John Lewis, Get Off My Heartstrings

(the plucking, it burns!)

Yes folks, it’s that time of the year again; adverts and mascots are coming pouring out of the woodwork to commemorate the monetisation of a religious festival into nothing more than a glorified Beanie Baby hunt, parents across the land are weighing up their children’s love versus their ability to pay off their mortgage some time before 2278, and cynical frakkers such as myself are getting worked up about very little to compensate for the fact that it’s going to be another year of black socks and disappointment under the tree; it must be Christmas!

And how do we know that it’s a mere 48 days until the big day? John Lewis have released their annual heartstring-plucking short film, which attempts to associate throwing money at trinkets with concepts such as love, companionship, and human imagination, which are the sort of things philosophers have debated, and will continue to debate, for centuries, but instead of answers coming from all that we get a kid playing with Lego with a CGI penguin as a solution.

Compared to last year’s effort, The Bear And The Hare, Monty the Penguin and his loser of a human owner (who apparently has no real friends to play with) is a much more emotional story, this time involving real human children to amp up the ‘awwww’ factor, and including the ever-cuddly creature of a penguin, which, as any biologist is aware, is happiest when reading a book by torchlight under a bed (because penguins can read) or bouncing on a trampoline in the middle of summer (because penguins live in such a soft, warm environment in the wild).

But there’s a much more economic undertone to this advert, that it encourages – or even forces, upon pain of being called a heartless bastard – us to buy a specific toy: that of a penguin. Whereas last year’s effort could legitimately claim to be a short film from an indie production company about communal activities and being welcoming to others, with the John Lewis logo only plastered onto the end slate, the conclusion of this year’s film shows the dear Monty the Penguin to be nothing more than a plushie, meaning that loser child I mentioned earlier only gets companionship from a toy penguin, as opposed to a real one. This also suggests that it is not something like togetherness, or showing people new experiences, that make a good Christmas, but that by throwing money at a single product in a toy store, all your kid’s dreams will come true: the ‘happy ending’ of this year’s film was the purchasing of a second toy penguin, doubling the amount of capitalist bullshit disguised as a moral conclusion, whereas last year’s ending was about a bear hanging out with a hare because they were actual friends, rather than toys pretending to be friends.

And I think this problem has flown over the heads of most of the esteemed film critics in the YouTube comments; some have realised that last year’s film was perhaps more emotional, but I’ve not seen a single user point out the fact that all this kid’s, and his bloody penguin’s, problems have been solved by buying things. This is a terrible moral, that can’t really be extended to the rest of life; if the kid wants companionship through money, he gets a toy penguin, but if adults want to buy companionship, we get hookers, neither of which are emotionally healthy solutions.

At last there’s some reality to this year’s advert though, unlike the mystery box of 2011, which could be a decapitated dog’s head for all we know, or the chilling quest of a snowman to find a snow-girlfriend (because even in the culture of snowpeople, it’s the men that go on journeys, and the women that sit there waiting to be whisked away by a handsome stranger), where he only moves when the camera’s not looking at him, making him little more than a festive weeping angel. And, for all my moaning and nit-picking, it is a sweet film with a conclusion that could be seen as a nice one, with the boy feeling empathy towards a creature he has invented entirely in his own mind, making the child some kind of omnipotent god of altruism, presumably before he can spell ‘onomatopoeia’.

But the best thing of all of this? You people get to start longing for Christmas as if it’s only days away, but you’ve got seven weeks to go; enjoy the most drawn-out and agonising wait of the year folks, it’s a wait no number of CGI penguins can make shorter!


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