Fionola Meredith: Sentimental and cynical Christmas BBC advert takes aim at busy mums
Promo film shameful self-promotion at working mothers' expense, says Fionola Meredith
As if working mothers don't have enough plates to juggle in the run-up to Christmas, the BBC has decided to fire a shamelessly sentimental broadside of guilt at them, in the form of its promotional Christmas advert for BBC One.
You've probably seen it already. The two minute film, called Wonderland, and set in the Norfolk seaside town of Cromer, shows a harassed mother at breakfast-time, phone clamped to her ear, getting ready for work.
Her teenage son tries and fails several times to get her attention, then realises that the only way he'll get through to her is to send a text.
"You still coming tonight, Mum?" he asks. Cue an agonised look from his mother. "Don't know, love, if I've got time," she gabbles as she rushes out the door, still glued to her phone, of course.
But then, thanks to the magic of television, time miraculously stops, thus allowing the mother to escape from her super-stressful office job and race to the sea-front to spend a wonderful festive evening at the funfair with her son, all glowy-eyed and guzzling candyfloss and playing on the dodgems together.
It's intended to make us think about "oneness", you see, whatever that's supposed to be.
My reaction? Boke. What a mawkish, insidious, sickly-sweet confection of judgment and schmaltz.
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I particularly dislike the way the teenage son is portrayed as lonely and pathetic, neglected by his too-busy mother, and that the only possibility for them to spend time together is in some fantasy "wonderland", entirely disconnected from reality.
The beard-stroking men in "BBC Creative" and the external director who made this expensive, pious little film - I have no idea if they have beards or not, but something tells me that they do, and that they stroke them continuously - could not have disempowered working mothers more if they tried.
According to the director, the ad was intended to "strip away some of the sugariness and gloss of so many other Christmas ads and connect on a level that felt a bit more human and a bit more real".
What, by patronising mums and making them feel even more pressurised than they do already? All in the name of some bogus concept of "oneness", which is actually just a way of promoting a publicly-funded television channel? What's "human and real" about that?
And where is the boy's father in all this, anyway? Why isn't he stepping up and doing the whole dodgem-bonding thing?
Justine Roberts, the founder of Mumsnet, the parenting forum, is unimpressed. She said: "From the apparently incapable dad to the implication that mothers' employment is both optional and selfish, it pulls off the distinctly non-festive trick of putting all the blame on already frantic mothers and making them feel pretty lousy (and, presumably, making emotionally competent fathers feel ever-more invisible)."
One mother on the forum said: "I absolutely hate BBC One's Christmas advert. I feel like that woman every single day and, like lots of parents, I have no choice but to work full-time. It's a constant juggle and the guilt is unbearable. You can't bloody well freeze time and I think they are playing on people's emotions to sell a product."
Well, exactly. The sheer cynicism of the advert is what makes it so distasteful. It's not making working mothers feel festive and jolly, it's making them feel desperate and depressed.
There's quite a fashion these days for commercials to be sentimental mini-melodramas, coldly and calculatedly designed to manipulate consumers' emotions in the hope of extracting yet more cash from them.
That's bad enough, and if viewers are stupid enough to be duped into thinking that a bank or building society or supermarket actually cares about them because it paid an advertising agency vast sums to pluck crudely on their heart-strings - well, more fool them. Welcome to late capitalism, people.
But the BBC is not a commercial organisation. It's not actually selling anything. And that makes it even worse, somehow. All this puffery - engaging the London Metropolitan Orchestra to provide the soundtrack for the advert, paying a high-end director to call the shots - is simply to celebrate itself. The all-embracing virtues of "Oneness".
The BBC describes its effort as a "heartwarming Christmas film [which] suspends time for one miraculous day".
I would call it an empty, misguided attempt at self-promotion, built on a platform of fake emotion, at the expense of hard-working mothers who are trying their best for their families, both now and at every other time of the year.