Belfast Telegraph

Bah humbug! John Lewis' critics are missing point of Christmas

By Jane Graham

Ah yes, the John Lewis Christmas advert. It's become a British Christmas ritual hasn't it? The annual showcasing of intellectual superiority from broadsheet columnists and highfalutin tweeters pouring scorn on the John Lewis ad.

This contempt usually takes one of two directions. The first is to expose the shocking truth that John Lewis is a commercial retailer and not an independent film-maker. They don't care about children, or penguins, or love, our lofty advisers warn us in a bold act of tough love; they just want your money. If they thought you'd pay cash to watch an orphan disembowel a kitten, they'd charge £100 a ticket for that instead.

The other popular line of attack is to brand the advert a revolting goo of sugar-sweet candy-floss fairy-fluff schmaltz, a kind of sonambulising sucrose for the masses, which works to separate the men from the boys, the sage from the suckers. If there was another world war, it is implied, we could swiftly identify reliable military personnel according to whether they wept at the John Lewis ad. What one broadsheet journalist called the "cry on demand bedwetters" who liked the advert could be left at home to knit gas masks.

There might be some who still regard this kind of analysis as seat of your pants iconoclasm. For me, it's as lazy and obvious as smart journalism gets, on a par with observing that Coldplay are not cool, or Doctor Who seems to be catering to young people.

The problem is that, as a journalist - or, in these times of easy multi-platform self-promotion, anyone with a voice - you tend to weigh up events, ideas, productions of any kind, not according to their own intrinsic qualities, but in view of what your response says about your public persona. The object of your scrutiny is simply a cypher which allows you to further your reputation as whatever it is you want to be. A highbrow cynic, an anti-Establishment free-thinker, a libertarian, a romantic, a protector of family values, a fighter for the little man ... take your pick. Wear your badge. The truth is collateral.

The truth in this case is that the advert is, on most points, a success. Both artistically and commercially (one needn't rule out the other - even Dostoevsky needed to sell books). Criticising it for making people cry is like criticising Snow Patrol's Run for using just the right chords to make people's hearts swell. If everyone could write a song like that, there would be a lot more millionaires in the music industry. Ditto the JL ad. Many attempts to copy it have failed because people see their falsity, aren't convinced of their premise, don't recognise the sentiment being plundered; it doesn't seem to be based on an emotion they recognise.

The people who made this advert have an objective akin to other film-makers. They want to make us feel something real. It's not easy to do that in 30 seconds. For me, the tale of a wobbling little penguin who goes everywhere with his best pal, a little boy, and is finally revealed to be a cuddly toy, is the finest film John Lewis have produced. It is a paean to the freedom of childhood thinking, in which imagination is a safe haven, a friend, a powerful, self-created doorway into another, happier universe. It's not hard to see why children's authors like Philip Ardagh welcome it so warmly.

If you want to use your rejection of it to puff up your identity that's fine. Just know it doesn't make you any better than the rest of us.

Ban on comic is no laughing matter

ITV have decided to pull comedy show Dapper Laughs after a petition objecting to its laddish banter about raping and knifing women was signed by over 50,000 people.

The star of the show, Daniel O’Reilly, appeared on Newsnight to apologise for his creation. He said he was killing the character off and hoping to disassociate himself from him. I have no idea if O’Reilly makes offensive, unpalatable comments among his friends — most of us do.

That’s not the issue. The problem is when a mainstream channel regard such comments as excellent ingredients for a national TV show. And only think twice when it looks like their audience might react badly.

Put a sock in it, fashion victims

One of the things I like best about the fashion industry is the way it constantly challenges its followers, refusing to let them rest on their fat laurels.

It’s good to be poked on the backside just as you’re becoming complacent, and fashionistas’ propensity for taking a style combo that has been universally derided for decades and ‘reclaiming’ it as the latest trend is just another way of broadening minds, striking out for freedom from the shackles of conformity.

This year, that great mission will be carried on the back of a big push on wearing socks with sandals. For both genders. Awesome sauce.

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