The recent premiere of American Idol has proven to be even more tone deaf than I once thought. Focusing on the controversial kiss Katy Perry stole from contestant Benjamin Glaze, the show received some heat…or should I say publicity…translating to media attention and ratings. The show was the subject of some serious debate about the nonconsensual kiss planted on Benjamin Glaze. But in the world of reality TV, bad publicity is just as good as good publicity right?
While many people feel the entire incident was blown out of proportion and Katy was ‘having some playful fun”, I disagree. I feel that American Idol was completely tone deaf and missed an opportunity to educate viewers about consent – “blurry” or not.
This cringeworthy moment on American Idol was a slap in the face to some of the important dialogues that have been happening around consent. The season premiere not only disregarded the need for consent, but also highlighted the double standards that exist when it comes to “acceptable” sexual behaviour.
Katy Perry took Benjamin Glaze’s admission of having never kissed a girl as an invitation to go ahead and kiss him herself. It began by him being asked to kiss her so he kissed her on the cheek, to which she then mocked him as the kiss “not even making the smooch sound”, and requested he do it again. On the second attempt to kiss him on the cheek, she sneakily turned her head to kiss him on the lips then exclaiming “she got him”. Katy high fives her costars as if she has somehow been victorious.
This incident would be a MUCH different headline if Benjamin Glaze were a female contestant, and Lionel Ritchie or Luke Bryan were the victorious ones. In this case Katy Perry doesn’t lose her job and isn’t publicly shamed for her actions. But yet I can guarantee if one of her male co-stars planted a kiss on an unsuspecting contestant, they would be hauled off the show and asked never to return. Heck, the show likely wouldn’t even air. But instead this incident was used as promotional material for the season premiere.
What message are we sending here?
- A female does this = promote it and air it
- A male does it = fire them and shame them
As a society if we want men and women to take incidents of sexual misconduct, harassment and violence, seriously than we can’t afford to apply double standards in scenarios like this one. This incident and behaviour goes both ways. And while some will label this as a ‘grey area’, it still serves as a reminder that no one, male or female, can/should kiss someone else on television or in real life without their consent.
Now. Let’s talk about the real problem here. The real problem here doesn’t just lie with Katy’s actions and entitlement to his first kiss. In my opinion, the real problem lies with the producers of American Idol who thought this would be good for ratings, TV entertainment, and it’s “family friendly” viewers. It’s concerning that a blind eye can be turned, or behaviour like this labeled as “fun” just for ratings. Katy is responsible for the act, but American Idol is responsible for airing that act (or in my opinion scripting the act but that’s a separate post in itself).
What Katy Perry did, and American Idol approved of, was inappropriate and deserves to be called out as such. She is not a monster, she is not an abuser, she doesn’t deserve to lose her job, but what she did do was inappropriate and it should be acknowledged as such.
Some people have said “oh Vanessa you’re overreacting it’s not a big deal”. But to those people I’ve had this conversation with, I say this:
American Idol is enjoyed by millions; many of those viewers are young adults or teens. When incidents like this one make their way into mainstream TV and are viewed as acceptable, what message are we sending young viewers? We are sending them the wrong message about consent. We are sending them really detrimental messages about double standards for males and females. And we are sending them the wrong messages about normalizing this kind of behaviour.
If we have any hopes of eliminating sexual harassment and violence, than as a culture we must stop these subtle messages of blurry consent and double standards. We need to highlight the importance of consent, not minimize it. Even if it was just a kiss.