Thursday, July 8, 2010

Adam's Scarlet Letter: A Sin Transformed

From NoAngelPF:

A is for Adam.

Simple. Unless the Adam is Lambert, and the A is huge and sparkling in antique script on a top hat. In scarlet. Get it?

Okay, so I didn’t, at first. I blame sensory overload. The night of the concert in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania was an explosion of Purple fringe! Lasers! Acoustic Aftermath! Bare feet and sultry moves and Ring of Fire, omg! And oh yeah, Adam likes to splash his initial around- cool! An “A” on the back of his vest, and his dancers’ costumes, and LP’s drum. In all the glitz and flash at the beginning of the long-anticipated Glam Nation Tour, Adam’s message to us may have been overlooked.

But something finally nudged my mind, and when it hit me, I geeked out, because seriously, I stan Adam for a hundred different reasons, but his clever, creative brain just ~does things to me. So bear with me as I look a little deeper into the symbolism of Adam’s scarlet letter.



For those who haven’t read the novel since forced at exam-point to do so in high school, the abridged/nutshell version of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 classic The Scarlet Letter: Hester Prynne is a young woman sent to colonial Boston by her husband. For years, she waits for him to join her, and when he doesn’t, has an affair with another man. Discovered, she is imprisoned, and once released, is forced to wear a bright red “A” (for adultery) on her dress, marking her as a sinner. She lives quietly on the outskirts of town and over time, she comes to embrace the letter, and even to wear it proudly. She decorates it in gold thread, and refuses to remove it even when given permission to do so. The meaning of the letter itself changes, and many townspeople, who have come to respect Hester, come to believe it stands for “able.”

In the novel, Hester was judged by her community as a sinner and forced to wear a label of her shame. Her offense: she defied the rules and dared to be a sexual being. She could have sunk down under the punishment and let it defeat her. She could have left town and hidden her identity. Instead, she stayed, and through her suffering, she gained insight and wisdom and strength of character. She did not deny who she was or what she had done, and through her quiet courage, turned a label of shame into a badge of honor.

So what does all this have to do with Adam? What was the crime that Adam committed?

He defied the rules and dared to be a sexual being. Gifted with the closing number on the 2009 American Music Awards, he gave an unabashedly sexual performance, sending conservatives into a tailspin and provoking 1500 of them to release their pearls long enough to set righteously trembling fingers to keyboards and write half-coherent letters of outrage to the FCC. Because for some “Americans,” gay is a-okay as long as it’s subtle and asexual, but when it’s “in your face,” the children are evidently at risk.

Adam’s sin was that, right from the beginning, he refused to be neutered. “I’m a sexual person,” he has said unapologetically, and at the AMAs he gave an overtly sexy performance befitting a sexy song. Something that no out gay male had ever done before on national prime-time television. His punishment was swift. Cancelled performances, a media storm, outcry from all sides.

At least Adam had the support of the gay community after the AMAs, right? After all, Aaron Hicklin of Out Magazine had just publicly exhorted Adam to “find [his] own path,” to not be afraid of being “too gay,” and to “not mess this up.” “This” being the pioneering path that Adam was charting as the first major-label recording artist to be out at the beginning of his career. Unfortunately, the gay community was far from unanimously supportive after the AMAs, and it took GLAAD a dishearteningly long time to speak out on his behalf against ABC. Many in the LGBT community fretted that Adam’s over-the-top behavior had set back years of hard-won progress. So apparently the advice to Adam to find his own path actually meant, “tread carefully down this narrow safe road we’ve defined, so you don’t freak out the straights with the idea of gay sex…”

And Adam’s fanbase? As devoted as they are, even some of his most ardent fans wrung their hands in fear over the career implications of the AMA furor. To this day, the performance sparks fierce debate among Adam’s fans, with many proclaiming it a travesty and an anomaly. They are quick to explain that it isn’t “The Kiss” or the simulated oral sex that they object to, but rather they hate that Adam was “threatening,” “angry,” and “uncontrolled” on stage. Never mind that the words (“Can you handle what I'm 'bout to do? Cause it's about to get rough for you…”) suggest that this isn’t a pretty love song. Clearly, many fans are uncomfortable with an Adam that is sexually aggressive, and prefer a softer edge.

In the days following the AMAs, Adam was given many opportunities to apologize for that night. It would have been so easy for him to say, “I’m sorry” or “I shouldn’t have done what I did.” Forgive me, I fucked up, I’ll never do it again, I promise I’ll be good...

Instead, Adam owned what he did on that stage. To one and all he claimed it as his performance, his emotions, and his interpretation of the song. He weathered the backlash and the anger from foes and friends alike with class and dignity. Recently, Adam has spoken of the anxiety and pressure he felt in those days, when he wondered if he had ruined his chances of success. But all we saw back then was his grace under fire as he asked us all to consider ‘what do we want from him?’

Not a question with an easy answer. Naturally, those of us who love Adam and wish him success have many opinions about how he should go about his career. There are those who want OTT Adam- as much flash and glitter as possible; more is more, and screw those who can’t handle it. Others want Adam to tread more lightly- build his fanbase by appealing to a wider audience, and gradually introduce them to his brand of glam without freaking them out. For every person who loves out-and-proud Adam, there is at least one who would rather not have his sexuality “shoved down their throat,” a turn of phrase that makes one wonder about the fantasies these folks spin in the privacy of their own heads.

Consider also the fact that Adam came to national attention through American Idol, and many of his fans are devotees of the show. This is a program that celebrates the Cinderella story, wherein a wide-eyed, talented nobody is plucked from obscurity and gifted with fame and fortune. American Idol watchers like their contestants wholesome and humble and malleable. Smart and opinionated? No thanks. Openly gay and sexual? Not so much. Clay Aiken, anyone?

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote that “no man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude without getting bewildered as to which one may be the true.” This is what Adam means when he speaks of being true to himself and being an “open book.” He could have taken a safer route, either by keeping his sexuality ambiguous until he was well-established in his career, or by airbrushing his gay so as not to offend the fainthearted. But Adam has continued to be unabashedly himself. A man of many facets, Adam has shown us his vulnerability and earnestness when a song calls for it. And when the song and the setting is sexy, Adam brings on the sexy, whether it’s a feverishly hot performance at Rock My Town, or rocking a studded codpiece at Sydney’s Mardi Gras, or trading sensual licks with Tommy on tour.

So what about that “A”? It could stand for the AMAs. For Adam’s sin. For the two-dimensional label that so many were eager to attach to him, and the storyline that people seemed so ready to write: A fallen Idol who failed to live up to the hype and who failed to stay in the safe little box. Nearly every interview and article, to this day, is another opportunity for that scarlet letter to be branded onto Adam yet again. Lest we forget.

Instead, that “A” stands for Adam. “It’s me, I’m a freak…” Adam shows us that he is in charge of his own identity, and thus in control of his destiny. Rather than apologizing for the past or pretending that it didn’t happen, Adam accepts and embraces it as a part of himself. Recognizing that the AMA performance will be attached to him for some time to come, he brings up the reference himself, with a wink and a dash of glitter.

By placing the scarlet “A” front and center on his top hat and wearing it at the beginning of his concert, Adam tells us that he is unashamed of his debut performance, or of his sexuality, or of being a sexual person. The “A” becomes a mark of pride. Adam has walked through the fire and come out stronger than ever. And just as Hester gilded her letter and made it into a sign of her own strength, Adam has taken what some have called his “sin” and through the catalyst of his own character, transformed it into a symbol of honor.

So yes, as it turns out, A is for Adam.

ETA:
On a whim, I tweeted a link of this essay to Aaron Hicklin (editor of Out):

From @NoAngelPF-
@Aaronhicklin Thought you might enjoy this essay about Adam Lambert. Shout-out to you in there! http://tinyurl.com/27h693g
8:10 PM Jul 14th via web

And to my endless surprise, Mr. Hicklin responded:

From @Aaronhicklin-
@NoAngelPF Hey there, nice piece, balanced, thoughtful. Thanks for the heads-up.
about 8 hours ago via web in reply to NoAngelPF

Whatever my opinion of Hicklin, I appreciate that he took the time to read this. I believe in the power of words to effect change.
~NoAngel

52 comments:

  1. OMG this is awesome. Spot on with the explanations of the symbolic "A".

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  2. What a gorgeous piece, NoAngel! A work of art!

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  3. Wow very impressed, right on the money - this was a very interesting and well written essay. Thank you!

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  4. Brilliant.

    It gave me a lump in my throat and I had to reread this just to savor the rightness of it.

    You captured the essence of Adam-- why I love not just his talent or his looks, but the honest and courageous man himself.

    What a wonderful, wonderful insight.

    Thank you for thinking about it so deeply and sharing it with us.

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  5. A+++ (and that would be an A for Adam ...) Btw, take a doctorate in American Lit and Pop Culture Psychology out of petty cash, Gel, because THIS. IS. BRILLIANT!!! You completely nailed it – the subtext, the contradictions, the judgments and ultimately, the quiet defiance that comes only from a profound sense of self-knowledge.

    One of the primary accolades that Adam received on Idol was that "He knew who he was as an artist." Well, he's proven he knows who he is as a person too. He faced a torrent of challenges in November that many people never confront in their lives. He went up against the capricious and conservative gay and straight media and didn't back down, yet didn't combat.

    He stayed on point and calmly conveyed his message. Some fans were rattled, I know, but even if they didn't "get" his performance, they respected his handling of the situation.

    This is one of the infinite reasons I am proud to be his fan.

    A is for Adam, indeed.

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  6. Thank you. This was beautiful and beautifully written.

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  7. Love this! You are a gifted writer. So happy to see this in depth look at the scarlet letter and how it applies to Adam's journey. So effing proud of him and what he has accomplished!

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  8. Rock on, NoAngelPF!!! This essay was beautifully written, and it made even ME shed a tear or two (and you people know how I hate when that happens!). I generally eschew sentimentality for a quick one-liner or extended schtick, but I have to hand it to you.... this rocked.

    This epic road trip is gonna be sooo... EPIC, and there's no people I'd rather share it with than NoAngelPF, SusieFierce, and the entire cast of characters that will be making cameo appearances at each stop along the way....

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  9. Wow, I am so impressed! Adam does have very smart fans. NoAngel, you are a super fan! BRAVO! Standing O from me.

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  10. What a well-composed and beautifully thought out essay. It actually entices me to go to the library and read 'The Scarlet Letter' again; it will mean more this time than it did in high school.

    I look forward to your commentary from the road. It will be another layer of pleasure on what is already a sensory extravaganza; the stanning of Adam Lambert.

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  11. You nailed it here with your beautifully written piece. I loved reading it!

    Lynne

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  12. Fascinating insight, thank you! All the thoughts and ideas that mill around in my brain unchecked and incoherent get pulled together and set out so clearly. Beautifully written.

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  13. Wow, YES!, "A" is for A.F.L.!!!!!!!!! Enjoyed reading that well thought out essay on a pioneer that I think will be remembered in the years to come as a someone who contributed in a significant way to significant change in our society.

    Thank you NoAngel.

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  14. Ahhh, scorpio touched on something that might be worthy of a future essay... we have the scarlet A covered now, but what about that pesky new middle initial we've given him..... "F". Heh heh.....

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  15. BrAvo gel! My eyes started to water just upon seeing the post about this on PF. I saw the title and knew immediately it would be good. And it was! Thank you for expressing so beautifully the essence of A.

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  16. Heavy stuff for 5am, but I definitely don't believe the color of the A is an accident.

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  17. I love this. So well thought out and articulated. What a fine read.

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  18. It's after 3AM here, so I almost didn't read this now, but so glad I did. I'm one who thought Adam should have apologized after AMA. (In my RL, 3 out of 4 people I mention him to wrote him off after AMA and refuse to reconsider. His lack of apology is like salt on a wound to them.) After reading this, I finally understand, for the first time, why he did not apologize. Your comparison to Hester was illuminating and beautiful, and I finally get it. It's 40 yrs since I read the Scarlet Letter, so I remember nothing, but like LindaG23, I want to re-read it now. In the meantime, you explained Hester's and Adam's attitude so compellingly that I can now lay to rest the tiny doubt I felt and embrace Adam's attitude. THANK YOU SO MUCH!

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  19. Adam's intelligence and wit is apparent in the many subtle and not so subtle popular cultural references in his music and costuming. The embellished scarlett A works on many levels and, NoAngel, your essay quite beautifully captures them, and also the courage and strength with which Adam tries to live an authentic life.

    Thank you for a meaningful start to the morning!

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  20. Well thought out and beautifully written. It seems like you 'get it'. Thankyou for sharing.

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  21. Wow brought tears to my eyes, perfectly said! A is for Adam and we love him for what he is and what he stands for!

    Thanks for writing this masterpiece!

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  22. Very insightful and right on, thank you for opening my mind to Adam's ability to make us think. If it hadn't been for your wonderfully thought out & written article on the "A", my thought process would have kept it at "A" for Adam; but I should know better by now!
    Thank you again!

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  23. This article is a beautiful perspective of the "A". It is Adam, and like everything Adam, it brings new meaning into my life. So true to himself and others. Spreading the light. Thank you for the insight!

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  24. Amazingly well written and insightful. I wish everyone who wrote him off after the AMA's could read this. I wish ADAM could read this! Just beautiful. Truth is beauty.

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  25. This has been my favourite novel since I was 15, but it's such a formidable read that pop culture references are few and far between. I'm printing this puppy out AND sending the link to friends.

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  26. I've been wondering when someone was going to notice the symbolic gesture and comment on it. Part of what I love so much about Adam is intelligence and his subtle or not-so-subtle wit. Also,his ability to get his point across without anger and aggression or lashing out, further fanning the flames. Instead of engaging the public nay-sayers, he took responsibility and moved on.

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  27. A lovely piece bb. Thank you for writing it. :)

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  28. A lovely piece bb!!! Thank you for writing it!

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  29. This was so beautifully written! You nailed it perfectly and yes that scarlet A does indeed symbolize what Adam has been therough. He's walking through that ring of fire with more fire and passion than ever and spreading his light and love everywhere that he goes. Thank you so much for writing this beautiful article.

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  30. Well written and thought provoking. Thank you!

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  31. Bravo! Beautifully written and thought provoking work NoAnGel. You've captured the essence of Adam as I see him. You GET him in a way that shows all the positive attributes he owns and you put it in words so well. Thank you for giving me something I can read over and over to remind myself of all the wonderful pieces that make up Adam. I hope Adams reads this and realizes how you appreciate him. "A" is for Adam. Bravo!

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  32. Really fabulous essay and so completely spot-on. Thank you!

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  33. LOVE this piece, posting on FB, will follow you on Twitter from now on,

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  34. This needs to be sent to Adam Lambert- I'm sure he would overwhelmed with the content and intelligence of the writer.

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  35. AAA: An Amazing Article. Loved it.

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  36. Congratulations on a superb analysis. The Scarlet Letter is what popped to mind the moment I saw Adam's hat, but I merely thought "how clever!" and didn't really delve into the idea more deeply. I'm so glad you did! Adam provides so much to work with, and attracts fans who rise to the challenge. It's entertaining, and so much more.

    You would enjoy these essays we posted on the OUT magazine and AMA controversies:

    OUTrage
    http://wp.me/PIqKe-l

    Adam's Got the Devil in his Eyes
    http://wp.me/PIqKe-2o

    Adam hits the Trifecta
    http://wp.me/PIqKe-2L

    Cheers!

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  37. "A" also stands for Aces and that's what you've done here! Plus Hawthorne quotes!!!

    Fabulous!

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  38. I have to keep bringing this to everyone's attention, until this situation is rectified; the ban of ABC on Adam is still in effect. He has not been invited back to perform live on ABC since the AMAs. Miley Cyrus appeared on ABC's GMA, after her copycat kissy performances, which serves to further emphasize the hypocritical and illogical nature of their behavior towards Adam. My own little 'spitting into the wind' ban of ABC also continues. I'm sure they miss me. But we all need to take action wherever and whenever we can. Letters, blog posts, commentaries, whatever we can do to raise awareness of this unequal and unfair treatment by ABC. Personally, I urge you all to stop watching this station, but, it's up to you.

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  39. Lori (@feetchick)July 10, 2010 at 6:02 PM

    WOW!!! What brilliant insight and amazing piece of writing to dissect the intelligence, brains and fierce bravery behind the incredibly diverse and unique Adam Lambert, loved unconditionally by so many. Thank you for this, i am in awe.

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  40. nice one well written and very comprehensive and good elaboration of the topic....nice.certainly A stands for simply ADAM....

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  41. BRAVO! *APPLAUDING* this is why ilhsfm :) Thank u for such an intelligent article. Sometimes, it *is* that deep ;) xx

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  42. This was such a beautiful, well-written essay. By the end of it I was tearing up!! Bravo!

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  43. it is not just Adam that I love (so much!), it is also this ever expanding community of fans, the intelligent ones, who can be witty or write an insightful article like this, as well as those who can only utter OMG and HOT, they all make me feel that "I'm not alone" and that the ripples from Adam's unique brand of humanity are really going far and wide ... and are lifting my heart up with a warm feeling of hope and "connectedness".

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  44. thank you for documenting your thoughts on the scarlet letter, this is for keeps, please don't discard this post, worth reading over and over again and sharing with others who wants to get to know Adam more...thank you again!

    @southpaw2009

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  45. The "A" stands for a number of different things, I think. I agree with the Scarlet Letter allusion, and in my mind it also stands for the Alchemy that Adam does. When you wrote:

    "Adam has taken what some have called his “sin” and through the catalyst of his own character, transformed it into a symbol of honor"

    that's exactly what I mean by Alchemy, the metaphorical transformation of base metal into gold. Great blog!

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  46. Beautiful essay! Thank you NoAngel.

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  47. Thank you so much! I now have a whole new insight and respect for Adam! The letter "A" on Adam's Hat now has so much more meaning than just A for Adam. I didn't really know much about the Scarlet Letter story until your blog. What an amazing story and comparison. I'm not much into reading these days but I read every word of this blog to the end! Fascinating!!! Thanks again!♥

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  48. Outstanding piece of work! I feel honored to have read it! Thank you!

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  49. Yes Adam is Brilliant and knows everything he is doing...and I love that he always makes his point with Class and Dignity, and Genius. He is teaching the world so many wonderful things through his example... just by being "ADAM"
    One thing for sure that Adam teaches through example is "Stop Judging others", "Be Kind", "LOVE", "Unity", "Generosity", "Let go of the Negative", "Exude Positivness"
    "Always Complement"
    Let's all take a trip and fall into his Glitter so all we feel is LOVE!!

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  50. Thank you for your brilliant essay. I am proudly wearing the Scarlet Letter to the Glam Nation Concert this summer. It means so many things to me. It's my own initial, Adam's initial, and a symbol of of my refusal to be shamed for loving him. But you are right-AFL transformed it from a symbol of shame to a badge of honor. And I'm adopting his symbol as my badge of honor.
    Rock on, Adam!

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  51. Just Wow! I really never thought about the Scarlet Letter till I read this, and by the way, totally brilliant! I am sending this to a friend who loved Adam on AO, but not after AMAs!
    Adam is so brave and fierce and fearless! Gotta to love him even more now. He is such a true gem and shines like no other.

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  52. This is fantastic read. Have you posted this in AO`?

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