25 November 2009

The PTC flip-flop on Adam Lambert

In December 2005, Parents Television Council "Culture Watch" columnist Christopher Gildemeister responded to an allegation of homophobia by Simon Dumenco in Dumenco's Advertising Age magazine column:
Mr. Dumenco flatly states, without corroborating evidence, that the PTC is "very very afraid of gay TV characters." This is a lie. The PTC is not homophobic. It simply opposes sexual references or innuendo (of any variety, hetero, homo or other) aired where children might be exposed to them.
Flash forward 4 years minus one month, and this year's American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert (who's also openly gay) performs his single "For Your Entertainment" with many sexually-charged elements (such as S&M and simulation of oral sex and Lambert kissing his male keyboard player). It happens toward the very end of ABC's live broadcast of the 2009 American Music Awards, which ran from 8-11PM Eastern and Pacific time. Lambert's performance reportedly aired at 11PM, or 10PM Central/Mountain. Federal law prohibits broadcast of indecency between 6AM-10PM local time. (The oral sex mock was edited out of the West Coast broadcast.) Then PTC raises a stink over Lambert's performance! From its press release:
While the costumes and profanity throughout the broadcast were enough to alarm any reasonable parent, the final performance by Adam Lambert of “American Idol” fame included everything from S&M bondage with the singer leading leather-clad male performers around on leashes to another dancer simulating oral sex on Lambert. The show aired live at 8 pm ET/7 pm CT and was given a TV-14 L rating. The oral sex scene was edited out of the West Coast broadcast.

“American teenagers – and especially teenaged girls – are literally under siege by the entertainment media. It is outrageous that children today cannot watch a televised awards program for an industry that is built squarely on their backs. Teens comprise a huge portion of music sales, yet this is how they are treated? It is beyond contemptible,” said PTC President Tim Winter.

“Last night’s ‘American Music Awards’ broadcast was nothing short of tasteless and vulgar. Adam Lambert, the second-place finisher in last season’s ‘American Idol’ competition, chose to treat American families to simulated oral sex and other demeaning behavior. ABC and Dick Clark Productions had every reason to know what to expect, as Lambert himself proclaimed that his performance would be ‘very sexy’ and would include leather and chains. But the producers and the network chose to bury their heads in the sand.
So apparently S&M and oral sex, with a homosexual twist, was enough to make Lambert's performance stand out, way out, way way way out, from mentioning, let's say:
- Janet Jackson's opening act, where she reportedly grabbed a male dancer's crotch;
- Lady Gaga smashing whiskey bottles, and her dancers having costumes that look revealing (that was during her performance of her new single "Bad Romance"; I saw part of it on Sunday night while breaking from studying for Monday's calculus test);
- Eminem boasting about an extensive criminal record of his stage alter ego "Slim Shady" before performing "Crack a Bottle" and his verse from Drake's "Forever";
- and Carrie Underwood's suggestive outfit and choreography.

Lambert's performance seemed strongly sleazy enough to be the centerpoint of PTC's campaign. On it's "Take Action" page that provides outraged viewers/members to write letters of complaint to ABC, sponsors, or the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the title states: " American Music Awards Assaults Viewers with Simulated Sex Acts, S&M Themes, and Non-Stop Expletives", but the page doesn't even mention the examples I posted here. In her column (to be published on Friday's print edition), New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley also pointed out Jackson, Gaga, and Eminem as other examples of supposedly indecent performers at the AMA this year.

Taking a look at the facts and what PTC wants viewers to complain about, it seems that PTC is defeating itself in the process. Its automated, pre-written "Letter to ABC and Dick Clark Productions" template opens:
Dear Sir or Madam:

For years, the American Music Awards was a wholesome alternative to other trashy awards shows that used cheap gimmicks and sleazy, tabloid-baiting stunts to build a following. The AMAs were different, focusing instead on talent and love of music, so, like many Americans, I felt comfortable watching with my family. No longer. Last night ABC and Dick Clark Productions forever tarnished their hard-earned brands and violated the established trust of millions of parents by allowing S&M and bondage themes and explicit simulated oral sex to be broadcast into our homes, through our publicly-owned broadcast airwaves.
This opening passage seems to contrast the American Music Awards with other shows like the MTV Video Music Awards (and we all know the moral rivalry between PTC and MTV). The Video Music Awards has had its controversial moments like Madonna and Britney Spears kissing and this year, when Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift's acceptance speech. However, the PTC mentioned in its press release that the awards show was rated "TV-14-L", which in TV Parental Guidelines official lingo means "contains some material that many parents would find unsuitable for children under 14 years of age" because of "strong coarse language". Given the rating, which as procedural ABC shows at the beginning of the program and after every commercial break, why would it be so surprising that the American Music Awards was so un-friendly to a general family audience? Oh, if you want an awards show that focuses on "talent and love of music", try the Grammy Awards, which will be shown on CBS next February.

Although Lambert performed just a few minutes before or just at the start of the 10PM hour in the Central Time Zone, PTC felt it wasn't good enough, so it allows just the Central Time Zone residents to file complaints with the FCC.

And now for today's latest developments.

Yesterday, ABC cancelled Lambert's scheduled performance for today's Good Morning America.
"Given his controversial live performance on the AMAs, we were concerned about airing a similar concert so early in the morning," an ABC News rep said.
However, CBS intervened and invited Lambert to perform on its morning program The Early Show instead. CBS apparently feared more retaliation from PTC or other moral guardian orgs, so the network decided to blur images of Lambert's kiss and sex simulation. "The Adam Lambert image is a subject of great current controversy, has not been nearly as widely disseminated and, for all we know, may still lead to legal consequences," reported the Los Angeles Times quoting a CBS representative.

In response to ABC's disinvitation, PTC's Dan Isett stated:
"I do think it’s a little bit unfortunate... The idea that he should be scrubbed from TV completely is not where we’re going. It may be a bit of an overreaction on ABC’s part."

And Isett insists his organisation was simply upset because the powers that be didn't censor Lambert's AMAs live performance, which was heavily edited when it aired three hours later on America's west coast.

What a surprise. I thought that PTC was going to share ABC's concern that Lambert would've repeated his sleazy choreography on Good Morning America and call on ABC also to ax Lambert's performance. It seems that PTC indirectly intimidated ABC into doing so though.

This controversy brings up a whole bunch of double standards. The one homosexually suggestive performance that began very late in the evening generated the most controversy out of all the performances from earlier in the evening that had elements some would find sexually offensive. If PTC is going to highlight Lambert's performance constantly in its campaign for tougher sanctions against broadcast indecency, it's certainly got a weak one. If the FCC finds that the indecent elements of the performance were broadcast after 10PM Central Time, then the PTC will suffer some public relations struggles.

In his Early Show interview, Lambert claims to be a victim of a double standard against gay males. This is his side of the story.

I suppose I can understand why (parents are) upset. And, honestly, it didn't cross my mind, children. It was almost 11:00. It was a nighttime show. I was there in the audience full of mostly adults. Sometimes, I forget, 'Oh, there's a camera on.' I come from the theater. And I'm programmed to kind of look at who's in the live audience, and that's kind of where I come from. So, I was looking out in the crowd and saw some of my favorite pop stars and thought, 'I want to let loose.' And it just kind of got the best of me. And I had a great time. Unfortunately, there were people upset, but I think there are also people who really enjoyed it. So, like 'Idol,' I guess I have a tendency to divide people -- apples and oranges -- you either like it or you don't.
He also stated that it's ultimately the parent's responsibility to monitor children's TV viewing:

He also said he's "not a babysitter, I'm a performer" when asked if he wanted to apologize to parents of any kids who might have been watching. "I think it's up to the parents to discern what their child's watching on television," Lambert said at one point. Later he observed, "I think it's up to a parent to watch the television. It was almost 11:00 at night. If they're concerned with certain material maybe Tivo it and preview it before your small child is watching it."
Right. And the show was rated "TV-14", for crying out loud! When will the PTC members ever realize that TV is not a baby-sitter?

And finally, for some humor, get your dirty mind on and ponder PTC president Tim Winter's statement "It is outrageous that children today cannot watch a televised awards program for an industry that is built squarely on their backs." Hmm, given the PTC's obsession with pointing out all the graphic sex acts on TV that'll turn your sons into pimps or serial rapists or your daughters into sluts or welfare queens, why not find the underlying message in Winter's statement? Maybe he's trying to get attention with a dirty metaphor referring to anal sex or rape while at the same time opposing references to these in entertainment?

This year's American Music Awards was the most-watched since 2002, second most-watched program of the week among adults 18-49, and ninth most-watched out of the top 25 programs watched by viewers of all ages.

No comments: