24 June, 2013Issue 22.5EssaysPolitics & Society

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Your Boomerang Won’t Come Back

Stephanie Yorke

Your Boomerang Won't Come Back

Tribe: We’ve got a lot of trouble, chief, on account of your son Mac.
Chief: My boy Mac? Why, what’s wrong with him?
Mac: My boomerang won’t come back!

Charlie Drake, 1961 (i)

Of course I find a lot of advertising obnoxious. Repeat a phrase or an image until it gets stuck under your skin like chigger spit, and you’ve got an advertising campaign. “Cheap car insurance? Meerkats. Two very different things.” “Zoom, zoom, zoom!” “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s Mastercard.” And a couple still rattling my skull two decades after my North American girlhood: “It’s Patrick, he took out life insurance!” “I’m Jim THE HAMMER Shapiro.” It works, and it offends the intellect.

But what’s less common is an advertising campaign that offends the sensibilities, so I’d like to commend Barclays for taking that step beyond the irritating into the sophisticatedly pernicious. I don’t know if you caught the poster campaign in late winter—the one that appeared just before the happy, secure pregnant ladies that emerged this spring—but it was a real winner. The advertisement for the Family Springboard Mortgage featured a father and adult daughter face to face, in profile. The father had a real beak on him, I remember, and the daughter had a little turned nose. In the animated version, the pair swapped places as the caption changed from “I want help buying my first home” to “But I need to protect my savings.” What the Family Springboard Mortgage offers is an opportunity for the adult children of parents with property and good credit to be given a boost for buying a first home. The website explains: “the average age of a first time unassisted buyer is now 35, with family members playing a large role in helping those younger than this get on the property ladder.”

It looks as though Barclays is cashing in on the so-called boomerang generation, along with the general disruption in home buying patterns. As The Independent summarises, “Every year more and more graduates return home to roost, driven back to Mum and Dad by draconian landlords and a hostile job market.” The Economist describes said graduates a little less sympathetically: “Britain has become less like Scandinavia, where young people tend to leave home at 18 or 19 and never return, and more like a Mediterranean country, where kids can stick around for decades. There is one difference, however. In countries like Italy, parents tend to want to keep their children at home”. Commentators alternately stick the blame on the economy or the unenterprising children who imitate the wrong Europeans. No matter who’s responsible, though, there’s a great deal of apprehension about what can and should be done to restore an economic order, wherein young middle class university graduates proceed into their own house. While Mac’s boomerang failure in the Charlie Drake song causes him to be banished from the clan until he can master the throw-and-return, the boomerang returns of an imagined boomerang generation invite new fiscal programmes for successful throwing, sans returning. The boomerang ought not to come back; perhaps the Family Springboard Mortgage can keep it thrown.

There are a lot of potential avenues of criticism of this particular advertising programme, in terms of both its sentiments and what it promotes. The drive toward home-ownership is ecologically dreadful, as it prompts us to heat a larger space where a smaller space would do; a special loan programme to enable families to install a layer of soundproofing between the main floor and the basement might be more in keeping with the times. I also have a bone to pick with any banker who’d recommend getting ageing parents to sign against a loan in a volatile economy, unless said parents have a proper horde of money.

And that’s just it. Sometimes the glass ceiling is pretty opaque. The father and daughter, face to face, might as well have a plate of cold fried chicken between them as they work out how to shore up privilege. Being reminded of and sold this mode of living inheritance—where your parents’ property defines your access to the same into your thirties and forties—shouldn’t sit well, no matter what your social background is. Barclays has provided this robin-egg-blue reminder that the Family Springboard Mortgage hasn’t got a counterpart in the Lack of Family Springboard Mortgage and that if your parents don’t have much of a house, you can probably look forward to moving back into it. Unless you can’t.

(i) You can hear the ear-grippingly awful, racist selection of novelty pop concerned here.

Stephanie Yorke is the author of the poetry collection Both Boys Climb Trees they Can’t Climb Down. She is reading for a D.Phil. in English Literature at Wolfson College, Oxford.