by John Corvino
I first discovered the gay-themed Doritos ads when a friend sent me a link to one titled “Told You So” with the question: “Is it okay for me to laugh at this?”
Quick answer, for those who have been wondering the same thing: Yes, it’s okay to laugh.
A longer answer, for those who nevertheless feel a bit uncomfortable while doing so, constitutes the remainder of the column.
The “Told You So” ad opens with a man “Tom” trimming his hedges when he notices a bowl of Doritos in the distance, causing him to stop working and to start licking his lips. His wife/girlfriend “Barbara” suddenly appears, giving him a quizzical, faintly disgusted look. Then the camera pans out, revealing that the Doritos are being consumed by a stereotypically gay male couple as they lounge poolside in skimpy cutoff shorts. Jolted from his Doritos daydream, Tom realizes that Barbara mistakenly thinks he’s drooling over the guys, not the snack.
The guys apparently think the same thing: the commercial ends with one telling the other, in an effeminate voice, “Told you so!”
The ad bothered me a bit when I first saw it, though not entirely for the reasons one would think.
First, Tom is using the wrong garden tool for the sort of trimming he’s doing, and in any case he should be more careful when handling sharp pruners.
Second, how could the video editor not notice that Gay Guy #2 has his legs crossed in the close-up shots but spread in the distance shot? Careless.
Third, Doritos are nasty, and there’s no way you can eat them regularly and still maintain abs like those guys in the commercial.
Fourth, and on a serious note: the ad’s portrayal of gays as mincing queens makes me a bit uneasy when the intended audience is Super Bowl viewers.
(Note: the ad was a submission for Doritos’ “Crash the Superbowl” contest. It was not chosen as a finalist, and according to Frito-Lay it has no chance of airing at the Super Bowl.)
Comedy often emerges from “mistaken identity” scenarios, and there’s nothing wrong per se with deriving humor from someone’s confusing a gay couple with a bag of Doritos as the object of another’s lust.
Moreover, it’s a 30-second ad, and short of putting the neighbor guys in bed together, there’s probably no quicker way to establish their gayness than by using stereotypes. Indeed, the ad comically exaggerates the stereotypes, from the guys’ cutoff shorts to their limp-wristed mannerisms to the umbrellas in their cocktails. Even their Doritos bowl is bright pink.
So what’s the problem?
The problem is that those stereotypes are still used to taunt gay kids, and it’s not difficult to imagine a closeted gay teen seeing that commercial during the Super Bowl with his homophobic Dad, who, rather than laughing at the mix-up, laughs at the stereotypical gays: “Haha – silly faggots.” The kid gets the message that gayness itself is worthy of ridicule.
Is that the ad-makers’ fault? No. And I’m not – I repeat, NOT – saying that the ad itself is homophobic, or that it should be censored.
It’s just that humor is contextual, and the context for an ad like this can vary wildly–which explains the mixed reaction to “Told You So.”
A portrayal of gays that’s funny on LOGO can be cringe-worthy at a Southern Baptist Convention. A stand-up routine that’s hilarious in Los Angeles can fall flat in Dayton. A joke that inspires gentle self-deprecation in some can unwittingly fuel self-loathing in others.
The trouble here is that, with a (potential) Super Bowl ad, the audience is pretty much everyone. That’s especially true in our Internet age, when such ads can go “viral” on YouTube (as this one seems to be doing, along with another gay-themed ad “The Sauna”).
As I said, “Told You So” won’t be aired during the Super Bowl. Personally, I wouldn’t object if it were. The guys are cute, the premise is funny, and the creators shouldn’t be faulted for the reactions of homophobes – many of whom dislike us no matter how we’re portrayed.
So yes, it’s OK to laugh, and it’s OK to wince a little too. Just remember that the best way to combat stereotypes is not to censor the stereotypical. It’s to strengthen the representation of LGBT people in all our diverse forms.
John Corvino, Ph.D. is a writer, speaker, and philosophy professor at Wayne State University in Detroit. His column “The Gay Moralist” appears Fridays at 365gay.com. Read more about him at http://www.johncorvino.com, where his winter/spring speaking schedule is now posted.