CODEBREAKING: Gay Dads in JCPenney, Just In Time For Father’s Day

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better them than me

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.


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6 Responses to CODEBREAKING: Gay Dads in JCPenney, Just In Time For Father’s Day

  1. JohnJ says:

    It seems to me that ads like this are done for two reasons: first and of lesser importance is the attempt to appeal to a demographic by saying “I’m like you in these important ways”, like the way the Cosby Show appealed to whites. But more importantly, it panders to those who value tolerance of those specific differences as a badge of moral superiority. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Again, the Cosby Show probably really encouraged racial tolerance. But, like the Cosby Show, this tolerance is directed at a specific demographic. Part of the ad’s appeal, it seems to me, is about identifying as a person who believes that the particular target demographic is one that needs to be more tolerant of the particular quality. I.e. “I’m a good person because I believe that specifically middle-class whites need to be more tolerant of blacks.” It’s not just about tolerance of the quality being promoted, it’s also about targeting the specific demographic for criticism.

    • Tim says:

      I dunno man, I think they are done solely to kick up a storm, generating news print, and more exposure for your brand than your marketing budget could ever afford.
      People need to recognise your companies name (first priority), and assosiate it with a cooperate personality or an identity.
      The trick is to kick up a contraversy without assosiating your brand with bad things. Social politics is great for this because feminists, homophobes, atheists, or whoever your upset to get your reaction coverage are not going to boycot your brand. They just don’t see you as the enemy enough / care enough. Therefore, the people who are most likely to be upset should be your target audience.
      Need to sell to middle america? Pretend to like gays or mexicans. It’ll be all over fox for weeks, and when the dust settles, all the punters will remember is JCPenny.

  2. Forsooth says:

    Bike fixer? As in fixing the town bike? It’s all I can see with it now. Was that what the 70s and 80s were about?

    Unsurprisingly, I’ve never heard of One Million Moms, and Google tells me that neither did the rest of the internet until now. But in the ad, the kids are conspicuously not theirs (foreign), unlike blondielocks in the second. Only one dad has an obvious wedding band. Would two suggest too much adultery?

  3. Minerva says:

    Call me when they produce a poster of a short guy with a beer gut and bad haircut, dressed in tatters, watching Star Trek with his autistic son. All this fancy stuff has nothing to do with my reality.

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