Merry ‘Heteronormativity’ Christmas?by Michael Johnson-Ellis
Firstly, a disclaimer. I write this festive article from a good place, a happy place actually. I’m not putting pen to paper as an activist, a victim or as a bitter scrooge-type. I write this as a Gay Dad, with an emotionally intelligent 4-year-old, an excited little girl who has a 15-month-old little Brother, whom she adores – when he’s not demolishing her advent calendar and smashing her Lego.
Talulah’s excitement is off the scale this year, it’s believing at its finest. Her first move once she opens her big blue eyes, is to dart into our room, asking to go downstairs to see what chaos those pesky Elves been up to overnight. (I can’t wait for the annoying little shits to leave to be honest, but she loves them!) Every mention of Santa sets her off. We’ve been watching Christmas films since November, so it’s no wonder why she’s ready to burst. Talulah is interacting and more aware of her surroundings, the TV and external influences, which is what prompted me to write this piece.
We’re lucky, we’re in Tier 2 here in Worcestershire and following the latest government announcements of Tier 4 we remained in 2, which we’re grateful of – but also can’t help being pleased that Christmas is watered down this year, as the impact in January just isn’t worth it. But despite all of this mess, sadness and isolation – we’re ready for a different kind of Christmas this year.
I’m actually looking forward to this years’ Christmas Day more than all the others to be perfectly honest, and whilst our annual tradition of having New Year abroad has been cancelled, we’re ready for celebrating and creating a different set of memories this year. Board games feature heavily this year, with Hungry Hungry Hippo’s, Guess Who, Operation, there’s even Connect4 – we’ve gone old school in our house. Fortunately, she’s too young for Monopoly, which isn’t a bad thing. I have memories as a child of me flipping the board in the air, sending the tiny metal counters hurling across the room like shrapnel. Debris of Green and Red tiny houses scattered everywhere, all as a result of discovering my brother and Mum had cyphered cash from the bank, creating a crooked property empire in Mayfair, bankrupting me as I land on their Hotels.
Those that have followed our social channels will know we’re no stranger to a bit of brand collaboration, we’ve even done a few commercials, TV Documentaries and even a Christmas TV ad in 2017 for Sainsbury's, blink and you miss us mind (21 seconds in!) This was the year Tesco also featured another set of gay dads in their Christmas campaign too. Coincidence, or was this a combined effort to be more diverse, to celebrate all types of families and make us visible. We celebrate Christmas too, you know! Since 2017, families like ours have faded away and haven’t been featured in hardly any mainstream brands, and certainly not in a seasonal, big-ticket Christmas ad. It’s as if an inclusivity box had been ticked, the gays have been supported – let’s move on to the next cause, the next minority group. This year the agenda is noticeably different, with more brands casting more and more black or brown actors in their adverts, and their season ‘big money’ campaign – and for the record, it’s about time! One we support. I just hope the brands continue their support to the BAME community throughout the year, and not just around the ‘big ticket’ campaigns.
So onto some interesting facts. The Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board’s fabulously abbreviated to (BARB) rigorous measurement of TV shows that:
- The average viewer in the UK watches a total of 3 hours, 12 minutes of TV a day with an additional 27 minutes of subscription Video on Demand (VOD) viewing
- Commercial TV makes up two-thirds of total TV viewing in the UK with the average person watching 2 hours, 5 minutes a day
- The average UK viewer watches 39 TV ads a day on a TV set at normal speed (fast-forwarded ads are not included by BARB).
- Collectively we saw 858 billion ads in 2019
- An average broadcast TV campaign of 400 TVRs in the UK gets 241 million views
- Commercial TV reaches 87% of the UK population every week, which grows to an estimated 94% if Broadcaster VOD is included
So, that’s 39 ads a day we each see, and ultimately so do our little ones.
Stonewall estimate the LGBTQ community make up approx. 5-7%. of the UK population. So, if our adverts are to represent all society, three of thirty-nine TV commercials we see each day should ideally have LGBTQ people and/or families in them. You with me? Yet this year, I’m aware of four. Four for the entire year. One of which, we were actually in with Cow and Gate.
There are a few Christmas films out this year though which have LGBTQ leads which is fabulous to see. These include films such as Carol starting Kate Blanchett, Happiest Season, The Christmas House and The Christmas Setup, for a complete list click here.
A lack of diversity in Christmas TV adverts continues to be a battle. Brands struggle to find a balance. Why is it so hard to represent modern society, or at least modern Britain? I haven’t seen any queer families represented in any Christmas commercials in the UK this year – I’ve gotten used to this sadly, which is why when I see one, I rejoice. I remember it. However, this year Talulah spotted the lack of families like ours on mainstream TV. Which for me, was profound. Something we should all listen to.
‘Daddy, that little girl has parents that are a Mommy and a Daddy’, like Edward at nursery’ Talulah perfectly proclaimed. Firstly, can we just applaud her. We love how she refers to ‘them’ as ‘parents’, something we haven’t taught her; she always talks about all her friends' Mums and Dads, or Mommy’s and Momma’s as parents, normally she completely genderblind which I’m super proud of. What she then followed with, made my heart sink a little. She points at the TV with a sad face, almost with tears in her eyes - ‘Daddy, does Santa only come if you have a Mummy?’ My eyes immediately filled, I looked at Wes, he picked her up and held her tight. ‘Of course not’ Wes said kissing her head, ‘Santa comes to everyone’s home, especially those that are extra special with two daddies’.
So, as we sit in front of the TV this Christmas, (because let’s face it – we can’t do much else) count the adverts that represent families like mine and let me know how many you spot. When they exist you notice them, because they remind you, we’re here! It’s not too much to ask to be visible, to have your family unit validated, to be included. Four-year-old eyes shouldn’t be checking if they’re worthy of a Santa visit, but with a continued lack of validation on British television, we need to do more.
Here’s a collection of 10 of the best gay-inclusive commercials, the Virgin one is a personal favourite, take a look.
So, have another mince pie, grab another glass of fizz and have the merriest of Christmas, from my little modern family, to yours.