Giving David the “Edge” He Needs
Celebrity is a tricky thing, and certain images can make or break a star. The wholesome Olympic hero image of Michael Phelps, for example, might take a hit when he’s caught smoking pot, but the bad boy image of an Eminem or a Kid Rock would not take the same hit if caught doing similar acts. It’s all about the public image, and I think the initial panic many of us immediately felt when the story of Jeff Archuleta’s arrest in a prostitution ring made news was that such a sleazy story would tarnish David’s image. Surely, most of us felt, this would have a negative impact on his undeniably wholesome image and “squeaky clean” goodness.
Having combed through many different conversations online and various news reports, I can now breathe a sigh of relief and say this has not happened at all. In fact, we could even argue that, thanks to the “bad boy” image David’s father already received during American Idol with the “Stage Dad from Hell” stories that made tabloid headlines, most are treating this latest scandal as yet another cross that David must bear as the good son of an obviously Problem Dad. Ain’t that something? There is actually something in the world of celebrity called a “problem parent.”
The worst I’ve seen with regards to this story are those inevitable speculations in which some would question David’s goodness as some kind of “cover up” or “psychological disorder,” for surely, the thinking goes, there is something not quite right with a sunny disposition and an ever present smile if one has to grow up under the rule of such a flawed individual as Jeff Archuleta. Regardless of the rumors or the police reports or whether or not one wants to make excuses or dismiss Jeff’s guilt in this sordid story, what is definitely emerging – with regards to a public image and reputation – is an image of an angelic son and a misbehaving dad. And in this kind of storyline, David is bound to be the sympathetic character, the long suffering martyr who must bear this millstone around his neck, the heroic artist whose “bane to his existence” that is his father provides useful material to feed his art. Or, in the crass words of the anti-Idol site, Vote for the Worst, Jeff is “the gift that keeps on giving.”
Prior to the days of President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, such scandals might indeed tarnish the wholesome image of someone like David. But, we are definitely living in a new era when people expect there to be something wrong with a public figure if the image seems too perfect. David Archuleta, as a cleancut, nice, genuine, sincere, polite, and sweet boy was just too much for some folks. Remember when David appeared at the Z100 station for the world premiere of “Crush” and one of the female DJs complained that he was too “squeaky clean” and needed him to be “sullied”? Well, for every fan like myself and others who love David just the way he is, there are those who can’t take this image at face value. They need that image to be “sullied.” I cannot count the number of times when I read someone complaining that David is “too Disney” or “too clean” or “too innocent” or “too young.” I cannot count the number of times one of my peers wouldn’t give one of David’s more angsty tunes the time of day because, so the thinking went, what could an 18 year-old who looks like he’s 12 possibly tell them about life?
Obviously, this wholesome image was so dominant in the public view that even his label and management started a marketing campaign to sell him to the “tweens” since it was imagined this was the only market that would ever take David seriously, completely dismissing all the angst and the soul and the melancholy that could be heard in The Voice. One of the most dismissive comments I’ve read from a non-fan said something to the effect of how David was “as edgy as a circle.” Translation: without an “edge” David didn’t have what it takes to be a genuine pop star.
What can I say? If Jeff really is “the gift that keeps on giving,” then, finally, FINALLY, he has given David the “edginess” he needs to move from Disneyfication to the hard core reality of flawed humanity and family dysfunctions. Or, what I’d like to suggest is, perhaps this scandal is enough to catapult David into adulthood and maturity where his music and his persona can finally be taken seriously. After all, who would hear David singing “Desperate” and dare say – in the wake of this scandal – that they can’t imagine David knowing anything about what those lyrics mean?
Indeed, if I were Jive right now, I’d be releasing that song for dramatic arc to this media buzz and rake in the moolah (what a concept – promoting a track from David’s album as a single – GASP!). Or, if this song is much edgier than what we’re used to getting from David, “Somebody Out There” would certainly have the same effect. (Rascal’s video featured here)
At the very least, apart from showcasing David’s stunning vocals and musicality, we would have endless debates that would arise as various publics questioned the “hidden meanings” in the lyrics. Better yet, with the grace and class David exhibits in which he manages to maintain a healthy distance and a comfortable closeness with his fans while coyly keeping up the mystique around his very private life, we will only ever have the projected image of a good and sincere young man immersed in his music and his willingness to share this love with the rest of us. Anyone who knows their theology knows that Christ shines more brightly precisely because he’s struggled against and triumphed against the Devil. Just reading through the gossip and the news, it’s obvious that the darker his surroundings, the brighter David’s light shines.
I would even say, with the perception of Jeff’s bad behavior, if David ever falters, he actually has permission to do so now, but there is also an expectation and acceptance that David is who he is because he chooses to be. The worse Jeff behaves, the better David looks. If it weren’t such a personal tragedy in the life of David’s family, I would even say it would make great comedy, a la Absolutely Fabulous, with its immature and misbehaving parent and responsible child. Mostly, David gets to be “edgy” without himself having to engage in unseemly behavior, especially if he’s got a dad who will do all the misbehaving for him.
All this is to say: I’m no longer worrying about the impact of this scandal on David since it appears he will come out unscathed. How he and his family wish to deal with it is definitely their business, but as far as public image goes, this may end up giving David the edge and maturity he needs to now have his status as a celebrity secured and his music taken seriously.