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October 29, 2015updated 25 Jan 2016 5:20pm

What the making of Zero Dark Thirty teaches us about goody bag hungry-HNWs

By Sam Leith

So: something we can all get behind: goody bags. Already I see your eyes lighting up. The topic presented itself to me the other day when I read a Daily Telegraph report headlined: ‘Zero Dark Thirty makers tempted CIA agents with jewellery and tequila.’ Well, why not? Aren’t CIA agents human like the rest of us? Have they not hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Are they not susceptible to the sweet lure of the goody bag just like the rest of us?

So it has been proved by experiment. An internal CIA investigation has established that the film’s writer, Mark Boal, so successfully buttered up various agents that he was invited to ‘the CIA’s classified bin Laden awards ceremony “held inside a large tent” outside the main entrance of CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia’, where he heard a speech by the CIA’s director that ‘should not have been heard by anyone outside the intelligence community’.

And thus the Company’s fortress of silence was penetrated, and the secrets of OBL’s demise leaked to the cinema-going public. OK, there is an argument that the spooks were a bit wilier than they gave out, given that the film’s main findings are that torture works, US special forces kick ass and the Pakistanis didn’t have anything to do with it — but that’s a conversation for another day.

What detains us here is a human truth: that free stuff is one of the great pleasures of the world, a pleasure that a) almost nobody is immune to; and that b) is entirely unrelated to the actual stuff that is free. Is it ugly, useless, vulgar, trashy? Is it something you’d pay your own money not to have in the house? Doesn’t matter: pile it in the wagon.

What is the ne plus ultra of the goody bag? Why, it’s the one given out at the Oscars. As Withnail says in Withnail and I: ‘Free to those that can afford it; very expensive to those that can’t.’ Each year some of the most well-paid and privileged people on the planet lug away a king’s ransom in cool, or coolish, stuff. To wit, this year, a $160,000 assortment of inane bits and bobs including herbal tea lollipops, a year’s free rental of an Audi A4, vibrators and ‘orgasm boosters’, a gold pushbike, a $20,000 voucher for a celebrity psychic, a glamping holiday and a four-pack of chocolate flavoured protein drinks.

The Venn-diagram overlap between the very few people on earth who will receive this stuff and the very few people on earth who can afford not to be bothered whether they do or not is almost total. If you’re Charlie Sheen, $160,000 is what you earn during a wee-break in your trailer on set: but remember, it’s FREE. And so, dollars to doughnuts, when an A-list star wakes up under a dead hooker the morning after the Oscars, somewhere in his hotel room will be the goody bag he brought home.

Of course, the sort of goody bag with which we NHNWs (non-high-net-worths) or UNHNWs (unfortunately-non-high-net-worths) are more familiar is less exciting. They are usually plastic and contain: one packet Haribo Tangfastics (parents, for the consumption of); one tub bubble-mixture (for spilling on the back seat of the car); one small box colouring pencils (siblings, for the stabbing of); one cardboard eye mask (for precipitating vicious row between siblings because the giraffe mask is better than the zebra mask).

Then again, my infrequent trips to awards ceremonies and parties organised by PR firms have resulted in a haul of heavily branded desk diaries, ugly and weird-smelling scented candles, chrome propelling pencils and microscopic bottles of exotic alcohol in extravagant packaging. All these are things I fall on as I stumble from the party — ‘Can I have an extra one for, um, my wife?’ — and lug laboriously home to dump on the sofa of my north London fastness, where they will remain uninvestigated until my wife next has a clear-out.

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What do all these things have in common? They are random, almost completely useless… and utterly, utterly desirable because they are the contents of goody bags. It seems that this tells us something rather profound about the nature of human acquisitiveness; or, perhaps, something rather shallow. It tells us that famous actors, ligging journos and CIA agents, deep in their secret selves, are still six-year-olds with faces smeared with hedgehog cake, shrieking because they wanted the giraffe mask.

That highly classified Bin Laden awards ceremony, by the way: what wouldn’t we all have given for a closer look at that? Was it called ‘the Binnies’? Did they see President Obama busting out some dance moves when the disco started? Was there a cake in the shape of the compound in Abbottabad? Gushing acceptance speeches for ‘Best Good Cop in a Waterboarding Scenario’ or ‘Least Crashed Helicopter’?

We can dream. But, my word: imagine the goody bags!

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