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JOHNNY LEW LEW

An Emotional Reading of the John Lewis Christmas Advert

Hold on: does this advert even make sense?

Joel Golby

Joel Golby

(Screenshots via YouTube/John Lewis Retail)

Should probably kick this off with the caveat that I, personally, am an almost pathologically unemotional person. I nearly cried at Green Mile once, and that’s about it. Listen: we all have our quirks. Mine is not really feeling anything, neither joy nor despair, instead just a low background hum of unemotion. One day I’ll kill someone, my heart not even raising one beat while I do it, and they’ll put this intro up in court and be like, "Yes."

Anyway!

The new John Lewis advert is here, the emotional peak of the year. You can save your anti-capitalist screed for when you’re smoking cheap weed with some single dreadlock lad called "Vibez" at a squat party later, because yes, we are taking time out of our day to actively watch an advert, and yes, that is a drop-off point of the long sloping descent into total capitalism, and yes, I know, but also you wouldn’t have clicked on this link unless you wanted to talk about and discuss the John Lewis advert, would you, so let’s just get on with it. Here’s a rough chart of all the thoughts and feelings you’re allowed to have while watching it:

0:04

Remember the last time you had a coördinated pyjama set and patterned bedding? Years ago, wasn’t it. Being a kid was good. Being a kid at Christmas was ace. When you were a kid Christmas was good, and special, but since you moved out and your mum turned your bedroom into a study, and every time you go home for Christmas you have to sleep on a fold-down bed instead of a real one, and your mum always has a big drawer of stuff she has found that you need to "sort out" – old school reports, birthday cards from long dead grandparents, various geegaws and objects that used to mean everything to you and now have wizened down to dusty trash – so you think Christmas is going to be spending loads of time getting pissed in old pubs with your mates and joyfully eating Quality St. and having turkey sandwiches brought to you while you wallow on the sofa with the heating on full blast, but actually it’s just your mum furiously dumping a big sack of your old memories on your bed and telling you that this is the last time, this is the last time, if you don’t sort them they’re going to the skip, and—

EMOTIONAL READING: A YEARNING NOSTALGIA FOR AN INNOCENT TIME YOU WILL NEVER IN A THOUSAND YEARS OF LIVING CLAW BACK

0:15

Where has your childhood teddybear gone, I wonder? You used to love him with the intensity of a thousand suns, didn’t you. My boy was called Stripey, a green and pink and blue striped bear with a perfect hard pink nose, and I used to clamp him to my ear when I was tired and in need of comfort, mashed his face up so much he needed stitching back together each summer, his snout getting more and more mangled with every hot wash, with every military jump he took down the stairs. Moz, here, is that same bobbled teddybear consistency, and it reminds me of Stripey, my first friend. We used to do everything together. We used to go everywhere. The stale-sweet smell of the top of his head. I wonder what cardboard box he lives in now.

EMOTIONAL READING: THE CONSISTENCY OF THE FUR OF AN INVENTED MONSTER IS MAKING ME HAVE AN INTERNAL CRISIS RE: THE CONSTANT GRINDING HUM OF TIME, THE ECLIPSE OF CHILDHOOD BY THE DARKNESS OF THE ADULT WORLD, WHERE IS STRIPEY, WHERE IS MY SWEET BOY, HE DID NOT DIE FOR THIS

0:21

Remember, as a child, making signs? The feel of felt-tip on coloured paper? You believed in signs, then. You believed in their authority. The best sign I ever made was pink paper, red crayons — "NO LOCK, PLEASE KNOCK", ahead of a Halloween party my parents were holding, because our bathroom door lock got broken in an incident (I got locked in the bathroom) (our neighbour had to kick the door in while yelling) and we never replaced it. The sign was a great success, everyone said. I was eight years old.

When did I start ignoring signs? When did I fall out of love with the tactile feel of paper? As a child, I bought a 20p book from a charity shop about spies and learned all sorts of novel traps and tricks. Tape a hair across your bedroom doorway, the book said, and when you return home you’ll know if it’s snapped if someone has been in your room. Draw a faint pencil line up a pile of confidential papers, the book said, and when you come home you will know if someone has been through the papers because the line will be distorted. Nobody ever went in my room. Nobody ever rustled through my drawings. I believed in pen and paper, though. I believed in the power of signs.

EMOTIONAL READING: DO YOU THINK IF I GO ON AMAZON AND GET A LOAD OF FELT-TIPS IN I’LL BE ABLE TO FEEL HAPPINESS AGAIN

0:42

The interior world of an eight-year-old boy. The child lives inside of a daydream, now. The galvanised beast farted beneath his bed and now they are friends of invention. Where we see a messy room and a grey carpet the boy sees joy and play. He battles on Scalextric against a monster of his own creation. He cavorts and gambols on a cushiony boy who lives inside his mind. The last time I daydreamed about anything it was a brief imagining of what life would be like if I lived outside of my overdraft. There are no mysteries left.

EMOTIONAL READING: WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME I CREATED, ANYTHING AT ALL? WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME I ALLOWED MY MIND TO SPRINT ON WITHOUT ABANDON?

1:04

You only put the kid you hate in goal. Signed, sincerely, A Former Child Goalkeeper

EMOTIONAL READING: PERHAPS IF I WERE ALLOWED TO FLOURISH IN MIDFIELD I WOULD BE A HAPPIER ADULT NOW

1:27

Hold on, mate: if the monster got him a present, but the monster isn’t real, then who got the present? Did his mum get the present? From the monster? Did she wrap it like fucking shit then?

Hold on:

One Christmas when I was a similar age I ran downstairs to find a letter from Santa nestling in the tree. Beneath the tree: fake snow, lightly sprinkled on the carpet, a single wellington footprint stamped through it. In curlicued handwritten script the letter from Santa told me: Hello Joel, it said, you have been a very good boy this year and deserve more presents, but sadly the elves didn’t really put as much of a shift in as they usually do, so you’ve only got a few parcels to open. It took me literal years to figure out Santa didn’t write that one for me and my parents did it to disguise the fact that they hadn’t had much money for presents that year.

EMOTIONAL READING: MAGIC ISN’T REAL BUT THE SUSPENSE OF MAGIC MAINTAINED BY OUR PARENTS THROUGHOUT OUR CHILDHOOD IS. IT IS THE MOST INTENSE FORM OF LOVE THEY CAN POSSIBLY SHOW. WE OWE OUR PARENTS EVERYTHING.

1:45

He waves one final goodbye to the only friend he’s ever had what the hell kind of advert is this man

EMOTIONAL READING: IS THE MONSTER DEAD??????????????????????????????????? DID HE DIE????????????????????????????????????????????????

2:04

Honestly, after thinking about it for more than anyone else alive has, this advert doesn’t make sense, at all. So, right: the monster was a metaphor for a fear of the dark. Got you. And the mum clearly got him the present: that coy smile gives the entire game away. But… so where did Moz go? Was he destroyed by the soft gentle glow of a nightlight? I thought the kid liked Moz? Why did he kill him? Did he kill him? Is Moz alive or dead? What of all the monsters of my childhood? Where did they go? What box do they live in now?

I think it’s possible the world is too corrupt for a pure John Lewis advert right now. Everything’s on fire and bad, isn’t it. We can’t just appreciate a semi-twee Christmas story for what it is any more. We have to question, and dissect, and judge. Say it is Good, or Bad, or Michel Gondry Phoned It In. The advert cost £7 million and took eight months to make, which takes away from the sweet sentimentality a bit. The monstrous morphing from "normal advert" to "event TV" made by John Lewis et al over the past decade has, in a way, corrupted Christmas to the very core. M–maybe we, are the monsters? Maybe the monsters are inside of us and of our own creation. Maybe Moz is the only good thing left and we are all the ugliness around him. No wonder he melted to nothing and disappeared, unloved and sockless, beneath a child’s bed. There is no innocence left any more. A being as pure as that can’t possibly survive.

EMOTIONAL READING: I’M VERY CONFUSED AND ALSO CONFLICTED ABOUT SHOPPING AT JOHN LEWIS NOW, HOWEVER THEIR IN-HOUSE CAFÉS DO HAVE THE BEST AVAILABLE SINGLE-SERVE TWININGS TEA BAGS, SO IN A ROUGH SORT OF PROTEST I WILL CONTINUE TO STEAL HANDFULS OF THOSE THINGS EVERY TIME I GO THERE AND YOU SHOULD TOO, WE DISCARDED OUR INNOCENCE YEARS AGO AND MAY AS WELL EMBRACE EVIL WHOLESALE, AMEN

@joelgolby