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27 Nov 2012 - 05:05:22 pm


By now we are being pulverised by advertisements for Christmas. Newspapers couldn't wait to shout out about Christmas parties weeks back. TV ads feature impossibly happy and welcoming families having joyous times, to a background of usually doleful music more suited to a wake. 

There must be some serious PR psychology going in to that one; nothing celebratory, all melancholy, nostalgia and, God help us, pristine snow - never impassable floods. The families in these broadcast ads are all beautiful, smiling - none are beating the drunken crap out of one another. Members are not accusing each other of having neglected their sick mother while having a ball in Australia all year. The daughter whose child is fatherless does not make an appearance. No one's planning a Christmas Day visit to prison to see the son who's gone astray. No one takes a drunken pee in the sink. No one dies. Everyone has money and Henry VIII-sized tranchers of grub before them. All that's missing is a stuffed swan. 

The essence of Christmas advertising is joy, beauty and security. There is no pain, no grief, no loneliness and no poverty. No making do. There is no room here for reality, for unemployment, despair, loneliness. More significantly, there is no room for single people for whom the Christmas period is a time of dread, isolation, sorrow and even homelessness. There is no mention of people for whom Christmas street-lights herald a period of profound anguish; those who live alone, who have suffered personal tragedy. When my mother died, my father, spending his first Christmas without her, was deeply disturbed by Bing Crosby and Elvis Presley blurting out false good wishes from every broadcasting orifice. He was reduced to tears and anger. For a long period of time I fought with the terror of finding myself alone on Christmas Day - where would one go, on a day when the world shut down? And worse, one was being forced to be happy? One's sense of being on one's own was alchemised into a neurotic and insomniac dread which built up from the end of September. An invitation to spend the day with another person's family only emphasised the agony. Some people can cope; others simply cannot. It was also mesmerising, and frightening, to see the speed with which friends and acquaintances retreated into family, as if they had not acquired any individual independence at all: no one ever suggested that a group of us could possible organise a Christmas merely around ourselves. No accomodation whatever, it seems to me, and in such a conservative society as Ireland, is made for the single person at this season of goodwill. 

Christmas advertising, naturally, diverts attention away from drunken road accidents, alcohol-fuelled violence and the myriad other joys awaiting the Christmas reveller. We take comfort in advertising that creates a Disneyland projection of a Dickensian merriment; we do not have to think of the ugliness of poverty at this time of year, we can dismiss fleeting visions of young girls alone in rooms nursing children on famine economies made worse by politicians for whom Christmas seems to come with every pay cheque. We can erect dreadfully cosy Bethlehem mangers without thinking of the violence wreaked on the West Bank, wherein Bethlehem lies. Let us not think of Israel's Operation Defensive Shield, when IDF forces occupied the town.

Christmas, the advertisers would have us believe, is a time-out-of-time, a separate dimensional zone where all manner of unity and happiness is possible. It is not intended to relate in any way to the Real World, where bad things happen. It is a refuge towards which beautiful, de-sexualised girls and handsome young men trudge to enjoy the security of home. Contrast this scenario with the wonderful ad that shows a stricken mother saying goodbye to her son who, having married a German girl, is leaving home with a handful of the oul' sod packed in a box. For advertising (and I once devilled in the trade) is about emotionalisms that are cleansed of the brutality of emotion. We are not enouraged to visualise a mother who grieves for days over a lost son; neither are we encouraged to think of lonely Christmas days. Advertising is not about reality; otherwise we could sue for false advertising every car manufacturer who employs a beautiful girl to advertise a new car, on the grounds that the girl should come, as the ad suggests, with the car. Christmas advertising is about a play being acted out on a well-lighted stage with actors chosen, not for their resemblance to us, but for how we would wish to see ourselves. We are seduced by the play, the script, the special effects. We want to be players in this scene. We grieve the more for realising that we cannot be. And most cynical of all, the whole stage-set is dismantled, ironically, on Christmas Day, when the need to sell products through the myth of advertising has evaporated. Already the sunshine-filled holiday offers occupy our screens. 

With poverty looming all around us, along with the threat of losing our homes, cars, even family, Christmas advertising these days is propaganda. The war is going well, we are told, despite the Stalingrads banging on our doors. The lost, the lonely, the destitute, the victims of the very excess being flaunted at us to whispy music and fake snowfalls, can be forgotten. Those for whom Christmas means upping the doses of anti-depressant medication are locked outside our consciousness. They are Other, the enemy at the gates. The hypnotic of myth sustains us. While the battle rages on. We have much to be thankful for. 

Christmas Truce on The Western Front - cigarette advertiser's nightmare.

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Comment from: Frank K Hanover [ Visitor ] Website
Drily erudite and well informed accounting of the Christmas hypocrisy, Fred. My personal sentiments are echoed throughout and I think it's an important reflection at this time of violent commercialism.
   2012-11-30 @ 10:55:11 pm

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