Think Outside Christmas – A Festive Advert Special

Ho, ho, fucking-ho. It’s Christmas time, isn’t it? You can tell because every other advert on television is trying to make us cry in an attempt to convince us to buy things.

It was back in 2007 that John Lewis launched their first ‘Christmas advert’. Fast-forward to 2016 and high-end retailer after high-end retailer are falling over themselves to outdo each other in their rampant, saccharine consumerism.

Suitably filled with festive joy, let’s take a look at the ads that will be encouraging us to part with our money this year.

M&S – Christmas with Love, from Mrs Claus

You can’t rely on a woman to do much right, but you can rely on her to buy shoes. This isn’t just any brand of feminism, this is M&S feminism.

It’s fair to say that the internet has lost its shit over the latest M&S Christmas advert, with many observers claiming that the retailer has comfortably beaten John Lewis’ effort this year (we’ll come to that shortly).

The ad follows the exploits of Mrs Claus who, immediately after wishing her husband well on his trip around the world delivering presents, embarks on her own journey – answering the call of a young boy who wants to make amends for ruining his sister’s trainers.

She’s stylish, attractive and sophisticated, and one can only imagine this is what passes for empowerment at M&S Towers.

In fairness, she does do a great job, as the young girl seems to be very happy with her shoes, but then it sort of pales into comparison against providing the entire world with gifts – but then I suppose she can’t be expected to achieve as much as her husband, can she.

John Lewis – Buster the Boxer

It might have been John Lewis that pioneered the concept of epic festive tales supplemented by slowed down pop covers, but the department store have gone with a bit of a different tack for 2016.

It’s fair to say this year has sucked pretty hard, so it’s nice to see that John Lewis has decided to try and elicit an emotion other than cloying sadness with their latest Christmas advert.

Buster the Boxer is a tried-and-tested combination of cute animals and humour, but it works, and actually feels Christmassy, compared with previous efforts that have arguably been a bit cynical.

It’s a shame, therefore, that so many people are disappointed with it. Having said that, maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised? After all, Brexit and Trump were very much self-inflicted disasters. Perhaps Western society isn’t largely made up of frothing-at-the-mouth, hate-filled racists, but frothing-at-the-mouth, self-hating masochists.

We’ll only have ourselves to blame if next year’s John Lewis advert features a young boy left orphaned when his entire family is wiped out in a Christmas tree fire, right after his precocious, talking teddy bear is diagnosed with bowel cancer.

Waitrose – Home for Christmas

The secret to an affective Christmas ad, at least from where we’re standing, seems to be the combination of some sort of journey (whether it’s literal or emotional), a melancholic soundtrack and, more often than not, CGI animals.

Waitrose’s festive offering certainly utilises all three of those ingredients – a courageous robin travelling across land and sea, encouraged on his way by rousing orchestral music. How very pleasant.

So why does the whole thing fall a bit flat?

The problem is a lack of context. Is the little girl able to discern individual robins by sight and knows her old friend hasn’t been back all winter? Do the little birds know each other and are engaging in a Christmas reunion? Maybe he just really likes mince pies.

It’s also neither sad or funny, and while there is certainly an element of jeopardy, the robin really has no one to blame but himself if he gets eaten, drowned or stepped on all in the name of pastry. I know it’s from Waitrose, but for fuck’s sake. The pretentious arse.

Sainsbury’s – The Greatest Gift

Sainsbury’s found themselves in a spot of trouble two years ago when they cashed in on the horror of war to sell products. Since then they’ve gone no where near the John Lewis-style of Christmas advert, and have followed up last year’s ‘Mog’s Christmas Calamity’ with ‘The Greatest Gift’, which follows the stop-motion exploits of Dave as he… I dunno, tries to get home for Christmas or something. To be honest it got boring half way through. It’s three and half minutes long for God’s sake, and after mainlining festive cheer into my eyeballs all day I got distracted.

The message is kind of nice I guess, but then that’s spoiled by James Corden’s awful voice permeating the whole thing.

There’s plenty more where all of that came from – even budget supermarket Lidl is getting in on the act this year – but if we have to sit through any more vacuous, gooey sentiment we might shut down Think Outside the Box for good and spend all Christmas throwing puppy parties for dying children. And we can’t have that.

TV Review: The Benefits Estate

We’ve got a little bit of a liberal bent here at Think Outside the Box. Nothing too extreme of course, just a general opinion that the poor, disabled people or anyone who may fall under the umbrella of ‘a bit foreign’, shouldn’t be blamed for every problem in the country, so imagine our delight when we stumbled across The Benefits Estate (Channel 5, Tuesday 9 pm), a documentary sure to cast a spotlight on the hardship faced by one of the most disadvantaged groups in society.

Benefit’s Street did a pretty good job of rousing the mob in all its visceral, finger-pointing and fist-waving ignorance, but then that level of mouth-frothing anger can’t be sustained by one street alone. I mean, it’s enough to make you think that maybe that programme WASN’T representative of a significant section of society.

“There are loads of streets in the UK,” a flaming pitchfork-wielding member of the baying mob might say.

“There are five in my village – as well as that one where the vicar lives and where we hold the summer fetes –  and I can name at least three more, so what does one dodgy one really matter?”

By way of an answer, Channel 5 brings us this veritable orgy of Poverty Porn that seeks to remind us just how awful this part of society really is.

Good news though! This is Dublin, so it’s Irish tax payers footing the bill for such extravagances as packets of crisps and clothes. Too bad Channel 5, you’re not going to get any feral Twitter buzz with this one…

Benefits Estate Tweet 2Benefits Estate Tweet 3Benefits Estate Tweet 4

If you had the displeasure of watching The Benefits Estate you too, surely, would feel such guttural outpourings of rage, with the local community living in such opulence that it’s any wonder why City of London bankers don’t just upsticks to their nearest council estate.

Look at them with their bloody leather sofas and obesity and carpet – our flooring’s all laminate, we don’t have any carpet. And look at all that rubbish piling up! They must’ve bought loads of stuff and just thrown it away, the ungrateful proles. Such decadent lifestyles should only be reserved for Victorian peasants, paedophiles and goats.

Poor Person

Poor People – Eating your bit of old food.

But perhaps we’re being unfair. Does it trigger the sort of Twitter reaction that makes you sometimes wish Ebola had reached the UK? Sure, but maybe that’s a more habitual feeling that has been perpetuated elsewhere.

Tonally, The Benefits Estate isn’t particularly sneering, and the narrator even sounds somewhat empathetic to the programme’s various unfortunate protagonists, but the reasons for the ingrained social problems in this particular community aren’t explored in anything beyond surface detail. The briefest mention of mental health issues and sound bites like “running a household on benefits is a constant struggle” feel planted to trigger an incredulous reaction; easy to pass off as nothing more than excuses for doing fuck all.

It’s certainly not as hateful as Benefits Street, and it makes a noticeable shift in the second half hour to something much more compassionate – a change that was duly acknowledged by a shift in social media sentiment – but the motivations for making The Benefits Estate are still questionable.

There is a programme to be made about the true face of Benefits Britain – but this isn’t it.

TV REVIEW: Health Freaks, Monday 8.30p.m., Channel 4

Let’s not beat around the bush – homeopathy and alternative medicine is really stupid. We can’t even bring ourselves to write a facetious opening paragraph about how TOTB once “cured a fungal foot infection by sleeping on a pillow filled with crystals and bathing it in marmalade.”

So the idea of a show dedicated to looking into the home remedies of ordinary people sounds, on the face of it at least, a ridiculous exercise.

Health Freaks (Mondays, 8.30p.m., Channel 4) features a panel of GPs (including Embarrassing Bodies’ Dr Pixie McKenna) and members of the public who are attempting to convince the doctors of the merits of their home remedies – which they then vote on to decide whether they are going to put them to trial.

The show kicks off with two builders who are convinced that WD40 is capable of curing both arthritis and smoker’s cough. They both swear by it, but they are treated with understandable incredulity from the three doctors and shown the door. It’s kind of like Dragon’s Den – except with glass stairs instead of a lift, alternative medicine instead of business propositions and absolute fucking lunatics instead of entrepreneurs.

The show follows a similar format to that of the BBC reality show too, with the main featured participants separated by short montages of other unsuccessful entrants, including a man who believes singing can ease his snoring, and a guy who thinks his garlic sandwiches can cure impotence.

Amber bead necklace

A cure for teething pain? No. Really, no.

Now if anything is going to give a man impotence it would be the thought of having children with the squeamishly earnest mother-of-two who thinks that an amber-bead necklace tied around a baby’s ankle can ease teething pain. You’d think that her claims would be treated with the same condescendingly raised eyebrow that the blokes slathering themselves in WD40 were, except much the opposite, with Dr Pixie declaring that she “loves this”, as she is currently going through the same thing with her own newborn.

Ultimately though, the GPs don’t put the “remedy” through for trial due to the safety concerns over a child choking on one of the beads (rather than it being absolute horseshit), although frankly the biggest danger to her kids is choking on their mother’s overwhelming smugness.

That’s not to say that Health Freaks is completely without merit, and there are brief moments of interest when they look deeper into the science of certain ailments, but it is very brief.

The home remedy that was eventually sent through for trial was duct tape for verrucas, which was actually shown to have some truth to it, with 100% of the subjects showing at least a 1mm reduction in size. It was a result that moved Dr Ellie Cannon to declare that she was going to recommend the treatment to her own patients.

It’s a remedy that we’re going to use on our eyes and ears the next time Health Freaks is on.