Archive for December, 2007

Christmas Ads: Currys

December 18, 2007

The fact that Santa Claus – or at least the globally accepted image of him with a red coat and white beard – was invented by Coca-Cola as part of a 1950’s seasonal campaign is something that should irk me and my fellow advert deniers. He is, after all, one of the most exciting and beguiling characters of childhood and there should be something slightly unsavory about his popular origins stemming from commerce. It’s hard to resent Santa for this, though, as the jolly old fellow has remained in popular culture through his own means, as opposed to aggressive and intentional marketing.

This particular incarnation has entered into the public domain and is not the fiercely defended and trademarked image he could have become. Santa Claus, with his sack of toys and jolly laugh, is the international symbol for Christmas, and not just Coca-Cola. That said, it is still Coke who have the best representation of him, for while their adverts may be cloyingly sentimental and horribly saccharine, they come closest to what I remember wanting Santa to be like when I was a child. His rosy cheeks, earnest generosity and kindly appearance is, free from modern day cynicism and paedophile jokes, a bewitching image for a believer as he represents all that is remembered fondly from childhood.

He has been reimagined, recreated and reinvented many times over the years but few, I think, are as interesting as his appearances in this years Currys campaign. These initial cameos and, later, promotion to main character represent not only how Christmas dwindles and dies as the mind becomes adult, but also the shift in values and myth within modern society.

Let’s look at the evidence; the Santa of old ran and owned his own factory, handling the means of both production and distribution. The Santa of Currys is an employee in a corporate warehouse, selling other peoples products and shipping them through a third party. While before Santa would manufacture hand-made goods and simple toys, he now deals exclusively with electrical items and brand name products. The presents that Santa of yore handed out were crafted by indigenous peoples that used ethically sourced local materials, but Currys’ Santa works in an outside-the-UK factory dealing with products that have horrific electricity usage and are made by exploited third world countries.

It’s also worth noting at this point that Santa is now merely an employee of Currys, as opposed to before when he owned and ran a successful independent business. Far from being his own boss, he is now a uniformed employee presided over by two twenty-something metrosexuals who clearly believe their destiny is to provide cheaper TVs to the people. This is worrying for the future of Santa. It is as if his previous magical capability to sculpt toys for the worlds children is no longer enough, or can no longer survive in the modern cutthroat business world. Even though he carried no overheads per se, the odds of survival for a small business in the highly competitive Christmas market are slim and there appears to be no more room for the altruistic benefactor.

That he is reduced to working in a Currys distribution department speaks volumes about the job market for elderly gentlemen. While he was once a worldwide shipper, his lack of corporate experience has reduced him to factory line assembly, where the best idea he can come up with is to have products in stock when people turn up to pay for them. No doubt this demotion has had an effect on his personal politics too. Clearly once a great socialist believer, he has now fallen foul of capitalism and his gifts are no longer free, just reduced.

There is one glimmer of hope, though; in each advert he lets slip a little clue that he is really is Santa. Be it confessing a love of mince pies, a secret visit from a Blitzen or a veterinary trip for Rudolph he shines through with his true character; the false name of Klaus drops away and the dodgy German accent is forgotten… he is the Santa we know and love.

When you become an adult the wonder of Christmas fades away. Each year you hope it will be as magical and amazing as it was as a child, and each year you are numbed by the crass commerciality of it all. The Santa of Currys is much like that too; you suspect the worst but hope for the best. Maybe he isn’t broke and desperate, maybe he has infiltrated the enemy and plans to bring down the false idols of Playstations and plasma screen TVs. Maybe he is undercover and at midnight on the 24th will hijack their shipments, distribute the goods himself and refund the exorbitant prices. Maybe he is a new guerilla Santa – a master of disguise, of espionage and of infiltration. This is the new Santa, the Daniel Craig of new Santas… not only does he inspire delight and offer hope, he also kicks ass and sets right what keeps going wrong.

What I suspect will happen though, is that he’ll talk up the January Sales and get fast tracked up the management ladder. The Coca-Cola Santa would never go corporate…

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Nigella Lawson (again)

December 14, 2007

 Nigella Lawson

I never really intended to spend my life working in an office and writing grumpy reviews of television programmes, y’know.

I always just wanted to SING.

So please join me in a tribute to big-bummed kitchen woman, Nigella Lawson. 

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Christmas Ads – Iceland

December 5, 2007

Kerry Katona 

Jumbo norked Kerry Katona is an enigma. Heralding from scrubber prole ‘girl band’ Atomic Kitten (in which, according to her, she didn’t sing a single note) – possibly the most physically repugnant grouping of ‘musical’ people since The Flying Pickets – Kerry went on to… well, I don’t know what. I do know she’s in possession of humongous mummy-cushions, that she’s not fussy about cock and is capable of being pregnant about four times at once. Katona also likes to take drugs and go on TV and she fucking loves a good hiding from her fella. Her latest squeeze looks like a shell-suited Artful Dodger without the top hat.
 
But somehow Kerry has managed to maintain some sort of career in the public eye. And here is the enigma. How, what, why? She’s clearly very talented at getting sperms all up her clout but what else? The answer is nothing whatsoever, save one. Iceland has concluded she’s an excellent vehicle for their showcase of comestible horrors. In this instance Kerry makes sense.
 
By mugging at the camera like a nightmare of a ventriloquist’s dummy coming to life but with larger hooters, she’s now associated with selling the cheapest possible frozen food to the lowest echelons of society. Now that it’s Christmas, Iceland have decided to throw in a giant hirsute Nolan sister to help Katona reach out to the families of illegal minicab drivers and ticket touts up and down the whole of Albion, mainly the north part. And Croydon.
 
Featuring tables and tables groaning with inedible foodstuffs that you’d turn down in favour of chewing off your own calf  – 400 duck parcels for 8p, 1,600 mini hot dogs for tuppence, mini-jam pignuts, breaded-prawn diarrhea-skewers, chicken-vomit filo-warts, jitler-coated ambulance-diallers – Kerry manages to mug so gratuitously it’s a wonder her fucking skull doesn’t actually fall out of her mouth. Whilst Nolan maintains the aura of greedy dim-witted bear, Katona (clearly bonked out of her face on git-powder) literally zooms in and out of shot bearing an expression of such obsequious falsity and psychotic enthusiasm it’s only possible to be viewed through a mesh of trembling fingers whimpering in the corner of your sofa. I’ve no idea what she’s saying, nor do I wish to know in case it harms me.
 
That’s why mum, so ineffably useless her poor wee rugrats would do better off being raised by donkeys (and if it weren’t for Kerry’s gargantuan curd beanbags, I’d call the fucking police) goes to Iceland.

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Books by Giles Milton

December 3, 2007

John White 

I don’t know about you, but I like to read history books for fun. I often find that there’s more blood, guts and gratuitous sex to be found in history than in any made up schlock you buy down Waterstones. I tend to read the sort of books that tackle well known episodes of history; Berlin (Germans act like utter beasts in Russia then get rather upset when the Russian hordes rape the shit out of anything with a pulse in Germany), Stalingrad (Germans act like utter beasts in Russia then watch in dismay as their toes go black and drop off in the cold), anything by Richard Holmes (good, honest Tommy goes to Flanders for King and Country and gets blown to smithereens by the Hun) and any other book that involves historical carnage.

A few years ago my older brother introduced me to a book called ‘Nathaniel’s Nutmeg’ by Giles Milton. Milton seems to like writing about the parts of our history which for some reason or other have slipped from our national conscience. Often the reason for this slippage is that later events were so colossal that they eclipsed the earlier events, or that over the years our society has altered its priorities slightly on what is, or isn’t, important to us. Either way, the events he writes about were, at the time, very important and would have been well known in good old Blighty.

I’ve read four of his books so far; Nathaniel’s Nutmeg, White Gold, Big Chief Elizabeth and Samurai William. All were superb. If you like that sort of thing. By ‘that sort of thing’ I mean stories of gentlemen adventurers trying to make a fucking fortune, getting lost, losing vast amounts of crew to sickness, mutiny, cannibalism by savages, torture at the hands of the Dutch and Portuguese and generally making a complete arse of everything. Right up until the moment they somehow manage to pull a rabbit out of the proverbial hat and escape with their lives, and some of their teeth intact. Or not, I have to admit that an awful lot of these men just die really, really horribly.

Nathaniel’s Nutmeg focuses on Nathaniel Courthope, a rash chap who led a rag-tag group of adventurers to the Spice Islands, particularly a godforsaken hole called Run where, at the time, was the only place you could find nutmeg. This made nutmeg very expensive back home and if you could bring some back (as well as cloves) you could retire as one seriously rich bastard. The slight problems were that Run was the furthest place away on the map (not far from Australia) and that the Dutch had found it first. The Dutch in those days weren’t the dope-smoking homosexuals we all love today, but were in fact the sort of murderous bastards who’d make Idi Amin cringe in disgust. During the wonderful caper that is Nathaniel’s Nutmeg various jolly jack tars are captured by the Dutch and the sort of stuff that happens to them would make you puke. Or turgid, depending on your bent. It’s great.

Samurai William is about an Elizabethan hooligan who gets lost and ends up in Japan. You thought the Japs were a bit rough in Nankin? Just you wait to see what they did to criminals. It involved a lot of swords and lumps all over the ground, some needle and thread to put them back together and then more swords and lumps all over the ground. The real baddies in this book are the Jesuit priests who got to Japan first, utter, utter bastards.

Big Chief Elizabeth is more familiar in that it’s about the English trying to establish a colony in America for the first time, you’ll know some of the people who crop up, Pocahontas being one of them.

White Gold is a real revelation. It’s about the one million European slaves who were taken from their homes (or home waters) by the North Africans and kept in slavery in the 17th and 18th Century. How most of us don’t know about this is a mystery, but one reason may be that at the time we were fighting an awful lot of European wars and we preferred to read about our triumphs over the Frogs than about a bunch of Africans who were landing in places like Cornwall and clearing out whole villages and setting off for Morocco. Fact. They even went as far as Iceland, I think they nabbed about 200 from there once. It all ended of course when Napoleon was finally defeated and we could concentrate on getting a few gunboats down there and razing some of their cities to the ground. Fascinating stuff.

If you like reading sterling quotes such as “his fingers turned black as inke” or “whereon they were eaten by savages, their screams were most piteous to hear” then you’ll love these books. They can be a little hard going in places, you have to refer to the maps a bit since names of places have changed in the last few hundred years (you won’t find a city called Bungo in modern Japan) and some of characters can blur into one another (one Elizabethan sociopath with a beard and syphilis is much like another) but they are fantastically written and tell of an age before Empire, when we were a small outpost on the edge of Europe, trying to muscle in on the big boys’ patch (Holland and Portugal). Oh, and often dying along the way. I’d recommend Nathaniel’s Nutmeg as the first one you should try. Think Tom Baker’s character in Blackadder (you have a woman’s legs my Lord!), then imagine a whole fleet of them tearing around the globe (often in the wrong direction) causing nothing but havoc as they went. These days they wouldn’t be allowed to own a pet or go to the shops on their own but these were the very people who got the ball rolling for the British Empire. Great stuff.

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