By Casey Wilson
Have you seen this commercial for Chevy trucks?
In the ad, which Chevy titled “Like Father, Like Son”, a boy plays with a toy truck in his living room as he waits for his father to come home. His truck can tow a trailer and lift the space shuttle and carry barrels — all masculine-coded tasks. But what struck me initially about the video was an immense sense of surprise, because the boy tells his story not just with blocks and logs, but with a purple horse and a Barbie Dreamhouse. The “girly” toys are just as much a part of his playtime as those aimed at boys, and the ad does not judge him for that.
I first saw this commercial during the Country Music Association Awards show on ABC. It had been cut down to fit in a 30 or 45 second spot, but the mixture of toys remained. I was — and am — pleased that the ad would run during that event at all; as much as I love country music, it doesn’t tend to be progressive when it comes to gender. But the more I think about the spot, the more I’ve come to realize that this ad is nowhere near as forward thinking as it would have you think.
Consider, for instance, the story the boy tells. The truck goes from work to hooking up the horse trailer, where a female doll says “Oh, thank you!” in high-pitched voice. Later, when the truck pulls up to the pink-trimmed house, a Lara Croft* action figure stands out front, happily greeting the husband that has been gone all day. Again: the action-oriented female character is relegated to staying at home while her husband goes off to work. The boy is happy to play with these feminine toys, but he always does so in a way that keeps them secondary to the masculine figures. It’s not a leap to think that he does so because that’s how he views his father — the ad’s title makes that connection explicit.
Even the ad’s tagline allays any fears that there might be something genuinely subversive going on here: “From fathers to sons, Chevy runs deep.” From fathers to sons. Not from fathers to daughters, or mothers to sons, or mothers to daughters. No, it places itself within the most masculine tradition possible, as if to promise that even if the boy plays with these toys now, he will grow up to drive that big, masculine truck.
I love the promise that this commercial entails. With all the gender policing that goes on in the media, especially whenever a boy shows an interest in a stereotypically female item, it’s nice to see an ad that doesn’t mind showing a boy who is allowed to play with whatever toys he wants. (There’s no sign of a sister in the ad, which makes the presence of these toys even more interesting.) But at the end of the day, the commercial is in such a hurry to assure us that the boy is still a boy that it squanders its own potential.
*I think it’s Lara Croft; even if it’s not, she’s clearly wearing weapons and has the aesthetic of an action figure rather than a doll.
Casey Wilson is a PhD student.