Ads are always selling more than just a product. They’re selling a fantasy. In this case, buy Ballantine Ale and you’ll get this:
The this is this ad from 1954 is what interests me. I see same-sex friendship. These are presumably two heterosexual married couples — though some would disagree — but the ad isn’t about love, marriage, or sex. The ad is about the friendship that each spouse finds with their same-sex counterpart. The two couples come together not for platonic cross-sex companionship, in other words, but same-sex friendship.
For much of American history, the idea that men and women could be friends made little sense. This was not for the reason we tend to think this today (that is, sexual temptation), but because men and women were believed to be psychologically different. Differences between the sexes were believed to make cross-sex friendship impossible and pointless. You wouldn’t have anything in common and couldn’t understand one another. Women needed men for marriage, domestic divisions of labor, and children — and vice versa — but true friendship was reserved for someone of the same sex.
We certainly don’t need to return to that type of thinking — even if it was adorable — but I do appreciate the way this ad is committed to the idea that simple friendship is fantastic.
Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.