Raphael Vassallo | Sunday, 18 January 2009

Coccolino the coke dealer

I have taken to reading Dante’s Inferno for a little light bedtime amusement, and... what the hell is this, anyway? Why all the fascination with popes, prelates, bishops and cardinals?
Honestly. Anyone would think that Evil would not exist at all, without a stream of Papal Bull to constantly emanate from the Catholic Church. And all those devils in Hell? They'd be out of a job altogether, were it not for the steady flow of Pontifical posteriors to poke with their impish implements, fiendishly, forever...
Well, Mr Alighieri, I have some news for you. You think your life was Hell in the Dark Ages? Think again. All you lot really had to complain about was the Catholic Church. We, on the other hand, have: teleshopping; Joe Morales; Edward Spiteri; Silvio Parnis, and the Seven Deadly Hairsprays... and that’s not to mention the Ultimate Evil that stares at us each day from the lidless eye of our television set: yes, that's right...

The fabricconditioner advert!
For heaven's sake: am I to understand that out of seven whole circles of Hell, not a single one was reserved for the creators of Coccolino?
You know the one I mean: that little diarrhoea-brown Teddy bear; so cute and cuddly; so evidently castrated; so passionately earnest, as it praises the softness of newly laundered linen in a grating and insipid falsetto that makes you want to rip its fluffy little head right off its furry body, and empty its stuffing all over the room...
Then there's that old, classic Persil ad which went something like: “Wouldn’t it be nice to wake to whiteness...?”
Yes, I suppose it would. And it would be even nicer if the perpetrators of this heinous desecration of the classic Beach Boys track were transferred by rendition flight to the Guantanamo Spa and Holiday Resort for a little Surfin’ USA...
Oh, and that’s not to mention that obese little kid, stuffing his face with a greasy hot dog, only to spill a mixture of ketchup, mustard, mayo and motor oil onto his mother’s pristine white tablecloth. And guess what? Instead of kicking the crap out of the spoilt little brat like he so thoroughly deserves, his mummy turns to him and simpers:
“A-w-w-w... good thing we have ‘Smak Magic’, which removes the toughest of stains, even at cold temperatures, without pre-wash...”?

OK, OK, so I harbour a mild aversion to televised commercials featuring laundry products. Guilty as charged. But I admit I also exaggerate the intrinsic evil of stain-removal awareness. For every once in a while, an ad comes along which stands out from the others for its sheer wit and ingenuity.
To cite one example: can’t remember the product off-hand (which goes to show what a brilliant ad it really was) but let’s face it: if it wasn’t Dixan, it was something equally white and powdery. So let’s just say it was Dixan, and to hell with it.
Picture the scene: we’re in an airport somewhere in Eastern Europe, and a spotty little British teenager (for some reason, youngsters chosen for British commercials always suffer from severe acne) is waiting for a customs official to finish rifling through his luggage.
Sure enough, the official fishes out a small transparent plastic bag, containing what appears to be a white, powdery substance...
“Oh, that’s just my Dixan,” the spotty kid says amicably. “My mum packed it along with everything else...”
“Ah, yes,” the customs officer replies as he reaches for the emergency alarm. “That’s what they always say... GUARDS!”
And off the poor, blemished Briton gets hauled by the secret Perlana police, kicking and screaming all the way to the depot to be interrogated as a drug trafficker.

Yes, indeed: advertising at its finest. Because apart from being slick, sophisticated and unsentimental for a change... it is also highly realistic.
Think about it: that is EXACTLY what would have happened, in every single detail, if the customs official were Maltese.
Nor would it stop there. For one thing, the police's media unit would issue a press statement claiming to have “cracked a major international cocaine ring”, after a tip-off led to the arrest of a major international drug trafficker at the airport.
And needless to add, this would be dutifully reported by all the media, without a single journalist bothering to wait for the police’s claims to be confirmed by the ensuing toxicological report.
Meanwhile, back at the Depot, our hapless pizza-faced friend would be presented with a written confession of his nefarious crimes, which he will be expected to sign as a matter of course, or face additional charges of failing to co-operate with the police.
In vain will he demand access to a lawyer; for though this is considered a basic human right throughout the rest of Europe, in Malta we still observe the Dante Alighieri style of interrogation: guilty until proven otherwise.
The teenager would then be arraigned in court – by the same police officers who interrogated him – and the magistrate will no doubt uphold the prosecution’s request to deny him bail... arguing that, being a foreigner, he would no doubt abscond at the first opportunity.
(Later that same morning, in two separate sittings, the same magistrate will happily grant bail to a businessman who had just shot his partner dead in front of several witnesses; and to another who had defrauded several clients of their life-savings, leaving them all penniless.)
And, hey presto! The toxicological report is finally made public, and concludes – surprise, surprise – that the white, powdery substance was not cocaine at all... but a popular household brand of textile detergent.
But so what? After all, the die is now cast. The infallible police force has staked its entire reputation on this case, and would look rather foolish if it had to backtrack now. The Attorney General has likewise thrown his hat into the ring... and Attorney Generals, in Malta and elsewhere, tend overwhelmingly to avoid making embarrassing public admissions of misjudgement.
And besides, let’s be honest here: who the hell cares if an innocent little brat goes to jail, when the alternative is nothing less than the graphic exposure of Malta’s police force, AG’s office and the entire judicial system as little more than a disgraceful shambles?
So the AG simply changes the bill of indictment, arguing that while the substance itself might not have been illegal, the trafficker was nonetheless under the impression that it was.
And never mind that not a jot of evidence is ever brought forward to sustain this charge (who needs evidence, anyway, when you have opinion columnists?) After all, it is the AG's word against that of a spotty British teenager who in any case happens to look like a drug trafficker to your typical Maltese juror.

And of course, the judge presiding over this high-profile "drug smuggling case" will feel compelled to make an example of this dangerous criminal – otherwise, who knows? People might even think it’s perfectly OK to pack Dixan into their suitcases when coming to Malta. So to show the world what a consistent and conscientious administrator of justice he truly his, he dishes out the maximum sentence – that’s 25 years, folks – like he has done in every single case involving drugs, real or imaginary, in his entire judicial career.
Of course, there will always be the occasional spoilsport charity like Amnesty International or Fair Trials International, who will point out that the case has violated human rights traditionally associated with arrest and detention procedure throughout the democratic world.
And yes, the ungrateful little runt himself will probably appeal... and when the Appeals Court inevitably upholds the original ruling, he might even have the audacity to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
But by that time he will no longer be the spotty little British teenager we once saw on TV: no, indeed. By then, he will have grown into a hardened, middle-aged criminal in his own right: having long fallen in with all the real-life criminals who reside in that University of Crime we call "prison".
And all along, inevitably, a small but increasingly vocal army of online commentators will loudly congratulate the Malta police force on its “string of successes” in the “war on drugs”... and it will never, ever, ever, EVER occur to them, that while Malta wasted all its law enforcement resources on the paranoid pursuit of Dixan dealers and Persil peddlers, real heroin and cocaine traffickers have had a free run of practically the entire country... with results that can apparently be purchased in small, transparent sachets on every street corner in Paceville.

As the old Persil ad once put it: "Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a serious country for a change...?"


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