There’s no question that the Coronavirus pandemic has impacted almost every aspect of people’s lives, but the decision by Amazon to focus their 2020 Christmas advert around a young dancer living through the pandemic, raises many questions about its commercialisation of the ongoing struggles within the arts.
The advert starts the same way many of us started 2020 – with hope and excitement of the new year and new opportunities. However, much like 2020, the advert suddenly develops into a tale of woe, depicting the immediate changes to living and working that was faced globally at the beginning of the first lockdown. All of this is illustrated through a ballet dancer struggling with the adaptation to lockdown life.
Amazon’s decision to include a dancer as their advert’s central character might be a subtle reference to the now infamous UK government advert which faced worldwide backlash after suggesting people in creative careers should retrain for employment in more ‘safe’ careers, such as cyber security.
The advert gives a nod to many familiar parts of the first national lockdown, with video calls and online classes shown to make up a large proportion of the dancer’s day and the rearranging of furniture to suit working from home. It also shows her family’s changed priorities, going from watching her rehearse in their home to dodging her practicing in front of the television whilst they try to focus on an important news bulletin. Bound within the four walls of her own home, we see her hope and positivity slowly dwindle away; something many people will relate to.
However, the climax of her loss of hope is something that not everybody watching will have been familiar with: a cancelled performance. Whilst most (if not all) of the advert’s audience will empathise with adapting to changes in daily life, those who resonate with the specific experiences of the character, namely people working in the arts whose livelihood relies on in-person events, will undoubtedly view the advert’s message differently.
Amazon’s decision to focus on this sector specifically could be said to show how badly the arts industry was hit as a result of Covid-19, but there is also something a little less sympathetic occuring in the advert that makes me question this idea.
It’s commercialisation of the experiences of the dancer becomes more clear as the advert progresses. The neighbour’s spotlight (which he is shown to have purchased from Amazon) is used to illuminate the dancer, who’s holding a substitute performance on the rooftop of her apartment. The neighbour shines his spotlight on her dancing, attracting the attention of other neighbours, and while possibly symbolising the together-ness and sense of community that was discovered for many through the first lockdown. It might also shine light on Amazon attempting to be seen as a saviour figure of Christmas 2020.
Whilst focusing on the ongoing struggle in the arts does raise awareness of how much the industry is underfunded and underappreciated, the question of what big brands such as Amazon have been doing to help remains unanswered. By all means these companies should highlight the extent of damage in sectors less thriving than their own, but only if they plan to actively do something to contribute to helping said sector themselves.
Amazon has more than enough power and finance to make immense contributions to struggling organisations and people, but there is no evidence showing consumers that this is happening. The platform and money that they have could lead to a lot more awareness and appreciation from the general public, which in itself could have the potential to lead to much-needed financial support.
Many of the responses to the Amazon advert were calling it a tear-jerker, but what’s actually more tear-jerking is the truth behind what is going on in the arts sector. Whilst many might argue that Amazon’s advert sends the message that kindness makes anything possible and that ‘the show must go on’, it ultimately serves to emphasise the commercialised notion of a modern Christmas: that you can find anything and everything you need on Amazon.