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Adam Lambert, Gangsta Rap, and the Peggy Noonan Problem

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In her WSJ column dated December 18, 2009, Peggy Noonan suggests that recent polls indicating 55% of Americans think we are on the wrong track are not just about the economy and politics but rather, "Americans are worried about the core and character of the American nation, and about our culture." This is not so surprising. Hell, I just watched a marathon of Jersey Shore, I'm worried about American culture too--petrified, actually. Unfortunately, the title and thesis of Peggy Noonan's column, which reaches millions, was The Adam Lambert Problem.

Peggy Noonan and many people like her who breathe in the rarified air of conservatism have no conflict castigating Adam Lambert for his mediocre performance on a primetime awards show while denying tax-paying gay and lesbians civil rights. Just the same, conservatives have no problem reconciling laissez fare economics with the reality of growing poverty in this country (--oh well, there will always be the poor). And it's not surprising the Republican National Conservative Caucus lists free enterprise, free markets, and limited government as values that are what is best for America even as we are now certain the end of the Glass-Steagal Act is directly responsible for the current economic crisis that has cost millions of Americans their jobs and homes. Yet, only when it comes to offending the conservative sensibility and confusing kids, is the the country in jeopardy.

The Pharisaism might be easier to dismiss if conservatives were confined to boardrooms and pages of Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal. Sadly, there are plenty of blue-collar workers and middle-management to fill the trenches of the Right. America is real special that way. Only in a country that has made blowing smoke a national talent, would unemployed people uphold a philosophy of unbridled capitalism and dupe themselves out of healthcare to preserve it (see: Tea Party).

But I digress. It's not that Peggy Noonan is entirely wrong, it's just the tone of her column and the tenor of the conservative argument is one of highfalutin indignity as if they own the country and the rest of us are just passing through. I don't think so. Speaking of New York as this liberal sect that "controls our culture" sounds a bit paranoid. There are gay people in the Midwest, people who are into BDSM in the South and conservatives in New York City. There is no them, just US. Sure, we don't need to see Adam Lambert simulate a blow job (especially from a girl) or faux BDSM (so early '90s), but America does need to see more same sex kisses. It needs to see same sex families, same sex love and commitment. Because that seems to be what truly pushes the envelope for Americans, especially when we head to the polls.

Adam Lambert's performance on the AMAs was something akin to gangsta rap. Alas when positive images (Ellen Degeneres) and political means (Marriage Equality) approach exhaustion, it's as if the victim turns on himself and relinquishes to the stereotype -- projecting it out to the world for all to feed on and, quite frankly, to offend in an all out rebellion.

Some would argue gangsta rappers were simply reflecting what they saw on the streets of their neighborhoods and perhaps it's up to someone else to dissect and fix what they were reflecting. Unfortunately, the academics who did the dissecting and analysis didn't have the reach of the gangsta rapper. So the insight was slow in making it to the hood, and therefore no match for nihilism in stereo.

The pervasive effect of gangsta rap on urban communities cannot be denied. Drug slinging was heralded and violence in ghettos of South Central and across the country broke records and prison populations swelled, making the real winners the prison industrial complex who make millions off of young black, brown and poor white men dying in the streets. How's that for the free market?

Adam Lambert needs to take notes from gangsta rap. There is most definitely money to be made, albeit for a limited period of time, in performing the stereotype. But this comes at what cost to the artist and the community they represent, however reluctantly?

This is what Peggy Noonan misses. Peggy Noonan and the demographic of America she represents and speaks to fail to see the real downside of Adam Lambert's performance and more importantly, their part in creating these celebrity monsters that seek to "corrupt and confuse the youth." When a certain segment of the population who has a habit of appointing itself the moral authority of America, denies gay people the right to privacy and complete exercise of civil rights, it very clearly tells young gay people that their love is a perversion and not acceptable -- a hateful rejection that gets internalized. And just as denial of the lack of education equality and economic viability in urban ghettos created a counter culture in the '80s, which defined popular culture for better and worse, so the rejection of homosexuals will define the next decade or so, for better or worse.

When we as a culture ignore a people trying to be heard and understood, what rises from that are first artists then demagogues who, through desperate measures, are heard and understood. Gangsta rap didn't take Firestone and Ford out of South Central in the '60s. Hip-Hop didn't allow the schools in America to deteriorate to neorealist conditions. Madonna didn't create the patriarchal line in sexuality that sublimated female desire. And Adam Lambert isn't denying gay and lesbians their humanity (while taking their taxes). These are the wrongs of the Peggy Noonans and the rest of conservative America. These are the wrongs that put American culture on the wrong track. And frankly, these are the wrongs that are far more dangerous than Adam Lambert's garish performance.