If there’s one surefire way to identify the values, fears, and hopes of a given society, it’s by watching one of its commercials. In the ‘50s, corporations commodified a fear of communism to sell children’s toys and hygiene products. In the ‘90s, advertisers exploited the public’s sexual frustrations and withering masculinity to peddle automobiles. And now, it appears that we’ve entered the age of using female empowerment to sell Star Wars merchandise… so, it’s not always a bad thing.
The above video, an advertisement created by Deutsch and Psyop on behalf of Target, builds its campaign on the overturning of Star Wars’ understood—or misunderstood—role in American culture. That the franchise has and could only ever be celebrated by male fans and for its male characters is the establishment against which the commercial is willingly rebelling.
Now, it’s not as though Target is beating Star Wars at its own game here. Anyone who saw The Force Awakens knows that all creative parties on board endeavored to render the 2015 picture a new plateau for cinematic heroines. The result: Rey, who was not simply an exciting new female character, but one given textual opportunities not often afforded to women occupying blockbuster fare.
The creative and social successes of Rey notwithstanding, the post-Force Awakens era has not been exempt of episodes of egregious devaluation of the heroine in Star Wars-themed Monopoly games and action figure sets—that the latter refers, in fact, to a Target product should signify just how much the cultural identity of Star Wars has changed over the past year.
We can expect that a principal factor in Target’s decision to “rebel” with its new ad was the backlash it took from an increasingly vocal, increasingly proud chunk of the Star Wars fan community. Hell, you’d be a bit naïve to assume that Target’s primary motive was anything but good business sense. But I promise you: that, too, is not a bad thing. On the contrary.
That something as beheld to mainstream culture as a Target ad is draping itself in a steadily evolving wave of feminism is proof that these ideas are quickly and certainly progressing past the “fringe” margins by which they’ve been forever imprisoned. It’d be outright idiotic to say that xenopobia and gender normativity aren’t pervasive problems today… But if a strong feminist message is what sells these days, we must be doing something right.
Featured Image: Target
Michael Arbeiter is the East Coast Editor of Nerdist and a proud feminist. Find him on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.