Trigger Warnings: mentions of queerphobia and racism, mentions of abortion and rape
[Editor’s note: This post is image-heavy, due to screencaps of tweets.]
Last weekend, 1/5 of internationally famous boy band One Direction forgot to think before he tweeted. Following a tweet to Willie Robertson (of “Duck Dynasty” fame, who’s likened homosexuality to bestiality and stated that Black Americans were happier during the Jim Crow era) about supporting his show and “family values”, Liam Payne was called out by fans and media alike.
The tweet reads as an effective endorsement of Robertson’s queerphobia and racism. After the tweet posted, Payne was essentially asked to apologize to the millions of fans he’d hurt with the comment and was asked to clarify by more than one person. Rather than properly apologize, Payne defended himself:
He proceeded to answer some questions (both about and not about the issue), and then he disappeared from the Internet for a while. Hours later, he returned, and went on a massive rant about media misinterpreting what he’d said. During the course of the rant, it became increasingly apparent that the issue with Payne’s tweet was utterly lost on him. He took the opportunity to paint himself as a victim of media hounding and crappy celebrity journalism, rather than utilize his incredible following on the social media site (more than 15 million people) to sincerely apologize for what he’d said — or at least what he’d implied.
Apologies for the intense number of images, but there are several elements at work here that deserve discussion. First, none of these tweets have been deleted in spite of Payne’s comment about his band’s management. Second, calling attention to his own significant privilege does nothing to support his case. In playing the victim and getting defensive about the way the media treated him regarding his tweet to Robertson, Payne proceeded to hurt and alienate even more of his fans. While it should be noted that celebrity journalists and paparazzi do have a bad, bad habit of dragging celebrities’ names through the mud — particularly, given their level of fame, the boys of One Direction — and this rant has probably been a long time coming, it was not an appropriate response to the situation.
Furthermore, Payne “reassuring” his followers that he was only talking about journalists (#lazyjournos) and bloggers doesn’t do much to fix the situation. Given that many of his fans are bloggers, and some are even (gasp!) journalists, both professional and nonprofessional, that distinction doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. In fact, when one such person — Tyler Oakley, YouTuber-turned-reporter (or something) — tweeted about how uncomfortable he was with Payne supporting Robertson’s queerphobic values, Payne told Oakley he clearly wasn’t a real fan.
[Editor’s note: Screencap of Oakley’s tweets found via Google — he’s since deleted most of them, due to multiple death threats from those supporting Payne. Read from the bottom up.]
Of course, Oakley himself isn’t flawless by any stretch of the imagination — he’s been called out more than once for his casual racism and problematic statements. But for Payne to so flippantly disregard Oakley’s totally legitimate concerns only digs a bigger hole. Payne was given multiple opportunities to apologize for the implications of his tweet. Responding to Oakley (or David Levitz, or any number of others who called Payne out) with a heartfelt apology could have turned the whole situation around. Instead, Payne told Oakley he couldn’t possibly be a real fan for feeling conflicted about one of his faves saying something so problematic. The phrasing of the tweet — “nothing about you or whatever” — also implies that Payne either didn’t understand the implications of his supporting Robertson, or didn’t think they mattered because he wasn’t explicitly homophobic. Either way, it’s kind of gross.
What makes the whole thing more embarrassing is that many of Payne’s fans used their own social media presence to try to defend the singer’s actions. As pointed out in the article on Payne’s meltdown at Rediscovering New York, defending or justifying his 11-tweet-long rant only adds fuel to the fire. He said something awful, whether he intended to or not, and he should have simply apologized. That’s the crux of this issue — regardless what Payne meant with his tweet, he reacted terribly to being called out for its implications.
If we continue to allow privileged, cissexual, heterosexual, rich, famous White boys to say problematic things and get away with them by arguing that “they didn’t mean it” or “they don’t know better”, we will only continue to support a culture of ignorance and harm. When Justin Bieber told Rolling Stone that he didn’t believe in abortion and that rape happens for a reason, he was 16 years old. Tons of people argued that because he was 16 years old, he couldn’t possibly understand what he said. Liam Payne is 20 years old. Tons of people are arguing that because he’s “only” 20 years old, he doesn’t understand what he said.
The question is, how old does someone have to be before they’re made to understand and be held accountable for the problematic things they’ve said? It would appear that when it comes to cute, famous White boys, age is just a number. No matter how old, they’ll always be excused by people who refuse to acknowledge the flaws of their faves.