I blame academia for this post. It is, unequivocally, the fault of scholars who taught me to always think critically. I warn you youngin's, the appropriation of this value will ruin your ability to passively watch even Christmas Adverts. #yourewelcome
The single unknown soldier interred at Westminster and the performance of the memory of the war-dead was once again used to focus a ritualized mourning practice. Laurence Van Ypersele in the chapter he contributed to "A companion to World War I" entitled "Mourning and Memory, 1919-45" argues this figure to be such a potent focal point because it's anonymity was able to encompass "the loss of an entire nation" which in turn "guaranteed equality for all heroes and allowed for the mourning of each individual." (Ypersele, p.579) Similar thought processes have been applied when analyzing les monuments aux morts whereon the names of those who'd fallen in the war are given credence through the inscription of their individual name on a public monument. Such a monument the bereaved could return to in order to interact with the manifestation of their grief until the time when they were able to move on. The use of the same tactics a hundred years later by the Royal British Legion and 14-18 NOW to commemorate the War demonstrates the sheer extent of influence the mourning rituals which emerged in Europe during the Interwar Period had on the way Western Europeans still understand war commemorations.
Jay Winter, a historian, recently -- and by that I mean in June of this year -- published a new work: "War Beyond Words: Languages of Remembrance from the Great War to the Present". In Part Two, Chapter Seven "Shell Shock, Silence, and Memories of War" he puts forward auditory commemoration as a pillar of remembrance. By auditory commemoration, he elaborates, "performative nonspeech acts" (Winter, p.173) which he defines as "constitutive rather than descriptive" meaning "they speak rather than describe". (Winter, p.173) He gives an example: the two-minute periods of silence that accompany Armistice Day ceremonies. When considered, performative nonspeech acts and the silence they're built on is found reverberating through modern-day military ceremonies like the Last Roll Call ceremony, Missing Man formation, Twelve Gun Salute, and The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier's Guard at Arlington Cemetery. This type of silent mourning is also found in the aforementioned vigil at Westminster Abbey and the darkening of London at 22:00, August 4th, 2014. These examples suggest that silence is type of language which speaks a memory and performative nonspeech acts the outward expression of an internal un-word-able trauma. In other words, acts like the two-minute silences at military ceremonies are ways for people to tell interpersonal stories of their war experience "beyond words". (Winter, p.173)
Pictured below is another particularly poignant expression of this language of silence; two photographs taken by Michael St Maur Sheil of Newfoundland Memorial Park, in Beaumont Hamel and the Somme; shows the silent elapse of a hundred years. During which timespan the earth has pulled itself back together like skin healing around stitches. The jagged lines are what remains of the trench networks -- once home to the some 60 million men who were mobilized over the course of the Great War -- and the craters the marks that speak of nightly bombardments.
The traumatic legacy of the Great War is succinctly demonstrated by Sheil's photos. Not only is the terror of the War still physically present in the landscape of Europe but the psychological memory of the War as a horrific event is omnipresent in the minds of Europe's millennials. While millennials circa 2015 may not know why or when the Great War started they do remember the horror of its massive death toll.
Professor Mark Connelly from the University of Kent approached the topic of mediated memory within public consciousness with the talk he gave December of 2015. It was in watching this talk that I learned of the Sainsbury's 2014 Christmas advert watching which is started this whole posting. The ad told the iconic story of the 1914 Christmas Truce. A soldier receives a chocolate bar from his love-interest back home, the emotional gift spurs him to venture out of the trench and into No Man's Land where he and a German soldier shake hands. The rest of the soldiers clamor out of the trenches and play a game of soccer before the rumbling sounds of gunshots remind them of why they're there and they retreat back to their sides.
SAINSBURY CHRISTMAS "1914" ADVERT, RELEASED IN 2014.
The Sainsbury Christmas advert is exemplary of memorial in action, thanks to modern-day technology and the fad of "Reaction Videos" the impact of the ad on UK public can be gauged visually instead of textually. If parsed, frame-by-frame than the advert becomes something of a micro-history on war memorial and its relationship to the modern-day use of that memory.
The anaylsis is presented as follows: the image and then the textual analysis of said image underneath it.
The first image is of darkness, the text appears on the screen and the light from the lantern brings men in uniform into focus. The song of "Silent Night" begins to resound, the camera pans upward revealing the trenches. German and English overlap as the men from both sides sing a universal song of the Holiday Season. Viewers brain consumes these emotionally charged images, the text, and the song as guiding markers which bring forth all the internalized associations we have learned about the experience of a Great War trench soldier. The modernly familiar sound of "Silent Night" secures an emotional connection between the language of memory being portrayed through symbolic imagery and the viewer.
The camera hones in on one soldier, who's received a package from a runner. He opens it slowly, as the viewers watch the intimate action. He holds up a picture of a woman, the camera captures the slow upturn of his lips. Underneath the picture and is letter and a chocolate bar. The soldier holds and regards the chocolate bar fondly. The aesthetic choice of dirty finger nails and well-worn gloves appeal to a common stock-image of a Great War soldier in a state of filth and despair. The appeal to a collective memory allows the viewer to rationally validate the film as a truthful representation of what a Great War British front soldier would have looked like. The contrast of the chocolate bar's blue packaging, the dirty fingers of the soldier, and the nostalgic smile the soldier displays to the camera conveys to the viewer that we are witnessing an emotional response to a gift his sweetheart has sent him.
The soldier comes to a decision. He stands up and begins to ascend a ladder, to the left of the screen a comrade shouts "Jim! Jim! No, don't do it!" Jim pokes his head out from the trench, hat held up as a symbol of peace, and face wrinkled in fear. Just a mile away, the Germans ready their guns, instantly alert until a single soldier shouts "Stop! He's not armed!"
Jim and the German soldier emerge from their trenches inching towards each other. Their respective battalions begin to follow, the two soldiers reach the middle of No Man's Land, "My name is Jim." In the silence the viewers hear: "My name is Otto." They clasp hands to an eruption of joyous music; the soldiers as they close ranks, remove hats and jackets as they shake various hands. A feeling elation is conveyed to the viewers.
Jim shows Otto the picture of sweetheart, who's holiday gift sparked a temporary truce. Otto remarks on her beauty. Within this frame the viewer is given entrance into the private lives of two soldiers via the image of a woman.
The noise of shouts and laughter pull the two soldiers from their conversation. They dissolve into the mass of teenagers engaging in a Soccer game. They appear to be just like any other group of boys playing a game in an open field. The destitution of the war glimpsed at in the beginning of the advert has fully disappeared.
The rumble of bombardments in the distance remind the soldiers of their reality. Quickly the laughter, smiles, and soft sounds of up-beat music are drowned out by this noise of war. The officers from both sides look off into the distance, a steely look of resolve slips back into place. Smiles vanish, the two soldiers that started the truce shake one final time, and both sides disappear into their trenches.
As soldiers slump back into the earthen walls, Otto reaches into his pocket and to his surprise pulls out the candy bar Jim received from his sweetheart. He stares down, processing, the viewers watch transfixed as the emotional climax reaches its apex.
The last scene is of Otto looking up into the distance, a small smile of shock spreading across his face. The camera pans toward the blue of the sky, as birds fly across the screen and the final text flints onto screen before the advert ends. "Christmas is for sharing."
Not only was this Christmas advert made especially to acknowledge the centenary of the Great War, but it strategically appealed to the human aspect of the War. Winter argues "In 1914, war had a human face." (Winter, p.9) Indeed, it did. The Christmas Truce of 1914 is, in many ways, the emblem of Winter's quote, the very reaffirmation of the War that toppled the traditions of warfare and required the refashioning of mourning practices to cope with.
The advert has, to date, received over 19 million views on YouTube with a total of 10,0047 comments, the vast majority of which comment on the emotional and visceral reaction they had while watching it. One commenter, Sabrina Umstead, wrote "My 7th grade social studies teacher showed our class this while learning about World War 1. This is forever my favorite commercial not only because the story behind it, but the memory attached." The advert's use of the Christmas Truce had impacted a teacher to such a strong extent that he worked it into his lesson plan for the Great War. Umstead's quote marks the distinction between the message of the ad "Christmas is for sharing" and the memory of the War that is attached to the stock-images Sainsbury's ad portrayed. In the "TV Reactions to Sainsbury's Advert" Ed Ward released on YouTube December 6th, 2014 similar visual responses of Londoners tearing up reiterate these commenters sentiments.
The ad intrigues because advertisements function differently from that of a film, novel, poem, or play. They are a marketing tool aimed at relying a very specific message. They function to sell a product or ideal, in the case of this advert the product was the chocolate bar: in the YouTube description attached to the video they wrote: "The chocolate bar featured in the ad is on sale now at Sainsbury’s. All profits (50p per bar) will go to The Royal British Legion and will benefit our armed forces and their families, past and present." Coupled with the emotionally jarring experience of the advert, and the marketing push, on December 17th, 2014 Sainsbury's twitter released a picture of the chocolate bar with the caption: "We’re on track to raise £500,000 for The Royal British Legion through our chocolate bar sales! #ChristmasIsForSharing" Sainsbury's ad was released to YouTube on November 12th, 2014, within 38 days they'd turned the massive profit of approximately $657,980. Two days later, Sainsbury had doubled their original production of the bar and responded to a commenter on twitter who hadn't been able to find the chocolate bar in any of the stores near him. Sainsbury replied: "The demand for these was greater than we ever expected. Really sorry to hear you weren't able to get one." At peak Sainsbury was selling 5,000 chocolate bars an hour and had over 10 million views within the first week of releasing the ad.
With massive popularity came equally daunting backlash, Neil Kelly was quoted by Rebecca Perring, writer for Express: Home of the Daily and Sunday Press, "It’s a lovely story from history but I find it upsetting they’ve used the First World War as a vehicle to promote a supermarket. The sentiment behind it, supporting the RBL, is sound, but there’s something that doesn’t sit right with the use of the war." This response was just one of thousands who saw the advert as abusing of the memory of the Great War to further consumerism. The immediate popularity of the ad and the massive response Sainsbury received because of it proves how vivid the memory of the Great War is in modern-day thought.
Like the BCC video-short released in 2015 and the Royal British Legion's "Lights Out" ceremony held in 2014, and the widely popular Sainsbury Christmas Advert demonstrate the success of the Myth of the War Experience and the failure of the mourning process in the Interwar Period. The Myth of the War Experience disseminated narratives of national purpose via the figure of the sacred soldier to the public. in an attempt at mass consolation and the absolution of guilt. The foundations of the Myth of the War Experience after the War built the National Public Grief narratives, which used the war-dead to address the universal need of the individuals absolution of guilt. However, in allowing the bereaved to mourning collectively the National Public Grief narratives removed their ability to grieve at a private level; thus the resulting disruption to the mourning process. The residual effects of which disruption can be seen in the four examples used above.
Within the four examples used there are traces of an unresolved traumatic memory. If I informally postulate as to way these traces are found in modern day thought than I come to multiple different reasons. The rapid turn around from the end of the Great War to the beginning of the Second World War further suggests a lack of time for the bereaved to fully conduct the mourning process. The sheer unprecedented atrocities of the Second World War, in a way, overshadowed the lingering grief of its predecessor. A newly scarred community of the bereaved faced the trauma of a post-Hiroshima and Auschwitz world with a dismantled language of mourning. Both bound to language and betrayed by languages inadequacies, the bereaved of the Second World War attempted to mourn in ways unseen before. Consequently, the bereaved of the Great War transmitted their individual trauma into the forthcoming generations.