TV Eye

Adam Lambert Kissed a Boy

Adam Lambert on the 2009 American Music Awards
Adam Lambert on the 2009 American Music Awards

Don't know who Adam Lambert is? He's an American Idol progeny who performed his sexually suggestive song "For Your Entertainment" on the American Music Awards, televised Nov. 22. During his performance, he kissed a male performer, simulated oral sex (again, with a man), and did other sexually suggestive things. Or, so I hear. I didn't see the show. All my attempts to watch it online are barred by a message saying that due to copyright laws, the video is no longer available. (Thank you, Dick Clark Productions and Sony!) Instead, I get to hear about it incessantly. The more I hear, the more perplexed I get.

While viewers for all awards shows have dropped precipitously, the AMAs had higher than usual ratings (14 million viewers, according to the Nielsen folks). From that number, some 1,500 people called ABC to complain about Lambert's performance, largely due, I suspect, to the influence of the Parents Television Council, a watchdog group that specializes in monitoring prime time and firing up the troops to express its outrage at what is deemed offensive material. From all indications, by the time Lambert's performance took place at the end of the show, it was past the designated "family viewing time." So the PTC isn't spending much time watching TV elsewhere, it seems. Has it bothered to check out daytime soap operas? The few times I've happened across them, there's some pretty steamy stuff happening – at least, between men and women. The same is true of prime time, as Alessandra Stanley pointed out in The New York Times shortly after the Lambert performance, when she reported that "early this season Courteney Cox's character on the ABC sitcom Cougar Town was coyly depicted performing oral sex on a younger man."

In the subsequent tizzy following his performance, Lambert declared that there's a double standard when it comes to depictions of same-sex sex. He's right. When Madonna, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera shared a girl-on-girl kiss on the MTV Video Music Awards in 2003, the uproar consisted more of giggling titillation than the kind of disgust directed at Lambert. Granted, the VMAs aired on cable. The PTC limits its purview to broadcast TV, apparently believing that impressionable young people don't know how to use a remote control.

In the midst of all this hand-wringing, I have to say I am pleasantly surprised that the PTC has not gone after one of my favorite depictions of gay male affection on prime-time TV, the married couple Kevin and Scotty (played by Matthew Rhys and Luke Macfarlane) on Brothers & Sisters (also on ABC). As far as prime-time depictions of gay couples go, it is refreshingly ... ordinary. Kevin and Scotty work, they plan, they argue, and they (gasp!) kiss – sometimes quite ardently. While I appreciate the gay couple over on Modern Family (again, also on ABC), they are void of any sexual energy. I have seen every episode of that hilarious comedy, and I've never seen Mitchell and Cameron (Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet) exchange so much as a peck on the cheek.

In the aftermath of Lambert's performance, some pundits lamented that it was the raw aggressiveness of the depiction that was so troubling. If so, that only makes the next move by ABC that much more perplexing. The Monday after the AMAs, Lambert was "uninvited" from appearing on the ABC chat show Good Morning America. His "unpredictability" in a live setting was cited as the cause. The network followed up his cancellation by announcing it had booked a live performance by Chris Brown, the singer convicted of beating up his girlfriend, Rihanna. Okay, now I get it: Aggressiveness is okay as long as a woman's body is a punching bag. For a group that is intent on monitoring poor messages on TV, the fact that the PTC made nary a peep about that turn of events is head-shaking. (In the wake of protests from gay and women's rights advocates, Good Morning America eventually canceled Chris Brown's appearance, too; he'll appear in a 20/20 interview with Robin Roberts Friday.)

So here's an idea: If the PTC or parents or anyone else is offended by what they see, read, or hear, why don't they stop consuming the offensive material and turn their attention elsewhere? I can pretty much guarantee that, in the end, all the brouhaha the PTC launched over Lambert is not going to hurt him as much as it would like to think.

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Adam Lambert, Parents Television Council, Good Morning America, Chris Brown, American Music Awards, Brothers & Sisters, Modern Family

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