Essay:
Holier Than Thou
On the state of celebrity affairs.

Issue 47

,

Arts & Culture

  • Words Stephanie d’Arc Taylor

In the pantheon of fun days to be online, leaked celebrity sexts rank right up there. A famous man—it’s almost always a man—is brought low in the face of a beautiful stranger’s mirror selfie, reduced to lusty babbling over text. 

Titans of their fields, from Tiger Woods to Jeff Bezos to Salman Rushdie, have been caught—and mocked for—sending messages ranging from flirty to filthy.1 But the most recent rash of leaks exist in a media ecosystem that seems designed to stoke discord and widespread condemnation over even relatively minor transgressions. A future historian poring over the online archives of fall 2022 might conclude that American society in the 21st century was more prurient than it had been in the one prior.

In September 2022, Adam Levine, a California pop star and judge of a televised singing competition, was caught sending carnally appreciative direct messages (DMs) to attractive young women other than his pregnant wife. If the screenshots are to be believed...

( 1 ) Leaked Facebook messages showed Rushdie telling the socialite and editor Devorah Rose that she looked “gorgeous and hottt!" It was not an inappropriate message (the two had been dating) but garnered attention because it was so out of step with the venerated author's public persona.

( 2 ) Levine's messages went viral partly because people found them funny. As Don Caldwell, editor in chief of Know Your Meme, told Wired: “It’s like a teenage boy wrote them, which makes them super memeable.”

( 3 ) These are known as parasocial relationships. A term first coined in the 1950s, it has become increasingly common to describe the relationship fans have with celebrities, particularly those who use social media to share their lives online.

( 4 ) As well as editing Fulmer out of videos, the Try Guys also canned some projects they had already been working on because Fulmer featured in them. Many online commentators saw this as a bizarre overreaction.

( 5 ) One of the media's favorite examples of a celebrity being “just like us" is Ben Affleck and his obsession with Dunkin' Donuts. Affleck has no financial partnership with the brand, but is often described as its biggest marketing tool due to his sheer devotion to their iced coffees and snacks. During the pandemic, paparazzi photographers would frequently wait outside his home to snap him picking up doorstep deliveries from Dunkin'.

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