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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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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