Lazy, feckless, ungrateful –David Whitehouse takes issue with the men in Christmas adverts.
Unless you’re an altruistic, faintly creepy snowman with a John Lewis store card, this year’s Christmas advertising will bear little relation to your actual yuletide. Chances are the British Isles won’t be tucked under a blanket of pure white snow. We’ll get that sludgy, brown stuff that makes everyone walk like a priapic Norman Wisdom. But we understand how advertising works: illusion is more powerful than truth.
If Christmas advertising is to be believed, you’re a listless baboon man, the skin on your ruddy bum cheeks melding with the fabric on the sofa like a fried egg stuck to the pan. You are not in the kitchen. That is the realm of the woman. She is struggling to fit the turkey into the oven having bought one that’s too big, because she has no ability for three-dimensional visualisation. She’s peeling all the spuds, chopping all the carrots, pouring all the gravy. You’re not helping. You’re a total sh*t.
Christmas TV adverts are sexist. It’s been like this since Christmas advertising began. Back then, they were probably more accurate. Our grandads, by all accounts, did little to help over the festive season, apart from mining the coal they put in our parents’ stockings. But while we’ve begun to move on as a people, adverts are refusing to stop reinforcing old-fashioned gender stereotypes. Particularly when it comes to selling us food.
In this year’s Asda campaign, a beleaguered mum single-handedly takes care of all the Christmas preparations. “Behind every great Christmas, there’s Mum,” says the slogan. Eagle-eyed viewers will spot Dad helping out in one scene. Just as Mum is cooking dinner, he can be found in the background hilariously trying to switch off the smoke alarm. That’s right, Asda Mum, you may be great, but you’re just a bumbling stereotype too because you’ve still burned the turkey, you clumsy idiot. Now Christmas is ruined and all the Furbies in the world won’t win back the love of your children. “What’s for tea?” asks her husband, just as she’s about to put her feet up for the first time in weeks. “A divorce, you pr*ck,” is what she doesn’t reply.
A Christmas kicking
Asda states that the ad “depicts what many of the 16 million mums who shop in Asda tell us they feel”. What? That their husband is an arsehole? Mark Tungate, author of Branded Male, thinks it’s an example of “what happens when you bend over so far backwards to please your target audience that you lose sight of reality”.
The same is true of the Morrisons advert, where Mum does all the hard work and Dad chips in just once to plug in the Christmas lights, knocking all of the pine needles off in the process like a sedated Stan Laurel. Meanwhile, over in the Tesco Christmas campaign, Dad simply can’t be bothered to help at all. It can be fun to imagine a life after the adverts, where Asda Dad, Morrisons Dad and Tesco Dad all disappear down to the pub together for the rest of the day, having 15 pints of lager each and drunkenly using their daughter’s brand new Barbie’s Dreamhouse as a toilet when they finally get home.
Men are taking a Christmas kicking, but then, is their depiction entirely inaccurate? Equality might be the prevailing force, but we still live in a patriarchal, sexist society in which, more often than not, it is mums who fulfil this role. Would it be foolish of supermarkets not to pander to this hectic image of a mother preparing for Noël? Particularly when they’re the ones apparently doing all the shopping. If it means pretending that all men are fat, idle goons, so be it.
It’s not like women aren’t prey to misrepresentation in adverts, too. Apparently, there is a body spray that makes all women want to have sex with whoever uses it. Even morons. Have we cause to be offended?
Well, yes. Some men do actually help out around the home beyond taking to the carving like a sexually frustrated lumberjack. Campaign group Fathers 4 Justice is encouraging its supporters to stage a series of ‘Occupy’-style protests at Asda supermarkets. They won’t be particularly helpful when you’re tripping over an irate single dad dressed as Batman while trying to get to the last remaining tin of goose fat on Christmas Eve, but their frustration is understandable. While these ads can be construed as patronising to both sexes, the notion that men don’t help at Christmas is now utterly retrograde.
But then, it’s just another Christmas tradition. In 1985’s celebrated Oxo commercial, the mother of the famous ad family, a pre-Loose Women Lynda Bellingham, can be seen having a cheeky snifter of sherry to steady her nerves while preparing an epic Christmas feast. Who can blame her? The men in her family take it in turns to tit around in the battleground between the dining table and the hot stove. Dad decides to surprise her with a magic trick of subnormal intelligence, while a p*ssed-up grandad knocks out a shonky rendition of Jingle Bells on a trumpet.
Men being useless in adverts has become as much a part of the festive season as a James Bond film on TV. As the snoring grandma farting her way through the Queen’s speech. As the flustered mum, sweat dripping from her brow into the sage-and-onion stuffing. Supermarkets can’t sell food showing a tired father juggling sprouts into the mouths of screaming children while their mother uses her new foot spa, because Christmas reality doesn’t work in advertising. You’ll never see an unhappy family around a tree or a lonely old woman by a gas heater. You won’t see a single-parent family. You won’t see a gay couple. You won’t even see the kind of underwhelming yellow snowman children actually make when the magic of television can give you a gung-ho one crossing a motorway to buy some gloves for its snow girlfriend.
This, you bunch of lazy, helpless oafs, is advertising and it’ll be a cold day in hell before reality seeps in. The holidays are coming.
(Image: Rex Features)