cross posted from my Media Justice Column
Last year I wrote about how American Idol represents working class White communities in ways that we often do not always see. I appreciated some of these representations yet recognized the complexities and layers of how such representations harm and help us all.
While watching the new season of American Idol Wednesday night there was a trend that was rather disturbing to me: Steven Tyler hitting on young contestants. I want to be clear; I’m not as uncomfortable with him hitting on the young women who are over 18 years old, because at that point they are adults. What I am uncomfortable with is his comments to young women who are under 18, some as young as 15 and 16 years old.
Now, the comments are quite obvious, and if you watched like I did last night, you know what I am talking about. He made comments about the length of the skirt of one 16 year old young woman from the south who they chose to give a “golden ticket” so she could go to Hollywood. His comment to her was (and I’m paraphrasing) “wow, that skirt is covering just enough.” The young woman responds by saying she wanted to “appeal to the boys but still wanted to be a lady.” He made comments about the way almost all the young women looked, saying as he shared his decision that they were pretty, beautiful, cute prior to sharing what he thought about their voice and talent.
I want to be clear again: I know that in this “business” appearance does play a huge role. It is possible to mentor young entertainers to understand the difference between performance attire and when someone is using their power over you to make comments about your body and dress. I find Steven Tyler to be doing the latter.
What are most troubling are his co-judges: Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson. Neither of them have anything to say about his commentary, often inappropriate and borderline harassment. Dare I wonder if Paula were on she would perhaps pick up on these comments and speak out? Perhaps not, we’ll not really ever know, but right now I’m not impressed with the laughter JLo and Randy are offering to Tyler’s comments. I’m also not comfortable with them using their power over young people to perpetuate such comments on national television, a “family show” even. The one television show we know many youth watch simply from the numbers of votes.
I can’t help but see a connection to what Tyler is doing and what Regis Philbin did to Nicki Minaj when she was on the Regis & Kelly show a few months ago. Kelly did nothing while Regis groped Nicki. My homegirl Jaz wrote a great article dissecting all of the complexities and problems with this interaction.
Finally, it’s not so much only Tyler who is doing some inappropriate things. There are the young women, mostly who I read as over 18 years, who are attempting to appeal to Tyler as a rock star. They are assuming that because he is a rock star he will be attracted to them (and possibly have (unprotected) sex with them?) he will then agree to move them to the next level. The young women are not completely off target considering most of the young women who were moved forward were ones who Tyler found attractive in some way.
As we watch the rest of the episodes for this season, let’s hope I’m wrong and that this was just a first episode type of deal. If not, well, we are going to have a lot of material to start conversations on regarding sexual harassment, inappropriate comments, violence, sexualization, and power.