Hey, Internet! Leave Them Kids Alone!
Regular readers know that on a Friday I normally publish a film review, but I was unable to get to the cinema yesterday to catch what I wanted to write about, The Place Beyond the Pines, and won’t be able to see it until next week. Instead, I refer you to Dana Steven’s review in Slate. In my opinion, Stevens is the best non-filmmaker reviewer out there, which is my way of avoiding the truth—that she is probably a better writer than I am, period—because I’m not aware of any other filmmakers who write reviews, although I’m sure there are quite a few. It’s not exactly a wise idea to publicly shred a film made by someone who might consider hiring you next week, or to criticize the performance of an actor to whose agency you might soon be submitting a project for consideration by another of its clients. Hence the legendary Hollywood omertà about dissing your colleagues in public.
Instead, I’m going to write a sort of segue from an earlier piece of mine, Enough with the Snarky, Already, in which among other things I shredded the putative “most powerful woman in Hollywood,” Nikki Finke from Deadline. As an old-school producer might say, I am absolutely meshugana when it comes to speaking my mind.
The first news item this week that made me ponder the treatment of celebrities and other newsworthy people online was the salaciously hilarious brouhaha about Jon Hamm’s huge dick. As a Ghey, I have been vaguely aware of this attribute of his for a while; it’s the sort of thing that pops up early, so to speak, in my Facebook and Tumblr feed. Gay culture is riddled with size queens, so those of us who are not as well favored as Hamm—especially those of us who assume an exclusively ‘top’ position in bed—are not a little un-envious of the fact the man just seems to have it all: great talent, great looks, great bank account, great penis. I was certainly no exception to that envy, although now it has been wiped away by this odd mixture of mirth and pathos.
For me it all came to a head (full pun intended) today when a blogger on Slate, Alyssa Rosenberg, noted that Hamm is feeling irritation at the sort of objectification that is routine for gorgeous female actresses, especially ones who have wardrobe malfunctions that expose a nipple, or are simply as endowed as Hamm in equivalent areas for women, to wit his über-buxom co-star Christina Hendricks. Rosenberg writes:
What makes Hamm different from, say, Anne Hathaway, who had to weather discussion about the appearance of her nipples in her Academy Awards dress, is that Hamm isn’t used to being objectified. He has outrage left to burn, rather than being exhausted by endless appearance-based prying and insane body standards. It might be easy for men to brush off how women are treated when they’re unaffected. But when they’re subject to the same standards, men often discover quickly how difficult to endure they really are.”
I confess that I used to delight in objectifying good-looking straight men right to their faces, mainly because it gave them a taste of their own medicine in terms of how many of them treat women. I had little to fear in the way of physical assault that might have arisen as a result of my leering; I am big and muscular, an and not frightened by much. But I have made a few guys uncomfortable over the years—most of them were flattered, as many women are, by the attention—and that wasn’t right. So I stopped.
It began when I was accidentally outed in high school. I was exiting a gay bar on Saturday night in New York with older friends, and most of the jocks in my class together with a few girls were outside the bar trying to get in on a lark, so drunk they could barely stand up to order another drink, so they weren’t being admitted by the bouncers. One of the girls, Betsey, didn’t miss a beat when I collided with her coming out of the front door and said, “Hey, James! Can you get us in?” I refused because it wasn’t within my power anyway, my older friends dismissed my classmates scornfully, and we headed off into the night.
Come Monday morning I had to “work it,” as the queens said back then (as now), so I walked into school an out gay teen, and proceeded to make it part of my shtick. I remember swaggering into the boys’ showers, looking one of the jocks up and down and saying, “Wow, Ben, you’re really packing there!” Or something like that. It made him insanely uncomfortable—he covered himself up instantly. Actions like that probably prompted a series of prank calls to my parents in the middle of the night: “You know your son’s a fag?” Still, I got ‘em first. Best defense is a good offense, and all that.
To those men I’ve made uncomfortable over the years—again, I’ve stopped this habit; I would like to be part of the movement that takes our culture post-Ghey, which includes respecting Str8s and their rights—I offer my blanket apology. Perhaps it helped some of you assimilate the point about how you make women feel, but it wasn’t my place to make it.
A second item this week steered me more to the point of this article: That younger people who are in the news should be treated with more delicacy by the press than alpha-plus males like Jon Hamm or Ryan Gosling, who ‘suffers’ from an even greater amount of objectification. I’m not a fan of Justin Bieber’s—if I were that would be downright creepy because even at nineteen he looks barely adolescent—but there was an exhaustive panel discussion on E! about how Bieber might be heading down the same road as Lindsay Lohan. I can’t believe I watched most of this fluffy rubbish, but I saw it as a sort of culmination of the relentless attacks against the young singer over the past few months—being booed offstage in London, having “the worst birthday ever,” and on and on. Yes, he seems like a bit of a brat, I question his taste in clothes and cars, but he’s a teenager. While I might not be bopping around the house to his music, I see that he works damned hard, harder than any teen out there, and he seems to have the respect of older stalwarts in his particular niche of the music world, which counts for something.
E!’s Bieber bating is nothing compared to other sites like Twitter and Reddit, where he is often feminized, referred to as a “she” who is apparently a lesbian, which I’m not sure I get. If these online voices don’t think they affect a sensitive young person’s mental stability—and artists in general must be more sensitive by nature to do what they do, and do it well—it pays to remember that it got so bad for Britney Spears that her access to the Internet had to be restricted to none at all while she was in recovery and making her comeback. Yes, Jon Hamm is aware of the Tumblr dedicated to his package because, yes, celebrities do pay attention and care very much how they are perceived.
As Julia Roberts, who luckily peaked in fame before the tsunami of wanton, destructive opinion the Internet unleashed, says in Pretty Woman, “People put you down enough, you start to believe it…. The bad stuff is easier to believe.” Personally, I cannot imagine being a teen performer and enduring the taunts and put-downs; I’d be more of a basket case than Britney became, and definitely headed down Lohan’s path. (I’m not the only one who is surprised he made it past my tumultuous, hard-drug-addled youth alive.)
Luckily, for all of his occasional—and for me reasonably justified—whining, Bieber seems like he’s made of tough material. Still, we need to call this what it is, even if we are talking about celebrities: Bullying. Just because they ‘choose’ to live in the public eye—and for most artists what they do is a vocation, not a choice—it doesn’t mean they need to be shat on 24/7 by their inferiors.
The third and worst instance of the bullying of a young famous person was made by that most toxic of sites, Gawker. Sam Biddle, a writer for Gawker’s tech vertical Gizmodo, wrote an article yesterday about British teen multi-millionaire Nick D’Aloisio that made my blood boil over; it was patently unfair and must have driven a stake through the seventeen-year-old’s heart when he read it, mostly because he apparently has a lot of admiration for Gizmodo and its writers. Entitled How To Become a Teen Millionaire: Be an Insufferable Startup Brat, Biddle leeringly recalls how D’Aloisio bombarded Gizmodo with requests for press coverage when he was launching his app, Summly, two years ago, which he subsequently sold to Yahoo! for $30 million.
After trashing the merits of the app, which summarizes news articles for the Twitter generation—admittedly, it does have a few bugs, but that’s what Yahoo!’s developers are there to fix—Biddle goes on to post D’Aloisio’s pleading emails to Gizmodo, which are not at all ‘insufferable.’ They are the exuberant, anxious, dedicated missives of a fifteen-year-old who is convinced he is on to something, and he’s right. They are also extremely polite because, well, D’Aloisio is English and not a hard-souled American. Here is a screen cap of some of the ‘insufferable’ emails:
This is only a small sampling of what Gawker posted.
First of all, the word ‘insufferable’ isn’t one that is made by most Americans, and usually only a certain kind, about whom I am all too familiar. It’s the sort of word that a dowager from the sprawling, once-illustrious Biddle family might use half past cocktail hour about the new tennis pro, who happens to raise his voice too much on the court and doesn’t wear whites on weekends. I don’t know if Sam Biddle is a member of that family or if he just shares the same name—I’m so disgusted by what he’s done, I can only think of him as too insufferable himself for me to Google too much about him—but I’ve always smiled inwardly whenever I’ve met a Biddle because the name is so twee. It certainly doesn’t have nearly the swaggering Scottish Highlands macho of Killough, for instance.
I did find a picture of Biddle (left), and would be tempted to sic our fashion editor James Tuttle on him, but I think it speaks for itself. Doing that would also make me the kind of bully Biddle himself is. And I have to remind myself that he is also very young, and remember where he works, at one of the epicenters of this Culture of the Perpetual Leer, and that he is encouraged to write this sort of Julian-Assange-doing-Mean-Girls-drag ‘exposé,’ rather than focusing solely on the more serious aspects of the tech world, of which there are plenty.
Luckily, the comments section of the article is full of readers as outraged as I am, so I hope D’Aloisio takes some comfort in that. As I wrote myself in a comment, I wish a site as influential as Gawker would give Biddle a taste of his own medicine. Sadly, PFC is nowhere near that influential. So this is the best I can do, Sam Biddle, you insufferable bullying bastard.