JC Penneys has released and heavily promoted a viral ad in which a man buys a woman a vacuum cleaner for the holidays, and she puts him (literally) in the dog house. There he meets other men who have been put there for various crimes. One man told his wife that her mother looked hot in a bathing suit (and, despite claims he was “just being nice”, he goes on for some time about how “smokin'” she was). Another told his wife it was easier to stay home with the kids than work a job. Another gave his wife a gift of ram chips for her computer. Another one gave his wife a moustache waxer for the holidays. The star of the ad (not our original hubby) was a complete asshole who gave his wife a bit of exercise equipment so she could combine it with dieting and lose her belly fat: there’s no indication she requested such an item (in which case it would be a fine gift), or that she wanted to lose weight – it seems to be one of those gifts designed to do more for the giver than the receiver. It turns out the key to getting out of the dog house is to buy your wife some diamond jewelry.
Wired assures us the ad is mocking men, not women. I think it’s too problematic to be simplified that much.
My instant knee-jerk reaction to the first portion of the commercial was: here we are in a horrific recession, facing unbelievable and somewhat unpredictable job losses, and JC Penney’s thinks female heads of household – those members traditionally trained in making economies and budgeting income (hence the term home economics) – are too vapid, selfish, vain or stupid to appreciate gifts that double as useful instead of just ornamental. Any other year, I’d just be annoyed to see women once again being stereotyped as scary fire-breathing dragons who roast their menfolk for making harmless mistakes instead of appreciating the good intentions behind them. But given the fact our current economy is the next thing to the Great Depression, I can only make sense of the commercial by assuming the wife or girlfriend is mind-bogglingly stupid, selfish or both.
As the commercial progresses, the representation of the wives or female partners doesn’t improve. Butthe representation of the men gets positively weird: truly selfish acts committed by the men – lusting after your mother in law to your wife’s face and giving a woman a gift designed to improve her appearance for your benefit – are equated with the perfectly reasonable acts of giving a practical gift instead of an ornamental one. And so is the very typically human act of telling someone they have it easier than you do when you’ve never tried to do their occupation. These are three very different “crimes” in my mind. Giving a practical gift is no crime at all. Giving your wife a gift that suggests her appearance isn’t up to your standards (and neither of the men who do that are half as attractive as any woman in the commercial) is so offensive that I would take it as a strong indicator the giver is too inherently selfish to be rehabilitated into a decent partner. And as wrong as it is to attempt to silence someone by telling them they have it easy when you really don’t know, it’s a mistake most people have made, and many of us succeed in learning not to do it again, so there’s hope for that guy’s rehabilitation. But the commercial lumps them all together as crimes that will be forgiven if the man buys his wife something pretty.
No wonder some men think any misdeed can be atoned for with a bunch of roses.
It would be interesting to get a count of how many jewelry-buying husbands and boyfriends wind up in the dog house for wasting money this year.