The Vagenda

Monty the Misogynist – Why I’m Not Buying John Lewis’ Christmas Ad

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‘Look what I bought you! I bought you a woman! She’s yours! She belongs to you! Oh aren’t you a lovely little penguin, you’re going to be so loving and kind and sweet to her, that woman that you own. I’m writing to Santa right away, maybe I can have one for my very own too!

Not only do you now have your own gift of woman, but didn’t you hear in the background? It’s real love! You can buy ‘real love’ and put it in a box and wrap it up! It’s a commodity! (available at all John Lewis stores.) Huzzah! Think of all the poems, novels, films, songs and plays that have been wasted lamenting unrequited love or lost love or the need and denial of love. Why couldn’t someone just have told Romeo, he could have bought true love instead of wasting time killing people and stabbing himself and playing with poison all in the name of love? If only we at John Lewis had been there to reach out and touch his pocket- er, heart. HEART.

And, speaking of hearts and true love, haven’t you heard? If you’re a little single penguin riding on a bus with your trusty best friend, it MUST mean your life is unfulfilled! There is a woman shaped hole in your life that you must do your utmost to fill- try obsessing with unrealistic overly romantic old films that you can buy in John Lewis or staring at people as they kiss in the street wearing hats and scarves you can buy in John Lewis, until you’ve saved up enough money to buy your own woman. From John Lewis. Or, if you’re really lucky, your pimp-in-practice best friend will buy it for you, and tie her box up with a pink ribbon to prevent any gender based confusion on the big day.’

So congratulations John Lewis. Instead of making your Christmas advert about Christmas, you had to bring relationships into it. By doing that, in just two minutes and eleven seconds, you managed to objectify women, perpetuate the myth that single people cannot live a fulfilled life, associate themes of adult relationships with children thus encouraging them to grow up even faster, decide that it turns out money can buy you love after all!, advise children that if their friends dismiss them in favour of this media spearheaded fantasy that they should just accept and encourage it, and present all of this as though it is some overwhelmingly heartwarming seasonal story-with-a-moral.

It’s not the true spirit of Christmas; it’s the spirit of a whole new level of emotional exploitation, all in the name of financial gain, and I say a bah, humbug, and I ain’t buyin’.

- Sophie Swaine

37 thoughts on “Monty the Misogynist – Why I’m Not Buying John Lewis’ Christmas Ad

  1. I’ll buy that a growing kid decides his penguin is lonely and needs a penguiny companion of some sort. Fair enough. But I must admit, my first thought on the reveal of the lady-penguin-he-had-never-previously-met was “Oh! … Wait, isn’t this an arranged marriage? What if they don’t get on.”

    Still, I wish them much happiness in penguiny wedded (or cohabited?) bliss. Apparently male penguins will be happy with any female penguin. Because, as we know, all females of a species are pretty much identical -_-

  2. I’ve only vaguely seen the advert once, but are the penguins definitely gendered? Or are we just assuming the first penguin is male because a boy is likely to want his toys to be boys too?

  3. I thought it was a bit odd that the penguin all of a sudden hankered after female company. And the boy is like: ‘Look penguin, now you and your mail order bride can shag yourself silly and I’ll learn about sex that way.’

  4. My cynical brain went straight to thinking that it was creepy that the parents bought the kid another penguin for Monty to shag. Notice how awkward the kid is when he’s got the two toys at the end. What’s he actually doing? And doesn’t it look a bit weird?

    Some species of penguins do mate for life (not sure about plush ones from Johnny Lou-Lou) but it’s a bit of a stretch to assume that corresponds to love. And even if it does, doesn’t Monty and the new penguin get to have any say in this? It’s mail order brides for penguins.

    Aside from the commoditised love/mate thing, having never been a prepubescent boy I can’t be sure about this, but is it standard for young boys to get all in a tizzy about adult relationships? Are his parents splitting up or something, so he’s hyper-sensitive to couples? I know we girls get love ‘n’ marriage rammed down our throats from the moment we understand “once upon a time” but I thought boys generally were off the hook for this one. Maybe not. But (as the writer points out) there’s enough time for all that when the hormones kick in. Go out and ride your bike.

    I wonder how this ad would have played if they’d put a little girl at the centre. Did they choose a boy because otherwise it would have looked too much like “girls’ stuff”.

    Anyway, it’s mawkish manipulative shite and I’m not buyin’ it either

  5. They’ll never top the 2011 advert. That was just the perfect balance between consumerism and capturing the joy of Christmas. I always thought the 2012 advert had a bit of a weird message, too. Woo your loved one – by buying them things!

  6. They’ll never top the 2011 advert. That was just the perfect balance between consumerism and capturing the joy of Christmas. I always thought the 2012 advert had a bit of a weird message, too. Woo your loved one – by buying them things!

  7. My first thought before I saw the ending was ‘dear god, how are parents going to cope when their kids ask for a REAL LIVE PENGUIN’ for Christmas. shows how much I was paying attention.

    Everything in the world has subtext to it, sometimes unpleasant, sometimes unintentional. This seems like a bit of an overreaction to something that everyone KNOWS has materialism at its core. Maybe you would prefer this version instead?

  8. All the tie-in merchandise (cannot believe that’s a thing…) on the John Lewis website names them as Monty and Mabel.

  9. Zoologically accurate though. Adelie penguins are notoriously dirty.

    “This afternoon I saw a most extraordinary site [sic]. A penguin was actually engaged in sodomy upon the body of a dead white throated bird of its own species. The act occurred a full minute, the position taken up by the cock differing in no respect from that of ordinary copulation, and the whole act was gone through down to the final depression of the cloaca.”

  10. I thought the EXACT SAME THING. Err, what if lady penguin isn’t keen on him? What if she’s gay? Will he be super disappointed if they just want to be friends and not have plush-sex?

    So many possible issues, I assume the Easter JL advert will involve couples therapy or a divorce court…

  11. you’re all overreacting. as a child i wanted all of my cuddly toys (and i had a menagerie) to have mates and families, because i was interested in animals and understood that they breed. my parents still laugh about the time i wrote a letter requesting a “daby bonkey” for christmas.

  12. Oh y’all, I could not get worked up about this. In fact, I got teared up – I thought it was so sweet! His favorite toy; he starts noticing couples; he processes that in such a way that he figures his best friend (a stuffed penguin, who, I’m projecting here, is ‘older’) would like a companion and he gets one for it!
    And the look on Mom’s face? LOVED IT.

  13. I have to say I think this isn’t really a pressing issue. If we’re really reading into the innermost thoughts of an animated penguin then maybe he was just planning for the future when the boy inevitably grows up? Maybe the boy had contacted the lady penguin in advance to see if she was down? Who knows. In regards to the child holding the two toys at the end, I don’t think he seems awkward at all. He might be using them to be friends, I used to make my toys hug as friends! My point is there’s a lot worse things (even worse adverts) going on at the moment than a couple of animated penguins. But might just be me that feels this way!

  14. I really think you’re all thinking about this far too much. Not only is it an advert, it’s a fictional story about a boy and toy penguins and the life that the child imagines they have.
    It’s not dial-a-bride, it’s not arranged marriage, it’s a child’s daydream.
    Stop thinking so much into it.

  15. Oh my word! Really? Oh dear…see i saw it as an insightful child seeing that his friend wanted some company of his own and so went out of way to make it happen. But then, i am one of those sickening, glass half full, a life without love (be it love with a friend, family member or partner) is a life half lived.
    Perhaps an advert based on joy and love is needed seeing as all we get most of the time is sex, drugs, murder, war, death..
    Or perhaps next time John lewis should do an advert where a little boy whines and cries about what he doesnt have and demands the latest techno gadget, or maybe something with a zombie apocolypse!

  16. Seriously? Come on, get a grip people.

    The whole ad is a journey inside a little boy’s mind as he imagines his toy penguin is real, perhaps it’s his only friend; he is not shown playing with any other children, only this imaginary friend.

    Most parents will recognise this attachment in their own children. I had to have two identical versions of the same bunny for my son to enable me to wash it without anxiety and separation tears. And yes, bunny had friends, bunny got lonely, children transfer their emotions to their toys.

    So, this ad shows us a lonely little boy who wants his friend to have someone special, what can we surmise from that?


  17. Totally buy into to the idea that John Lewis has gone for the lazy option. In powder puffing relationships and the joy of family to encourage the idea of giving, give give give and buy buy buy. But it has struck a chord with thousands and been palatable by thousands more. It is an advert, it is currently doing its job. For a company that seeks profit, in a world that is focused on commerce it is what it is. Yes, I’d love John Lewis to entertain more pure intentions when they chew pencils in boardrooms. Yes, I’d love the brand to be creative, innovative, edgy because I am drawn to that kind of brand but we’re talking John Lewis, it lives in a world of thick carpets, fashionable kitchenware and loved up penguins. Surely it’s going to play with everyday, safe, cushy themes surely it’s just good business.

    Responsible commercial and social messaging is always ultimately going to linger behind responsbility to the board, unless we rewire our social evolution and change the system.

  18. I get that this is satirical and whatever but did you want the tagline to be something like ‘Chistmas at John Lewis – it is not possible to achieve true, lasting contentment through accumulations of material possessions. Ever.’

    Cos they are a shop and trying to sell stuff, and most retailers gain over 70% of their yearly sales in the run-up to Christmas, so their survival depends on them selling hard.

    Also, is it definite that the second penguin is even female? Or that these two penguins are even dating (if penguins that exist only in the mind of a 5 year old boy who is himself imaginary can date? Maybe they just go to Byron or something? Nothing too out there)? All I got from it was that the penguin was lonely with no other penguins to hand out with and only being around humans, so they adopted another penguin so he wouldn’t be the only one. Quite sweet really.

    Also I felt the ‘real love’ aspect of it was demonstrating how ‘real’ toy animals can feel to small kids and how much they can truly invest in them. Again, very sweet.

    I dunno, I love this blog and 99% of the stuff you post is great but this article is just kind of ranty for the sake of ranty to me.

  19. Agree, it’s just these sort of ridiculous rants that make feminism a laughing stock.

    Is the original article supposed to be satirical? Perhaps? However, if we’re going to get uppity about ridiculous things then how can we ever expect to be taken seriously?

    If you want a well done satirical take on the Penguin Sex Trafficking overtones that are dispelled the second you see the penguin is a toy, then I can recommend the Daily Mash’s take on it…

  20. Haha ‘beady-eyed waddling pervert’.

    I agree that you’re playing right into the hands of people who use terms like ‘feminazi’ by getting all faux-outraged about totally inconsequential nothingness like this. Shocker: shop tries to sell things at Christmas. I am aghast.

    I can sympathise because I used to see deep dark patriarchal deception and intrigue in everything on TV when I was about 18 and used to rant about it to disinterested male friends because I had just got into feminism and had the zealotry of the recently converted. Now, however, I am much more interested in real change and real results (usually brought about by calmly and patiently discussing things in a non-judgmental setting) and see that this kind of thing is really just counterproductive to the cause.

  21. A link to this article must have been posted somewhere, I have a feeling some of the later comments are not from regular vagenda readers.

  22. Why? Because if we disagree then we must be part of some patriarchal agenda?

    If you are referring to me, then I can assure you I am indeed a regular reader. I don’t comment often. Last time was on the article about 90s fashion I believe.

  23. What I get from the advert is that a penguin – a naturally sociable animal that seeks the company of its own kind, and has a biological urge to pair up – is lonely, in the mind of his owner at least, because the penguin is a toy. Subsequently his owner, a child, buys his penguin – and himself – another penguin to play with. Aww.

    I am a regular reader of The Vagenda because so often you are able to put a feminist issue into words I can’t find for myself. Your articles offer alternative points of view, a way of looking at things that can be shared with people who may need help seeing the other side of the argument. You are great.

    But sometimes you can publish articles that really read too much into a situation and, to be honest, be a total buzzkill. Bah humbug to you too!

  24. How ridiculous, I thought a vital part of feminism was being able to speak my own mind but clearly not. I rarely comment but have done on this occasion because I completely disagreed with the article. I don’t think that’s unreasonable.

  25. I object more to the insiduous consumerism using saccarine sentimentality to con sheep like parents to cough up £95 (!) for a stuffed toy.

  26. I think we assume the second penguin is a female because all the human couples Monty moons over are male/female pairs.

  27. Doesn’t anyone read or edit some of the articles that end up on Vagenda?

    There is no real point or purpose to this piece except to make feminists look like silly women who get themselves in a tizzy about stupid things, which is so not why people like me look at this website to engage with what is being said on it.

    And, yes, everyone does have the right to get in a tizzy about stupid things, but that doesn’t mean Vagenda needs to publish it.

  28. I’m not sure if you’re referring to me, but if so, I would like to respectfully reply that I have read vagenda since well before their book deal etc and tell all my friends to read it all the time because it’s great. This article just really struck a bum note with me.

  29. What Ali said. Vagenda, you are, 80% of the time, spot-on. In the case of this article: Get a grip. Articles like this give feminism a bad name.

  30. Yeah I don’t know if I agree with this. I find most of the articles on this website really on point but this one seems to be an angry rant with no reasoning. I simply watched the ad as presenting the power of a child’s imagination- he has this you penguin that he has built a back story for, including the fact that the penguin wants to fall in love. I didn’t read it as the female penguin is forced to marry the male. To be honest I have a lot of opinions on this advert but I really think arguing about penguins when there are so many other issues feminism needs to be applied to a little pointless. The advert is not about forced marriage it’s about how touching it is your child imagines secret lives for their toys, or how Christmas is a time where happiness is celebrated. But hell maybe I’m wrong…

  31. Oh dear. This is exactly what I said when I saw the advert… a joke! The John Lewis Penguins aren’t a symbol of female oppression and commodification of women. It’s a Christmas advert about a kid who loves his toy. I think we’ve got bigger fish to fry haven’t we?

  32. I knew when I watched this I found it unsettling for multiple reasons, but thank you for so accurately articulating why! Perfect article!

  33. Agreed. Logically speaking, if you had a penguin, you would probably buy another penguin of the opposite sex if you wanted them to breed. That’s doesn’t mean it’s misogynistic.