Clichéd. Patriarchal. Perpetuating gender stereotypes. Sexualising children. Sounds just like a John Lewis ad, right. Wait. What? Outrage.
It’s the default position of early 21st Century humanity.
The casual (and detached) observer would be forgiven for thinking the world has gone mad. Mad for outrage. Vitriol spouted at the slightest sign of anything contrary to one’s own acutely calibrated moral compass. Where something altogether innocent can be taken completely out of context and unsuspecting individuals made into social pariahs at the click of a button.
Early 21st Century society is one that desperately seeks to make everything black or white. Or, at least, everyone’s own version of black and white. Deliberately turning a blind eye to the beautifully subtle nuances of the greys.
Because the grey areas are difficult to interpret. They aren’t easy to categorise. They’re neither one side nor the other. It requires critical thought and emotional detachment to appreciate both sides of an argument. And it requires strength of character to admit and consider that we’re not completely right, nor are we completely wrong. It’s grey.
Ultimately, greys don’t suit a bipartisan mindset. It’s not part of the ‘us’ and ‘them’ agenda. You can’t be outraged at grey. Because grey doesn’t polarise opinion. It isn’t divisive. And it doesn’t fuel the outrage that humanity thrives on. So you find the extremes and go for those. In the bilious cesspit of anonymity that is social media.
So, what of John Lewis? How has the perennial Christmas favourite fallen so far from the pear tree, resplendent with partridge and full festive entourage?
Well. To begin with, it’s not the John Lewis we have grown to fondly know.
As we bask in the resplendence of that split infinitive, let’s take a brief moment of objective reflection (setting our social biases aside for a minute), and consider how realistic the following scenarios might be:
- Children playing dress-up. Rifling through their parents’ wardrobe and haphazardly trying on their mother’s clothes. Realistic? Sure.
- Children making a mess with paints. And generally causing a maelstrom of chaos around the house lost in whatever imaginary world they happen to be inhabiting at the time. Realistic? Certainly.
- Siblings acting thoughtlessly towards each other. Realistic? It’d be rude not to.
- A mum sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of tea reading a book. The jury’s still out on this one.
Chances are, if you’re a parent (or know someone who has young children) these scenarios should ring fairly true. With the exception, perhaps, of the quiet tea and book.
So, now for some questions:
- Is playing dress-up sexualisation to a child?
- Are they asserting patriarchal authority by creating a mess they have no intention of cleaning up?
- Is their thoughtlessness actually a calculated attack on gender equality?
- Do mums never seek solace from their children? Some brief respite from the relentless energy and intensity of youth? And might this involve a quiet cuppa? Perhaps in the kitchen?
Judge for yourself.
Is This All a Bit Cliché?
But where do clichés come from?
If the aforementioned examples can be considered an expression of a popular or common thought or idea, describing commonplace scenarios, then, yes. By definition they are cliché.
At least, they are, objectively speaking.
Ultimately, all they amount to is a series of keen observations of domestic scenes that invariably play themselves out up and down the land, in one form or another. Daily.
Perhaps not to this extreme. Rarely all together at once. Certainly not without swift intervention by a parent.
But that’s the point of the metaphor at play here.
It’s not supposed to be entirely realistic. It’s an ad. For home insurance.
Is it patriarchal?
Well, the mum’s in the kitchen, so it must be. And the boy has just ruined his sister’s quiet painting activity. And destroyed the house with reckless abandon. He also seems to have got away with it too. So, he’s clearly the embodiment of white male privilege. Little more than a patriarchal archetype perpetuating the ideology of the penis. Or as one person put it on Twitter:
“Careless, thoughtless boy makes mindless mess, ignores women’s boundaries, leaves mess for women to clean up. It’s a stressful watch.”
But, he’s wearing a dress and makeup.
Doesn’t that confuse the issue?
No, no. That’s sexualisation of children. He pouts at the camera.
Has anyone been on Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, or watched the TV recently?
Pouting at the camera is so cliché.
The vitriol levelled at this ad is outrageous.
Outrage Is So Passé
In the furore of outrage, we seem to have missed the point.
Instead of focusing on thin interpretations intended to polarise opinion and spark outrage, let’s take a moment to reflect on the performance of a couple of talented young actors. Let’s stop and see a boy in a dress and makeup dancing his way around the house as quite a powerful image for mainstream media.
Is it a stereotype? Sure. It’s inescapable.
Is it woke? Please. It’s hard to move for all the high-horses around here.
Did it misrepresent the level of insurance cover on offer? Unfortunately. And it has since been banned.
If this has been too much of a social commentary hot potato, we can now take a deep breath and see the ridiculous side of it all.
As I did, with this reinterpretation of the ad. (Watch till the end.)
And so did thousands of others, as my Durex edit went viral!!
Finally, let’s spare a thought for parents everywhere, dealing with paint mess and chaos while trying to preserve their “no claims” and keep their insurance premiums affordable.