New Gap Ads Pioneer the Cheesifying of Gay Love

If only we could accept something without seeing dollar signs.

Gap has a new ad campaign. It’s for t-shirts, and (like most ad campaigns) it’s telling you what to be. Be you, be true, be cool, be somebody with a little cash to spend and the basic human need to accrue stuff, thereby affirming your own existence. I’m sure Gap has placed these posters and billboards at hundreds of thousands of strategic points across our great nation, and that they all feature a wide variety of luminous, fresh-faced folks of various racial backgrounds (if not waist measurements) selling the same shirts in the same ways. But I’ve only seen two, and the two I saw today in the Walnut/Locust SEPTA station seemed to me, in many ways, unique.

The ads are side by side, and both have the same caption: “Be one.” The photo on the right is of a handsome white man nuzzling the face of a beautiful Asian-looking woman, their heads snuggled together inside the neck of a single t-shirt; the picture on the left is of two equally beautiful white men similarly sharing one t-shirt, their cheeks pressed tight together, their lips parted slightly.

I spent about 20 minutes—the rest of the train ride and the whole walk home—trying to figure out when the last time was that I’d seen a mainstream advertisement so prominently feature a homosexual relationship. I came up with nothing. Yet it’s there, it’s all over Walnut/Locust, you can see for yourself: Gap has put two beautiful fellows in a shirt together on a poster in our city, in front of Ben Franklin and everybody, and declared them one. And I am, overall elated. I am also a bit depressed.

Here’s why I’m elated: Because Obama came out in support of gay marriage. Because maybe this is a sign that the times they really are a-changin’. Because this ad shouldn’t be an anomaly, it should be the norm; gay couples should of course be depicted in mass media with the same regularity as straight couples. Because maybe if they were, if the general social consciousness were raised just a hair, we wouldn’t be mired in the kind of intolerant, discriminatory and fundamentally unequal bullshit that feeds this kind of ridiculousness.

Here’s why I’m a bit depressed: Those beautiful men have their cheeks pressed so demurely together in that photo; their faces are illumined by such a gentle, surreal glow. The image is so romantic, almost chaste when contrasted with the overt sensuality of the heterosexual couple next door, that it makes me wonder if it’s necessarily a good thing when the ad game finds a new market of love to exploit. Hetero romance has been hackneyed by diamond commercials. Is homosexual love the new frontier for romanticized advertising?

Gay rights and gay marriage and workplace equality and job security and social parity for LGBTQ individuals are all such distant dreams in our country that it seems ridiculous to complain about any remotely positive public gay imagery out there, even if it is a too-shiny Gap ad. But walking home from my SEPTA stop, I still found myself wishing that, somehow, the millimeters of progress we’ve made towards universal social acceptance of homosexual identity and equality could have escaped the far-reaching ruler of the free market, measuring yet another type of human connection in terms of dollars and cents.