For a concentrated shot of class values, this season’s much-discussed TV ads are a great place to go. There’s that Sainsbury’s ad of course (the one that rips off Paul McCartney’s Pipes of Peace), but you won’t find more juicy nuggets of insight into middle-class beliefs than in the John Lewis and Waitrose offerings.
This year, their ads explore a theme close to middle-class hearts – the Sensitive Child. John Lewis brings us the tale of a boy with an imaginary penguin friend while Waitrose tells the story of a girl who overcomes her lack of confidence to run the school gingerbread stall.
Parallels between the two ads are interesting. In both, the child is slightly at odds with their social environment. Not seriously, dysfunctionally out-of-kilter, just a little different, a little awkward. John Lewis Boy plays with his penguin while the other kids play together. Waitrose Girl looks awkwardly down while her classmates all shoot their hands up to be gingerbread nominee.
What could be more middle class than that? The fantasy of the Sensitive Child means being special and different. There may be a price to pay in social awkwardness, but it’s well worth it.
Another interesting feature of the ads is their sense of loneliness. John Lewis Boy and Waitrose Girl both have inner journeys to undertake in these ads – and as they do so they’re largely on their own. Caring parents look on with concern from a distance – OK, Waitrose Girl does get one hug. But deep down, life’s lessons have to be learned independently.
That’s another major middle-class belief. You have to be self-reliant and can’t depend too much on other people. Life is an individual quest and not always something that’s easy to share.
For a window onto a totally different universe, the Tesco ad is worth a look.
No awkwardness and no sensitive children here – Christmas is an outer not an inner experience: about lights, sharing and fun, not long dark nights of the soul. Phew.