JACK IN THE CLOSET
The long running “Jack in the Box” commercials featuring the now iconic Jack Box character have, intentionally or aleatoricly, invested the character with a latent homosexual subtext. I intend to support my theory by examining, in depth, three specific ads that display overt examples of said subtext and by gleaning, sometimes nuanced, examples from four other commercials. While examining each subsequent commercial I will sometimes refer back to the information gathered from the previous examinations in order to substantiate a behavioral consistency throughout the history of the character.
The following text will focus solely on the internal logic of the advertisements themselves, leaving the agendas of the writers and the Jack in the Box Corporation completely out of the equation. The theory is structured as such: I will first discuss an obvious rebuttal to the theory, then move onto three in depth reading of the commercials that contain the most compelling evidence, concluding with the consideration of minor evidence found in four other ads.
The most frequent rebuttal
Whenever I introduce my theory to someone new it’s generally met with a roll of the eyes and a knee jerk attempt to disprove it. It seems people don’t like to alter their previously conceived ideas on a topic, especially when it concerns something familiar. The most frequent rebuttal relates to Jack’s family life, which has been presented on many occasions. My detractors will proclaim, “Jack has a wife and a kid. He can’t be gay.” This line of logic is not only fundamentally untrue, but actually works to strengthen my theory. In modern American media the wealthy, Caucasian family man has become the defacto stereotype for the closeted homosexual. The dramatic weight of a family and social standing make for great narrative fodder. Ample examples can be found throughout pop culture. I can name a few off the top of my head: numerous accounts on the sketch comedy show “Kids in the Hall” along with their film BRAINCANDY, the Oscar winning AMERICAN BEAUTY, Todd Haynes’s FAR FROM HEAVEN, and most recently the critically acclaimed BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. According to the culture he populates Jack is the perfect candidate for a conflicted homosexual.
Subconsciously admiring the male body
Do you recall a commercial that placed Jack in a public gym exercising? Hopefully you do, because I was unfortunately unable to track down a copy of this particular ad, forcing me to do my best from memory. Needless to say, you’ll have to grant me some latitude on this one. As I stated earlier, Jack was working out in a public gym. I believe he was jogging on a treadmill when he notices a man exercising next to him. Jack’s inner monologue praises the man’s physical attributes as he obsessively looks him over. Jack eventually catches himself subconsciously admiring the male body and quickly diverts his attention to a nearby woman. Guilty, Jack quickly began making comments about the woman in what we believe is still his inner monologue only to learn that his comments were actually said aloud. It is clear that Jack is instinctively attracted to men and uses a lesser interest in women to cover his hidden desires. This, of course, recalls the wife and kid that so many believe exclude Jack from harboring repressed homosexual desires.
This was the first eye brow raising incident. It struck me as strange, but ultimately I wrote it off as just a humorous commercial deriving its laughs from the social stigmas of a nontraditional sexual impulse. I really started to think something was up when I saw the ad that circulated sometime after this one.
“Enjoy your hole.”
At least two versions of this commercial exist, one far more suggestive than the other. Both versions are nearly identical differentiated only by which menu items they promote. In the less suggestive version Jack expounds on the attributes of his “Breakfast Jack” and “French Toast Sticks.” In the version I’m going to examine he promotes his “Breakfast Burrito.”
The ad opens with Jack standing in the center of a crowded elevator. The doors open and a young man in a tie carrying a box of donuts enters. He offers a donut to Jack. Jack becomes so visually and audibly upset by the offer that the other occupants recoil. Jack explains that the donut’s main offense is that in the center “where the donut fillet should be, you get a hole.” In Freud, and especially in his theory of the fetish, woman’s sexual difference is derived from an a priori assumption of her sameness to man: man has the phallus, woman is defined conversely as absence or lack (1). Jack’s complaint about the donut is a classic example of the Freudian “lack.” Jack then proceeds to slide his finger through the hole, a gesture undeniably sexual in nature therefore validating my Freudian reading. After expressing his disdain for the donut’s “hole” or lack, Jack describes the virtues of his new breakfast burrito. Jack praises the burrito (a phallic euphemism popularized in the ‘80s) as “meaty and filling” the opposite of a hole. Clearly stating his preference for the, in his eyes superior, phallic symbol. As the young man exits the elevator Jack angrily shouts, “enjoy your hole!” Obviously irritated by the good looking young man’s interest in the vaginal donut. At this moment, another young man in a tie enters the elevator and offers Jack a bagel. We assume his reaction will be much the same. The commercial concludes with a close-up of a “Jack in the Box” bag slamming into frame prominently sporting the words “NO HOLES.” (2)
Why would he shower with the players?
This is by far the most interesting ad. A news anchor informs us that Jack is the owner of “Pro Football’s newest team,” The Carnivores, before cutting to a satellite feed of Jack on the field. The first thing we notice is that The Carnivores team colors are purple and turquoise, the former (and more dominant of the two) synonymous with gay pride. I’m sure we all recall the purple Teletubbie scandal from years back. As Jack talks about his relationship with the players we cut to a quick clip of him aiding with practice followed immediately by a shot of Jack, wearing nothing but a towel being chased by two players (also wearing only towels) as they whip each other in the locker room. We then cut back to the live feed of Jack on the field. The background is now occupied by a group of male cheerleaders shaking pom-poms and some wearing party hats. When Jack is asked if he would like to make “any other changes,” he looks back at the male cheerleaders and smugly utters, “yeah.”
To properly examine and understand this particular spot we must extend its diegetic logic into the real world and ask questions based on this real world application. As owner of the team Jack would certainly have had prior knowledge that a group of men had been hired as cheerleaders. Not only would he have had this knowledge he would also have had final say on their hiring. So why does he approve the hiring only to slag them off when put on the spot during the interview? Is he merely posturing for the television viewing public? The only logical conclusion I could draw is that of latent homosexuality. He instinctively enjoyed the male cheerleaders which lead to their hire, only to regret it later upon realizing the public image the hire would project. This would fit perfectly within Jack’s character as seen in the public gym commercial discussed earlier. The only other possibility would be that Jack had no knowledge of their hiring which would be highly unlikely given the odd nature of an all male cheerleading squad and Jack’s history as a shrewd and informed business man. However this isn’t the most unusual aspect of the commercial. Let’s go back to the shot of the half naked Jack snapping towels with the two players in the locker room. On the surface it would appear that they’re just horsing around after a shower, but if Jack is indeed the owner of the team, which the commercial states he is, we must ask ourselves: Why would he shower with the players? (3)
“Our target is men.”
Given the context of the three ads discussed prior, a rereading of some incidents in earlier ads is in order. The entire campaign is ripe with sexual overtones, including a cross dressing squirrel in one incident, but I intend to focus only on the details that reflect the Jack character’s sexuality. These subtler clues were discovered in four separate commercials and admittedly only carry weight in retrospect.
While introducing a new sourdough product Jack flashes back to high school. He reminisces about Tammy Bailey, “the foxiest girl in school,” asking him to the prom. This scene threatens to weaken my theory until we discover that his true glee for landing the hot date isn’t derived from an attraction to Ms. Bailey rather in spiting his “arch rival, Brock Anderson.” Brock is the stereotypical good looking jock in a letter man’s jacket. Jack, portrayed as a dorky teenager, feels dating “the foxiest girl in school” is a victory over Brock. The commercial ends with the adult Jack looking directly into the camera and gloating “How you like me now, Brock?” Obviously still hung up on Brock, his passé praise for Tammy Bailey is rendered meaningless. We learn that Jack’s main concern was besting (read: impressing) Brock. I believe Jack’s lingering obsession with Brock, a high school athlete, manifested into a desire to own a Pro Football team. (4)
We now move forward to Jack’s hippy years. There were at least a couple commercials associating Jack with the counter culture, a movement notorious for its “sexual freedom” (read: experimentation) and inhibition. In one particularly lengthy ad Jack flips through the “Box Family Album” which not only contains a picture of Jack as a young hippy, but concludes with a nude photo of hippy Jack in the wilderness, his flesh obscured only by a guitar. Who took the photo and why he’s naked is never revealed. (5)
We move ahead again, to Jack’s adult life. Set in an empty office on a dark romantic night. Behind Venetian blinds (a sexually charged trope familiar to soft core and noir fans alike) Jack speaks with an attractive female colleague. He asks her, “Ellen, what do women really want?” Ellen responds tenderly, “Love, a shoulder to cry on, a soul mate.” Jack coldly breaks the mood, “I meant on our menu.” This little exchange illustrates Jack’s lack of interest in women as sexual beings. (6)
I’ll conclude with an ad that finds Jack fielding commercial ideas for the restaurant. We watch with Jack as a spoof boy-band, the “Meaty Cheesy Boys” (I’ll leave that one alone), dance while they sing about “juicy” burgers. We then cut to an advertising pitch man as he dances to the song and tells Jack, “Girls love this!” Annoyed, Jack replies “Our target is men.” A statement that compliments his earlier “NO HOLES” proclamation. Subconsciously, Jack knows exactly what he does and doesn’t want. (7)
1. This passage was culled from Linda Williams’s wonderful book “Hard Core.” 1989. University of California Press.
2. The “Breakfast Jack” and “French Toast Sticks” version of this commercial can be found on youtube.com
3. A quicktime version of this commercial is available at commercialcloset.com Their interpretation differs from mine. It can now be found at youtube.com as well.
4. Can be found at youtube.com
5. Can be found at youtube.com
6. Can be found at youtube.com
7. Can be found at youtube.com