Friday, 18 November 2011

Never Knowingly Over-commercialised?

[I contributed this week’s ‘Connecting with Culture’ from the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. I’m not entirely happy with the final product; it was difficult to limit myself to the 400 word count and say all I really wanted to say. Ah well... I’m also grateful for the help of my colleague, Neil Hudson, who suggested a few lines.]

Even if you’ve not yet seen the John Lewis Christmas TV advert, the chances are you’ve heard about it – through colleagues at work, Facebook friends, or just about any national newspaper. Within a few hours of being broadcast, it was trending on Twitter and has already had over 1,800,000 hits on YouTube – three times more in a week than its counterpart last Christmas managed in a year.

High production values, careful editing, and a few nods to classic movies combine to tell the story of a young boy counting down the days to Christmas only to ignore his own presents on Christmas morning for the joy of giving his parents their gift. Ending with the tagline ‘For gifts you can’t wait to give’, it has apparently reduced grown men and women to tears.

Others, however, have balked at the £6million price tag for the campaign, or condemned it as a clichéd, overly sentimental example of commercial manipulation, yet another victory for consumerism, and a cynical way of making money – only slightly offset by the policy of John Lewis to reward its workers with a share in the profits. Fans of Morrissey are divided on whether he has done the unthinkable in allowing the 1984 Smiths song, ‘Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want’ to be borrowed, covered in this case by Slow Moving Millie, using a hymn about unrequited love to sell goods to the middle-classes.

Even so, although the scenes contain John Lewis products, they are not centre-stage. In fact, the emphasis is not on the value of presents so much as the warmth of relationship. As such, the advert gestures towards what we hope to be true. We want generous-hearted children who know that ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35). Maybe the child embodies qualities we’d like for ourselves.

The joy of giving rather than receiving is somewhat hackneyed, but no less true for that, not least for those who are themselves part of the story in which God loves, Jesus serves, and the Spirit ministers – in self-giving tenderness towards us.

Here, perhaps, is a way of truly ‘connecting with culture’. But it’s also the challenge presented in culture to us. Mawkishness and sentiment aside, how might we demonstrate over the festive season and beyond a generosity of heart and home?


View the John Lewis Christmas 2011 Advert on YouTube.

Read the press release from John Lewis on the Christmas 2011 TV advert.

Take a look at Stuart Jeffries, ‘What John Lewis and other stores’ TV ads tell us about Christmas 2011’, The Guardian (15 November, 2011).

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