Please help me converse with a 20 year old
October 27, 2021 4:54 AM   Subscribe

Someone I'm very close to (and over twice as old as), consistently speaks up for others and advocates for people's rights, privacy, equality, etc. I'm very proud and supportive. This same person is, oddly, very demanding of "celebrities". Should I point out that celebrities deserve the same rights and privacy they're advocating for everyone else?

By demanding, I mean they were upset and vocal on social media believing the BBC Sherlock was going to portray a relationship, and angry when it didn't happen. That tweets to Rihanna to release an album, or asks an actor to confirm a relationship.

I realize they're using social media the same way most everyone else does. Should I mention the double standard? I'm not uncomfortable having the conversation, just not sure if it merits being pointed out.
posted by racersix6 to Human Relations (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
These are all quite different phenomenon.

Asking actors about their (IRL) relationships is rude. I'd support reminding them that actors deserve private lives.

If you mean they're asking about relationships that an actor's character is playing, you could talk about how actors don't write the scripts and don't control their character arcs. There are teams of writers and directors who manage that.

Tweeting at Rhianna about a new album? She doesn't run her own twitter, totally normal fan behaviour.

I'm not sure how queerbaiting in sherlock relates to the other two examples, unless this person was writing letters to the actors or writing team. From memory discussions about queer-baiting in Sherlock were at their peak between 2017-2019, and there's nothing wrong with engaging in that kind of media analysis. You could encourage them not to pin their hopes on media creators and instead support queer media that is able to display these relationships.
posted by Braeburn at 5:11 AM on October 27, 2021

You could approach it from curiosity, knowing that it’s not likely to change their behavior or thinking - but could still result in a good conversation.
posted by bunderful at 5:46 AM on October 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Your 20 year old is engaged in parasocial relationships. These are as old as celebrity, it's just that your human is engaging in these relationships in 2021 and not 1918.

Also, they are not the same things. A celebrity is by definition someone in the public eye, and a celebrity on social media is a public person in a public sphere. As long as this person isn't normalising bullying, I don't think there's a problem your input is needed for. Rhianna is fine.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:52 AM on October 27, 2021 [14 favorites]

I think there are things worth speaking to our friends/family about, but this isn’t one of them.

One of the weird things about your watching their social media is that you are effectively participating parasocially as well…but they are not having that conversation with you, just where you can see it. When I was having similar conversations in a dorm in 1990, at least my elders were out of it.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:59 AM on October 27, 2021 [18 favorites]

I tend to think that this person is basically an adult and unless you think their behavior is literally immoral/stalker-y or it seems like a sudden personality change that could indicate an urgent mental health crisis, it isn't your job to make suggestions about their internet behavior.

If it comes up naturally in conversation, sure, it would be fine to ask them why they advocate for privacy for individual people and insist that celebrities be incredibly open about their lives.

Also, that BBC Sherlock stuff was in 2017, when they were ~16, right? As an Old, I know that four years seems like the blink of an eye, but if a big piece of this is about Sherlock fandom stuff, I think it's worth considering whether this person was just literally being a teenager in fandom.

If this person is literally tweeting insults or threats or slurs, that's a different matter.
posted by Frowner at 6:06 AM on October 27, 2021 [10 favorites]

If this relationship is important to you, I'd suggest finding a way to not regularly see their social media. This has worked for me and improved my relationships. This is annoying behavior that you're best not seeing rather than trying to fix.
posted by david1230 at 6:11 AM on October 27, 2021 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you, Frowner, this is my concern: why they advocate for privacy for individual people and insist that celebrities be incredibly open about their lives. I should clarify, there is nothing abusive.
posted by racersix6 at 6:15 AM on October 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Sometimes people mistakenly feel that because a person is a celebrity, they have already chosen to open their lives to public scrutiny. You could talk about how just because a person has chosen to pursue part of their professional life in the public eye, it doesn't mean they necessarily owe more than that to their fans.
posted by AndrewInDC at 6:36 AM on October 27, 2021 [3 favorites]

This would mostly seem like a good way to move a friendly relationship from twice as old and close with towards twice as old and distant. I'd leave it alone: young folks--like old folks!--are going to be who they're going to be.

As mentioned above, if it comes up organically, sure. But (potentially projecting from, and cheerfully generalizing) my own younger past self, one of the things The Olds consistently underestimate The Youngs on is how attuned the latter are to the former trying to steer things in a lecture-y Let Me Benefit You With My Wisdom fashion--so be cautious about trying to 'make' the topic happen organically.

Maybe some material about parasocial engagement, along the lines of "I bet I'm reinventing the wheel here; is this already old news in your cohorts? What do you think?" but that must be genuine questions about what they actually think, not again, a lecture-y leapoff point.
posted by Drastic at 6:38 AM on October 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

From memory discussions about queer-baiting in Sherlock were at their peak between 2017-2019, and there's nothing wrong with engaging in that kind of media analysis.

I'm guessing you all didn't see what this was actually like and think this was just, you know, ordinary fervent shipping, which can be ridiculous if viewed with the eyes of grave objectivity, but is usually really just harmless fun no different than painting your face and going to yell at a football game. The shipping segment of Sherlock fandom was taken over by a horrible mix of misguided social justice rhetoric, personal entitlement, and frankly concerning levels of mental illness. The result was (a) genuinely bizarre elaborate conspiracy theories about the reality of the show production [as opposed to the in-show universe], including a real belief that the show succeeding it on-air was actually a decoy show and would prove to be another episode that made everyone's dreams come true and (b) extreme convictions as to the absolute necessity for social justice of two characters getting together who'd never canonically been together, leading to people feeling justified in attacking the show's gay creator's sexuality when they didn't. I've never seen anything quite like it, and I've bopped around fandom for some 25+ years now. (I literally thought it was just hyperbole when I first started seeing it, because I couldn't believe anyone could be serious. Friends, it was not.) If I knew a young person who adhered to these theories, I'd try to gently dissuade them from feeling entitled to any given thing from any piece of media or person appearing in it (especially mainstream corporate media) and to encourage them to start thinking about the uses and limits of representation and to learn to exercise some common sense about how life works. I don't think you're wrong to see a certain connection among the various incidents you're describing, and you do not want them to be the person trashing queer creators personally over whether imaginary characters get together or yelling at media figures because they don't share their personal lives (or what they perceive to be their personal lives--did I mention there was a side conspiracy theory that the two actors were really in a relationship and one's marriage was a total fake, with fake children?).

(And, you know, when the show's creators come out and say explicitly, "It's cool if you want to imagine these two characters together, but that's not the story we're telling," it's hard to understand what queerbaiting is going on there, as opposed to a bunch of people in desperate need of therapy aggravating each other's dysfunction. I think a couple of the ringleaders literally had breakdowns and had to go dark when the truth finally became undeniable.)
posted by praemunire at 6:45 AM on October 27, 2021 [10 favorites]

If you're envisioning this as "a talk" where you are offering advice on how to look at the world, I can't see that working. This is the sort of thing that thoughtful people eventually figure out on their own. Hearing it from an older person who you know wants to steer you in the right direction is offputting, even if you like and respect that person a lot.

But if it comes up in conversation, I don't think there's any harm in expressing your own opinion. When I was younger, I had some extremely obnoxious religious beliefs, and while nobody changed my mind at the time, people politely disagreeing with me eventually led me to question my beliefs and come to a more mature outlook.
posted by FencingGal at 6:47 AM on October 27, 2021 [12 favorites]

(But, yeah, what FencingGal said. This should be in the context of normal discussions, not "sitting them down for a talk," unless they tell you about really harmful behavior. There's only so much you can do with a person who isn't your kid or underling.)
posted by praemunire at 6:49 AM on October 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

With the caveat that I'm an old myself, I also find this weird, and I think it's because there's no actual line separating people who "live their life in public" and people who don't. As an example, one of my friends is the executive director of a nonprofit, his salary is public record on the organization's IRS filings. There was recently a fuss on a Facebook group he admins as part of his job duties about it; some posters found the IRS filing where his salary is listed and posted about it. That seems to me like it's going too far, but at the same time, it is "in the public sphere". Or what about public school teachers? They work in a highly visible position for a public entity, and a big part of their job is being available for questions from parents. But like, that's only part of their lives. I'm sure kids have tried to badger their single teachers into talking about their dating lives well before social media was around, but that's crossing a line and your acquaintance seems like they would clearly see that.

I also think that, if this person is interested in celebrity culture, that it's probably worth mentioning the toxicity of the paparazzi.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:01 AM on October 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Here’s my tip for having this conversation: approach with genuine curiosity, not a presumption that this is a double standard (because that’s your negative judgment, and sharing that won’t likely get much except a defensive young person).

Have this conversation at a time when you’re relaxed and chatting.

Keep in mind that this person lived through an isolating pandemic during a pretty key time of late adolescence, when I’m guessing they would have rather spending time with people their age, not just social media.

And please remember that this behavior, while annoying to you, is likely not harmful. I would try to let it go, likely by reducing your exposure to it (because it’s also worth reflecting on why you continue to follow something that is distressing or annoying to you).
posted by bluedaisy at 7:01 AM on October 27, 2021 [4 favorites]

Why do you want to say something to them? Are you concerned for this young person's wellbeing? Are they criticizing celebrities so often and so vociferously on the internet, and are they getting so sucked into the black hole of toxic online discourse, that they are alienating their friends, losing their family, spiraling into an angry depression, harming their workplace relationships, and/or attracting the attention of dangerous trolls who will doxx/harass them...?

Or are they perhaps stalking celebrities online and crossing certain boundaries, exhibiting entitled and toxic fan behavior that harms the object of their fandom?

I'm guessing no. Your words about "pointing out double standards" are telling me that no, you're not concerned for their wellbeing; rather, you're just very eager to point out to them that they're wrong? That's really mean and unnecessary given the age difference between you both + the relationship you have (not anonymous online relationship but rather a personal and nurturing one). Are you really so incapable of leaving well enough alone when a young person is wrong about something? If you had just told them you disagree, that would be fine, but you're posting a whole Ask here and that doesn't seem ok.

Perhaps you are finding their online behavior irritating or annoying or obnoxious by your own standards, and you think a good way to express how annoyed you are is to point out to them that they're logically wrong. Don't do that either! You are fully capable of dealing with your annoyance on your own; you're the adult in this situation (I know they're also technically an adult but their brain isn't done cooking, and speaking out in obnoxious ways online IS in fact one of the byproducts of their brain being in the process of cooking all the way through).

You are fully capable of avoiding their online discourse if it bothers you. There is no need to even concern yourself with what this young person is doing online unless you fear for their wellbeing or their safety, and in that case your approach will not be to point out their double standards or bring up how obnoxious their online behavior is, but rather to express your actual point of concern directly, like, "Hey, I am worried about how many friends you have lost over the past six months, can we talk about it? What's going on?" or "Hey I see you have some very persistent trolls who are coming after you, do you need help? I think we need to start reporting them."
posted by MiraK at 7:25 AM on October 27, 2021 [13 favorites]

it's fine to disagree with this person openly. About just about anything.

It's fine to say "you can't expect Rihanna to direct her twitter management team to answer whatever you want to know about her personal life, it's not realistic." It's fine to point out "not everything on Twitter is real and there are lots of unhinged people on there saying stuff that isn't true or useful."

She may not believe you, and she may be annoyed that you're disagreeing with her, but that's her right as well.

I wouldn't sit her down for a Kindly Lecture, though; this sort of thing isn't worth an Intervention.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:43 AM on October 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

I probably wouldn't consider this worth raising at all. But if you want to, I wouldn't go into the conversation with the assumption that you've caught them in a double standard that they've never noticed, that you now get to point out to them. If you're sincerely curious about what drives this behavior that seems to you like a double standard, then sure, ask them like you would anything else you're curious about - why do they ask celebrities things they wouldn't ask a non-celebrity? Does it seem to them as if the nature of celebrity changes the rules of what's appropriate? Do they see contacting a celebrity's professionally-run twitter account that the celebrity doesn't seem to use personally as different from talking to that person herself? You're curious, you'd like to know more, so listen to what they have to say and then respond accordingly.

You could also wait until the next time someone writes a celebrity profile or essay where the celebrity talks about their perceptions of privacy/personal life, and then share that with your friend and start a conversation that way that's more generally about the tradeoffs of celebrity, vs. "I'm paying really close attention to what you tweet to other people". Might be more interesting and less likely to raise your friend's hackles.

(BBC Sherlock, yes, was a nearly-uniquely weird and deep level of internet conspiracy, and frankly without knowing a lot more about how deep your friend was into that, I'd stay far away from that conversation entirely.)
posted by Stacey at 7:44 AM on October 27, 2021 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Let me re-frame: We talk to each other and interact near daily, about a myriad of things. I never said I was annoyed or upset. I was wondering if I should mention my perspective. I think FencingGirl has it: This is the sort of thing that thoughtful people eventually figure out on their own. It's helpful to me to have different perspectives - that's why I'm here : )
posted by racersix6 at 7:47 AM on October 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

I know a lot of older (than me, so 35 onwards to 80) that are deeply entrenched in the same online behaviors towards celebrities but adamant about their own privacy. This isn't an age thing. Before email and Twitter was a thing they just wrote them directly to whatever addresses they could find in magazines.

Don't say anything.
posted by coldbabyshrimp at 7:52 AM on October 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

Mod note: Couple comments deleted; folks please dial back the armchair psychologizing about the poster. If you've offered your constructive helpful answer about whether OP should bring up this thing with their friend, please leave it at that.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:20 AM on October 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If it comes up you can consider taking the opportunity, but I do think one of the gifts we can give the younger people in our lives is a voluntary overlooking of the more embarrassing stages of their development. Yes, do push back if their fandom passions threaten to turn into hatefulness, but most of the rest of these lessons are theirs to be learned in their own time and for you to pretend you never noticed.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:47 AM on October 27, 2021 [19 favorites]

why they advocate for privacy for individual people and insist that celebrities be incredibly open about their lives.

There is nothing wrong with asking this question but I think that the way you initially framed it came across as antagonistic, and it was hard for me to parse whether you want to have a dialogue to understand them better or you want to convince them to share your viewpoint. I think it would be good idea to not bring this up unless you are clear on what your own intentions are (and comfortable with the potential outcomes).
posted by sm1tten at 8:53 AM on October 27, 2021 [3 favorites]

If you want to know how they can hold these two views in their head simultaneously, ask them. Genuinely, non-judgmentally, and with curiosity about the answer. If you want to tell them you think they're wrong, keep your mouth shut. I think you know, deep down, which one you really want to do.
posted by decathecting at 8:58 AM on October 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

It sounds like this young person is doing fandom in public, which is apparently how it works nowadays, and it’s likely they’ll grow out of it. When you were that age, all of it was hidden away on mailing lists and message boards where older relatives would never come across it. If they post anything egregious, a gentle reminder about future employers might not be out of place, but otherwise, it’s best to not see their fandom life.
posted by betweenthebars at 11:00 AM on October 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I am a self identified “fandom old” and have done many younger friends the kindness of letting them figure this stuff out on their own.

I have a few true, personal experiences that embody the problems you are trying to convey to your friend and if I am having a one on one conversation where it seems appropriate to bring one up I occasionally will tell those stories. But I never moralize at the end, just say how I personally felt and let my conversation partner draw their own connections.

This is the kind of thing that isn’t so much dependent on age but more personality and life experience. So some people can be like this later in life if they are just getting into a new thing, or have entered a new phase of their life. But it is more common in younger folks of course, who are also typically more engaged in social media. The twist is, as someone who is observing this behavior at a remove, that you too are susceptible to hypocrisy. Other people know this and if you try to point out their own misjudgments and bad behavior it can go sour in a moment, and affect your relationship going forward in ways that might take you by surprise. I tell my stories to folks so as to place myself in their same position, to equate myself to them and say that I am also susceptible and make bad choices. I don’t tell them as parables.

Rihanna is doing pretty well and BBC Sherlock is an entity untethered by a duty to an audience. Your friend will eventually chill, and then you can be like “hey remember when you tweeted at Harry Styles? Lolololol” and they can be like “oh my GOD I cannot with you” and so on.
posted by Mizu at 11:09 AM on October 27, 2021 [8 favorites]

While I don't think the public have any right to demand anything from celebrities, being in a public eye is part of their job and its one of the reasons they're paid so incredibly well. I don't think it is a given that celebrities deserve the same privacy rights as everyone else. At least for those that have chosen a celebrity career path (obviously those born into the limelight are a different story). Most celebrities earn far more than the simple value of the work they produce, some would argue that loss of privacy is the price they pay for that.

Instead of coming from a perspective of your view is correct and she's a hypocrite, maybe its a good starting point for a debate on the issue.

(although tbh, of the examples you've given, only one seemed to be an invasion of privacy and its a fairly mild/common one). Unless she's getting irrationally angry when celebs don't respond to her tweets or don't give in to her demands then this all seems fairly benign and not really at odds with her advocacy IMO
posted by missmagenta at 1:26 PM on October 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

I agree that respecting people's privacy is different when we're talking about celebrities. I think everyone above has made such excellent points, from the parasocial aspects to the importance of giving this young person grace in an area that may be super embarrassing later. (Ugh we've all been there and I'm still cringing at myself decades later!) The fact that they trust you enough to share is HUGE and I agree that sometimes letting the little stuff go after a polite statement of disagreement is more important than trying to prove your point. This person will surely get there eventually!

That said, I think we are still so incredibly hard on female celebrities, famous LGBTQIA+ people and more. I think back of how, say, Paris Hilton was treated when her sex tape was released -- how many people made fun of her -- when now in retrospect it's a painful example of revenge porn. Or how Monica Lewinsky was treated (common person turned infamous), how the fact that Britney Spears has an IUD is of international pop culture debate, and more. I was a teen who presented as VERY strong, at times almost ridiculously so, but I was also very sensitive and the victim of, first, childhood sexual abuse and, later, rape by my first boyfriend. I didn't realize how I was projecting my own unresolved issues and untreated trauma onto certain favorite female celebrities but, indeed, there was a raw wound that manifested itself into a form of (mostly secret) fangirl connection. Also, I think of celebrities like Simone Biles now: yes, she's famous and talking openly about being sexually assaulted and her mental health but she deserves respect and privacy, too. I have mixed feelings about Meghan Markle and her relationship with the media but I definitely think it's awful she's been so attacked, both by individuals and electronic hate campaigns. We can have empathy and also be critical at the same time.

Lately, it's also possible that these are (secret) crushes of your young friend and we all know how (seemingly oddly) defensive we can get about a secret crush!!
posted by smorgasbord at 1:31 PM on October 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

I wanted to add another thing after reading missmagenta's great comment: while being mad that a celebrity didn't respond to their tweet, it's ok for them to be sad that they didn't get a response. As an adult who doesn't usually care about these things, it's still always flattering and fun to get a response or follow back from someone I admire. I just don't expect it, assume it's actually them behind the screen and/or read into it. And, yes, we can all be hypocrites! There was an old article about Maria Montessori's writing on teens that I can sadly no longer find but can summarize: so often teens and young people are disappointed in the adults they know for not living up to their impossibly high standards; however, they're even more disappointed in themselves for not being able to. I think you're a good pal/mentor to want to understand where they are coming from and I think you will find a good way to balance honesty with grace.
posted by smorgasbord at 1:39 PM on October 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think it can be good sometimes to share a perspective that's different, especially if you think they've been part of hurting someone - like, "wow, that person said a dumb thing and got 100,000 angry emails. That must be overwhelming." I think it's good to encourage compassion in others and in ourselves. And also my friends get soooo annoyed at me for it when they just want to talk shit about the latest idiot who wrote an advice column letter. So, it's a sometimes behavior.
posted by Lady Li at 6:04 PM on October 27, 2021 [3 favorites]

Frowner, this is my concern: why they advocate for privacy for individual people and insist that celebrities be incredibly open about their lives.

Most of your examples are not about this, though?

By demanding, I mean they were upset and vocal on social media believing the BBC Sherlock was going to portray a relationship, and angry when it didn't happen. That tweets to Rihanna to release an album, or asks an actor to confirm a relationship.

The only one of these that has anything to do with privacy is asking an actor to confirm a relationship. And yeah, actors have a right to privacy, but is she going on long rants about how awful it is that said actor hasn't confirmed a relationship? Is she outside his house trying to get photos of the couple together? I mean, if she worked for a tabloid and actually had some power to invade people's privacy rather than tweet something relatively harmless to their twitter account (to which the actor or whoever actually manages the account can just not respond), it would be worth a real level of concern. But this just seems like a non-issue.
posted by Squalor Victoria at 9:52 AM on October 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

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