The new back-to-school television commercial from Target reached straight into the center of my raised-in-the-70's heart, as three identical girls all dressed in identical boring uniforms run the cheery gauntlet of the first day back at school, adding color and quirk here and there, finally emerging as brightly-hued, chipper individuals, thanks, one presumes, to the bounty of festive clothing and accessories available at Target. But what really makes the ad — the breezy silk bow on top, if you will — is the title song from "Free To Be, You and Me", a musical for kids released in 1972 by the Ms. Foundation for Women that celebrated individuality and selfhood.
I loved this musical as a kid, wore the grooves out on my 33" vinyl copy played over and over again on the little brown Fisher Price phonograph-in-a-suitcase. And thirty years later, I bought the CD for my kids, who, wee modern sophisticates that they are, were underwhelmed. Despite the current generation's lack of appreciation, Target's ad agency showed unrelenting genius by choosing music that would have such appeal to the purchasing "gatekeeper" (generally this is understood to be a mom who buys stuff for her family, though here's a more-than-token shout out for all you consumerist dad-types out there, too) with a song recalling the Marlo Thomas-prompted, earnest self-acceptance of their youth.
What they may not have intended, however, was the ad release coinciding with a massive petition against Target for making political donations that feature a money trail leading straight to anti-gay organizations. The dissonance, cognitive and otherwise, here is palpable: acceptance of every individual and his or her potential vs. that hackneyed old kill-the gays, not-in-my-hetero-backyardism. Target, you can't have it both ways. We're too smart for this shell game — don't sell us with snippets of our starry-eyed youth with one hand, and support hatred and vitriol with the other. We've all heard of greenwashing by now, but this? I won't go so far as to call it gaywashing, but it comes pretty damned close.