I am a Christmas fanatic. I’m the person the annoyed memes about playing Christmas music in mid-October are directed at. There’s something about the Christmas season that evokes a sentimental and emotional response in me. Music, commercials, movies…there’s a good majority of them that are guaranteed to make my eyes well up. Charles Schultz wrote A Charlie Brown Christmas, my all-time favorite Christmas movie, to highlight the over-commercialization and secularization of the holiday in 1965. I often wonder what he would think of Christmas today. In recent years, I’ve started having my own Charles Schultz moments. Brands and marketing agencies have taken the idea of reuniting of families over the holidays to a whole new level with the introduction of military story lines into their commercials. To say it rubs me the wrong way would be an understatement…I hate military themed holiday commercials.
This is not a new feeling or one that came on in a flash. I think the over-saturation of military themed commercials intended to tug at our heartstrings is my biggest complaint. To sit down on the couch at night and watch as my lifestyle is played for tears and marketing is frustrating. These commercials of families reuniting after their loved one returns from war while stirring music plays in the background is supposed to elicit a reaction from the viewers. It’s emotional manipulation and it’s effective. For the majority of people who watch these commercials, it’s simply another form of drama but for the small percent of this country, it’s a glossy version of their reality.
Viral homecoming videos are nothing new. There’s actually a term for the love and prevalence of these videos of service members surprising their families at baseball games and schools: reunion porn. These holiday commercials dramatize reunion porn, add a message overlay or narration at the end wishing service members a safe and happy holiday season. It appears like a heartfelt sentiment but it’s a disservice to many in the military community.
These commercials of families running and embracing each other after they’ve just flown a certain airline or celebrate their loved one’s return with an ice cold beverage masks the reality that military families are facing in lieu of product placement. Many service members are returning, still even today, with physical and mental injuries. It doesn’t show the estrangement that families can experience after a long separation. It sets unrealistic expectations for both military families and civilians. It shows that things are or should be “back to normal” after families are reunited and that is the furthest thing from the truth. The time immediately following a reunion, reintegration, is when some of the hardest work of the deployment experience takes place.
I’ve celebrated two Christmases with Tim deployed. I was lucky enough that he was able to come home on leave the day after Christmas during his second deployment. It was a joyful moment reuniting with him but it was overshadowed by where he had just come from and where he was headed back to in two short weeks. It is a moment I replay in my mind often during this time of the year and one I never want to share with anyone else.
Some will argue that “it’s the thought that counts” but does it really? We’re not fools…commercials are made to sell products and services; they’re simply targeting an audience in the hopes that it will be viewed of thoughtfulness. I say put your money where it can actually make a difference for military service members and their families. Donate the money that would have been spent on producing and airing these advertisements towards veterans services and resources that help support families of deployed service members. Stop preying on the emotions of those living an emotionally fraught reality, especially during the holidays. Stop preying on the sympathies of people who want to do good by supporting brands and businesses that support the military. Unless real actions are taking place, a commercial is not supporting the military; it’s taking advantage of their sacrifice.