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April 5 2016
American Idol, paratexts and Adam Lambert
Today the essays are due.
After the lecture I will distribute the final take-home.
Next week: No class. You are expected to work on your take home. Take the time that you would normally spend reading for class and in class, and put it toward your final. If you want to find me, I will be in my office for my regular office hours from 2:20-3:20 and during our class time from 3:30-6:20.
Returning essays: I’ll be marking your essays very diligently with the goal of getting them marked and backed to you as soon as possible. I’ll email you when they are ready for pick up. My goal is to return these essays in the next two weeks so that you have them before the final is due on April 19 by noon. I will accept the final take-home over email and have changed that in the online syllabus.
Key concepts: media paratexts; media convergence; queer ambiguity; coming out; the closet
In this final week, we’re opening up reality TV to see it in a larger context where the text that airs on television is now surrounded by “paratexts.” I wanted to include this reading, in large part, because it offers us another way of analyzing reality TV.
What are paratexts in relation to reality TV?
For viewers, paratexts offer a way to extend and develop our knowledge of the “stars” outside of the actual television series itself. For non-viewers, paratexts may enter our lives whether we seek the information out or not.
Draper is analyzing the relationship between the TV series—which he calls the text—and the print and online coverage of the series—which many people call the paratexts.
He is looking at the media coverage of Adam Lambert in order to analyze how these paratexts relate to what is actually shown on television.
Draper points out that while reality TV is generally very welcoming to contestants with non-heterosexual sexualities,American Idol actually went up until 2014 without featuring a contestant who was openly gay onscreen, when MK Nobilette appeared on the show.
Draper tells us that some media scholars commented that sexuality “is one of the only identity markers not plainly exploited [by the show] for its audience potential” (Meizel, 2011, 47). Draper takes issue with this claim that sexuality was not exploited on the show. Does anyone remember what he writes?
Let’s have a very quick intro to Adam Lambert:
Draper writes that Adam Lambert stood out on American Idol for a number of reasons. How was he different than many of the other performers on the series, especially the other male contestants?
Draper comments that while there are many famous male musicians who dye their hair, wear eyeliner and paint their nails, and these have been “a range of predominantly straight male acts, from Alice Cooper and KISS to Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance. In fact, Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz popularized the term guyliner in 2007, creating a space for Lambert to wear make-up on the American Idol stage without it necessarily signaling gayness” (207).
Yet, in spite of the fact that Lambert’s make-up and nail polish was not that unusual amongst famous male musicians, the judges commented on Lambert’s make-up almost every week and “even noted when he did not wear it” (206).
Draper says that “Make-up became so central to the show’s framing of Lambert that Seacrest characterized the finale between Kris Allen and Lambert as “the guy next door versus the guyliner” (206).
Draper also claims that Lambert performed in ways that were sexually charged in ways that were “rarely, if ever, seen on the show.”
You will also see below how Simon Cowell comments that the “downside” to Adam Lambert’s performance is that it skews a bit “Rocky Horror.” What do you think that means?
Rocky Horror: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BuHZ10BWes
American Idol: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVuuDeHDIoU
Importantly, Cowell names this parallel as a “downside” to the performance. To Cowell, for Lambert to skew “Rocky Horror” is a problem.
If you were writing it out, how would you describe Lambert’s reaction?
Draper calls this a moment of camp sensibility. How so?
Ryan Seacrest commented twice on Lambert’s decision to sing a Cher song and Lambert himself acknowledges it is “a risk” though neither say why. How do you understand these comments?
Draper suggests that there is a sense that Lambert is perhaps not quite living up to masculine expectations “as male contestants rarely perform songs by women, much less by women widely known to be icons to many gay men” (206).
Draper asserts that paratexts “inform how people are encouraged to understand media texts” (202). In the case of Adam Lambert, what was deemed to be important about his personal life?
What did Lambert do with this off-screen speculation?
Draper writes that “By refusing to disclose his sexuality one way or another and telling a reporter that the question of his sexuality ‘may be dangling over [your head], but it’s not over mine’ (Vary, 2009), Lambert challenged the in/out binary and remained queerly ambiguous throughout the competition.”
In contrast, Draper writes that the paratexts “discouraged audiences from allowing space for queerness to exist in a text: as Lambert did not publicly disclose his sexual identity during the competition, media coverage worked to resolve his queer ambiguity by insisting that he was gay” (202).
What do you think queerness and queer ambiguity mean in these quotations?
Draper suggests that people who are not clearly one or the other in these binary oppositions (e.g. male / female; masculine / feminine; straight / gay; in / out) are queer or queerly ambiguous.
In Draper’s analysis of the paratexts he contends that “although the show’s framing of Lambert allowed his sexual identity to remain ambiguous, the surrounding discussion in newspaper articles, online episode recaps, magazine features, and so forth […] overwhelmingly encouraged audiences to see aspects of his onstage performances specifically as proof of his offstage gay identity” (207).
Even after “photographs appeared online that featured [Lambert] in drag and kissing another man” […] Lambert refused to comment except to say he had ‘nothing to hide’ (Saltman, 2009)” (207). This was after Lambert was voted into the finals.
With these images further suggesting that Lambert desires men, but without a coming-out story or a denial to talk about, the media paratexts shifted toward asking whether he was gay, often in a rhetorical way. What does Draper mean by rhetorical? Here the New York Times starts their coverage like this:
“As tens of millions of “American Idol” fans tune in to watch Adam Lambert and Kris Allen face off Tuesday evening in the program’s final round of competition, at 8 on Fox, the overhyped media question of the moment is whether the country is ready to hand the crown to an androgynous, seemingly gay 27-year-old fireball from San Diego. Or will his sexual ambiguity (“I know who I am,” Mr. Lambert has replied to questions about his orientation) be an impediment? If Mr. Lambert eventually comes out, the way has been paved by the former contestant Clay Aiken, whose career hasn’t suffered for it.”
How does the NYT suggest that he’s gay without actually saying that he’s gay?
Draper refers to this kind of commentary as having an “open-secret structure:”
“Commentators taking this approach explicitly asserted that they did not know the actual nature of Lambert’s sexual identity, disengenuously premising their stories around his ‘question-mark sexuality’ (Farber, 2009a, p. 4) while treating his gayness as a foregone conclusion” (208).
One example that Draper gives is of an article entitled “Is Adam Lambert Gay? Do the Producers of American Idol Care?” Although the title clearly flags his sexuality as unknown, the article immediately states “that it is ‘not a question of whetherAmerican Idol’s prodigiously talented front-runner Adam Lambert is gay’ because it has become ‘evident that [he] is most likely not a raging heterosexual’” (Engel, 2009).
Similarly, the Huffington Post reaches the conclusion that ‘Lambert is (probably) gay’ (Michaelson, 2009).
In another article from the NYT a different author makes the usual disclaimer that Lambert’s sexuality is ambiguous, and then goes on to claim that his “asymmetrical shag,” “theatrical” and “swivel hipped” performances, and embrace of his “inner Maybelline girl” indicated he had “more than a toe peeking out of the closet” (Trebay, 2009).
This is often called an “open secret.” Everyone knows or thinks they know what is going on, but it can’t be openly and clearly stated.
The NYT (link above) goes on to suggest, “The sexuality angle is a godsend for an aging show that is in desperate need of controversy (whether or not manufactured) as well as flash. Neither of the two Davids (Archuleta and Cook) last year, who were ridiculously posed as prizefighters for their final round, had it. Mr. Lambert does, and his androgyny has a lot to do with it.”
As Draper writes, “media outlets generally found him exciting because he may have been gay” (207)[…] The media insisted Lambert’s gayness mattered not because it was a problem—many stories in fact argued American Idol was overdue for a gay winner—but because voter response to him would act, according to The Washington Post, as ‘a bellwether of America’s changing attitudes toward sexuality’ (Hicklin, 2009, p. B3). In April and May, once it became obvious Lambert might win the competition, speculation increased and more than a dozen headlines asked a variation of ‘Is America Ready for a Gay ‘Idol’?’” (208).
Draper is critical of the ways in which the paratexts closed down the queer ambiguity that actually appeared on the series by “clos[ing] off the possibility that he was anything but gay” (208).
Draper points out that the paratexts that represented Adam Lambert “demanded that he announce his gayness or, as the media overwhelmingly assumed when he did not do so, be seen as closeting himself” (209).
If a person comes out to their friends, but not to their family are they in the closet?
If they are “out” in the university at large, but have not mentioned in this class are they in the closet?
If Lambert is “out” as gay behind-the-scenes, and with his family and friends, then is he in the closet?
Draper highlights the assumption that nonstraight people are expected to declare their sexuality. They are framed as having a secret that they need to reveal, and sometimes it is even suggested that they have a responsibility to reveal their sexuality. What do you think about that idea?
Are heterosexual-identified people seen as having a secret that they need to reveal publicly? Why might that be?
Draper takes issue with the idea that anyone can ever truly be in / out of the closet since every new person and every new context is potentially a new closet that one must come out of.
As Draper writes, Lambert is put in an impossibly contradictory position ‘you can’t be in [the closet], and you can’t be out of it’ (1995, p. 34)” (209).
This expectation that queer people must declare their sexuality publicly is formulaic by now:
Draper is critical of the expectation that nonstraight people have the extra burden of endlessly having to come out or and if they don’t then they are either assumed to be straight or closeted—neither of which are necessarily true. He suggests that perhaps we could do away with the assumption that everyone is straight or pretending to be straight, until they explicitly speak the words, “I’m gay.”
“Given that the media had for months not only assumed that Lambert was gay but also demanded his confirmation, with some outlets even shaming him for not declaring himself gay (e.g., Hilton, 2009; Markovitz, 2009) and others approaching him directly to request that he ‘put to rest all the speculation’ (Vary, 2009), the snide tone with which many responded to his announcement echoes Halperin’s argument that acts of self-disclosure always come ‘both too soon and too late’ […] Many media commentators thus condescendingly covered the news as if they knew the ‘truth’ about Lambert before he made it public” (210).
“ABC cancelled three of Lambert’s subsequent appearances on the network, and CBS blurred photographs of his samesex kiss during its coverage of the controversy. Ultimately, the media[…] insiste[d] that he declare his sexuality, only to mock and punish him once he did” (210).
Draper calls on Eve Sedgwick’s argument that “the space for simply existing as a gay person […] is in fact bayoneted through and through, from both sides, by the vectors of a disclosure at once compulsory and forbidden” (1990, p. 70)” (210).
In closing Draper points out that even after coming out in Rolling Stone magazine, a move that can be seen as restoring the gay / straight binary by locating himself clearly on the “gay” side, “his confession actually queerly disrupted those very notions yet again: ‘I’ve been kind of toying around with the bi thing in my head,’ he said after declaring himself gay on20/20. ‘I wouldn’t ever give myself the label ‘bisexual,’ but bi-curious? Yeah […] maybe it’ll go further someday. I don’t know’” (214). Lambert hints once again at destabilizing straight and gay.
Distribution of final take-home: Remember no class next week, but I will be in my office for my regular office hours and during our regularly scheduled class time if you have any questions about the midterm. If you are not on campus you can call me in my office, 705 474 3450 ex 4889.