Since the release of Stranger Things’ second season, social media has been plastered with recaps of episodes and declarations of love for the main child actors. However, this affection can sometimes cross a border into pedophilia that is often trivialized.
Our society constantly puts Hollywood celebrities on a pedestal above the rest of humanity. There are gossip news outlets and paparazzi that actively invade the daily lives of celebrities and there are fans who consume all of this information. With today’s social media platforms, especially Twitter and Instagram, fans can even directly interact with their favorite celebrities. It is great that fans can have their voice heard by their idols, but the more frequent use of social media also means less filtering of what is said.
Given the popularity of the Stranger Things Netflix series, it is inevitable that child actors Finn Wolfhard, Noah Schnapp, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, and Caleb McLaughlin will be in the public eye. Although their acting is for viewers’ consumption and comment, their private lives are not. Social media tends to blur the line of privacy between celebrities and fans, and this line gets more blurred considering that most Stranger Things fans are older than the 14-year-old actors themselves.
Actress Shannon Purser defended her costar Finn Wolfhard on Twitter after someone called him “heartless” for not taking the time to sign autographs. She states that she “can’t imagine being inundated with all this attention at his age” of 14 because “it’s intimidating.”
Stranger Things is a show that resonates with multiple generations of people, but there is a creepiness factor that comes in considering the amount of adoration and obsession over this group of young teenagers. It gets worse when fans seem to objectify these teenage kids as the characters they play and dehumanize their right to privacy.
Sexualizing these young stars crosses an even bigger boundary. Recently, 27-year-old fashion model Ali Michael posted an Instagram story captioned “Not to be weird, but hit me up in a few years” on an image of Finn Wolfhard. The model was soon called out for her predatory behavior and later apologized. By counting down the days until Wolfhard is 18, Michael is objectifying him while removing Wolfhard’s voice and consent; she is also implying her sexual attraction to a child without directly stating it.
Wolfhard responded by calling Michael’s behavior “nuts” and “gross,” and noting he should not have even been in this situation in the first place. Despite her claims that her comment was merely a joke, her actions are predatory and inappropriate. Pedophilia and sexualization are topics that should not be so trivialized that they can be accepted as comedic. It is unfortunate that Wolfhard had to be part of Michael’s twisted joke, especially after he had recently fired his agent, Tyler Grasham, amid sexual assault claims against Grasham.
Although Michael did get called out for her sexualization and objectification of Wolfhard, most fans do not due to their smaller online presence. Those with more popularity are held accountable for their actions, yet those who have less are able to freely normalize pedophilia and sexualization of child actors.
On Wolfhard’s Instagram, there are thousands of comments from fans saying how “cute” and “handsome” he is followed by dozens of heart emojis. It becomes increasingly more inappropriate when fans call him “babe” and “Daddy.” Wolfhard’s celebrity status makes him vulnerable to fans’ unhealthy adoration and obsession. Yet, the behavior of fans is not criticized because society does not often recognize female pedophilia. Regardless of gender, it is unacceptable for a person to prey on children, even in a “joking” manner.
It is fine for fans to compliment the Stranger Things stars, but there is no excuse for sexualizing them or other minors. In this digital age, it is so easy to care about physical appearances. Inevitably, the stars of Stranger Things were casted based on both their acting and their physical appearances; the audience of any television show wants to be engaged and entertained by convincing and visually appealing actors and actresses. However, there is an overemphasis on the appearances of these stars, and the conversations should focus more about their acting than their bodies.
The Stranger Things stars may be part of a hit television series, but they are still teenagers who deserve their right to privacy and human decency.
Amy Huynh is a first-year aerospace engineering major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.