On February 28 the Chicago Sun-Times reported that a billboard advertisement at the corner of Melrose and Broadway, about a half mile from where I live, had been pulled due to complaints from residents and the principal of Nettelhorst Elementary School. The offending ad, which faced the school from across the street, promoted Xanadu, the intentionally campy touring production of the 2007 Broadway hit that’s based on the unintentionally campy 1980 Olivia Newton-John movie.
The ad included a positive blurb from Vanity Fair magazine: “It’s like taking Ecstasy.” And what’s the first letter of Xanadu? No pressure, children, but having X-rated fun while doing X is way more fun than any musical could ever be! Just ask your big brother's friend Drake. You remember Drake—he's the one who doesn't come around anymore, but the last time he did, all of your mom's jewelry suddenly vanished.
When I walked by Nettelhorst yesterday, I saw Xanadu’s replacement on the billboard: an ad for The Tale of Despereaux, with “Christmas” at the bottom of the ad. Supposedly this is the ad that was on the billboard prior to Xanadu’s, and Despereaux certainly seems more kid friendly than Xanadu, but note the last letter in the name of that movie’s title character. The subliminal advertising for Ecstasy continues!
(Despereaux is a French mouse, by the way. The makers of The Tale of Despereaux presumably hoped to cash in on the popularity of the French rat in 2007's Ratatouille, though Despereaux only made $50 million in theaters compared to Ratatouille's $206 million and an Oscar win for Best Animated Feature. “As usual with Pixar releases, critics heaped superlatives on [Ratatouille]," noted Dean Goodman in a Reuters article from July 1, 2007. "But it was no secret that Disney faced a marketing challenge with the movie: A rat in the kitchen raises hygiene concerns for some people.” I think as long as the vermin protagonist in Ratatouille doesn't try to cook anything in moviegoers' own kitchens, there's no reason to get hysterical.)
Broadway in Chicago, the local company that’s putting on Xanadu, said in a written statement that “We currently have an outside vendor who purchases our billboard space throughout the Chicagoland area, and the producers of the show requested that general area.” The “general area” is nicknamed Boystown because of its gay population, gay bars, gay clubs, etc., and gay men are the perfect audience for campy musicals about disco, roller skating, and cute boys roller skating to disco, right?
Maybe, but the fact that there’s a meth problem in Boystown makes the ad insensitive to that demographic as well, not just kids who might be staring out the window during math class and wondering, “How do you 'take ecstasy'? Is that like when I eat one of my grandma’s oatmeal raisin cookies and she says I’m ‘swallowing happiness’? Or is it like when I heard Uncle Gary telling Uncle Ted that he loves swallowing Uncle Ted's happiness?"