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Storytime as a vehicle for reflective practice, part 2: the Christmas commercial

Andrew Papanikitas, Helen Salisbury, Emma McKenzie-Edwards, and Ruth Wilson. The authors are all GP educators in Oxford and its environs, affiliated to the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences at the University of Oxford.

In the West, Christmas has endured as both a religious and secular holiday. A year ago, as a festive offering to BJGP Life, we shared an approach to reflection on general practice: we used the rhyming and illustrated children’s books of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler.

Each of us was assigned a book at random, read it, summarised the plot, and then spoke about how the story spoke to us in our professional life. The effect was startling, with issues that ranged from self-compassion to guile as a professional virtue.

What we did … this time …

The following year, we went a bit more overtly ‘Christmassy’, and took our ‘Storytime’ approach and applied it to Christmas television commercials. Each commercial had to tell a story. Because they were Christmas commercials, the stories were going to have a positive message: about giving, caring, or community. So we avoided the ‘Santa drinks a carbonated sugary drink’ commercials in favour of those with more of a narrative. Some retailers set much store by story-natured commercials at this time of year. These stories are often accompanied by a toy (Edgar the excitable dragon) or a book (Mog’s Christmas Calamity) for children.

We shared four YouTube links to commercials from department stores and supermarkets of Christmas past and present — these add up to about 20 minutes in total:

All of them were secular — perhaps we worried unduly about religion being divisive. The advertisement works well because it is usually short, emotive, and of high production value (in some ways this is analogous with our previous choice of books). We were influenced by the public visibility of the commercial in our milieu rather than where we bought our groceries!

We asked all the group to view all of the short films in advance and then discussed them with members, taking it in turns to start the discussion on each story.

Our summaries and reflections in brief

Edgar the Dragon: Edgar the excitable dragon does a lot of damage and becomes very unpopular trying to do the same things as everyone else. The problem is that every time he gets excited, he breathes fire! A combination of inclusion and love allow him to re-join the town and light the Christmas pudding with his flames. We discussed neurodiversity, but also recognising strengths and pushing people into roles they are not equipped for.

“… we avoided the ‘Santa drinks a carbonated sugary drink’ commercials in favour of those with more of a narrative.”

There’s A Rang-tan in My Bedroom: This was controversial as it was withdrawn from the television after a legal challenge claiming that it was overtly political. It advertised Iceland’s commitment to using sustainable palm oil in their own products. A little girl asks a baby Rang-tan (orangutan) why he is causing mayhem in her bedroom. He is there because his own home had been destroyed. We reflected that this told an important point about asking about and listening to why someone is acting in a particular way in general. There may also be a grave set of injustices in the background.

Paddington’s Christmas: Paddington always assumes the best in people, and assumes that the man breaking into his home on Christmas eve is Santa. He then helps Santa deliver his burgled presents to all the houses he previously robbed that night. The burglar sees and feels the joy of children opening their gifts. We reflected that sometimes when you treat people with courtesy and respect, and establish expectation that they will behave well — they do!

Mog’s Christmas Calamity: Mog the cat wakes from a dream and sets off a chain of events that cause a house fire in the early hours of Christmas. But as the family who own Mog despair, the neighbours rally to share their Christmas feasts. It is implied that by triggering an overt alarm Mog may have saved her family from a more insidious fire risk. We reflected that even a terrible catastrophe can highlight the previously unseen unaddressed risks (even save lives), but also how a community come together to have a more profound Christmas feast. We were also touched by the solidarity of neighbours coming together to share their Christmas and the whole being greater than the sum of its part.

Afterword

Sadly, the year after was the first Christmas of COVID-19. The change from scheduled television to streaming services has made the ‘TV Commercial’ less of a story-genre for many. Regardless, we invite discussion on our examples as well as suggestions of other commercials that could trigger a reflection on practice, either via social media or in the comments section of this article. This can be a solitary sport but we enjoyed discussing them in company.

Featured Photo by Alin Andersen on Unsplash.

The BJGP is the world-leading primary care journal. At BJGP Life we add multi-media comment and opinion for the primary care community.

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