Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Confounding Story of Elton and Rush--Tuesday Journal

When I heard that gay icon Elton John entertained at homophobe Rush Limbaugh's recent wedding (his fourth), I had to check on-line news sources to make sure it wasn't a hoax.  In fact, I learned that it was true.  What's more, Elton earned a million bucks for singing at the wedding of a man whose scathing public rejection of gays and gay rights makes him reprehensible in the eyes of many.

A lot of the articles I found asked "Why"?  Why would Elton John agree to appear before such a hostile right-wing crowd?  Why would he agree to work for someone who obviously regards people like him with contempt?  Surely, he didn't need the money, did he?  Didn't he realize how this would seem, at first glance, like a sellout?  Why was nothing reported until after the fact? (No doubt to prevent the potential for protesters outside of the venues.) 

What no one seemed to ask was why Limbaugh would hire such a high-profile, openly gay performer given Limbaughg's own public record of ignorance about gay issues.  (Could that rascal Limbaugh be attempting to establish some liberal credential in an eventual run for political office?  Is he that cynical?)

It then occurred to me that Elton John's sexuality made no difference in his ability to successfully entertain a festive crowd; it just surprised me that Limbaugh would so casually draw the same conclusion.  Maybe we are arriving at a more ideal world after all...  Had Limbaugh, in his characteristic reactionary ignorance, stated that he refused to hire Elton John, or any gay performer, simply because they were gay---now THAT would have justified controversy.

It began to feel, in truth, like a world devoid of Don't Ask Don't Tell.  Those of us who support the repeal of this law argue that one's sexuality has nothing to do with one's ability to apply one's talents to do a job.  And if gay military personnel do not reject an entire career with an openly homophobic organization, why would we expect Elton John to do so for one lucrative gig?

Then why am I still uneasy, feeling betrayed, even?

First, for years gay people have seen Elton John become a true ally.  From his flamboyance to his philanthropy, we felt Elton was a powerful champion of our experience.  This aura of support was brought to fruition recently with his sensitive and sensational work in "Billy Elliot".  So, maybe he is, after all, merely a reluctant representative of gay people's aspirations, but he is nevertheless an icon of the gay community, with whose support he has fashioned a huge career.

And second, for many years gay people and their lives have been degraded by the commentary of Limbaugh.  He vindicates the hate of dangerous people, so that he cannot be held innocent of a general atmosphere of homophobia and violence that persists among the unshakably ignorant.

So this unlikely pairing, pundit and entertainer, while ideally a good thing, seems to be exploitative and condescending in ways that I have attempted to briefly uncover here. 

I wonder if Limbaugh, who embraces Don't Ask Don't Tell, realizes the irony of his hiring Elton John, with no questions asked?  How could he not?   Could Limbaugh's self-styled homophobia merely be a desperate and sardonic public persona that nevertheless motivates his followers to hate?

As for Elton John, he may have no personal stake in the silly political polarization of the U.S.  Still, would he, the champion of the Billy Elliots of the world and their downtrodden and ultimately accepting families--would Elton John have just as easily accepted that same million dollars to perform at a personal reception for Margaret Thatcher?

Time will reveal whether there is a satisfying explanation to this occurrence, or if we will forever second-guess the motives of this uncomfortable duo and their ideologies.


  1. It's definitely a head-scratcher...

  2. I understand what your saying but I find Limbaugh such a reprehensible and disgusting human being I can't see straight. (no pun intended)
    I think Elton is a real asshole for doing this and will never think of him the same.

  3. You make some great points, Tom. Is it right to dismiss a person because of their beliefs or should you do business with them regardless and leave them their right to disagree with you?

    It seems that Elton and Rush both decided to go with the latter.

    Although it seems immediately obvious to many that Elton John should have declined the offer, the message that would have sent is that being prejudiced is okay. Also, what right does anyone have to tell someone how to make a living? I'm sure followers of Rush are similarly curious about his decision to hire Elton to perform. Great post, Tom!