Does Wal-Mart Secretly Hate The Gay?

A reader reports seeing a series of strange Wal-Mart ads that seem to exhibit a subversive, latent, homophobia on the part of the big box retailer.

    “A month or so ago, I happened to see the first in a series of Wal-Mart TV spots knocking boutique-style electronics stores. Featuring a turtleneck-clad schmuck pushing over-priced sets, the man mentions something about a mail in rebate and having to fold it into the shape of a “fruit-bat” to get your cash. I know the exchange was intended to illustrate Wal-Mart’s “no nonsense” low prices. However, the use of “fruit-bat” is not only awkward, but I’m pretty sure is also a derogatory term for a gay male. That said, knowing I have a tendency to read too much into things, I let it go.

    Fast-forward to tonight. I’m watching Monday Night Football, and a new ad in the series comes on. This one is set in the same store, with a similar exchange, except this time with an offer of a free gift with a “$50,000 purchase” –a meat smoker.

    The fruit-bat thing was weird, but combine that with turtlenecks, a highly stylized environment, and throwing in a friggin meat smoker, I really have a really hard time believing these are all random coincidences.”

Jeez, with all those grade-school innuendos, you would think the copywriters are stealing a page from our playbook!

Can anyone find these commercials?

Comments

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  1. AcilletaM says:

    I saw the fruit bat commercial, it’s a direct attack on Best Buy basically. And the dude suggests folding the rebate into a number of animal shapes.

    I don’t like Wal-Mart but I don’t think there’s any gay bashing going on here.

    The bigger story is I guess they’ve given up on having ‘real people’ in their ads. Employees must have wanted more money to shoot commercials on their unpaid lunch break.

  2. Triteon says:

    If you play these commercials backwards you can hear “Falwell’s dead…Falwell’s dead…”

  3. Yozzie says:

    It’s OK – the feeling is pretty much mutual…

    Although given that I’ve been cruised on at least one occasion by a wearer of the blue smock, I’d say Wal-Mart may be trapped in the closet.

  4. adamondi says:

    Wow, someone has WAY too much time on his hands. And he seems really insecure about his sexuality. This reminds me of the title of the season premiere of “The Office” on NBC: “Gay Witch Hunt”.

    Wal-Mart doesn’t care who you have sex with. They just want your money.

  5. Fruit bat is a derogatory word for a gay male?!

    Well, it’s obviously part of a vaster right wing consiracy.

    Although not a Wal Mart shopper myself, I guess I’m too far removed from gay subculture to know that Fruit bats, turtle necks and meat smokers are “gay” things…so I somehow doubt that a Walmart marketer or the audience it is intended for got the subtle undertones of supposed anti-gay.

  6. yumyum says:

    Advertising is full of fags.

  7. I’ve never heard the phrase “fruit bat” used to describe gays.

    Oversensitivity alert!

  8. True that, Yozzie. I wonder where you live? I know it’s pretty common for guys to get cruised / picked up at Wal-Marts, although it seems to be more common the more rural the area, where, I suppose, there are no more legit places for gay men to go (i.e. bars, dance clubs, Neiman Marcus) and do their bidness. I’m from a relatively large Midwestern city, although I still must admit I’ve gotten many an eye from an employee.

  9. stubar says:

    The only time I’ve heard the term “fruit bat” used in a somewhat derogatory manner was to describe straight girls who hang out with gay guys, i.e. fag hags. And I thought it was pretty funny.

  10. GenXCub says:

    Personally, I think the current commercial that is completely trying to “convert” heteros are the Carl’s Jr. Commercials that are meant to look like an anti-smoking ad.

    The gist of the pitch is “Let Carls Jr. Smoke Your Sausage”

  11. Xkeeper says:

    I have to agree with crayonshinobi — it just seems like someone’s getting a little too paranoid… but then, I haven’t kept up with the “gay terms” either.

  12. adamondi says:

    Stubar said: “The only time I’ve heard the term “fruit bat” used in a somewhat derogatory manner was to describe straight girls who hang out with gay guys, i.e. fag hags. And I thought it was pretty funny.”

    That is now my absolute favorite term in the world. I never really liked “fag hag” and now I have something much more clever and funny to use. Excellent. Thanks, Stubar.

  13. Speaking as someone who knows the gay community VERY well, “Fruit Bat” is NOT a gay term. In fact, the only time I heard it used except on the nature channel was the “Eric, the Half a Bee” skit on Monty Python.

    Now.. meat Smoker… That’s a gay term, but I think they were refering to the actual item. But I think NFL watchers would want something like that for tailgate parties. :)

  14. Elara says:

    I’ve heard “fruit bat” used to as a synonym for “crazy person” but never as a derogatory reference to gays. And I’m mystified by the rest of the references. Sounds more like a weird 70s Jack LaLanne Juicer (meat smoker???) infomercial. But an attack on gays? I doubt it.

  15. mschlock says:

    Eric the fruit bat? Are all your pets called Eric?

    Damn it, Phil got there first.

  16. I’ve not seen either of these ads but this sounds like reaching to me.

  17. Elsewhere says:

    In the world of advertising, there may be misjudgements but there are no acccidents, at least not at the Wal-Mart level of doing things. If you can say without actually saying it, you have what call plausible deniability.

    It’s a bit like the SUV commercial that showed a Disney/Tinkerbelle-type fairy that was unable to turn the tough SUV into a pastel-colored girly car; when the fairy is smacked into a wall, the construction worker type passing by says, “Stupid fairy”, the fairy takes her wand and changed the construction worker into a sweater-and-bermuda-short wearing type walking a small fluffy dog. After a few weeks the spoken line disappeared from the commercial, (so someone did notice after all) but the commercial continued to run.

    I think Wal-Mart knows exactly what they want to say in this case.

  18. adamondi says:

    Elsewhere, I have seen the Wal-Mart commercials and the Dodge commercial about the fairy flying around and changing things into cutesy stuff. Firstly, it is not for an SUV, but for the Dodge Caliber, which is the replacement for the Dodge Neon. Definitely not an SUV, due to its size. Anyway, the whole point of the commercial is to show how small cars don’t need to be cutesy “chick cars” and that is why the fairy couldn’t even change it into a cutesy thing with her magic. And the “Silly little fairy” line was still in the commercial when I saw it last night.

    Back to the Wal-Mart commercial. I never got any sort of gay-bashing vibe from it. It is a “snooty electronics boutique”-bashing commercial. And rightly so. The salesman is designed to be snooty, not gay.

  19. Smashville says:

    A $50,000 dollar purchase at Wal-Mart?

  20. AcidReign says:

    …..That gadget is supposed to smoke meat? Look more like a weird popcorn popper… No self-respecting redneck would believe that ad. Ifn it don’t have a firebox, it ain’t right.

    …..An’ thet tailgatin’ stuff is sposed to be kept in the fambily, and maybe yer cousins, damnit!

  21. WindowSeat says:

    That’s one of them fancy electric smokers more commonly made with an old refrigerator and a hot plate.

  22. AcidReign says:

    …..I am in awe of your skills, WindowSeat!

  23. Wal-Mart just joined the LGBT Chamber of Commerce to work on making their stores/products “gay friendly”, so I seriously doubt they are also attacking them at the same time. Unless the ad agency decided it would be funny…

    I’m totally lost on the meat cooker.

  24. I see hillbillies standing in wal-mart trying to get their wall coverings to match at their hunting camp (“it’s just not cammo enough Roscoe”), so I don’t see Wal-Mart as any more anti-gay than the next big box store.

    But meat smokers? nothing more Man-Like than a bunch of sasuages hanging around…

  25. John Stracke says:

    Personally, I think WM said “fruit bat” because it sounds funny. Being told you have to fold your rebate form into the shape of a bat would be bad enough; making it specifically a fruit bat means you have to go and find out what a fruit bat looks like. And then you find out that there are 173 species of fruit bat, and you don’t know which one the rebate processing center wants!

    Besides, “fruit bat” is just funny. Like “spleen”.

  26. Yozzie says:

    it.goes.there: I’m in North Carolina, so I suspect your Midwest-based theory applies down here too. Not that we don’t have any other fruit bat-friendly venues, but I’m pretty sure it has to do with the small-town Wal-Mart-as-destination culture – you know, on Friday nights, you go out to dinner, then to Wal-Mart.

    To weigh in on the fruit bat thing, I dimly remember the term being used in a mildly dismissive way back in Oz, but never here.

    Y’know, I always suspected that there was some meat-smoking going on in the football scene. Guess I’m going to have to start watching more of the pigskin antics, then.

  27. Surrender_Dorothy says:

    There are no accidents in advertisement. Each word, character, and object in an advert is carefully planned to support both hidden and overt messages to the viewer. Here’s a breakdown of the elements in this ad and my interpretation of each.

    I think the target audience in this advert is an average Midwestern housewife. She is meant to empathize with the yuppie looking woman who is TV shopping and finds herself in what could be described as an intimidating “TV Boutique”. It’s more reminiscent of a haute couture boutique in NY, the type that an average women would hesitate to enter for fear of ridicule by the staff. Although the woman doesn’t look like an average housewife, she is what a housewife would like to look like.

    The salesman helping the woman is a black turtle-neck clad guy who seems both hip and up-tight at the same time. Remember the Mike Myers “Sprocket” skits on Saturday Night Live? This salesman is definitely a “Deter”, except that he has a soft-spoken tone rather than a German accent. What TV salesman in real life would ever look like this guy? If Wal-Mart wanted to take a crack at Best Buy, the salesman would be wearing a blue Izod and the showroom floor wouldn’t look like a furniture ad out of Architectural Digest. The black turtle-neck is really deliberate, as well as the guy’s manner. Would it be easier for you guys to get this if he talked like Truman Capote?

    Soon after the ad starts, the woman says “I don’t understand”, and the turtleneck clad salesman starts to explain HDMI with the assumption that she is ignorant of the technology. Although there’s not a hint of rudeness, his assumption is subtly meant to piss off the female viewer who can empathize with the experience of being treated like an idiot by a salesperson. (Unfortunately, I am a female shopper who can empathize with that one. I wouldn’t be surprised if Wal-Mart based this ad on research study.)

    She interrupts the salesman and says that she doesn’t understand why the prices are higher in this store than at Wal-Mart. This flusters the salesman; he grabs the rebate info for her. Buyer beware, the rebate involves complicated origami! (We get a quick glimpse of another salesman playing with a paper crane.) At this point the woman starts walking away from the salesman while he says something like “You can do the fruit-bat….” Ok, “Fruit Bat” would not seem nefarious if a blue-shirted Best Buy salesman was in the ad. But “Deter” is in it instead, and the words “Fruit” and “Bat” pretty much describe him. He’s a gay guy wearing a black turtleneck, ala a “Fruit Bat”. (Also notice the guy sitting in the lounging chair in the background at the end of this shot – implied laziness.)

    At this point the ad jumps to familiar images of a Wal-Mart store. These are quick, banal images. I’ll try to focus on them the next time I run into this ad because I can’t recall any details at the moment. But I’m sure they convey a safe and wholesome image.

    This ad isn’t meant to be a jab at Best Buy, it’s meant to scare a techno-ignorant housewife who wants to buy a gift for her hubby. If she goes to a specialty store, she might have to deal with gay salespeople. It’s a scare tactic cloaked in humor. Coupled with the “wieners-in-the-closet” version of the same ad, I’m not sure why more people aren’t seeing the obvious.