Tears in the eyes of the lonely – what happens when you buy some poor bastard a mildly useful trinket

Thoughts on That John Lewis Ad

Again, the retail colossus tries to appeal to our hearts through our needless attachment to objects

Every November the 6th marks the ‘release’ (because so many people mark it in their diary) of another John Lewis advert where, though they highlight a contemporary issue in a compelling way, all their objective consists of is to sell you their shit.

If you haven’t seen it, the idea is that a little girl is able to comfort a lonely old man living on the moon by dispatching him a neatly packaged gift. Though her initial efforts do to so fail, she eventually masters something the biggest brains in astrodynamics struggled to achieve, sending an object 240,000 miles to its target.

Okay, so it’s one big metaphor for the physical and emotional detachment we have with older generations. That it may be, consider how likely John Lewis are really interested in highlighting a social issue and what can be done about it, or if they’re more interested in selling you a fucking telescope.

The issue is this: elderly people experience loneliness more than they’d like. According to the most recent research (2010), 51% of over 75s live alone, many of who regard TV to be their main source of company, if you can call it that. The hyperbole of the old man living on the moon conveys this notion deftly, I’ll admit, but in presenting us with their ‘solution’, John Lewis have, unwittingly, brought attention to another problem.

We have an unnatural tendency to express our affections through tangible things and material goods. More often than not, these are nothing more than bumph that collect dust in the attic, or are consumed and forgotten, or rot, or perish. Point is, we have a deficiency in our ability to express our emotions, and feel as though we are limited to showing how we feel through giving people stuff*. Rigorous marketing campaigns by Apple, Amazon, and countless other corporations and retailers big and small are there to make sure.

The choice of casting a little girl to do the heroic thing takes this a bit further, suggesting the young hold a higher level of resistance to things like discrimination, apathy, and cultural intolerance. Surely, the message is that, due to the tabula rasa nature of the child psyche, adult behaviour and interrelation leaves much to be desired, particularly if we decide on seeking the advice of a department store on how to better interact with other humans.

If you do think someone feels lonely, don’t go to John Lewis. Give them a foot massage. Take them out to a pizza joint. Make them a cookie. Skype. Consider how much more a grandparent would prefer a (probably overdue) 40-minute phone call to a shiny new toaster, even if they can derive pleasure from seeing their reflection in it. Whatever your way of displaying your affections happens to be, be aware what’s more important than the gift itself is the experience it affords.


*The fact our houses are ballooning in size (while families are getting smaller) only goes to show that we’re accumulating more shit we don’t need and we need more space in which to put it.