This is the new Father’s Day ad for JCPenney, tag line “First Pals” and the captions read, “What makes Dad so cool? He’s the swim coach, tent maker, best friend, bike fixer, hug giver— all rolled up into one. Or two.”
I’ll point out that all of those except bike fixer are euphemistically homosexual/pedophilic, but I will refrain from saying they did it intentionally. Which is going to be my point, hold on.
In any article about the ad is the backlash against it, most commonly the One Million Mom’s protest. The Moms are portrayed as stupid, backwards, Christian (I found this ad’s discussion on Reddit’s atheism group). So the stories about the ad do exactly what stories in media are supposed to do, which is not align you to one side (homosexuals) but facilitate your hatred of other people (Christian moms.) The basic analysis is, “those Republican dummies in Central Time are regressive, evil, fundamentalist jerks.”
Which they may be, but that has nothing to do with the ad. If you think Central Time moms hate gays, you’re not watching enough TV. Brothers & Sisters had an entire gay (male) marriage subplot over three years pre-Obama; Grey’s Anatomy features two lesbian surgeons with a baby. And that both of those shows are on ABC- the go-to channel for women 35-55– is not a coincidence.
The ad, like all ads today, is aspirational, not reflective. It is showing you something you want to be, not “a person like you would like these products.” The ad shows the middle age female fantasy of home: family, kids, but still retaining decor, cleanliness, fun. Beautiful furniture, nice clothes, well groomed, stable relationship, everyone’s together. Sex is OUT, except euphemistically, safely coded in double entendre or joke; wine is in. That was the same fantasy depicted in Brothers & Sisters and on Grey’s Anatomy. Gays have long been stereotyped as narcissistic, going on trips, dressing well, decorating, enjoying nice food, taking time for themselves and their spa days (and no one begrudges it)– JCPenney women want that, but without all the AIDS.
Hence “gay men” are the reservoir for that fantasy, so they must be depicted as married with kids. Gay dads become the symbol for a kind of family life which has become impossible for straight women– so impossible, so unrealistic, that only gays are believable doing it. Look at the gay dads ad, and look at the straight couple below:
This ad is clearly unrealistic for that demo, which is why it was shown in Herald Square and not People Magazine.
Importantly, you should not confuse gays being used as a branding tool as any kind of tacit encouragement of their behavior. JCPenney moms do not condone homosexuality per se– but it will accept it as long as it is Disney-fied (which owns ABC), desexualized, crammed into the same conservative value system it feels safe in. On B&S the gay men had the most conservative relationship of all of them, they had the least amount of drama. Even on Sex & The City, the gay characters were less promiscuous than any of the women.
NB: the Dads above are still together, unlike 50% of the target demo.