Ridiculous remarks spilling from the mouths of X-factor contestants is nothing new, so I was hardly shocked to hear that last year’s winner, James Arthur, offended the gay community this week by referring to an underground rapper, in a rap battle, as a “f*cking queer”.

Along with most, my initial lack of surprise was soon replaced by irritation at James Arthur’s ignorance and his homophobic comments. There is always more to the story, however, and I was compelled to read Arthur’s tweets to see what other contentious things he might be saying. But upon doing so, my irritation was soon jolted by a far softer sentiment: pity.

The pressures of fame

As laymen, it is easy for us to overlook the fact that being thrust into the public eye is a cruel cross to bear. The pressures of shooting to fame can only be understood by the relatively limited number of individuals who have gone through the same thing. And yet, from the resentful perspective of the rest of us, these people have been handed everything on a plate.

Before straight-to-stardom reality TV shows came along, the road to fame was a gradual one. It allowed travellers to gradually acclimatise to the changing conditions. This may have been a gentler route for the stars themselves, but not a quick buck for record producers, like Simon Cowell, who soon discovered that they could sell greater quantities of records much more quickly if they engineered a machine that creates fame overnight.

In case it’s not obvious, the machine I’m referring to is shows like the X-Factor. In the end, it doesn’t matter who wins the ‘competition’. It’s simple; those who are popular will make money and be signed, those who aren’t, won’t. While some contestants cope with the atmospheric adjustment far better than others, the real winners will always be the record labels.

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If in doubt, shout louder

James Arthur is a man wracked by insecurity. Many of his interactions on Twitter are retweets from fawning fans, shouting about how much they love him. In equal measure, he rises to small jeers from ‘haters’, biting back in self-defense where he would be better advised to grow a thick skin and leave well enough alone. In both cases, he is trying to affirm his self-confidence to the outside world, but his actions have quite the opposite effect.

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Even Arthur’s apology for his comments reeked of doubt, as he used it to further slam the rapper Micky Worthless: “I just have to say I’m extremely disappointed in myself for being so naive with the diss track I made for an unknown rapper recently.” This is in equal parts an apology and a vehicle with which to affirm the ‘unknown’-ness of Worthless. And no doubt, mixing the two will spark more outrage, but it shouldn’t. It should spark sympathy.

Though Arthur is obviously trying to fix his mistake, his lack of enlightenment comes through so clearly that I cannot help but pity him. Rather cringeworthily, he says: “…Rylan (Clark) is one of my best mates and he is as gay as they come!”
Ouch. This is obviously well-intended, and yet, it misses the mark so catastrophically that it only demonstrates further Arthur’s narrow-minded view of what it means to be gay. And is this his fault? In part, yes I suppose it is. But not entirely.
James Arthur’s comments are ridiculous and ill-judged, no question, but we should not be too quick to shame him for it… his comments point, broadly, to a poor understanding of what it means to be gay in the 21st century. More directly, it points to a man lacking support from his management. This is not demonstrative of somebody enjoying his success, but someone buckling under the weight of it.
Ill-equipped to cope
As with many reality TV stars (Susan Boyle being the most obvious example) Arthur is just one in a long line of vulnerable individuals succumbing to the temptations of fame thrust upon them by greedy record labels who promise a shortcut to success. But like many others, Arthur also lacks the inherent tools necessary to cope with this new, upside-down lifestyle. It is very easy for us to recline into our sofas and say “Bad man; homophobic James Arthur.” But let’s face it; he made a mistake, and if we weren’t all looking at him, nobody would have noticed it.
The real ones to watch here are those behind the scenes; those raking in the cash, with none of the public fall-out. Do they give their James Arthurs and their SuBos effective media training? Clearly not. In this case particularly, Arthur is drowning in insecurities. And his record label is not only allowing it, but encouraging it.
Indulge me in a quick dissection. Syco Music (the label to which Arthur is signed, and Simon Cowell’s cash cow) has allowed him to tweet on his own behalf, clearly without enforcing any sort of social media guidelines. They then let him rise to the bait of many ‘haters’, like Worthless, with contentious, homophobic remarks. Finally, they permit him to release a poorly worded apology, sparking further outrage, and only once all this is done do they withdraw his Twitter privileges, like a naughty child. Bad James.
But is all of this oversight or intention? It’s almost as though Syco Music are deliberately allowing Arthur to dig himself into a hole. After all, no PR is bad PR, right?
Don’t be too quick to bite
James Arthur’s ignorance seems to stem from a lack of common sense, this is obvious. But it is not cause for outrage; it simply highlights that, as a community, gay people still have a lot of work to do. While indignation is the knee-jerk reaction, instead we should be inspired to educate the ignorant.
Rather than wasting energy on the benign idiocy of reality TV show contestants who don’t know any better, we should perhaps be more mindful, and reserve it for the real acts of injustice out there. I’m talking about right-wing policies in government, homophobic attacks on gays in Russia or money-hungry record producers; those who exploit vulnerable individuals, laughing all the way to the bank while the rest of us, blind to their wealth, react too quickly and tear their helpless scapegoats to shreds.
About the author: Will Hillier
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