It starts innocently enough. Cruising through Twitter while eating my lunch I see a link to something Kelly Clarkson wrote about Clive Davis, who I guess has a new book out about his life and career. Clarkson’s upset with how Davis portrayed her and her music. Since it’s lunch time and like many who have worked in the gutters of the entertainment and music businesses, I want to read more about the clay feet of golden gods. It’s not a particularly good desire, but I’m entering “Clive Davis” into the Google search field anyway, knowing the recent news would pop up to the top.
SEO lands me at three to new stories for Clive Davis, one from the New York Daily News “Jamie Foxx, Clive Davis and Kelly Clarkson pose for a red carpet shot” (pass), Daily Beast “Clive Davis Tells All” (pass), “Kelly Clarkson says Clive Davis bullied her” USA Today (bingo).
Instead of details, there was a line about how Davis had a new memoir out and Clarkson’s reaction, which does not paint the legendary producer in a flattering light. Makes him look like a mean old man stomping on a young singer-songwriter. 259 words of rehash and Clarkson’s quotes.
And this from the author Donna Freydkin to finish the piece:
So there you go. Oh and by the way, he’s bisexual.
248 words of how Clive Davis looks like a jerk and then throwing in a, “by the way, he’s a bisexual.”
How is that acceptable? In the framework of the piece that was written, the implication is that Clive Davis is a jerk and a bisexual, and maybe he reason he’s a jerk is because of his sexual identification.
Let’s try an exercise.
So there you go. Oh and by the way, he’s straight.
So there you go. Oh and by the way, he’s gay.
So there you go. Oh and by the way, he’s Jewish.
So there you go. Oh and by the way, he’s American.
So there you go. Oh and by the way, he’s a New Yorker.
Maybe the last one works, but only if you’re writing jokes for Carson in the 1970s.
The article doesn’t mention that Davis recently came out about his sexual preference on a morning talk show, which may be one (tenuous) reason to bring it up in a news article about his relationship with Clarkson, it just throws the information out cold like we’re all in on the joke. But that’s the thing, we’re not, mostly because it’s not funny and secondly because there was no set up to end the article with the line. Instead it’s offensive and it’s irrelevant to everything that came in the piece before it.
Listen, I know being an entertainment writer is a tough beat. USA Today is the middle of huge overhaul, adding blog style pieces and reporting with just enough of an edge to the voice not to be confused with the pie charts and large colored balls they put on their online articles. It’s hard to write for a large outlet that wants the fringe outlook and the mainstream success of 2007 Defamer without crossing any sort of line into tastelessness, a nearly impossible task if someone does not have deftness of skill to pull off snark. So instead crafting a good joke — one that might even be relevant to Davis and Clarkson! — the, “Oh and by the way, he’s bisexual” is a cheap way to attempt a laugh while seemingly skirting the boundaries of the taboo, failing both human courtesy and comedy writing.
Snark is a loaded gun and if you’re going to pull the trigger on a line like, “Oh and by the way, he’s bisexual” you have to realize you’re shooting yourself in the process.