Achin’ for Clay
As history buffs will recall, Clay Aiken was American Idol’s second-season runner-up, ultimately losing to the girthful Ruben Studdard but parlaying his AI fame into a fully functional career as a big-voiced, baby-faced, beloved-by-Christian-housewives crooner. (He even had a televised Christmas special.)
However, it didn’t take long for the whispers to start. Actually, they weren’t really whispers, as most people with eyes guessed that Clay Aiken was clearly a homosexual. But for Aiken’s diehard Red State fans, it was a different story: Clay was sensitive and gifted and devoted to both his mother and Jesus Christ, and anyone who would spread such nasty rumors about such a good and Godly man was obviously a spawn of Satan.
Then the alleged evidence began to pile up, from the testimony of gay prostitutes alleging encounters with Aiken to the ever-growing plethora of rumors and reports (The Amazing Race’s (openly gay) Reichen says a horny Clay is phone-stalking him! So-and-so cousin’s boyfriend’s ex-boyfriend totally fucked Clay while he was on tour! An ex-Army Ranger says he picked up Clay in an internet chat room, then had unprotected sex with him at a Comfort Inn.)
Such talk sent Aiken’s true-believer fans into a near-murderous tizzy, with enraged “Claymates” writing countless letters (and issuing numerous death threats) to those who would besmirch the name of their pure-as-snow Clay. It all seemed to be building to an unavoidable head: Would Clay continue to play the asexual choir boy for his fan base? If he didn’t, would his gay-hating fans turn against him? And how long would Claymates remain blind to their idol’s inherent fagginess?
Last week brought something of an answer to these questions, as a coalition of ex-Clay Aiken fans sent a letter of complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, charging Aiken’s record company with “collusion to misrepresent” Aiken as a clean-cut heterosexual. “This is tantamount to a manufacturer concealing information about a defective product,” reads the complaint.
Full, amazing letter after the jump. For now, can I interest you in a Clay Aiken MasterCard?
February 22, 2006 Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras, Federal Trade Commission 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580 Re: False Advertising Complaint against RCA Records and SONY/BMG with regard to Clay Aiken
Dear Honorable Chairman Majoras,
Under the provisions of the Federal Trade Commission Act and Title 15 of the U.S. Code, please find that, the undersigned nine aggrieved consumers, hereby file a false advertising complaint against recording entities RCA Records (RCA) and parent conglomerate SONY/BMG Music Entertainment (SONY/BMG). This complaint relates to observable trends and practices in the manner in which RCA and SONY/BMG markets and promotes its stable of artists nationwide and internationally. Based in New York City, SONY/BMG is a well-known recording industry conglomerate consisting of 17 separate record labels (including RCA) with offices around the world. These recording labels represent some of the world's best known artists, including performer Clay Aiken.
This complaint raises the fundamental issue of whether, for these recording entities, the CD is the product or is the artist the product? We hold that, based on the company's own actions and investment, that it is clearly the latter.
1. False And Misleading Advertising.
RCA and SONY/BMG have a vested interest in the marketing, promotion and advertising of their artists recording for their labels. They accomplish this through carefully crafted publicity, advertising and promotion to create a marketable public image for each artist, designed to entice the maximum amount of consumers. This calculated public image is further reinforced through scripted music videos and meticulously managed media interviews and appearances, among other devices. In fact, the marketing and publicity behind the manufactured public image is often termed the "Hollywood machine".
RCA and SONY/BMG's marketing, promotion and advertising of performer Clay Aiken presented a public image of a family friendly performer whose character was above reproach. This "clean cut" image extended to Mr. Aiken's sexuality, which although being the subject of much speculation, has consistently been presented as being heterosexual.
Recent media reports have revealed that Mr. Aiken's private behaviors and actions are vastly different from the manufactured packaged public image of Aiken that was marketed and advertised to consumers. This is both deceptive and misleading.
2. Collusion To Misrepresent
On information and belief, it is further maintained that specific executives and employees of RCA, SONY/BMG and Aiken were aware of Aiken's behaviors and conduct that contradicted this established public image and engaged in collusion in an active attempt to mislead consumers and keep what was perceived to be potentially damaging information from becoming public. This is tantamount to a manufacturer concealing information about a defective product.
These individuals, among others in the employ of RCA, SONY/BMG, and Aiken, are identified as Roger Widynowski, RCA and SONY/BMG's Director of Publicity, and John Dahlstrom, Aiken's former assistant and hairdresser.
Most recently, representatives for RCA, SONY/BMG and Aiken have avoided any questions related to these revelations.
With SONY/BMG's $10 million dollar settlement in NY State Attorney General Spitzer's investigation into the practice of deceptive Payola radio promotion undertaken by the recording industry, it is an established pattern of deceptive marketing and promotion that extends here.
Title 15, Section 52 of the U.S. Code states that "it shall be unlawful for any ... corporation to disseminate, or cause to be disseminated, any false advertisement." Title 15, Section 55 defines "false advertisement" as an advertisement that is "misleading in a material respect." Section 5 of the FTC Act prohibits "deceptive acts or practices."
In sum, RCA's and Sony/BMG's marketing and promotional practices meet all three elements of the FTC Policy Statement on Deception (October 14, 1983):
(1) the misrepresentation is likely to mislead the consumer; (2) the misrepresentation is likely to mislead a reasonable consumer; and (3) the misrepresentation is a material one.
As reasonable consumers, we were (1) misled by the accompanying marketing, advertising and promotion behind Mr. Aiken. (2) The recording entities and employees of same were aware of the misrepresentations and sought to conceal them. (3) The misrepresentations are material, affecting every consumer of any of Aiken's CDs, concerts, or merchandise, and extend over all aspects of the promotion, marketing and advertising of same.
We urge the FTC to investigate this matter fully and exercise any and all means to enjoin RCA and SONY/BMG from engaging in further deceptive marketing and promotion of their artists.
Nine Aggrieved Consumers
Susan J. Patricia A. Jacquelyn C. Karen G.
Raleigh, NC Raleigh, NC Durham, NC San Francisco, CA
Phyllis S. Carol M. Karen G. Linda F. Kim M.
Boston, MA Boise, ID Los Angeles, CA Scottsdale, AZ Newark, NJ