Teen Sex

That got your attention, didn’t it? But watch this ad, titled “Speed Dressing,” and then we’ll talk:

JC Penny now denies knowing anything about the ad, and that doesn’t surprise me. Whether it was produced with JCPenny’s knowledge or not is somewhat unclear, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was produced on spec without the store’s knowledge. I just can’t imagine the marketing people there ever being interested in courting the controversy that would certainly occur were the retailer to endorse an ad like this.

What’s fascinating about this spot is the incongruity between its subject and its seeming lack of awareness of that subject’s cultural baggage. There’s a shy, gentle sweetness to the production — the dim lighting, the twee soundtrack, the unwillingness to be flaunt the attractiveness of the two obviously attractive models playing the teens — tonally, it comes across as blissfully unaware of the way it was bound to be received. It’s as if it was thought up in some alternate universe in which the topic of teen sexuality does not engender social tempests, but is viewed instead as a well-worn rite of passage no more culturally fraught than going to the prom or getting one’s first car.

Indeed, the ad does everything it can to avoid seeming subversive. It’s true, of course, that the whole point is to keep the mother character — who we’re implicitly expected to understand would disapprove of their intended activity — in the dark. But despite this familiar trope, the ad seems to reflect a thoroughly modern understanding of the parent-teen relationship, one in which parents no longer exert real authority over the lives of their children. No, this ad is fully a product of the new suburban paradigm which casts parents as friends, confidants, and willing providers rather than disciplinarians. That’s why there’s no trace of the familiar adolescent rage and frustration against restrictive parenting. No longer is the point to escape Mom’s certain wrath — it’s to gently, lovingly allow her to keep her quaint ideas about the world. It’s almost touching, in a what-has-society-come-to way: The idea is not to lash out at Mom; rather, it’s to protect her.