Here's why right-wing media invented a story about Adele being called transphobic
A total of five tweets — including one from a wildly anti-trans account — were used to create the impression that trans people were seething over Adele's BRIT Awards acceptance speech.
Hello, dear readers,
I really didn’t want to write about today's topic, but it’s just such a perfect example of something that’s long bothered me that I feel obligated to tackle it. So, without further ado… [inhales]
If, like me, you’re an avid consumer of right-wing media outlets, you probably saw a story or two about singer Adele being “slammed” and “attacked” for saying she’s proud to be a woman during this year’s BRIT Awards. Let’s… talk about that.
The background: back in November, the BRIT Awards announced that rather than having “British male solo artist of the year,” “British female solo artist of the year,” “International male solo artist of the year,” and “International female solo artist of the year,” it would instead combine these categories into just “[British] artist of the year” and “International artist of the year.” The show’s reasoning was that it was “committed to making the show more inclusive.” In addition to those categories, the BRITs created new categories for alternative/rock, pop/R&B, hip hop/grime/rap, and dance acts.
The awards, which have existed since 1977, have varied in size and scope. For instance, the 2018 awards had 13 categories, 2019 had 14 categories, 2020 had 8 categories, and 2021 had 11 categories. By expanding this to 15 categories that included genre-specific carveouts, the show looked to expand beyond pop music. All in all, it’s totally fine.
Fast-forward to last week’s ceremony. After winning in the artist of the year category, Adele said, “I understand why the name of the award has changed but I really love being a woman and being a female artist. I do, I do! I’m really proud of us, I really, really am.” Again, this is totally fine. No big deal.
Those of us in the compulsively-consuming-right-wing-media world were treated to a flood of articles and segments from places like Fox News, Newsmax, The Daily Mail, The Daily Wire, The Washington Examiner, and New York Post. Each of those articles and segments claimed that there was a “backlash” to Adele’s comment from people trying to “cancel” her.
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So let’s look into that for a moment. Was there actually a “backlash?” No.
As Media Matters’ Ari Drennen noted, the entire claim that there was “backlash” to Adele’s comment was based on five tweets. Yes, just five tweets. And you may think, “Okay, but who were the five tweets from? Maybe someone with a very large following? Or maybe at least someone with a verified account?” No, these were all small, unverified accounts.
And while five total tweets in response to something is a nonsense justification for treating something as newsworthy, I want to look into one of those.
Here’s a screenshot from the Page Six article about the supposed “backlash:”
Okay, so… who… was this “long-time Twitter user” who posted “Who’d have thought Adele was a transphobe and would use her platform to call for the destruction of the trans community. Especially the confused teenagers.”?
Answer: someone whose online presence is just filled with anti-trans attacks. Looking at this person’s tweets and you’ll see posts arguing that “an out of control highly funded mob of trans activists” is engaging in the “erosion of women’s rights,” referring to trans women as “trans identifying men,” and tweeting at a trans woman that “all male bodied people need to be kept out of female only spaces.”
So… to be clear… One of the five accounts that tweeted something that was determined to be “outrage” aimed at Adele for supposedly saying something transphobic (nothing she said was transphobic), came from… someone who is quite clearly anti-trans. But again, even if this person actually was pro-trans and actually was somehow outraged by something Adele said, it still wouldn’t be newsworthy.
The goal of this type of coverage is two-fold: make Adele feel like she’s under attack from trans people in hopes that it will push her to embrace anti-trans views (there’s currently nothing to suggest she holds anti-trans views), and…
Right-wing media love to run these types of stories because it’s a way of making trans people seem unreasonable.
There’s an early-00s, blog-era term for this: nutpicking. The basic idea is to make it seem as if the fringiest views or most extreme members of a group of people represent the whole. When it comes to “nutpicking” for the purposes of making trans people seem bad, you’ll see stories of bad comments or actions taken by a handful of trans people to make the broader push for equal treatment under the law and social acceptance seem extreme.
For instance, one of the most famous examples of this centers on a Canadian trans woman who filed a number of frivolous human rights complaints related to salons and waxing services.