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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ho-Ho-Ho and the Big Red Bow!

Over the years, I've developed a deep affection for the Christmas-themed commercial. Sure, their purpose is to "push product", but the way in which they do so tells us a lot about where we are as a society - you know, what we value, what we aspire to, who we love, and how we love. When I was in high school, the best holiday commercial featured a young college student arriving at the family home, complete with duffel bag and a big-man-on-campus grin, in the early hours of Christmas morning. The house is quiet, and our collegian walks purposefully into the immaculate kitchen and puts on a pot of coffee, whose aroma summons the rest of this picture-perfect family down to the family's Christmas tree, and straight into the arms of our college student, a la the prodigal son. It's a beautiful commercial that always hits its target, because, you see, for this college student, the most important part about the holidays is the opportunity to be reunited with his family and to do a simple act of kindness for them.

Before the implosion of the real estate market, government-financed bank bailouts, and TARP, the most popular Christmas commercial involved beautiful people in House Beautiful homes being led, blindfolded, out of their homes and smack into a brand new car complete with a Jurassic Park-sized red bow.

This year, in the midst of the recession, the Christmas commercials that have received the most airtime include a Target commercial with a group of pyjama-clad siblings excitedly tearing down the stairs and ripping through their presents in a hail of ribbons, wrapping paper, and tape. The hip-hop track playing over the proceedings is a trance-like ditty that asks, "is it time yet?", over and over and over again, while these shrieking children run backwards up the stairs and, we assume, back to their rooms. The chief messages that I take away from this commercial are that children hate to be kept waiting when it comes to their Christmas presents, and, oh yeah, that Christmas is always and only about what's under the tree.

If you're that parent who just lost their job, or who has seen a significant cut in the number of hours you work, then that Target commercial means that no matter how bad you have it, children have to be made happy, and, since children only speak in the language of stuff and things, happiness equals lots of things under the tree for them.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think that everything a commercial says is the Gospel truth! For instance, I don't think that there are a gaggle of mannequins from Old Navy living a mini-soap opera in Anytown USA! Nor do I think that drinking the Vodka endorsed by Diddy will suddenly thrust me into a black and white film world of mansions, swimming pools, and a thin little waste.
But I definitely think that commercials either reflect behavior or seek to set behavior.

In the midst of money woes across all pay scales, the holiday malls are packed, and the WalMart parking lots are at capacity. It would seem that the commercials are winning!

I'm just saying!

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