Did you catch the Toyota Camry Super Bowl commercial?
The narrator begins the ad with a voiceover: "After reinventing the Toyota Camry, we decided to keep reinventing." Then, a dorky guy carrying a bag of groceries opens the door of his apartment and is stunned at the sight before him: a group of seven bikini-clad female models forming the shape of a couch. "This is the reinvented couch." The dorky guy smiles. Then the couch reappears as a group of seven shirtless male models. "It also comes in male." What is the dorky guy's reaction?
He shrugs his shoulders, raises his eyebrows, and nods his head with the approval of a customer who understands the options. A basic oh, cool, OK reaction: no demarcating comment regarding masculinity, no insult-as-joke, and no homophobic disinterest.
Within 13 seconds, Toyota defies the heteronormative relationships that make up this coveted commercial landscape. Rising from the company of Chevy's "Happy Grad" and his straight parents, Kia's "A Dream Car, For Real Life" woman dreaming of a fantasy horse ride with a dashing hero, and Fiat's "Seduction" between a dude and his car-as-fantasy-chick, Toyota's "It's Reinvented" introduces a homosexual -- if not bisexual -- encounter with sex.
Just for a moment, let's alter the heteronormativity of another commercial from the evening's lineup. Let's take Dannon's "The Tease," starring America's favorite uncle, John Stamos. A beautiful heterosexual couple sits at a kitchen table enjoying a cup of Oikos Greek Yogurt. Stamos, holding a spoon of yogurt, sensually teases the woman by not giving her the satisfaction of consuming the product. They smile and giggle until she can't take it anymore, and she is compelled to headbutt him and take the spoon herself.
Now let's imagine that the woman was cast as a man instead. If everything were scripted and acted the same way, would sex still sell? My predictions for the aftermath of such a commercial include: YouTube comments expressing foul language, Twitter hashtag explosion of #JohnStamosGay, and OneMillionMoms.com boycotting Dannon. They would write on their website something like, "The homosexual behavior exhibited during Dannon's Super Bowl commercial was lewd and inappropriate." By the start of summer, Dannon releases five new products thanks to the ridiculous amount of sales generated from a commercial advertising sex -- gay or straight (and with Uncle Jesse).
Taking into account the context of the Super Bowl as an arena of mediated masculinity, commercials for products like GoDaddy.com and Bud Light have established themselves as expected moments of overused gender-specific imagery and action. While these brand names of generic products -- an Internet domain registrar and alcohol, respectively -- have no gender, the deployment of sex within the advertisements has targeted an audience and formed a reputation for finite entertainment value.
Whatever the super objective of each company's commercial is (to entertain an audience? to sell a product? to win an award?), I'll never know. But for me as a guy who watches too much non-recorded television (yes, I love commercials), it's amazing to see Toyota's "It's Reinvented," not because it showed gay sex, but because it showed a reaction to gay sex as oh, cool, OK.
Follow Jeffrey Augustine Songco on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jeffysf