Sunday, June 19, 2016

Ranting On...Darren Criss' Silence on Orlando

I am not what you would call a casual fan of Darren Criss.  Frequently through the years I have basically worshiped the guy.  I started doing recaps of Glee just because of him.  I bought tickets to his concert when he finally toured, have his EP on loop on my phone, have his picture on my phone case, and have repeatedly championed him on my blog, including the most successful post I ever wrote.  He is even referenced on the side of my blog and my Twitter...until today.  After what happened in Orlando, I just can't get behind Criss in the same way I used to, I can't champion someone who forgets where his career started so quickly.

For those who don't know what I'm talking about, you might not know that there are a number of celebrities who got in hot water after the shootings in Orlando.  In particular, Taylor Swift and Rihanna were lambasted for not taking the time to tweet any sort of sympathy or support for the victims of the Orlando shooting (it should be noted that on Friday Swift broke her silence, likely because she was the celebrity most loathed on Twitter for not speaking up about the shootings).  However, a number of gay fans (particularly gay men) were watching Darren Criss' account and noticed that Criss didn't say a word about the Orlando shootings on either Twitter or Instagram.  It's worth noting that Criss did have time to tweet about the Tony Awards, getting locked out of his house, and do a sponsored post on Instagram, but couldn't bother talking about the attacks in Orlando.

You may be thinking-isn't this a little bit overreacting John?  After all, he's just a celebrity, what could his support or showing up on social media mean to anyone?  Well, in my opinion it could mean a lot.  People look up to celebrities, particularly younger people, to champion different causes that are important to them, and up until this past week Criss had long been a champion of LGBT rights.  His voice was one that gave rise to the Trevor Project gaining more national stature, and his portrayal of Blaine on Glee was a really positive step forward for a number of young people trying to find themselves in media, as so often gay kids are ignored or have little depth when they are shown in major television series.  Criss has made LGBT roles a critical component of his career, playing both Blaine as well as Hedwig on Broadway.  Not voicing support during the largest attack in history on LGBT Americans feels like a miss.

In fact, quite frankly, it feels like he was trying to cash in on his gay fandom only when he had something that he thought was marketable to the LGBT community.  That may sound harsh, but nearly every single celebrity advocate who is famously pro-LGBT (save Swift up-top, whom it should be noted didn't tweet anything for over a month and has been going through a high-profile breakup so I'm cutting her some slack here since her first tweet after the silence was about Orlando) aside from Criss found time to tweet and make their voices heard this week as important conversations about LGBT rights and general unrest in the world of queer people who were clinging to their social media for a sense of community needed strong voices of support.  Stars like Lin-Manuel Miranda and Frank Langella even gave up portions of their Tony Awards speeches to devote comments to the Orlando shootings.  Not tweeting or being part of that conversation, but instead acting like it didn't happen (which is what tweeting only self-promotion and anecdotes does) feels pretty disingenuous to past actions.

After all, the attacks in Orlando have had a profound effect on the LGBT community that will be remembered by us long after the news media has moved on to another story.  I remember Matthew Shepard and his murder being one of the first things on my mind as I deliberated whether to come out of the closet, wondering if that was about to be my fate.  A generation of younger gay people, many of whom look up to Criss for his portrayal of Blaine, were looking to their hero for reassurance and he missed that opportunity.  I am not going to call Criss homophobic as that seems hardly true and a bit bombastic, but I do feel a bit betrayed, like he only used gay people to gain exposure and fame, and once he had that dismissed them for more self-promotion and money.  That's a tough thing to say about someone I admired so much for his talent and ability prior to this past eight days, but it feels like the truth absent some other evidence.  Will I ever go back to being a fan?  Maybe-time heals wounds, and I admired him as an actor/singer as much as I did as simply being a personal fan, but I will admit that I don't think the love will ever be as strong.  It's important to be there when your fans are hurting, and Darren Criss wasn't.  And I don't think that gets forgiven.

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