Ramsey Naja is chief creative officer at JWT MEA
“As the final prizes were being distributed at the MENA Cristal awards recently, my thoughts somehow drifted to Ben Johnson. Now, regardless if, like me, your knowledge of athletics is a pub quiz liability, one thing is certain: the moment you say “Ben Johnson” people fall into two camps. One person who quotes an English renaissance poet, and everyone else who replies: “Oh, you mean the cheat?”
For there was no doubt about it, Ben Johnson was a cheat. And not any cheat: he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs no less than three times, even after two bans and a comeback. But there was something special about his duplicity: when Johnson cheated, he did it beautifully, superbly, breathtakingly. He didn’t do it in some second-rate village fair, he did it when the stakes were unbelievably high and the expectations had vertigo. He cheated with the whole planet riveted to their screens, on the greatest stage, and annihilated his opponents, his greatest rival and all records in doing so. To this day, his fake triumph in the 1988 Olympics remains, for many, the greatest race ever run.
The point is, in award shows – advertising or otherwise – everyone cheats to a certain degree. Or, at least, everyone flatters to deceive. In the race to be the best in the eyes of your peers, the inclination to polish the goods to a little more shine than they were meant to have, massage the figures to a happy ending, and tread so close to the line you actually overstep it knowingly, is not just temptation, it is the girl at the bar whose eyelashes are attached to a pneumatic drill. Moreover, it comes with the justification so dear to cheating spouses: “Everyone else is doing it”.
Indeed, it was with this argument, instead of the usual, “My hamburger was made of testosterone-injected beef,” with which Ben Johnson, to his credit, defended himself… before going on to do the same thing again. And therein lies the rub: if you use anabolic steroids, at least have the decency of doing so without pontificating about the wrongs of drug abuse.”