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November 6, 2015

Visually clueless morning
Posted by Teresa at 12:24 PM * 25 comments

Two news stories this morning were accompanied by photos that made me stop dead and say “No, that’s not it …”

The first story, a series of spectacular weather photos, was headlined ‘Cloud tsunami’ hits Sydney. Apparently either Sydney or the Guardian doesn’t know a storm cell/shelf cloud when it sees one.

I don’t remember the cloud being correctly identified in the opening paragraph when I first saw the story, but I could be wrong. What I’m sure of, then and now, is that the caption writer didn’t recognize that ropy tubular thing hanging down out of the cloud in photo #7.

The other story, John Lewis Christmas advert: who is Moon Hitler?, subtitled Why has the old man been sent into space? Is he a war criminal?, is a rant by Stuart Heritage about the complete incomprehensibility of the 2015 Christmas ad from retailers John Lewis.

The version of the story I’m seeing begins with a photograph of an old man sitting by himself on the surface of the moon, looking up at the sky. Um, sure, Hitler. First thing I thought of when I saw it.

If you click through to the video there’s a story about a little girl with a telescope seeing the man on the moon, and sending him his own telescope so that he can look back at her. It’s cute, but so rivet-free that Bradbury himself couldn’t have handwaved it. The guy who wrote about a man who sold the moon would probably have had them using really big mirrors as semaphores: better science, but hard to fit into a Christmas ad.

Mr. Heritage has seen Total Recall, so he’s concerned about the “hard vacuum in your shirtsleeves” issue. Clearly, he needs to watch A Grand Day Out. The only cure for the evils of a superficial education is more education.

Comments on Visually clueless morning:
#1 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2015, 12:54 PM:

First? Whoa.

I remember seeing this concept in a picture at a convention art show. I should remember who the artist was, but to my shame I don't. The picture showed an old woman sitting in a rocking chair on the moon, and the title was "Might As Well Be". If this columnist couldn't extrapolate that far from the ad (which is perfectly clear), he really needs to get out more.

#2 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2015, 01:05 PM:


What have those scoundrels done to A Grand Day Out? It's just not the same without Peter Sallis.


#3 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2015, 01:22 PM:

The reviewer had a bad day. This is the kind of review that I always wish I had never written, about a month later. "What was I thinking?" Clearly, I wasn't -- and neither was this reviewer.

#4 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2015, 02:33 PM:

UMG, the copyright owners of the song featured in the John Lewis ad, have unsportingly blocked, at least in the UK, The Poke's SFnal parody on YouTube, but at this precise moment it's still visible here.

(John Lewis is a prime example of a very successful retail enterprise entirely owned by its employees.)

#5 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2015, 03:09 PM:

Thinking about it a bit more: the author of the review of the ad has no idea what it's like to be old in our society, does he? "Being on the moon" is a bit of a strong metaphor for what a lot of older people feel in terms of isolation, but it's not a serious metaphorical stretch.

Doing bad things isn't the only reason people get exiled. Sometimes it's just living too long.

#6 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2015, 04:42 PM:

Tom, are you posting in the right thread?

#7 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2015, 05:12 PM:

Old man sitting alone on the moon, abandoned? Yes, I think it's the right thread, T -- concentrating on the John Lewis advert entirely, in both my comments.

#8 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2015, 07:49 PM:

Sorry, Tom, I was confused -- I didn't think of that piece as a review. It all makes sense now. (Okay, it made sense before, but now it makes sense to me.)

#9 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2015, 08:18 PM:

No blame -- that piece was obviously a review to me, so obvious that I didn't think it needed to be mentioned!

#10 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2015, 09:57 PM:

Steve with a book @ 4: I am delighted to hear that John Lewis is employee-owned. I was in London for a few days in September, and went into John Lewis to replace a lost FitBit, and I was delighted by the store. My first reaction was "Why can't America have good stores like this?!"

#11 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2015, 10:28 PM:

I have just spent the last fifteen minutes watching old John Lewis Christmas commercials. Good grief, they're adorable. I would probably sicken of them if I had to watch them four or five times an hour for a month or two--over the Christmas season--but as a watch once? Really cute. I especially enjoyed the penguin one . . . and the Man in the Moon, for that matter. They're like tiny little Christmas specials.

#12 ::: Emma in Sydney ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2015, 05:09 AM:

Just a usual spring thunderstorm in Sydney, actually. We have them all the time. The fact that everyone has a camera on them these days, leads to some gee-whiz photos.

#13 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2015, 08:49 AM:

I'd describe the John Lewis review as "taking the piss, with a bad attitude."

#14 ::: James Palmer ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2015, 01:11 PM:

I think you're missing cultural context here. The John Lewis ads are ubiquitous in the UK at Xmas, and, depending on your tastes, somewhere between moving and nauseating. This is the umpteenth of them.

So the writer isn't misunderstanding the ad; he's pretending to misunderstand it (and applying shallow pseudo-scientific logic to an obvious fairytale) for humorous effect to mock the whole sentimentality-mechanized-for-profit ethos of it. Judging by the numbers of times it was shared approvingly by friends and relatives in the UK on my Facebook feed, I'd say it succeeded.

#15 ::: James Palmer ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2015, 01:13 PM:

"It" in that last being the article, not the ad.

#16 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2015, 03:06 PM:

Does it mean something that as I was looking at the Guardian photos of the shelf cloud an audio ad started up praising the wonders of working in the Cloud? Coincidence or something more sinister?

#17 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2015, 04:49 PM:

The only major chain ads more annoying than the John Lewis ones are the interminable Marks and Spencers ones, narrated by Nigella Lawson's bizarro-world phone sex twin.

Luckily, with the cancellation of "Mythbusters" the last reason for Feorag and I to actually have a cable TV subscription has curled up and died so we can ditch Virgin some time in the next few months and stick to TV-on-demand via internet as and when we want something.

#18 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2015, 06:19 PM:

James Palmer @ 14: I think you're missing cultural context here. The John Lewis ads are ubiquitous in the UK at Xmas, and, depending on your tastes, somewhere between moving and nauseating.

Even without the UK cultural context, I kind of figured. I still say they're adorable as a "watch once, and by my own choice." But then, many things are . . .

#19 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2015, 07:10 PM:

One of the best photo-picture mismatches I have seen was an employment-classified-ads/job-fair type of publication that the newspaper company I used to work for put out. It was a cover with a headline saying that a certain job fair was the "leading edge" of something, and the cover photo was the trailing edge of an airplane wing.

#20 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2015, 02:52 PM:

I loved the fairy tale about the little girl, and let me tell you I generally feel like that old man around Christmas.

Seeing it three times an hour, though? I'd claw my eyes out.

#21 ::: Sarah E. ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2015, 05:40 PM:

According to Buzzfeed, there is a man on Twitter named John Lewis who is not the department store, and who spends every November and December politely and patiently explaining this.

#22 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2015, 06:42 PM:

Sarah: He should charge them a fee. (One wonders if he spends the rest of the year thinking up replies.)

#23 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2015, 06:56 PM:

There is, of course, the congressman for the 5th District of Georgia.

#24 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2015, 10:43 PM:

An antidote to the saccharine levels in the John Lewis advert might be the video that mixes it with clips from Léon: The Professional. Luc Besson gets referenced in the title, but I suspect wild copyright enforcement agents may be on the prowl. The UK law on parody was reported to have recently changed.

I hadn't realised how old some of these movies are.

Christmas isn't what it was for me. The annual shopping festival doesn't appeal, and it it has started to feel like just another excuse. That's maybe part of why I feel a certain sympathy with the attitude in the article on the advert. And the myth of the White Christmas persists in the face of the changing reality. Frost and snow are becoming less common, Christmas or later, but there are still the ritual annual dreadful winter forecasts in which certain newspapers revive fears of 1947 and 1963.

Irving Berlin's original version maybe fits better:

The sun is shining, the grass is green,
The orange and palm trees sway.
There's never been such a day
in Beverly Hills, L.A.
But it's December the twenty-fourth,—
And I am longing to be up North—

#25 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2015, 11:07 AM:

Attention: Here is the rejected Luc Besson celebrity director's cut of the John Lewis advert.

That is all.

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