“Hide your kids, hide your wife, hide your husband…”
We forget it now, but back in the early to mid-1980s, Boy George and Culture Club WIGGED PEOPLE OUT. Not many groups who achieved that level of visibility worried right-thinking adults to the extent that they did. The brief, massive success of Culture Club represented a key signpost not only in the mainstreaming of postpunk music but also in the normalization of the gay aesthetic. See, the kids—especially the girls—really dug Boy George, and a lot of them grew up to become right-thinking adults in a different way.
In the meantime, mocking Boy George for being obviously silly and frivolous became a sort of understood joke that all of official culture could take part in—I guarantee that Johnny Carson did monologue bits about him. In retrospect it’s clear that Boy George was simply a master at pushing people’s buttons, in his zen “I’m not really doing anything at all!” way.
Anyway, all of this overdetermined cultural baggage meant that Culture Club’s 1984 tour of America was going to be a corker one way or the other. They’d been riding high since 1982, with the release of Kissing to Be Clever and the smash hit “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” Their masterpiece Colour by Numbers was released in October 1983, jam-packed with indelible ditties—“Karma Chameleon,” “It’s a Miracle,” “Church of the Poison Mind,” “Miss Me Blind,” and so on. As Allmusic.com’s Jose F. Promis put it, “In the 1980s music was, in many cases, flamboyant, fun, sexy, soulful, colorful, androgynous, and carefree, and [Colour by Numbers] captured that spirit perfectly.”
On April 9 they hit the Richfield Coliseum, which was located between Cleveland and Akron (it closed for business in 1994), and ABC affiliate WEWS sent reporter Paul Orlousky over to file a report. Orlousky wastes no time in making it clear that the kids’ way of expressing themselves is invalid in any number of ways. He calls the group’s fans “Culture Clones” and actually repeats a clip of a teenage girl ineloquently explaining that Boy George’s message is to “be yourself,” exposing the, er, unthinking hypocrisy of seeking individuality through mass pursuits—congratulations, man, you are hereby awarded the Honorary Tinpot Walter Benjamin Loving Cup for 1984. He mocks one friendly mom who also claims to like Culture Club (!!!) for not taking pictures of kids playing baseball or something. Orlousky also says, “Boy George looks like Girl George and lives a lifestyle best described as bi-George.” (Burn! Uh, what?) The big moment comes he faces the camera and says ominously, “I guess I can’t avoid it—I’ve got to go in there.” What’s “in there” anyway, dude? Is it a gay dungeon? Maybe you’ll discover—eeeeek!—young people enjoying music!!
Orlousky hits the two themes that always popped up in the freaked-out media coverage surrounding Boy George—the first was simply, “WTF? Boy? Girl? Buh?” The second was, “He is communicating in a way only your children understand—and that’s dangerous!” Just a couple of weeks later, People Magazine would put Boy George on the cover of their April 23, 1984 issue with the following text: “It’s a guy, it’s a girl—IT’S BOY GEORGE! Joke, freak, or pop genius—kids are getting his message….” Or check out this clip (it’s at the very end of the video) from 1985’s (highly entertaining) Schwarzenegger vehicle Commando: “So vye don’t dey chust call him ‘Girl George’? It will cut down all da confusion I think.” (Schwarzenegger always did know how to tap into the petty complaints of the “regular guy,” whatever that is.)
In retrospect it all seems rather harmless, and the young people all seem rather nice. In December of the same year, Prince would bring his Purple Badness to the same arena—history does not record what WEWS thought of that affair.