On the Edge
IT’S that time of year again. Jack Frost is greeting us in the mornings and Santa Claus and all his elves are flat-out in that North Pole sweat shop making toys for billions of children from Kerry to Katmandu, Belmullet to Beijing, Louisburgh to Louisville. But is it just me, or has the whole Christmas fever frenzy started even earlier than usual this year? After all it is still November and we can already hear the turkey sizzling and spitting in the oven. The air is already infused with the pungent aromas of hot ports and whiskeys, spicy potpourris and incense. Shop windows are decked out in all the seasonal trimmings while some streetscapes are already illuminated with garlands of twinkling lights.
I totally understand that in this apocalyptic Trumpian era where, for the majority of us, the only real glitter that is gold are the double-doors into his penthouse suite in Manhattan’s Trump Tower, thus the escapism of Christmas cheer was never more needed.
UNSURPRISINGLY, that insidious world of marketing has really embraced our need for softness and sentimentality, intimacy and kindness, in a barrage of new advertisements that would leave Scrooge weeping into his frayed coat-tails.
Take the supermarket homecoming advert already on our screens, which has to win the award for best tear-jerker. Picture an abandoned cottage on a remote hill near the Deserted Village in Achill or up some boggy boreen on the side of Nephin. It is a few decades since the pitter-patter of children’s feet have been heard on its curled-up linoleum floor. It is also some time since its net-curtained windows were lit with Christmas candles. So the next generation come together and bring their widowed father back to the ancestral home for Christmas dinner. The grandchildren are eager conspirators in the festive plot to clean the cobwebs from the empty house. The fire is lit, the tree is decorated, the turkey is in the oven when the old man arrives and while passing down the hall stops to take a wistful look at a photograph from times past when he and his beloved were starting out life in the little cottage. As he comes to terms with the big surprise, and his family hustle and bustle around him, he is seated at the head of the table as the camera zooms in on an empty place beside him. For the longest few seconds in advertising melodrama we watch the flickers of emotion as he thinks of his late wife but then – magically – a gap-toothed granddaughter, weighed down with a plate of turkey and roast spuds and with a smile so innocent she looks like a cross between a fairy and an angel, sits in her late grandmother’s seat. Add to the recipe the background music of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”… and you are blubbing uncontrollably or at the very least there is a lump in your throat.
“Have yourself a merry little Christmas/Let your heart be light / From now on, our troubles will be out of sight….”
I wonder what PR guru, cool company hipster manufactured that concept? It is inspired manipulation: a cocktail of heart-warming sentimentality which dupes one into believing that supermarkets are filled with warm turf-filled hearths where families reunite beside the milk and yogurt fridges or toast each other with hot ports in the off-licence instead of filling their baskets along sterile aisles of products that are for sale to ensure their multinational owners remain millionaires.
A Google search confirms the ad company is called ‘Chemistry’. Great name! Dublin city-centre based, its website blurb about the ‘Homecoming’ Christmas campaign states: “So many Christmas campaigns can feel manufactured and insincere in the way that they attempt to pull on our heart strings, which is why we worked closely with director Henry Mason, who looks for a particularly realistic and natural style in his films. He shoots loosely, nothing is very contrived or set up, and there’s a lot of spontaneity between the actors, which makes for a natural final film in which your really get to know the family.”
So, does that mean that this ad is not pulling at our heart-strings? Is it not manipulating us into thinking that Christmas is tomorrow and we had better get out there and buy, buy, buy?