Another year, another meticulously planned, produced and teased set of Christmas campaigns designed to tug on the heartstrings of the British public. The rule? "They cry, they buy." In a good way, of course. We’ve seen lonely men, imaginary friends, kind sons, hibernating bears. In the Official Year of Brexit, because we’d suffered enough, John Lewis gifted us foxes on a trampoline. This year we have Moz, the monster; some light relief amongst all the political doom.
Now the year is 2025. Britain has become its own continent, expunged from global dialogue, and Asda’s Christmas TV ad is merely a montage of babies laughing with a "two for one turkeys" sales message at the end. It’s been on air since May. Voter apathy is endemic in 2025, with a rise in reality TV stars gaining traction in local elections, especially since the bulk of important decisions are now made via Facebook, which still exists. A law has been passed making music performed by anyone other than Ed Sheeran illegal. Memory-wipings are offered at spa clinics. Every single member of the middle classes is an alcoholic wearing a unicorn onesie. Welcome to the future: where light relief reigns.
Light relief. A distraction from the harsh horrors of reality. It’s the Instagram images of Autumn leaves and festive lattes. The hyper-lapsed videos of pizza with a fried chicken base instead of dough. Everyone’s seen the bottle-of-wine glass, right? What’s lighter and more relieving than glugging an entire bottle of Pinot Grigio to yourself at the end of a long, very stressful day. Women: just been overlooked for promotion yet again? Wine. Needed. Immediately. For every "This girl can" there’s hundreds of "Don’t bothers, just eat ice cream in a bath". Wow. Light relief is unhealthy, man.
The problem with light relief, in a world where hotel tycoons being president has been hypernormalised, is that too much of it acts as a drug. A shot of sugary morphine to numb the pain of things being really shitty. Like bombs going off or animals being tortured or children getting washed up on shores and women not getting equal pay or poor people using food banks or all those other tragedies that occurred long ago and occur now. Oh, and by the way, they still occur in 2025. Light relief is the reddest of herrings making consumers crave an easy life; embracing the status quo like a pair of fluffy unicorn slippers that light up when your feet sweat.
The kind, rich capitalists love saying to us: "don’t worry, the world is bad, you’ve suffered enough. Have some cake." Truth is, we haven’t suffered nearly enough to start ignoring issues. Light relief from brands is seen as a direct antidote to life getting us down. But why can’t you do both: play the fool and petition? Can essential change be easy and also entertaining? Or should we all just accept that life sucks and eat a KitKat?
I’ve debated this internally for a while, and wrote a book; intended to be a combination of light relief and serious message. Glitter and smiles, with a call to action. The light relief is poetry (that rhymes, natch) but the serious message is that women worry too much and should stop it. And not – I repeat not – glug an entire bottle of wine in a glass at the end of the day to drown their sorrows.
The Little Girl Who Gave Zero Fucks is set in a fictional town where every little girl carries a basket with her every day, filled with fluffy creatures called ‘fucks’ (fun fact: the basket’s a metaphor). Whenever someone makes her sad, or angry, or humiliates her she opens the basket and gives out a fuck, because that’s the rules. By the end of the day, all baskets are empty and every little girl is sad. Our hero, Elodie-Rose, one day decides to see what would happen if she keeps her fucks in her basket, not giving any away.
I wrote the book because I think too much light relief is inappropriate. The communications industry has a responsibility to deliver tough love every once in a while. Escapism can benefit our mental health, but so can productivity and presence. At a time of national crisis, national crisis is exactly what we need to see on our screens, because how else will things move forwards unless they’re acknowledged? Easy, saccharine tear-jerkers that play it safe and cost millions are not the way to counteract global conflict. Unless it’s a Pepsi ad, of course.
I wanted to see what would happen if I tried to combine a bit of silliness with some social awareness and a strong message, using language that has traditionally been considered wrong for women to use. My first hurdle was the lack of literary agents willing to take it on because it presented too much of a risk, despite the fact they "adored" the content. So I’m working with the publisher Unbound who pick only controversial or niche titles, and help you crowdfund the up-front costs to get the book into stores. It seems to be working so far: two weeks in and 61% funded by lovely people like yourself, but there’s still a stressful time limit and big hunk of cash left to be raised (THAT’S NOT EVEN A HINT, IT’S A DIRECT PLEA).
Light relief is easy, but the brain experts, Crowd Emotion, would tell you there’s one emotion that above all the rest inspires action: surprise. Surprise generates a surge in adrenaline, it makes people reassess, and tricks the brain into reacting physically. Surprise works. Relief dumbs and numbs. Human beings can handle a bit of shock.
You know, whenever I think of light relief I picture the humans in the film Wall-E who sit in the same chair all day having entertainment (and food) delivered to them. These humans are relaxed all the livelong day: there’s no marching or debating or acknowledgment of a world gone mad. Which makes change really easy to prevent happening, which makes the rich bastards in control very happy. And no amount of special edition Unicorn KitKats will help us deal with the consequences of that.
Amy Kean is vice-president, strategy and planning, at Beamly. She is the author of The Little Girl Who Gave Zero Fucks