If it had been up to Israelis, "American Idol" runner-up Adam Lambert would have won.
Not because he's Jewish. And not because the vote may have been rigged. Because he can sing.
Israelis keep asking me why Adam Lambert, whose gargantuan talent clearly places him in the category of Touched By God, didn't win. Here is one reason:
Because many, many Americans don't want to think that God works that way.
I should state at the outset that is not a column about music. This is, at heart, about deviance, and how societies respond to the deviants in their midst - whether with fascistic denial ["In Iran, we don't have homosexuals"], or with an unease that spurs them to seek desperate refuge in the bland.
Seldom has a singing contest been so clear-cut a case of no contest. In a final duet alongside eventual winner Kris Allen, Adam Lambert sang him off the stage. And no one knew that better than Kris Allen.
So what was it about Lambert that moved tens of millions of Americans to make sure that he would not win?
Some, at least, decided to take a stand. It was time to cast a vote against deviant behavior. Against men who keep their eyeliner thick and their sexual preference determinedly indeterminate. Against a polite, generous, fearsomely gifted deviant.
When the internet brimmed with photos of what appeared to be a femme Adam kissing men, his response was one which triggered every trip wire of passive-aggressive American grundyism. "I have nothing to hide," he said. "I am who I am."
Through no fault of Kris Allen's, who, by all accounts, is exactly the unassuming, more-surprised-than-anyone small-town Arkansas guy he appears to be, many Americans seem to have viewed him as holding the fort against the darkness of diversity and/or non-Christianity.
"The battle of good versus evil, dark versus light, played out in the context of a culture war," wrote Danielle Berrin in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal. "The nation's conservatives changed the game by voting their conscience, not their common sense. And in the end, 'Idol' viewers proved that they're not that interested in the best singer. They don't even care about electing a star. All that matters is that they get to worship their Idol, the one who is just like them."
Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly, while declaring that the best man should win, displayed a bowdlerized version of the photographs, and could not resist asking a guest expert: "Can illegal aliens vote in this?"
Which brings us to Israel. Soon after the Idol finale aired in the Jewish state at the weekend, the crowning segment of Israel's version of "Survivor" was broadcast live from the ancient Roman amphitheater in Caesarea.
Perhaps the most telling moment in the broadcast was a look at the daily life of Arik Alper, a slight pediatrician with deer-in-headlights eyes, who would go on to survive all other contestants and win the million shekel grand prize.
"I wasn't one of the more popular kids in the class," Alper said, on a filmed visit to his boyhood school. "I was on the sidelines. I was different. I was in the closet. I was the ugly duckling."
The day before, the mass-circulation Maariv newspaper published an extensive article detailing how "Over the past decade homosexuals have turned from an exotic detour on [talk-show host] Dan Shilon's panel, to the kings of prime-time." Among the gallery of famous gays were two of the 20 Survivor contestants, one of them Arik Alper.
"To me," he told the camera, "being the last survivor is to be the most popular kid in the fourth grade, which I never was."
Say what you will about Israel, this place has developed an exceptional tolerance for behavior traditionally deemed deviant. One of the judges on Kochav Nolad (A Star is Born), Israel's version of American Idol, is Dana International, a post-op transsexual singing star whose unapologetic exuberance persuaded Israelis to choose her as their representative to the 1998 Eurovision Song Contest, in which she took first place.
Perhaps a certain tolerance, or predilection, for flamboyantly deviant behavior devolves from the way Israel is itself seen as deviant in its region and in the world. In this world, all Israelis have a certain otherness about them, a statistical minority status.
Certainly, any American in Israel can relate. All American Jews who live in Israel are, by definition, deviants, no matter how conventional their lifestyle may be. They have done what only one out of 100 American Jews does - and, for that matter, just 0.02 percent of all Americans chooses to do - live in Israel.
On the surface, the choice of Kris Allen - not unlike the choice of George W. Bush - suggests that the more unreliable America seems, the more unsafe, the more threatening it gets, that is, the more diverse it gets, the more the people who used to call themselves Real Americans, that is, Christians, are going to look for a Kris Allen to soothe them.
"Though never referenced on the show," the Associated Press commented, "Allen's religious background may have also played a role. Allen has worked as a worship leader at his hometown church, traveling on mission trips around the globe."
It could be that the fight over separation of church and state is giving way to a struggle over separation of church and gays, one in which - as in the California referendum which successfully outlawed gay marriage - Christian churchgoers of all colors and cultures band together in common cause against societal acceptance of what they view as deviant sexuality.
The trend in Israel, meanwhile, may be just the opposite. A recent online poll commissioned by Channel 2 Television showed that 52 percent of all Israelis (and 76 percent of secular Israelis) favor civil marriage for gays; 51 percent of all Israelis back full equal rights for gays and lesbians; and 80 percent of all Israelis would be willing to be neighbors to gays and lesbians.
The military in Israel has also shown more openness to gays than its American counterpart. As one observer noted, "The policy in the IDF is, 'Don't ask, and nobody cares.'"
In the end, after a campaign year in which "Hollywood" was one of Fox News' favorite epithets, a euphemism for the unfair dominance of social mores, cultural attitudes, and political behavior by a small claque of non-Christians, is it any wonder that a starry-eyed, showbiz-bred Pacific Coast Hebrew should rub Bible Belters the wrong way?
So, from one Southern California Jewish deviant to another, I'd like to extend Adam Lambert an open invitation to come visit a world fountainhead of deviance.
Don't be shocked if you feel oddly at home.
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