Monday, February 20, 2006

Out there

Isn’t Johnny Weir’s coyness about his sexual orientation the smart PR move? It's driving his media coverage. Multiple outlets are profiling him, leaving the question open while furiously telegraphing their answer in code (But isn’t "flamboyant" more than just code in this case? He really is flamboyant in the both the classic and the modern campy-kitschy-gay sense of the word.).

Now media graybeards have started debating about whether it’s OK to ask him whether he’s gay:

"The first question is: What's the journalistic purpose of reporting someone's sexual orientation, especially against that person's will -- why does it matter?" says Roy Peter Clark, a senior scholar and media ethicist at the Poynter Institute, a leading journalism research group. "I think the answer has to be more than, 'It's just interesting.' A news organization that publishes very private information like that, even about public figures, has a responsibility to be transparent about their news judgment."

This is faintly ridiculous. Maybe – maybe – it applies to someone in politics or the business world, where there is a clearer distinction between the job and private life, and that wall remains more or less intact. But Weir is a figure skater and celebrity. Self-expression is his job, and “gay” refers not only sexual preference but to identity. Weir has chosen to hype his own personality quirks, and is evidently enjoying this immensely. It’s also entirely to his advantage to be asked about sexual orientation, and to be coy about it. If he denied it, it would look like he was lying or in denial. If he said he was gay, the story would be over.