We can and should inflict public ridicule upon true creeps: men who choose to romanticize much younger women.
In the spring of 1993, Jerry Seinfeld approached a pretty brunette named Shoshanna Lonstein in Central Park. For the 39-year-old comic, coming away with her phone number was small potatoes. His sitcom Seinfeld was a mega-hit—about to conclude a fourth season and on its way to a total of 68 Emmy awards and nominations.
Lonstein was up to exciting things, too. She was about to graduate high school.
Seinfeld dated Lonstein for four years, and while the media poked fun at him for going for someone so young, his career didn’t suffer. In fact, public adoration of Seinfeld continued on a skyrocketing trajectory, and when asked about tabloid coverage of his relationship, he deflected with a sigh: “It’s real sleaze show business.” No business deals were canceled. No apology was toiled over.
It was a different time. In the late 20th century, predator-prey-chic couples had proliferated with groupie culture: late-20s rockers Jimmy Page and David Bowie with 15-year-old Lori Maddox; 22-year-old Don Johnson and 14-year-old Melanie Griffith; and—on my mind thanks to Sofia Coppola’s recent biopic Priscilla—Elvis Presley and Priscilla Wagner.
These couplings wouldn’t fly now. And that’s because we’ve worked as a group to hone a specific social muscle—a simple but strong byproduct of Cancel Culture™ and #MeToo: good old creep shaming.
Since rape laws began listing ages of consent—with the U.S.’ first statute pathetically declaring a 10-year-old capable of resisting sex—we’ve been taking down creeps through litigation. And the law can be an adequate punishment once the crime is done. But we also have a cultural weapon at our disposal: a powerful tool for keeping a standard of behavior in place. I’m not saying we should just throw “creep” at any men who provoke an ew feeling. I’m talking about the public ridicule we can and should inflict upon true creeps: men who choose to romanticize much younger women.
Priscilla, for example, a film about the relationship between a teen girl and an adult superstar, succeeds not by making an empowered heroine of its titular character but because of Coppola’s characterization of Elvis. He doesn’t know who he is but loves to be loved. He likes caring for a pretty little girl when his mood’s right. His musical talent, career and international fame exist in the background, far away. The movie portrays the rock-n-roll king as he intimately was, as the type of person attracted to a 14-year-old at 24.
Here, Coppola has captured the ideal creep shame, which, at its best, focuses not on the trauma caused by statutory assault or grooming but on embarrassment.
Men don’t like to be embarrassed. They don’t want to be disrespected. As Seinfeld valiantly defended his playground lover back in the ‘90s: “I am not an idiot. Shoshanna is a person, not an age.” (Aw—buddy.) “She is extremely bright. She’s funny, sharp, very alert. We just get along. You can hear the click.”
I don’t doubt she was smart—and alert (wow!). I’m sure a 29-year-old Wilmer Valderrama thought the same about Demi Lovato at 17. And I’m sure 24-year-old Joel Madden thought that about 16-year-old Hilary Duff. And I’m sure Leonardo “never-dates-a-woman-over-24” DiCaprio would praise similar attributes in each young woman who sadly aged past his cut-off.
A man looking for a girl looks for low expectations and a sense of power.
Plenty of smart women exist inside each man’s age bracket. Those who’ve clicked with the younger ones chose to. Are creeps’ desires beyond their control? Is it biological?
It wasn’t so long ago women were getting married under 20. Throughout evolution, a girl was the smarter choice, having more reproductive time ahead of her than a grown woman. (Of course, a stone-age Lonstein would’ve never gone for stone-age Seinfeld, given he’d be near death and all.)
No. There aren’t any good excuses. DiCaprio, now 49, has never dated someone over 24 because he’s an old clown, and we all know it.
I know we all know it because of the mass of jokes and memes online making a riot of his dating choices—which must be described as cyberbullying for good—a mass embodying the attitude that I believe has worked to keep a new generation of would-be creeps in check. Many old actors are married to younger wives (Ford, Goldblum, Clooney), but can you think of a celebrity under 45 dating someone dramatically his junior? Dating someone still making her way through the public school system?
If they tried it, they’d be torched.
We’ve come to recognize that dating young isn’t a homerun but a laughable display of inadequacy. A man looking for a girl looks for low expectations and a sense of power. This is the meat behind the chiding: Romantic choices, when they cross a line, are no longer private matters of love. They are public displays of prickness, and they are to be flamed.
DiCaprio is a fine actor. I like Seinfeld. Bowie’s a legend. But because of their sexual idiocy, I’ll always know they suck just enough to never fully respect them—men who enjoy and find matches in girls with half their life experience. They’ll just always be a little sad.
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