By James Dacey
For those of you outside of the UK, or those who were not quite so firmly glued to the telly over Christmas, you may not yet have had the pleasure (or pain) of viewing Stephen Hawking’s latest dalliance into popular culture. Hawking is the chief protagonist in a new television advert for the price-comparison website gocompare.com, as part of the company’s “Saving the Nation” campaign. Playing the boffin hero, Hawking apparently does the UK a favour by ridding it of the character Gio Compario, an impassioned but unbearable comedy maestro who spends his days singing about the “go compare” brand. Compario meets his sorry end on a UK high street when he is sucked into a black hole created by the mischievous Hawking, who is seen grinning with glee at the outcome.
I was left with the mixed feelings of mild amusement and utter horror at the cheesiness of the advert, precisely as intended by its creators. The fact that I am even writing this post proves that the advertisers have achieved their objective, though I would hasten to add that I neither approve nor disapprove of the website – in fact, I’ve never even used it. A more interesting debate to me is whether – after all things are considered – the use of physics and a celebrity cosmologist in this advert are good things for science. On the one hand, it shows just how firmly established Hawking is in the public consciousness. I think it is fair to say that when it comes to popular culture, physics and geeky humour in general are enjoying a day in the sun at the moment. You just need to look at the popularity of a show like The Big Bang Theory and the growing appeal of science television presenters such as Michio Kaku and Brian Cox, not to mention Hawking’s cameo appearances in The Simpsons.
On the other hand, if you are not willing to suspend disbelief, you might start to nit-pick just a little about the plot of this advert. You might start to ask some terribly pedantic questions such as “How can it be that while Gio Compario is hoovered up by a black hole, the other people on the high street manage to miraculously escape it unharmed?”. On a more political note, you may also ask whether a man of Hawking’s talents should not be devoting his time to something a bit more meaningful. Though you could hardly accuse him of being the first celebrity to make a bit of cash thorough appearing in TV commercials.
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