Thursday, 13 November 2014

This advert will make you cry. And the last 30 seconds will make you spit with anger.

We are Making a New World (1918) by Paul Nash, war artist. From collection of the Imperial War Museum (available to share for non-commercial use).
I think it might be Children in Need day today. There was someone in a teddy bear suit waving at me when I did the shopping this morning.

Today we all have to feel sad about unfortunate children. On Tuesday, we all had to feel sad about dead soldiers. Next week it will be something else. At the risk of appearing cynical, count me out.

I've never had much time for being told to do or think something just because everyone else is doing or thinking it on the same day. I have my own charities that I think are important and I don't go on about them. I won't be bullied into communal sentimentality.

Don't get me wrong, I would never criticise what soldiers went through and still go through. But I was brought up believing that remembrance was about saying 'Never again': these days, that seems to have gone out of the window. I heard a BBC news reporter on Sunday saying that it was about remembering the people who had given their lives in the past and those who would do so in the future. Apart from being paradoxical (you can't remember something that hasn't happened yet), surely that's missing the point? It's assuming that the killing will go on. It's making me, by wearing a poppy, complicit in the assumption that war is inevitable.

I don't want any part of that.

When I heard that people were knitting poppies for Remembrance Day, it all started to feel a bit theme park. Like baking Pudsey cakes. But these cosy, communal feelings don't have anything to do with the reality of war, as Jonathan Jones reminded us in the Guardian.

And they won't let it go. We've got the First World War centenary stuff for another four years, and everyone is cashing in. The other night I saw a TV advert for a travel firm. They're doing trips to First World War battlefields. 'In the footsteps of heroes TM' it said. Yes, they've trademarked the name.

Now Sainsbury's are at it, too. They want the moral high ground so they've gone into partnership with the British Legion (note: other charities are available). They want to win the war of the Christmas adverts so they've made a video about the famous WW1 'Christmas truce'. And yes, it is a well-made film and I did get a lump in my throat watching it. But I know when I'm being manipulated, and I don't like it. And I kept wondering what the punchline would be. Three and a half minutes in, there it was: 'Christmas is for sharing'.

Is that the only message you can get from what happened back then? Is that what those millions of people died for? So Sainsbury's can sell more chocolate in 2014?

I don't think I'm the one who's being cynical here.

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