There are some crushes you just don’t ever get over. The playground firsts, teenage infatuation, and perhaps the most heart-wrenching of all, discovering your first celebrity heartthrob.
We all have our own embarrassing memories of pining over public figures who don’t know we exist. Imagining how it would feel to be in their arms, how we’d reveal our whirlwind relationship to the public, breaking hearts the world over.
In adulthood, that fluffiness often makes way for expressions of more… shall we say, intimate feelings. Few arenas know the extent of that desire than the internet. Many of us take to social media to shamelessly broadcast our innermost sexual fantasies about the stars we can’t get enough of. And we find community in it, too.
Fans of celebrity babes du jour – Pedro Pascal, and Jonathan Majors, to name just a couple of male examples – are particularly open to sharing their thirst. It may be lewd, even verging on shocking, but in all honesty, it (usually) makes for pretty funny – if unprintable – reading.
As gratifying as it is to know how common it is for many of us to bask in absolute filth, there is an aspect of the thirst that makes me uncomfortable: when we make the mistake of bringing the objects of our attraction into the equation – literally.
If you’ve ever found yourself in these smutty corners of social media, you’ll be familiar with the rise in reporters and producers confronting these poor stars with such bawdiness. Coverage of stars on promotional tours increasingly incorporate them into interviews. BuzzFeed has a video series entirely dedicated to it. While it generally makes for pretty amusing viewing, there’s always an edge of awkwardness that makes what feels like a shared secret between ordinary people look creepy and embarrassing in the cold light of day.
Look, some actors can clearly take it on the chin. The tweets are rarely meant to be taken seriously, often reaching cartoonish levels of fantasy scenarios. But as much as it may delight some to see Pascal awkwardly decline to read “thirst tweets” on the red carpet, or, in other cases, cross boundaries in real life to the extent that they’re harassing or assaulting people, I wonder whether it’s worth taking stock of our need to have these public figures be so involved in our private desires.
Last week, Paul Mescal said he was groped by a fan while she sought a selfie with him, an experience he said “was really not OK. It was so gross, creepy”. Weeks before, Busta Rhymes divided opinion when a fan groped him from behind – causing him to instinctively throw his drink on the woman. In December, the singer Kehlani was sexually assaulted by a fan after a concert. While these are standalone incidents, they have made me think about the entitlement some people have towards celebrities – and their bodies.
Parasocial relationships with public figures are nothing new. Whether fuelled by how much we enjoy their work – or looking at them do it – we’ve long projected our feelings on to people we’ve never met. On social media, which has arguably removed barriers to public figures in ways that would have been thought unimaginable mere decades ago, these relationships have grown stronger.
But that doesn’t mean we should have carte blanche to take them offline – or even to the celebrities themselves. It certainly doesn’t mean we have the right to assault anyone.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that joining a chorus of people who broadcast their attraction to public figures is inherently wrong, or even comparable to assault. I’m not even suggesting that all celebrities dislike hearing about people innocently lusting over them.
Some clearly do enjoy it. I just think we’ve overestimated how pressing it is for us to rope the objects of our desires into our debauched fantasies. When it comes to sharing our yearning for these people, maybe, just maybe, we should keep the smut between us.