John Lewis’ 2015 Christmas advert was released earlier this month, and it certainly wasn’t without the elements that have become the epitome of the brand’s festive season campaigns. A delicate voice, an emotive song, a tastefully-decorated family home – no-one can deny that 2015’s advert has all the makings of a John Lewis Christmas.
Except, this year, rather than focusing on the adventures of a cute penguin or snowman, the advert has focused on a character with particular relevance.
Looking through her family telescope one night, young Lily makes out an elderly man, alone on the surface of the moon. Unable to get a letter to him, Lily resorts to sending him a handheld telescope for Christmas, the box tied with balloons to ensure it can reach him. Seemingly delighted with the offering, the man is able to look through the telescope and see Lily waving at him, meaning he can wave back to her on Earth. As he does so, the poignant message ‘Show someone they’re loved this Christmas’ appears on the screen.
It’s an important one for our times. In the university bubble of hedonism, activity and fun, the idea that most of us will one day be elderly seems, like the backing track to ‘Man on the Moon’, “half a world away”. Yet, we as a nation are living longer and longer. The 2011 census showed that around 10.4 million people are aged 65 and over in the UK, up from 9.4 million in 2001.
The UK parliament has previously estimated that by 2050, around 19 million people will be over 65, and eight million people will be over 80 years old. And with a 2012 report from the Office for National Statistics suggesting that a third of babies born that year in the UK will live to the age of 100, the concerns of the elderly are going to become more and more important.
10.4 million people are aged 65 and over in the UK, up from 9.4 million in 2001.
The differences between the young and the old can sometimes seem a huge chasm. One can argue that this has been particularly amplified by the fast developments in technology over the last few years. While lots of people are now massively connected to the world around them through social media, the Internet and text messaging, some elderly’s only modes of contact, bar face-to-face, are through a landline telephone and letters.
The idea of a generation gap is demonstrated well in the John Lewis advert, whose Man on the Moon is clearly the product of a bygone age.
While Lily’s seeming brother plays video games, the Man on the Moon, carrying a china cup, wears braces and old-fashioned clothes. His house seems tumbledown, and an old wooden chair stands outside it.
A sense of a generation gap is just one of the reasons why older people are often marginalised in our society.
People can get so wrapped up in their own lives, they forget to visit their elderly friends and relatives, or they avoid making a visit, deeming them boring, hard to relate to or even a burden. Sometimes, people avoid the subject of their older relatives, maybe as they know that they are getting older and frailer and that they will have to plan for their future, or maybe even because they remind them that they too will age.
However, by ignoring older people in this manner, people forget that the elderly are also human beings, who have the same feelings of other human beings and have previously lived full and active lives. Yet, if they have regular lack of human contact for reasons including bereavement and family or friends moving away (and especially for those elderly people with hearing, sight or mobility impairments), one of these feelings is loneliness.
Ironically, a day before the advert was released, I shared a post I’d seen on Facebook on my own profile concerning a Channel 4 News video on the loneliness of older people. It had some shocking statistics. According to the video, “1,100,000 older people in the UK say that they are often or always lonely”, and “17 per cent of older people have contact with others less than once a week”.
As of writing, my post had got no ‘likes’, no comments and no shares. It was as if the issue was unimportant, rather than something affecting a significant proportion of the UK population.
The John Lewis advert clearly has a well-intentioned vibe behind it: that of doing what you can to show people that they’re not forgotten. However, one can question whether Lily sending the Man on the Moon a telescope will actually cure his loneliness.
Instead of the sense of the advert being one of caring for the elderly in our lives, does it instead seem to be “Why don’t we just give Grandad a present so we don’t have to ring him up or visit him at Christmas?” As many gifts in the world as possible cannot buy human contact and company, and the Man on the Moon being able to see everyone else enjoying themselves on Earth could potentially make him feel worse.
Yet, John Lewis seems to be looking to try to encourage these very values – for the festive period, it has partnered with Age UK, and on its webpage about the advert, there is a link to make a donation to the charity.
Action has already been taken since the advert’s release. Thousands of people have apparently come forward offering to volunteer to help the elderly during the festive period.
In Wales, gift bags will be handed out to elderly people at a Christmas party organised by Age Connects Torfaen on 22 December, a 12-year-old girl having co-ordinated a campaign for donations, while a Cardiff family is offering to allow a lonely elderly person to spend Christmas Day with them.
These acts of kindness indicate that the advert has prompted people to act to ensure that older people are not left alone at Christmas. However, it remains to be seen if this will lead to a widespread shift in both the way we treat older people and the efforts that are being made to prevent loneliness among the demographic throughout the year – not just during the festive season.