A (gay) kiss is just a kiss

The self-appointed guardians of media "decency" go after Adam Lambert

At this year's American Music Awards (22 November), Adam Lambert, the openly gay American Idol star, shared an on-stage kiss with a male keyboardist. According to the BBC News website the incident -- if you can call it that -- received more than 1,500 complaints, and the show was roundly dismissed as "vulgar" by the self-appointed US media watchdog Parents Television Council (PTC).

But Lambert was right when, interviewed after the performance, he described the resultant furore as "a form of discrimination": "I feel like women performers have been pushing the envelope sexually for the past 20 years, and all of a sudden, a male does it and everybody goes: 'Oh, we can't show that on TV.'"

The kiss itself was fleeting, and a small part of the sexually-charged performance delivered by the pop star (which included far raunchier skits, such as dragging a woman across the stage by her leg). In a CNN report on the controversy, Jo Piazza accuses Lambert of "focusing on the shock factor", while Janell Snowden, a VH1 news host, recalls how she "dropped [her] jaw when [she] saw that whole display of sexuality".

I doubt too many jaws would have dropped if Lambert had kissed a woman. It's a dispiriting reminder of the double standards that still exist when it comes to on-screen representations of sexuality: tacky but acceptable when it's Britney and Madonna (or Madonna and anybody), but somehow "shocking" when it's Adam and keyboard-man-with-hairdo.

The opinions of the PTC, meanwhile, should be taken with a pinch of salt. The council was set up as an offshoot of the Media Research Centre under the guidance of arch conservative Brent Bozell, who once complained about "leftist views" in "prime-time programmes" (yawn). In 2004, Mediaweek reported that 99 per cent of the 1.1 million indecency complaints that were received by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) originated from PTC members -- hardly a representative swathe of the telly-watching population. I can only guess how many of the 1,500 complaints lodged over Lambert's show were sent from the outboxes of "outraged" PTC mums and dads.

Yo Zushi is a contributing writer for the New Statesman. His latest album, It Never Entered My Mind, is out now on Eidola Records and is on Spotify here.

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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.