The fact that Sam Smith didn’t know his gay history is an issue of privilege.
You only need to review Sam Smith’s ham-fisted speech at the Oscars to see what being oblivious to history will do to you. Here’s what Smith said upon winning the Best Original Song Oscar for co-composing The Writing’s On The Wall from the latest James Bond movie:
I read an article a few months ago by Sir Ian McKellen and he said that no openly gay man had ever won an Oscar. If is this case, even if it isn’t the case, I want to dedicate this to the LGBT community all around the world. I stand here tonight as a proud gay man and I hope we can all stand as equals one day.
Smith’s speech was not only the Oscar equivalent of a “First!” comment on a YouTube video, it was wrong. McKellan actually said “No openly gay man has ever won the Oscar; I wonder if that is prejudice or chance.” THE Oscar (meant as a reference to a Best Acting award) not AN Oscar.
The internet immediately blew up pointing out Smith’s error. Lots of openly gay men have won Oscars before. Not only that, at least three have won the exact same award Smith did. Elton John took home the Best Song Oscar in 1995 for Can You Feel The Love Tonight from Lion King. Five years earlier Stephen Sondheim won for the Madonna-sung Sooner Or Later from Dick Tracey. And before that Disney lyricist Howard Ashman won two consecutive Oscars – for Under The Sea from The Little Mermaid and the title song from Beauty and The Beast.
So Sam Smith – a gay singer – apparently does not know his gay history, his music history, or even his Madonna history!
Smith didn’t have to wait until he checked his Twitter feed to learn of his error. He had it corrected by journalists immediately after his win. Which is when he dug his hole a little deeper:
I wanted to take this opportunity to show how much I care about my community. In the past in my career people have said at the beginning that I didn’t. I just wanted to make clear how much I truly do care about the LGBT community. At the same time I’m just, we’re just, completely overwhelmed… I’m a little bit drunk as well.
Sam, Sam, Sam, you’re meant to get drunk at the Golden Globes. That’s the whole reason those awards exist – so we can watch blotto celebrities slur speeches. That and see them get abused by Ricky Gervais.
Smith referenced his rocky relationship with the gay community”. But the way to fix that was not to crown himself the King of the Gay Oscars. The way to fix it was to (a) stop acting privileged and (b) no, that’s about it.
Privilege is a term that gets thrown about a lot these days. But it matters because being privileged is all about not understanding that your own fortune came at the expense of others. At its heart entitlement is blind ignorance of history.
In Smith’s case, not only hadn’t he looked back to see if any other openly gay men had won Oscars, or Best Original Song Oscars, he couldn’t even be bothered to properly comprehend the Ian McKellan article that he based his “historic” speech upon. Like other entitled gay men, he took our current freedoms for granted, or worse he assumed that his generation did all the heavy lifting. Gay marriage happened during their watch, remember!
That’s arrogant. It’s also face-palmingly embarrassing, not just for him but for us. I can just imagine how hard the straights will all be laughing at their next group meeting.
If Sam Smith really wants to make it clear he “cares” about the gays he should learn his history. He should understand what he owes to the men who marched and lobbied for his freedoms, just as those men owe debts to those who rioted at Stonewall, who owe debts to the men who died in Nazi concentration camps and so on.
We are all connected by our long, gay history, a shared journey of being gay in a straight world. Those who don’t learn our history are not necessarily doomed to repeat it – but they’ll certainly end up looking like complete idiots on international television.
In ONE MILLION DOMS Dominic Sheehan comments about political stuff. Yes, the title is a parody of One Million Moms. Yes, he thinks the word “privilege” is being a bit overused, which is why people should substitute it for the word “entitled” every once in a while.