By Jonathon Sharp

To see the British Arrows Awards is to get a glimpse into the culture across the pond. This is true every year, as Minnesotans have seen the best of British ads at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis for 29 years now, and the tradition is something of a holiday staple.

This year, along with the witty ads selling Volkswagens and car insurance, there’s a particular focus on World War I. It’s currently the 100th anniversary of the multi-year conflict, and at least two of the ads displayed in this year’s Arrows are poignant remembrancers of the millions of soldiers who lost their lives in the Great War. While America certainly celebrates its veterans, I’ve never seen it done in such a touching way — and in advertisements! — in the land of the free.

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There are also surprisingly effective PSAs in the lineup, focusing on domestic violence, body image issues and drunk driving. The domestic violence ad is particularly effective, in that it uses three hidden cameras in a park to show a crowd’s reactions to an arguing couple. At first, it’s the man yelling at and hitting the woman. In seconds, the crowd comes to the woman’s defense. Well done, we think. But then when the roles are reversed, and the woman is abusing her boyfriend, the crowd does nothing. They just look away, and even laugh. The project is a punchy, eye-opening social experiment that’s tough to forget, even in a stream of other ads.

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Of course, most of the ads in the Arrows aren’t on war and social problems. Many are displays of British humor and wit, and they’re silly, fun, bite-sized bits of commercial glitter. The pacing of the program, which breezes by in a little over an hour, keeps things varied and interesting. You’ll laugh, maybe tear up a bit and sincerely wonder if soccer will ever be a thing in America.

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The Arrows Awards are playing at the Walker Art Center  every weekend until the new year.

Jonathon Sharp