You may have heard that last night, Blake Shelton, country star and mentor on NBC’s The Voice, tweeted that he was going to rewrite the lyrics to “Any Man of Mine,” an early hit by Shania Twain.
He wrote: “Re-writing my fav Shania Twain song. Any man that tries Touching my behind He’s gonna be a beaten, bleedin’, heaving kind of guy…”
Um… ha?Â Understandably, many people were pissed by the apparent homophobia in these remarks, since they suggest it’s funny to beat the shit out of a man who makes an unwanted pass at another man. GLAAD called for Shelton to apologize. I tweeted about it (a lot), and one of my tweets was quoted by the gay news website Queerty.
And then this afternoon, Blake Shelton started defending himself on Twitter.
His first response was this: “Ba! Ha! Reading all my anti-gay hate tweets…. Ha! Ha! If people only knew even a little about me, my family and friends. Dumb asses…”
Then he said this: “It honestly wasn’t even meant that way… I now know that their are people out there waiting to jump at everything I say on here or anywhere”
Then this: “But when it comes to gay/lesbian rights or just feelings… I love everybody. So go look for a real villain and leave me out of it!!!”
And then this: “@glaad hey I want my fans and @nbcthevoice fans to know that anti-gay and lesbian violence is unacceptable!!!!! Help me!!!!”
This is a predictable cycle: Celebrity writes something foolish in an online forum. People get mad. Celebrity reacts defensively, blames the people who are upset for being too sensitive, and says if we only knew him or her, then we’d understand how silly we were. Then someone powerful gets to celebrity, which results in a more specific apology.
Normally, I can tune this stuff out, but Shelton’s fuck-up has bothered me more than most. Until this happened, he struck me as a cool, nice guy who made good songs and wasn’t worried about people being themselves. But the truth is, I don’t actually know him. So how I was supposed to react when he wrote something so mean-spirited and stupid, especially when he made an anti-gay joke about Jake Gyllenhaal just a few weeks ago? How was I supposed to know he didn’t really mean it, and that he totally loves gay people and puppies? His defense is worthless, really, because celebrities should be aware that their 200,000 Twitter followers don’t actually know them, which means their comments need to be clear. They need to be conscious of the ramifications of everything they send into the public sphere. And if they fuck-up, then they need to own it.
And from another perspective, how can I trust Shelton’s “I love you” stance or his eventual apology? The sad truth is that because everything in the public sphere is so mediated, mean-spirited comments are easier to accept as “truth” because it’s hard to imagine a publicist or manager green-lighting a mean-spirited comment. Meanwhile, a “sincere” apology that follows (1) nastiness and (2) a defensive, spiteful apology is only going to seem forced.
I understand that Blake Shelton is just a person and that he’s capable of making mistakes and feeling bad about them, just like anyone else. I also understand that Twitter makes it easy to fire off the first thing that comes to mind, which means angry, defensive reactions can leap out before we’ve had time to calm down and think about what we really mean. But the warping power of celebrity complicates the issue, you know?
And for me, this issue is further complicated because Shelton always does seem so cool. A homophobic joke from the cool-seeming straight guy hurts even more, especially when it doesn’t seem intended as a pointed attack.
I mean, I don’t think Shelton sat down and thought, “Let me be homophobic.” I think he was just sharing a little joke he came up with, and he didn’t realize that what he was saying was homophobic. At least, I hope that’s what it was. But if I’m right, then that’s really disappointing. The cool guys are supposed to know better.
I don’t know… I hope this all works out for the best and Blake Shelton proves himself to be open-minded and awesome. But for now, his reactions are making me sad.
What are your thoughts? This has been a fairly stream-of-consciousness response, and I’d love your help in working out these issues.
NOTE: As some commenters point out below, I overlooked a few other tweets from Shelton that seem to recontextualize the first, offensive tweet. Read on in the comments as the discussion unfolds.