April 12, 2011

J Crew Ad Promotes Something That Some Call "Transgenderism"

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I love how natural she looks

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The kid is Beckett, the son of the woman in the photo.  Look, he's wearing pink.

Media commentator Erin Brown of the Media Research Center also had strong views, calling it 'blatant propaganda celebrating transgendered children.

'J Crew, known for its tasteful and modest clothing, apparently does not mind exploiting Beckett behind the facade of liberal, transgendered identity politics.'

Before you jump in with your own ideas, ask yourself a question with a very obvious answer: do you think that photo is real?

People are arguing over it like it's hidden camera footage of this woman's house.  Do you think this scene wasn't staged?  How many takes did it require?

Look at the ad carefully.  What is it selling?

You probably think it's the shirt, but there are two products there: the shirt and the nail polish.

Look carefully at that nail polish, neon pink.  It doesn't exist, not in that exact color, anyway.  The color's name is "Short Shorts," and thanks to the magic of Photoshop it doesn't have to look like this:

essie short shorts.JPGLook at those crayons.  Those are artificially enhanced colors.

This isn't to say it isn't trying to promote transgenderism, or it is; but as an ad it's telling you something about you vs. the products so we may as well listen.


It's Saturday, you don't have to dress up for work.  Yay!   Hold on, that doesn't mean you're allowed not to dress up.  No sweatpants for you.

The woman in the ad is attractive but not in a vulgar, sexual way.   Supremely comfortable with herself, her life.  It seems effortless.  And she's the president of J Crew.   And she has her son with her.  She's the product.  The image.  You don't like the polish, fine, J Crew has other stuff to make you into her.  In other words, she is you, the aspirational you.  The kind of you that can say this:

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She doesn't put her kids in front of the TV so she can get a minute to poop.  She doesn't have to.

She's the product, all those things around her are accessories.  The polish is an accessory, and its color has been enhanced to better broadcast the message.  The kid is an accessory, and he's been enhanced to broadcast the message.  Clean, vibrant, simple, alive, happy, fun.

What's going on in the ad?  Now it's 11:30 (Beckett sleeps in on the weekends, of course) and the art project is done and the coffee (french press) is so good it doesn't need milk or sugar.   Giggle.  Lighthearted fun ensues, and the boy gets his toenails painted.  Now, obviously, he's a boy and he's not the kind of boy to get his nails painted pink, it was all in spontaneous fun.  But it's not like anyone's watching, it's in a safe environment, where you can do whatever you want and no one makes assumptions.  Dad's not there.  She can just throw her hair in a bun and be the kind of beautiful women like.  "I love Anne Hathaway."  Me,  too. 

How much you wanna bet her nails aren't painted neon? 

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Of course not, that's not her style.  She's not the kind of successful and stylish mom who would wear neon pink, either, but sometimes it's fun to play.  HA!   That is fun.  So why even buy the neon and the orange behind it if you're not going to wear it out?  Oh, because it's fun, frivolous, like the crayons.  The nail polish is crayons.  And because, precisely, if you wear it, it doesn't mean anything.


"But surely J Crew must have known this photo would be controversial?"  Ummm, duh.

And controversy is publicity and blah blah, marketing 101.  But the controversy serves to establish who you are not.  First, if you're offended, you're probably not a woman.  Do you see any men in the ad?  It depicts a safe, comforting place for women.  He's not home.

Or you're not an attractive woman.  Erin Brown of the Media Research Center might be a supermodel but she sounds ugly, doesn't she?  Or old.  Yuck.  Nothing clean, simple, or vibrant about that. Her Saturday's probably involved planned defecations.  That's not you, the J Crew consumer.

"But don't you always say "if you're watching it, it's for you." Why is Erin Brown watching it?  Because the ad gives her a way of defining herself.  Everybody wins.

"But now there's a possibility the kid may become gay, or transgendered."  The word you focused on is transgendered, the word J Crew wants you to focus on is possibilities.  The kid with the painted nails is young, doing something out of the norm.  He embodies possibilities, so J Crew embodies possibilities.

If there is anything "bad" about this ad, it isn't the transgenderism, but the Desire.  You are different from her, but you desire to be her.

The problem is that your desire doesn't know the difference between real you and the aspirational you, and it relentlessly pursues the Symbolic.  Desire is never satisfied, it is never fulfilled.

That's what J Crew is banking on.