to relatively harmless germs which give our immune systems a much needed workout. Our obsession with cleanliness is compromising our immune systems.
Sanitised living isn’t great, except for makers of horror movies who make money with swarms of flies and patches of grime that make you gag when you wonder what it would be like if you licked your fingers. Everything has become so bright and shiny that we need horror movies and stories to reassure us that there is something other than this unrelenting Stepford Wives suburban cheer.
How did I get here? Someone dear to me told me that her shadow creeped her out. I thought about one of the strands of northern Russian and Asian shamanism, removal of the shadow. The person who removes his or her shadow effectively becomes unreal, hidden to reality. Shadows show that we have substance, effectively make us real. It’s old metaphysics, a magical principle, but still very important.
Without germs,we could not have health. Without mud, we could not have cleanliness. And thanks to my daughter I now know that Pollyanna needed an ugly-natured person to show how a miserable situation could be twisted into something positive come hell or high water.
The world is obsessing about personal fulfillment and consumer satisfaction. The idea of emotional intelligence has reduced a huge number of routine conversations to exchanges that refuse to say anything other than. “I will absolutely not say a single word of substance or commit to anything that even remotely resembles a promise, for fear of litigation or giving offense.”
Strangely enough, this very often masquerades as customer service.
The funny thing is that all this happiness that is going around can have the opposite effect. The more people strive to be happy and refuse to absorb the lessons of Tom Waits, the more they will be unhappy. For instance, if everyone was able to drive a Porsche, most people would be unhappy not to be able to drive a Ferrari. As most people can’t afford Porsches, it’s a moot point.
So let’s just moot it. There’s an economic principle in there. Somewhere along the line, pervasiveness of Porches and the relative rarity of Ferraris causes Porsches to lose value and Ferraris to gain value. The same must be said for mud and cleanliness. The more mud we have, the more we will value clean water and cleanliness. Turning that on its head, the less mud we have, the less we will value or think about cleanliness.
The same can be said for germs and health, and misery and happiness. Illness is a precondition for health and at least some worries, fears and misery are required to complete happiness.
There’s a huge amount that can be spun out of this bit of gold, but the best thing is probably to say that if you want your children to grow up health, happy and well-rounded, let them get a bit muddy from time to time.


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