WHY WAS THE AD DISTURBING?
All of this says how the ad was disturbing but not Why, we can ask, did the students sound this alarm? The answer is not, after all, self-evident. History is replete with examples of family patterns that illustrate each oi the various ways in which this ad offended them. For example, in traditional China and many parts of Africa and the Muslim world, polygamy challenges the idea of the unity of love with sexual exclusivity. In Europe, the tradition of maintaining a bourgeois marriage and a mistress—sometimes paid with allowances or gifts, though not through salary—also disrupts the expectation that marriage, intimacy, affection, sexual exclusivity, and often procreation will form parts of one whole. A more covert pattern combines a conventional marriage and children with an intense homosexual relationship, again separating parts of this whole.
In the realm of parenting, too, history provides many examples of differentiation. In upper-class households, no one holds their breath at the slicing and dicing of “a mother’s role” into discrete paid positions-—nanny, cook, chauffeur, therapist, tutor, camp counselor, to mention a few. In the antebellum South, slave women breastfed children, and sometimes served the head of household as concubines. In all these times and places, people felt no commitment to the feeling rules and forms of emotion work which uphold the ideal of the romantic love ethic and the enchantment created by it. So the question becomes why, given all this, did this ad hit a certain contemporary cultural nerve?
The answer, I suggest, is that the ad strikes at a flash point between an advancing commodity frontier, on one hand, and the hypersymbolized but structurally weakened core of the modem American family, on the other.