Penguins, especially Monty: An explanation

These days, when there’s major change sunk into making TV commercials, to many viewers the commercials become equal in importance to the event. Sometimes even more important than the event itself.

In America, we have the commercials during the Superbowl.

In the UK, there are the commercials during the World Cup, and even the Euro Cup, and something called Six Nations that you probably don’t care about. But what’s the one thing, every year, causes companies to budget huge amounts of money to try to win the most consumers?

Christmas.

And the unveiling of the Christmas commercial has become an important event in its own right.

After being loosed onto the populace, these Christmas commercials (or ‘adverts,’ to be proper) will be shown over and over again, either in full or edited down for time, nonstop, relentless, until you cave and buy something.

If you’re not a Brit, you might have wondered why penguins are suddenly a hot topic, especially one named Monty. That’s because today is the day an upscale British department store chain called John Lewis released their offering to the gods of commerce:

This was a major event, make no mistake. Remember that last November’s John Lewis advert netted Lily Allen a number one single in the UK. Again this year, a trailer for the advert was released several days before the advert itself. Today it was all anyone could talk about, on talk shows and radio programmes. It trended on Twitter.

I don’t want to get into it too much, since tumblr user thiscouldbetonight summed it up admirably:

I bet the meeting for the John Lewis Christmas ad is the easiest thing of the entire year.

Sentimental soft pop/acoustic cover of a famous song by someone your Mum will like for two weeks
Extremely white, middle class family as protagonists
Snow and a hint of whimsy/fantasy characters
???
They’ve just got those 4 points written down, and then they go and do a load of coke in the bar downstairs

But essentially, a little boy sees his best friend is lonely and buys him a girlfriend for Christmas. Thankfully, his best friend isn’t another boy but a toy penguin. Yes, we are supposed to find this heartwarming.

Like I did, you could assume that Monty might be a gay penguin. Why not? Ignore the crushing heteronormativity of it all for a minute and acknowledge two facts: 1. that there are gay penguins, and 2. earlier this year, same sex marriage was made legal in England and Wales. A Christmas advert would be a sweet way to recognize that, even if you keep it ambiguous so the pearl-clutchers aren’t scandalized. In any case, the sexuality of a plush toy in a TV advert doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, so it doesn’t matter one way or the other. Right?

Nope! John Lewis has removed all ambiguity by not only selling a stuffed Monty in several different sizes, but throwing the entire weight of their merchandising department behind the story. Monty’s new friend is called Mabel. Her cuddly plush self is also available to purchase, in several different sizes, from the John Lewis website. And Monty and Mabel’s likenesses can also be bought on a range of items, from umbrellas to mugs to coin purses. There is a story book. And an app.

And pretty much all of these Monty and Mabel-branded items are already sold out.

Congrats, John Lewis. You have already won Christmas.

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