It is no secret that at certain times in certain quarters, certain factions of the fan base can allow their hormones to get the best of them and express in commentary certain, shall we say, observations and interests regarding David. Physical appeal is a significant and legitimate aspect of many popular performers, and when it accompanies truly remarkable talent, it is virtually impossible to discount the power of the total, well, package.
It would be senseless and unnatural to make a pretense of avoiding the obvious sensuality that attractive performers embody, but in public commentary tone matters. Tone — that somewhat elusive synthesis of language, attitude and intent — makes the difference between a laugh and a cringe, and the line between them is not only delicate but often subject to opposing and equally legitimate interpretation. That’s why it makes sense to err on the side of caution. A good rule of thumb for evaluating tone might be this: If it’s a wink, it’s probably okay; if it smacks of anything like heavy breathing, reconsider.
Some argue that because David himself is especially modest and not currently selecting material or making displays of overt sensuality (at least not consciously), his fans ought to conform to what may seem like a narrower set of standards than what might be considered culturally common. I think this argument has merit, and fans would do well to consider it. But by the same token, an artist has no more right to expect his audience to change their morays on his behalf, than the public would expect him to change on theirs. Respect goes both ways.
Others suggest that objectification has no place whatsoever in the appreciation of an artist like David, whose central power is acknowledged to be a deep emotional, even spiritual connection between the performer and the audience. I would argue that it is impossible to remove objectification from adoration, even if that adoration is purely platonic. There exists in any fan-artist paradigm an endemic aspect of objectification. The problem, it seems to me, occurs when the point of the exercise becomes objectification itself, rather than acknowledging that it is merely part of a greater whole. Surely there have been comment sequences on many fan sites wherein the point of the exercise seemed suddenly to veer quite exclusively in a less wholesome direction, but I think this kind of thing needs to be seen in context with the larger trajectory of a fan’s participation and expression. For every comment made about David’s indisputably handsome thighs, it is reasonable to assume that there were hundreds of comments made by the same fan about David’s inarguably miraculous voice. Context matters, perspective counts.
Is there disrespect involved in the occasional appreciation of his beauty as a member of the human species? In general I think not, although it depends on how and in what context it is expressed. I have found precious few examples of fan commentary that I felt sunk to the level of creepy prurience. The vast majority of it is bawdy, silly hilarity that breaks out over a particularly appealing photograph or a series of creative innuendos. This kind of repartee is admittedly not for everyone, but neither does it stand out as a categorical offense against common decency or against David himself. These episodes might not be the best examples of what a serious fan might have to offer, but not every facet of what is appealing about David exists in the high-minded realm of spirituality, either. Although there is arguably a spiritual dimension to almost everything David sings, he doesn’t confine his material to church music. He sings about love and attraction, and these topics have a decidedly sensual aspect to them.
For me, respecting David means taking him seriously as an artist. I dare say a far greater number of David’s fans are guilty of transgressing this particular tenet than any other. Squealing about how cute he is may not be overtly sensual, but it is nevertheless a focus on the physical. And the all-too common practice of using childish language, infantile pet names, and blatant nannying can be just as cringe-worthy as a tactless reference to sex appeal. In my view, this puerile reduction compromises his ability to be taken seriously considerably more than admiring how his body moves. If treating David like a sex symbol is at one extreme on the respect meter, then coddling him like a precious child is on the other, and both are equally indictable.
Fans must make their own decisions, of course, about where they feel comfortable participating. But I would urge those who have differing views about what is appropriate to resist allowing their judgment to extend to other fans, and especially to the sites that facilitate open discussion. Due to the resources needed for aggressive comment moderation, the categories for such interference are commonly limited to things like hate speech and personal attacks. Each site has different guidelines about what is considered appropriate and inappropriate from a topic standpoint, so it makes sense to review those guidelines periodically.
Most important, however, is to remember that administrators in a fan site community are generous volunteers, not professional editors, publishers, or gatekeepers. It is up to everyone to take responsibility for the tone and tenor of the comment threads, and for the community to police itself. Blaming a site for what one may consider the bad behavior of a handful of members is tantamount to killing the messenger; just because a site may contain mentions of a certain nature doesn’t mean that that’s what the site is about. If you encounter something you don’t like, participate. Make a reasoned, rational, compelling argument, leave personal judgment aside, and help turn the direction of the commentary onto a new path.
Sensuality is a rich and wonderful part of life. The fact that David is so modest and inexperienced about such things not only sets him apart from his professional peers, it can’t help but make these aspects of his persona that much more intriguing. It is exciting to contemplate what a wellspring of artistic opportunity David has in these dimensions of the human experience, and what might ensue when he starts to mine them. He has barely scratched the surface, when other artists of his ilk have already plumbed the depths and scaled the heights. I do think we need to take our cues from David in this regard. But anyone who believes that he hasn’t already started letting out some rope on this, whether intentionally or not, is not watching very closely…