There are many prices we pay for watching Made In Chelsea on 4OD. Our integrity, sure. That’s definitely, definitely dead in the water. Its lesser playmate, shame, is seeking help for its addiction. Ditto our IQ.
The price is less intellectually severe for watching Homeland - Obama watches it, end of - but not without consequence, either. They both share a filthy secret. Because at this time of year, a very special place lives in the obligatory gaps between our greedy consumption of blow-drys and bomb threats. It’s called CHRISTMAS / CANCER LAND. Sometimes, the best times, its CHRISTMAS & CANCER LAND. Together. Really working that emotional frisson.
Have you noticed it?
Well, after committed testing, I can reveal CHRISTMAS / CANCER LAND is not a fluke. This is, in fact, the soft run of the Advertising Apocalypse - playing out, quietly, in front of audiences who long ago gave up their right to complain about quality control and inappropriate plot lines. Really, to be fair, it’s genius. None of us are going to complain to the ASA. We’re still recovering from Homeland’s latest torture scene. Or the creeping revulsion at our own intrusion into other people’s ‘bedrooms' while they’re forced to wear tight pants and walk upstairs slowly; a camera zooming in on their buttocks and heaving thighs for our viewing pleasure. Our lips are sealed with self-inflicted shock.
All of which makes us, really, the perfect testing ground for the new lows of Capitalism as it whiplashes its way into some part of our buying consciousness. The worst offender, naturally, is the insurance industry, which basically exists to exploit our nightmares.
The natural Disaster Capitalists of the commercial world, insurance companies have long scraped the barrel of good taste, incurring the wrath of Advertising Standards: playing out child deaths in grisly cinematic detail at the 2015 Superbowl; or memorably, last year, buying up the Google keyword ‘Malaysia Airlines’ after the MH17 crash so one particular company could immediately flog its products to the world’s most flight-fearing news readers. Then there was the Downton scandal where its ITV sponsors, Aviva, dared to run a car-crash ‘mini-drama’ in a misjudged ploy which enraged viewers settling down to its plummy comforts ("Terrible interruptions to LOVELY DOWNTON ABBEY!!”).
4OD, however, have struck gold with this take on the Joy / Sorrow sandwich, wedged into 4 x 4 minute ad breaks. Nowhere, ever, have I seen such a committedly mercenary juxtaposition: Christmas Spirit’s Warm Glow appropriated to sell frozen foods (Iceland), softly lit by a father’s love (Sainsbury’s), coasting on that wave of commodified nostalgia… until BOOM: that cosy emotional blanket is switched out. And you’re watching a couple get their cancer diagnosis. And go for treatment. And then a husband, walking through a Christmas party, alone, looking devastated; and your heart is in your mouth a little and you’re thinking of your own parent making that journey and just before you have time to get really upset SURPRISE - the wife reappears! SO DON’T WORRY GUYS. THE WIFE’S NOT DEAD AT CHRISTMAS. THIS IS STILL TOTALLY HEARTWARMING STUFF (x4).
For anyone who has actually lost a parent to cancer, or any of the millions of people who’ve fought it off, or anyone who just doesn’t fancy constantly thinking about it day in day out, actually, you’ll know that having a Cancer aversion is a bit like an onion allergy. It is LITERALLY IN EVERYTHING.
And I’m calling time. It is very, very boring to play emotional Russian Roulette with every film, or soap, or advert, or radio show I dare to switch on to in the festive season; one eye desperately scanning the blurbs to see if there is a sniff of the C-word (or an emotional dog-related plot line - the other Big Bad of Christmas viewing) while the other stiffly scans the room for any hints of lip-wobbling or eye-misting. It is exhausting.
To the insurance industry as a whole, and the desperately derivative advertising vampires you choose to hire, and apparently all screenwriters ever: NO. IT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH TO SAY YOU ARE MERELY REFLECTING AN INCREASINGLY STATISTICAL FACT OF LIFE. Most popular culture is heavily invested in NOT reflecting the hard realities of life, actually; resolutely ignoring the things that NEED awareness - like endemic sexism, or racism, or appalling poverty – or any of life’s general inequalities, really, which might ACTUALLY be helped by a constant barrage of filmic campaigning and relentless emotional blackmail. Why buck the trend now? Cancer is the emotional equivalent of a sure thing: a bad blockbuster sequel with a big names and gratuitous nudity. So shame on you all. It’s cheap and it’s degrading and we all expected better of you.
But it’s ok. I’ve got an idea. All this can be avoided by introducing a Cancer-proof Bechdel Test: a C-approved rating where we, the Cancer Averse, can switch on, and breathe out, and enjoy our Christmas in peace. Wouldn’t that be a joy.