A few months ago, I wrote an article about “alternative facts” that was largely me complaining about Trump/Trump voters, and I said one problem is that liberal minded people (like myself) like to think that we own facts. That is, there’s sort of an idea that “facts” are inherently progressive and “fake news” is inherently conservative. I said that’s not the case. It’s just a “happy accident.” Several times in the past, more conservative folks have been accused me of having a liberal bias (this much is true) and told me that I therefore am just always willing to promote my “social justice agenda” over the truth. That’s not true at all. I’m just smarter than everyone else. Seriously. And that’s not a good thing. It’s exhausting. I wish everyone else was as smart as me. It would make the world a better place and a much easier place to get along in. Would you like to be a smart as me? Well, there’s an easy way to start to do it. Read! FUCKING READ! And when you read, read the whole article! Don’t just stop at the clickbaity headline and form your opinion. This goes for liberals and conservatives and everyone else. You’re destroying the world! This is like one of the most important lessons that I try to teach my students. If you have a source, make sure you understand what the source fucking says!
So for every dudebro out there who thinks that I automatically side with the SJWs of the world on any given issue… and for all the SJWs of the world who think that having the moral highground over the dudebros automatically makes you right… this is not one of those times.
Yesterday, I saw an article float around social media a couple times. I eventually read it when my friend Schwei posted it. It’s about the the horrible way that a magazine is sexualizing Millie Bobby Brown, the actress who plays Eleven on Stranger Things, by awarding her the “sexiest actress award” at such a young age. And when I saw it, my gut reaction was “wow, that sounds pretty awful.” And then this was followed up by “I would like to have an informed opinion on this… perhaps I should learn more.” And to learn more I employed this secret trick that smart people have passed on to each other throughout the ages. I read the fucking article! Ok, so here is why I hate social media and the blog-driven media world… this story is fake… FAKE NEWS! And it’s fake in the worst possible way. It’s fake because people who claim to be journalists are doing lazy reporting and not doing the bare minimum amount of research that one should do when writing an article: reading the thing that they are reporting on. And in doing so, they’ve created a controversy that didn’t actually exist… inadvertently sexualizing the poor teen girl they’re supposedly trying to defend.
And no, I’m not defending pedophiles. The problem is no one in this story actually is… Literally no one. People just refuse to check their sources.
So, I did the research myself because apparently no one else actually did.
The article that Schwei posted was from an online site called Affinity Magazine. Their headline claimed that “MILLIE BOBBY BROWN NAMED SEXIEST ACTRESS BY PLAYFM, ONCE AGAIN PROMOTING PEDOPHILIA” and in the article expanded that “a Spanish online radio publication, PlayFM, has made the decision of naming Millie Bobby Brown as sexiest actress. She is 13-years-old. Although it is undeniable that Millie Bobby Brown is elegant, poised, professional and talented, sexy is not how a pre-teen needs to be labelled. These inappropriate labels continue to promote pedophilia among adult fans of Stranger Things.” But the problem is, that’s not true. It’s not even remotely true. (And no, I’m not just talking about the fact that 13 isn’t a preteen. It’s the youngest possible teen, yes… but still.. don’t be lazy.) It’s totally just libeling PlayFM because that’s not what they actually did at all! I know, because, I went and found the PlayFM article. It was hard, because they’re not really a “spanish online publication.” It’s written in Spanish, but it’s from Chile, not Spain, so I was looking in the wrong place for a while. But I didn’t just give up. I kept looking. Because that’s how research works. And then, when I saw that it was written in Spanish, I was left with a choice. I could look at the picture that was posted with it, a sexy glamour shot that was from her Variety Magazine photoshoot, and just make some random assumptions, or I could translate it. I chose B, because again, that’s how research works.
I should pause here and point out that I just called the shot from Variety Magazine “sexy.” I did that on purpose. Yes, she’s 13 — and in that photo (and in fact, that whole shoot, as I’ve seen other phtotos from it) she is indeed trying to be sexy. See, whether most people like to admit it or not. 13yos are sexual beings. That’s not to say that its appropriate for a grownup to try and fuck one. It’s not to say that they should or shouldn’t have boundaries. It’s to say that by age 13, most people have an awareness of their sexuality… and sometimes, they like to play that up. There’s about a billion things we can go into here about where the constructions of sex for femininity come from. That’s a separate discussion. But in the Variety photoshoot she’s certainly playing towards the male gaze. She wants to be sexy in it. Or at least what passes for sexy in the mind of a 13-year-old girl.
PlayFM did not name Brown sexiest actress. In fact, the article isn’t calling her sexy AT ALL. It’s actually an article *complaining* about other people sexualizing her. JUST LIKE AFFINITY. Specifically, it is actually complaining that W Magazine named Brown one of the 13 sexiest actors/actresses and PlayFM finds this outrageous… pretty much for the same reasons as Affinity. Literally the whole article is about how horrible it is that W did this.
Clearly no one at Affinity bothered to actually translate it.
Apparently I wasn’t actually the first person to point this out, because Affinity has since changed the article. The url for the link is still the same (referring to PlayFM naming her the sexiest actress) and the metadata generated auto headline still says that if you share it, but if you click through, the actual article is now titled “MILLIE BOBBY BROWN NAMED SEXIEST ACTRESS BY W MAGAZINE, ONCE AGAIN PROMOTING PEDOPHILIA” and they have changed the quote that I mentioned before to “a Spanish online radio publication, PlayFM, recently called out W magazine for naming Millie Bobby Brown as one of sexiest actresses. She is 13-years-old. Although it is undeniable that Millie Bobby Brown is elegant, poised, professional and talented, sexy is not how a pre-teen needs to be labeled. These inappropriate labels continue to promote pedophilia among adult fans of Stranger Things.”
So I was right, Affinity didn’t actually read the article before they wrote their own. Someone just informed them they were wrong, and rather than print a retraction and update the story (which would be good journalism and responsible), they just edited the version in place, never acknowledging their mistake and not counting on someone like me going to go check the cached original. They also never bothered to change their metadata headline, hence the story still claims PlayFM gave her the award whenever you share it.
So we should all be mad at W Magazine for naming her one of 13 sexiest actors, right? Well, maybe… if they had done that. But they didn’t… and I know that because I said to myself “wow, that seems a little outrageous. I should maybe check that source too.” And I GOT THE FUCKING MAGAZINE. Because it’s 2017, and it turns out that you can get a magazine… online… easily… without even putting on shoes and leaving your house. And i bet you can see where this is going. No… PlayFM didn’t bother to read the W story when they wrote their article either. It is true, the COVER to the August issue of W Magazine does have the word “sexy” on it or actually “sexier” (this, is common… writing “sexy” on something sells). Specifically it says “Why TV is Sexier Than Ever” and it has a picture of Charlize Theron. It also says “Atomic Blonde Charlize Theron Kicks Ass”. And it tells us to “Toughen Up” because fall fashion will have a “Strong New Attitude.” And under the TV is sexier logo there are in fact the names of a bunch of other actors… one of which is Millie Bobbie Brown.
But if you ACTUALLY READ FUCKING THE ARTICLE. They still didn’t award her (or anyone else) anything. And it’s not about being sexy. The actual article isn’t even called that. it’s called “Major Drama: Thirteen reasons why television has never been hotter.” and they don’t mean hotter as in “these actors are sexy.” It’s actually about “hotter” as in “more awesome.” Basically, why should YOU be watching TV and these are 13 actors that make it worthwhile.
What do they actually say about Brown? Well, this:
“Two of the most exciting television performances of the year were brought to us courtesy of the streaming service Netflix. Millie Bobby Brown, as the otherworldly Eleven on Stranger Things, was an instant sensation. And Claire Foy, as a coming-of-age Queen Elizabeth in The Crown, changed everyone’s idea of royalty.” That’s it. That’s the only time they mention Brown at all in the article. They also have a cute picture of her (very 13yo appropriate, the one at the top of this article) and in the caption is a quote from her where she explains that she was scared to cut her hair for the role but it’s only hair, but because it’s short now, sometimes people call her a boy.
That’s it. There is no award. The article isn’t about them being “sexy.” The only time the word “sexy” appears in the entire article at all is referring to actor Johnny Flynn…. ONCE! They explain that he plays a sexy version of Albert Einstein on Genius. Which is… well, true… I guess. That’s the role. And he is 34. That’s it. The article is not about any of their looks or sexuality. It’s actually about powerful dramatic performances that are making current TV hot (and i guess sexy) to watch. There is no award. The article doesn’t even claim that the 13 actors they happen to interview are the hottest things on TV. They’re actually saying TV is hot right now… here are some examples to prove it. Which people would know… except apparently, I’m the only person in the world who has ever READ THE FUCKING ARTICLE! Certainly no one at PlayFM or Affinity did.
So literally the only people who sexualized her at all, were the two sites that complained about the each other or the W article without reading it because they assumed she was being sexualized. The actual original article is probably the most respectful of Brown’s actual abilities (even though it basically only mentions her in passing). I can’t really be mad at any reader who read and forwarded the Affinity or PlayFM articles. Because if they read them, they’d simply be outraged for believe what they read. However the problem is, this all started because PlayFM and Affinity assumed that anything written about Brown had to be about her appearance. They reacted without doing the research. W Magazine isn’t 100% innocent in this either. They did write the word “sexier” on the cover. Every issue of W (as well as pretty much every other American fashion magazine) does this. Sex sales. And again, sexiness is defined by the male gaze. But the outrage that Affinity and PlayFM expressed, both accompanied by photos of Brown that certainly were “sexy” or at least attractive, in reporting on something that never actually happened is what really exacerbated the issue in this particular case.
Brown is a 13yo actress in Hollywood. She’s a good one and on a hit show. In all likelihood, she’s going to be sticking around for a while. This is not my first day on the internet. I have no doubt that if I googled there are probably dozens of websites out there with countdown timers ticking away til her 18th birthday when she’ll be “officially fuckable.” Sometime soon after that, I’m quite certain we’ll be seeing a tasteful but sexy lingerie spread of her in Maxim or something and she’ll make a couple of sexy dramatic films to try and shed her child star image. Here’s to hoping that in the end she comes out of all of this being Emma Watson and not Lindsay Lohan. In the meantime, I’m sure there were thousands of 13-year-old boys dreaming of her while they pleasured themselves last night. And… yes… I’m sure there were plenty of adult men who did this as well. And probably women and other genders. And that may be bad. But sexuality is just a part of the career. A major subplot of the show is Eleven coming to grips with her emergent sexuality — the other kids too.
And that’s all actually fine.
Don’t try to stop child sexualization in media by accidentally sexualizing children! In trying to combat this, by creating a pedophilic scandal where there wasn’t one (and yes yes yes, dudebros, I’m aware that you’d actually prefer that it be called ephebophilia… except you’re wrong, she’s 13 so it’s actually hebephilia… so seriously fuck you), you’ve made the equally problematic move of projecting an assumption of adult hypersexuality beyond what she is actually doing herself while also failing to recognize the little sexual agency she does have. You have cast her as far more sexualized than W ever did. YOU pimped her out!
And in targeting the wrong source (that is, W Magazine, rather than the theoretical countdown clocks that I’m sure are out there) and promoting a fight against something that didn’t happen, you’re implicitly letting the dudebros know that facts don’t actually matter. Yes… I realize that President Dudebro yells FAKE NEWS at anything that he doesn’t like. But all the Dudebro needs are a few examples where facts aren’t right to capitalize on and justify themselves. It allows them to justify electing a dudebro president. Be better than this. So please… Before you write a thinkpiece attacking a source, FUCKING READ THE ARTICLE!