This article first appeared in The Oxford Student in November 2014, in the last issue before the end of term. I was quite happy with this one as well – I was really into Charlie Brooker at the time, and I thought I captured that bitter style of comedy quite well. Looking back, it’s hard to avoid thinking I was so much older then… All the same, I do still quite like it, and was really pleased when I went for that interview (see? we can do continuity here!) and the editor said she’d read it. So Merry Christmas.
Ah, here we go again. I know I’m starting to get old because it really does feel like it’s been about fifteen minutes since people were getting teary about Lily Allen songs and cartoon bears, yet apparently it’s been almost a year and people are now talking about variations on the same vapid theme. In fact, I only know that any time has passed at all because I am now old enough to be in a position to write one of the inevitable columns moaning about Christmas adverts. Time marches on, but ultimately it only loops back on itself, exhausting those it drags along for the ride. Everything here has happened before and will happen again. So it goes.
Merry Christmas, by the way.
With that in mind, I offer a few reactions to the proliferation of glitter and guff that will be polluting all of our screens for the next few weeks, as well as an examination of a few of the more controversial ones. Because, as I said, that’s kind of what you do at this time of year.
So let’s start with the king of Christmas ads; Coca-Cola. Their video this year involves Santa Claus swigging from a bottle of brown, sugary acid and using a magic book to spy on various proles getting totally wowed-out by some faces drawn in the snow, or gawping at a fleet of Coca-Cola delivery lorries, wrapped in a starry-eyed delight at the operations of the glorious capitalist machine.
Morrisons turn in their usual awful cover of a perfectly decent song, and Ant and Dec are there because aren’t they always.
Marks and Spencer’s advert concerns a pair of fairies spying on people’s gifts and interfering in their personal lives, and comes with its own hashtag, #followthefairies, though frankly, after covering #GamerGate last week, I never want to see another hashtag as long as I live, and it ruined an already pretty creepy video.
The most tolerable advert of the crop I forced myself through for the purpose of researching this article was easily the one for Aldi, as it was a) mercifully short at a mere sixty seconds, and b) was focused on Christmastime as something to be enjoyed with other people through the purchase of goods and services, rather than attempting to sell things will disingenuously yanking at your heart strings.
Because this is the thing; adverts cannot emotionally engage. Ever. Whatever the content of an ad, the viewer’s emotional investment evaporates as soon as the price tag is shown and they brought crashing back down to economic reality. Furthermore, we know that the faceless corporations which produce them have no soul, and seeing them attempt to recreate human emotion is like watching a Cyberman trying to tap-dance. It’s laughable at best, and downright offensive at worst.
Which brings us to the most controversial of this year’s Christmas adverts; the one for Sainsbury’s. In case you’ve somehow managed to miss it so far, here’s the lowdown: the advert depicts the famous 1914 Christmas day truce between allied and German soldiers, and shows a number of soldiers getting up out of the trenches and gleefully frolicking in the pristine snow of no-man’s-land before exchanging Sainsbury’s own brand chocolate and going home for a kip. It’s mawkish, disingenuous, and utterly misses the point of the historical event it aims to depict. The 1914 Christmas day truce is not a demonstration of the Christmas spirit triumphing despite insurmountable odds or any of that jazz. It is a demonstration of the pointlessness and horror of the first world war, that these two groups of people had absolutely no quarrel, and yet were forced to fight at the behest of outdated and incompetent superiors. It’s something we would all do well to remember on the centenary of the war’s outbreak, and for Sainsbury’s to appropriate this event for commercial ends is utterly sickening.
But what did we expect? They’re a company, and expecting emotional intelligence or basic common decency from corporate entities is like expecting reindeer to be able to fly around the entire world in twenty-four hours. You can’t see how it would even begin to be possible.
That’s why I applaud the rise of remixers and the like on Youtube- people have re-cut the various Christmas ads for their own amusement, and often provided immeasurably entertaining content; particular favourites include a version of Sainsbury’s advert set to a re-worked version of ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and a version of the John Lewis ad edited to fit audio from the horror film Babadook. Because that is what Christmas is really about; not the crass commercialism, but sharing a laugh with your friends and family. Preferably at the expense of crass commercialism.
Have a lovely holiday.