The best anti-capitalism Christmas films

24 12 2010

As Tom Lehrer once said: “Christmas is the time when we all get to reflect on

The Christmas holiday season can be big business for the movie industry

The Christmas holiday season can be big business for the movie industry

what we most truly and sincerely believe in. I’m referring of course to money”. Like him I suspect that most of us view the commercialisation of Christmas at best as a mixed blessing. However it’s become an inescapable fact that the modern holiday season has become a huge exercise in generating cash. Hollywood was typically quick to jump on this bandwagon and over the years has produced literally hundreds of Christmas-themed movies. Here then is my list of the five of the best that aren’t trying to sell you anything, and put the boot into capitalism as well.

 1) It’s a Wonderful Life

On the face of it this isn’t the most cheering of films, featuring as it does James Stewart attempting to commit suicide, but I can’t think of a better anti-capitalism Christmas movie than this. The villain of the film, Mr Potter (Boo! Hiss!) is a stock broker and for extra topicality it also features a run on the banks.

2) Die Hard

Not the most obvious choice for this list but it’s set at Christmas so it counts. Money-obsessed baddie Hans Gruber (played by Alan Rickman doing his best German accent) attempts to rob a huge Japanese corporation by invading its head offices during the Christmas party and taking the staff hostage. His plan is foiled by plucky cop Bruce Willis. Initially armed with just a vest and a couple of iconic one-liners he defeats the bad guys and wins his estranged wife back at the same time, while she learns that family matters more than her corporate career.

3) Miracle on 34th Street

Not the horrible 1994 remake (Richard Attenborough should have known better) but the 1947 original. Here a department store Santa turns out to be the real thing as he teaches those around him the true meaning of Christmas. One of the few films where the hero is saved at the end by the US Post Office.

4) The Muppet Christmas Carol

Who would have thought that the Great Gonzo would turn out to be the definitive Charles Dickens of his generation? Almost every year someone attempts to make their own version of Dickens’ classic tale, as the book’s themes are truly timeless, but this is one of the better attempts. Scrooge has spent a lifetime accumulating wealth and power only to discover that money can’t buy him happiness. While there are many fine versions of A Christmas Carol, this is one of my favourites as it’s both a musical and features talking animals.

5) Scrooged

Yet another Dickens’ adaptation, this time starring Bill Murray as an evil TV executive who is visited by the three ghosts. This is a gleefully satirical attack on pretty much every Christmas institution you care to mention and features Lee Majors as a machine gun armed Santa. Classic stuff.

And just for balance here is the worst Christmas movie of all time:

The Star Wars Holiday Special

Few of you will ever have seen this monstrosity as George Lucas, in a rare moment of wisdom, has banned it from ever being shown again and used his vast wealth to destroy all copies. However, thanks to the wonders of modern technology it’s been preserved on YouTube as a terrible warning to future generations. Made just after the first Star Wars movie, this TV film features Han Solo and friends attempting to get Chewbacca to his home planet to celebrate Christmas. No one wanted to appear in this but were forced to due to their contracts. It’s hard to choose what is the worst part but here are some of the more cringe inducing: Harrison Ford visibly drunk, Princess Leia singing, Jefferson Starship turning up to help out. The Star Wars Holiday special is quite possibly the most cynical movie ever made and a naked attempt to extort money from gullible fans.

Dr Matthew Ashton is based in the Division of Politics and Sociology in Nottingham Trent University’s School of Social Sciences

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The cost of a white Christmas

23 12 2010
Shopping centre at Christmas

Retailers have suffered due to the bad weather

Christmas trade this year has taken a blow because of the weather.  At first we had reports that bad weather had deterred shoppers in early December because they couldn’t get to the shopping centres.  The main beneficiaries (for once) were small retailers, as more of us shopped local.  Then just as trade started to pick up again, there was more snow.  This time it reached such cataclysmic depth that Brent Cross Shopping Centre in London was forced to close its doors on the busiest Saturday of the year because of fears for safety in the car parks and of staff trying to get home after work.  All this has given a boost to online shopping, which has already enticed more and more of us away from traditional shopping.

At lunchtime on Monday 7th December – termed “Mega-Monday” in the trade – almost £1 million was spent in one minute for the first time ever online.  The surge is a result of customers receiving their November pay and ordering in time for delivery before Christmas.  This year the weather has created extra impetus.  But alas, in a cruel twist of fait, online customers and sellers are now concerned that goods won’t arrive on time because of an enormous backlog that has built up in both supply and delivery.  Will there be a last minute rush for the shops as we try to compensate for the lack of gifts to pile under the tree?

So amid all of the turmoil, who have been the winners and losers?  eBay has outstripped rivals Amazon in growth of online sales – which is good news for all the many small traders who sell on eBay.  Darling of the High Street this year, without a doubt, has been John Lewis for whom sales have grown consistently high in spite of all.  Fashion, gadgets and electricals, and toys have all performed well, both in-store and online.   Poor performers however have suffered not just because of weather. Consumer feedback suggests that goods being out of stock, confusing layout, blocked aisles and poor customer service have all contributed to an early start to the ‘January’ sales in many outlets.

And as for the battle between online and retail – well the jury is still out as to which works best.  But before making any drastic decisions, it’s time to reflect that the real winning strategy is to combine different retail channels, so that customers can research products, prices and availability using different media, and enjoy the shopping experience of their choice and according to conditions.  Another thing to consider – well, with one of the top selling gadgets this year being smart phones -you can rest assured that mobile phone shopping will be more important next year.

So, if you are in the business of selling to the public, by e-tail, retail or even mobile technology, now is the time to re-think your strategy going forward.  To help with this, Nottingham Trent University’s Future Factory project has teamed up with Clare Raynor, “The Retail Champion” to run a pair of workshops – on Monday 7 February 2011 and Monday 21 March 2011 – aimed at exploring retail strategy and using new technologies to market your products and services.

Finally, here are some recent reports from the press on the cost of a white Christmas for some retailers and plans for 2011;

Retailers have lost tens of millions of pounds after snow devastated what was supposed to be the busiest shopping day of the year a week before Christmas. Blizzards and icy conditions meant many shoppers abandoned their trips while some stores were forced to close. Brent Cross shopping centre in North London, one of Britain’s biggest, was forced to close on Saturday afternoon, losing trade worth up to an estimated £5m. In some supermarkets there were long queues and empty shelves as shoppers began to panic buy amid fears food supplies would not reach stores in time for Christmas. The Telegraph 19/12/10

Stores have launched early sales in a bid to counter the big freeze, which threatens to wipe out Christmas trade.As many as 10million people are expected to hit the shops today, provided they are not frozen in. Big names such as Laura Ashley, Gap, French Connection and B&Q have begun ‘winter sales’ with reductions of up to 75 per cent, while others are filling shop windows with promotions. Mail on Sunday 19/12/10

Britain’s biggest department store chain, John Lewis, will invest record sums in the business next year, despite concerns over Government spending cuts and council job losses. The board of John Lewis Partnership, which owns John Lewis and Waitrose, has earmarked £250 million for initiatives that include new stores and improving the online John Lewis Direct arm. John Lewis managing director Andy Street said: ‘We believe there are a lot of opportunities for the brand and we’re investing in the long term. Mail on Sunday 19/12/10

Boots is to expand its drive-through pharmacy format following a successful trial in Colchester. Boots, part of Alliance Boots, sees large growth potential in the UK for the format, which is already established in the US, where there are more than 3,000 sites. The format – like a McDonald’s drive through – allows customers to drive up to a window where they can drop off or pick up prescriptions rather than queuing to go into the store. It has just agreed a deal with British Land, its landlord, to open a store and drive through at St James Retail Park in Northampton. Due to open next May, the 4,500 sq ft store and pharmacy will be the second of up to 20 it plans to open over the next few years. The Independent 19/12/10

Lynn Oxborrow

Lynn Oxborrow is Senior Lecturer in Marketing, Retail and Operations at Nottingham Trent University
To speak with Lynn directly, please call Nottingham Trent University’s Press Office on 0115 848 8751 or email christmas@ntu.ac.uk

To book a place on the retail workshops, please contact Angela Scott on tel: 0115 848 8675, or email futurefactory@ntu.ac.uk.  Learn more about Clare Raynor on the Retail Champion website

Future Factory is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund and aims to support East Midlands Based small to medium sized companies (SMEs) improve their business sustainability through better design and business processes, see www.ntu.ac.uk/futurefactory





Pantomime and national identity

22 12 2010
Lifting the curtain on a very British art form

Lifting the curtain on a very British art form

Each country around the world celebrates Christmas in its own way with traditions unique to that location. For instance, in Britain nothing says Christmas to me more clearly then the bumper double issue of the Radio Times, brussels sprouts for dinner, and the annual showing of The Great Escape on BBC2.

I saw in the paper recently that the USA have just discovered the joys of the uniquely British institution of pantomime, and are attempting to stage one in Los Angeles.

While I applaud their efforts I have doubts about how successful this venture will be. Pantomime is a very British art form and whenever I’ve tried to take American friends to see one they’ve always come away more bemused than entertained.

Here then is a quick run through of some of the main features you’d expect to find in the perfect panto:

Cross-dressing

Apparently my American friends sat through the entire first half of Dick Whittington without realising that the young lady playing the hero was actually meant to be a man. “But she’s wearing tights and a mini-skirt”, they protested. “If she’s playing a guy surely she should at least be in trousers”. I had to explain that in pantomime the hero is always played by a woman, as is the heroine. The fact that the hero’s mother, the Dame, was also played by a man only added to the confusion. They later commented to me in the pub afterwards that they didn’t realise cross-dressing was such a big part of British culture.

The non-human characters

While most of the characters in pantomime are played by humans the best ones are usually the non-human performers. A few years back I saw Basil Brush playing the chief of police in Aladdin at the Nottingham Theatre Royal. I use the word playing in the loosest sense though. While the other actors made at least some effort to look like they were from an Arabian country, Basil was still dressed like an English country gentleman. Whether it’s Keith Harris and Orville, Basil Brush or Sooty and Sweep, every good pantomime should have a talking puppet (or non-talking in Sooty and Sweep’s case). Of course, the best thing to have from a comedy point of view is a pantomime horse, but they’re depressingly rare these days.

The jokes

A good pantomime is a weird mixture of contemporary satire and ancient music hall routines. Hence there has to be lots of thigh slapping, lashings of innuendo and some truly terrible puns. For example “A boiled egg in the morning is hard to beat” or “A bicycle can’t stand on its own because it’s two-tyred”. A lot of modern pantomime jokes are straight out of a Tommy Cooper routine from 1974 and that’s half the charm.

The audience participation

Unlike most forms of theatre where the audience has to just sit back and watch the action on stage, pantomime actively encourages everybody to get involved. This can range from shouting out well known catch phrases; “Oh no it isn’t” and “She’s behind you” to singing a song towards the end. For some reason this is usually “Row, row, row your boat”, and the audience are split into sections to sing the different parts. If they do well they’re usually rewarded by having sweets thrown at them. You don’t get that with Chekhov!

Dr Matthew Ashton is based in the Division of Politics and Sociology in Nottingham Trent University’s School of Social Sciences





It’s in the bag! A look at one academic’s favourite fashion accessories for Christmas 2010

21 12 2010

Lee Mattocks, a lecturer in Nottingham Trent University’s School of Art and Design, takes a look at some of his favourite bags for this season.

– Envelope bags are among the most practical and chic accessory inventions of the past decades. Simple outfits look fabulous when topped with similar details as it creates the perfect vibe to make a real statement with your look. Inspired by Marianne Faithfull, Alexander McQueen’s Faithful Glove Clutch is the cool girl’s essential accessory. The rock inspired piece will vamp up your Christmas wardrobe and you will be safe in the knowledge that you’ve bagged yourself a serious classic.

– Retro-inspired fashion lives its second heyday for autumn/winter 2010. Handbags for this season also adapt the vision of designers who are eager to re-invent and upgrade the old-style trends. The latest accessory trend breathes life into the classy designs and tailoring of more sporty style bags, some of these are larger in order to provide us with enough space to carry all our essentials when doing the family circuit this Christmas. Crafted from soft crinkled leather and featuring a shimmering patent finish, YSL’s Easy medium tote is guaranteed to make a statement.

– Williams British Handmade’s, contemporary and refreshing take on traditional luggage uses historical craftsmanship to create luxury leather goods completely stitched by hand in the UK. Produced in collaboration with accomplished metal-workers using the highest quality bridle leather, a WBH briefcase is at the top of my wish list this season. Winner of ‘Accessory Collection of the Year’ amongst numerous other awards, it demonstrates the desire and support for historical craftsmanship for the modern consumer. 

– Of all the quilted bags this season, Smythson’s Nancy Tote in dove gray is a firm favourite of mine. Beautifully crafted in terms of leather craftsmanship and understated hardware, this simply elegant piece will be at the top of many Christmas wish lists. No loud colours or big logos to be found, this understated accessory comes in a larger tote as well.





Christmas horticulture

21 12 2010

Some information, tips and gardening advice on the plants associated with Christmas.

Caroline Wright – lecturer in horticulture at Nottingham Trent University’s School of Animal Rural and Environmental Science

To speak to Caroline, call the University Press Office directly on 0115 848 8785 or email christmas@ntu.ac.uk.





So here it is, merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun: Christmas and psychological wellbeing

20 12 2010
Materialistic aspects of modern Christmas celebrations may in fact undermine psychological wellbeing

Materialistic aspects of modern Christmas celebrations may in fact undermine psychological wellbeing

Given the religious and cultural significance of Christmas is it surprising that so little psychological research has been carried out into what it means for people in contemporary society and its effect on psychological wellbeing. In fact, most psychological research has examined the more negative effects such as whether psychiatric admissions and suicide rates increase over the festive period.

However, an interesting 2002 study entitled “What makes for a Merry Christmas?” was carried out in the USA by Tim Kasser and Kennon Sheldon of Knox University (Illinois) and published in the Journal of Happiness Studies. (No, I didn’t know such a journal existed either!). The study built on previous research by Kasser, who showed that people whose lives are focused on goals such as intimacy and community feeling report greater psychological wellbeing, whereas those people who are more concerned with money, possessions, and image were less happy.

In relation to Christmas more specifically, other previous research has indicated that there are seven main types of activities that occur during the Christmas holidays. These are (i) spending time with family; (ii) participating in religious activities; (iii) maintaining traditions (e.g., decorating a Christmas tree); (iv) spending money on others via the purchase of gifts; (v) receiving gifts from others; (vi) helping others less fortunate than ourselves; and (vii) enjoying the sensual aspects of the holiday (e.g., good food, drinking, etc.).

Through the use of a survey, Kasser and Sheldon examined these seven experiences and activities that are associated with Christmas wellbeing using the ‘Satisfaction With Life Scale’. All the participants in their study were presented with 25 “experiences and activities” and asked to rate “how much each experience actually occurred during the previous Christmas season” on a scale of 1 to 5 (where a score of ‘1’ indicated that it was “completely absent” and a score of 5’ indicated that it “occurred a great deal”).

The questions were given to adults aged from 18 to 80. Overall, the study found that around three-quarters of the respondents had a satisfactory Christmas holiday whereas only 10% had a very bad Christmas holiday. However, just under half of the sample (44%) said they had a stressful Christmas despite being satisfied.  The average scores (out of five) for each of the seven activities was in order of occurrence: spending time with the family (4.05); enjoying food and drink, etc. (3.22); religious activities (2.88); traditional activities (2.87); spending money on other people (2.84); receiving gifts from other people  (2.40); and helping others (2.44).

Their research also showed that more happiness was reported during the holiday period when family and religious experiences were particularly important, and lower wellbeing occurred when spending money and receiving gifts predominated. They also reported that, in general, males were much happier and less stressed than females during the Christmas holidays. Older individuals reported greater Christmas happiness, although this effect, Kasser and Sheldon argued, was largely explained by more frequent experiences of religion. There were no differences on any other demographic factors including income, education, or marital status (i.e., being rich, clever and in a relationship does not appear to have any influence on how good Christmas is).

Kasser and Sheldon concluded that the materialistic aspects of modern Christmas celebrations may in fact undermine psychological wellbeing, while family and spiritual activities may help people to feel more satisfied. So why is this the case? Kasser and Sheldon suggested that both family and religion provide satisfaction of needs for relatedness to others, which is a well-known determinant of positive functioning.

Professor Mark Griffiths is based in the Psychology Division in Nottingham Trent University’s School of Social Sciences





Wrap it right

17 12 2010
 
Christmas present wrapped in cloth

The Japanese tradition of wrapping presents using cloth

Members of Nottingham Trent University’s Future Factory project give their tips on sustainable wrapping for Christmas gifts.

Tom – If you think you’re doing your bit for the environment by filling your recycling bin full of wrapping paper each year, you might be surprised to learn that most Christmas paper can’t be recycled, such as those which include special laminates and glittery metals.

According to the Daily Telegraph (22 Dec 2008) over 200,000 tons of recycled waste paper goes to landfill every year because of contamination by wrapping paper.  So if you can’t put your waste wrapping paper in the recycling bin, what can you do with it?

Well you can re-use it to wrap another present. I remember as a child in the ‘60s, Christmas morning always saw my mother carefully folding up the wrapping paper as it came off the presents.  Of course, the less sticky tape you use, the easier it is to re-use the paper. One of my sisters liked to wrap her presents very securely and used masses of tape; we could never re-use that paper!

Alternatively, you can use it to make things, treat it like a material.  And what a material it is.  All that glittery stuff means that whatever you use it for will be striking. 

You could also follow the advice of the Waste and Resources Action Programme, which suggests furoshiki – the Japanese tradition of wrapping presents using cloth – as an alternative to paper.

Angela – Forget the wrapping completely and hide your gifts around the house with clues to their whereabouts. If you haven’t many gifts to hand out then this is a great way of extending the gift giving experience, but make sure you know the humour of the receiver before you start with clues like ‘the place you’re never likely to venture on your own’ for the laundry basket, or ‘you’ve been looking at this all year’ when it’s behind the TV.

By

Professor Tom Fisher
Professor of Art & Design and author of Designing for Re-Use: the life of consumer packaging

Angela Scott
Future Factory project coordinator

To speak to Professor Fisher or Angela, call the University Press Office directly on 0115 848 8751 or email christmas@ntu.ac.uk.

Future Factory is part funded by the European Union’s European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and supports East Midlands’ SMEs in adopting new products, services and business practices which ‘design out’ unnecessary or unsustainable materials and processing, and ‘design in’ features such as environmentally neutral technologies and materials, recyclability and sensitive disposal.