From depictions of wide age gaps between love interests in films to celebrities engaging in relationships with underage partners; if the entertainment industry has taught us anything, it’s that age may very well be “just a number.”
In truth, pedophilia has been, and continues to be, deeply rooted in American society. And, while we as a nation preach about change and overcoming our flaws, such predation is repeatedly excused through its romanticization in media.
Take Elvis Presley for example. Despite being one of America’s most loved musicians, Presley was known to have an affinity for underage girls,with his first wife, Pricilla Wagner, having met Presley, who was 24 at the time, at the ripe age of 14. Not to mention, historian and author of “Elvis Presley: A Southern LIfe”, Joel Williamson, recounted Presley’s entourage of 14 year-old girls who followed him on tour and would often engage in intimate relations with the singer.
With more salacious trends, such as the rise of groupies in the 1970s, long behind us, some may argue that such occurrences are just that—things of the past. While it’s true that we are no longer a society that accepts adolescent fans chasing after and assuming sexual relationships with their idols, this pattern of predatory behavior has manifested into new forms.
Rather than dating teens as candidly as they did back then, today’s stars have found a loophole: holding off on publicizing their relationship until their partner reaches the legal age of consent.
Fans of the infamous Kardashian-Jenner family recall Kylie Jenner’s relationship with rapper Tyga (Micheal Ray Nguyen-Stevenson); the on-again, off-again couple owned tabloid headlines for years, but what’s more concerning than the public’s obsession with the two was the timeline of their relationship. The couple had first been seen going out together when Jenner was just 16 years-old, only to start officially dating just a year later when Jenner was still underage.
Such incidents aren’t rare phenomena; rather, just a glimpse into a much larger web of inappropriate relationships in the industry. But, how do they get away with this? In Jenner’s case, her family argued on behalf of the relationship, stating that Jenner was mature for her age and could handle dating someone seven years older than her. Such vindication, alongside the blaming of the younger partner for “coming on to” the older first, is quite common in these situations.
The best counter to such statements comes from a scientific perspective: neuroscientists have found that our brains do not fully develop until the age of 25. Unless a minor’s brain is a medical anomaly, being ‘mature” for their age is an invalid argument.
Besides this, what influences public opinion most is the depictions of pedophilic relations on screen. A lot of our favorite films and shows encapsulate these obscene relationships through rose colored glasses. Teen drama “Pretty Little Liars” (2011) idealizes the relationship between a teacher and student, excusing it through a “right person, wrong time” trope. What’s worse is that such patterns found themselves behind the scenes as well. Actress Sasha Pieterse was just 14 years-old when her character, Alison Dilaurentis, was captured in intimate scenes with Emily Fields, who’s actress, Shay Mitchell, was over 20 at the time of shooting.
Movies like “Call Me by Your Name” (2017) normalize the romantic relationship between 17 year-old Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) and 24 year-old Oliver (Armie Hammer). Not to mention, the two actors share an even wider age gap of 10 years in real life, with Chalamet being 20 years-old at the time of shooting and Hammer, 29. Although the film takes place in Italy in 1938, when the age of consent was only 14 years-old, this does not justify the couple’s age gap.
What’s worse is the hesitancy displayed when criticizing this relationship, simply due to the fact that the couple is gay, rather than heterosexual. While young girls are most commonly depicted as the victims of predation from adult males, queer youth face this issue just as well– if not more.
Most LGBTQ+ juveniles miss out on the high school romances that so many teens fantasize about, leaving them more vulnerable and desperate for a first love. Rather than seize this opportunity to give gay teens a coming of age film to relate to, “Call Me by Your Name” chooses to pursue a storyline following an inappropriate relationship, all through the eyes of a teen convinced he is in love with a grown man–further promotiong the predation of minors.
Through our reactions toward these films, shows and stars, we teach today’s youth that these kinds of relationships are okay– romantic, even. We cannot continue to excuse this predatory behavior through the use of aesthetics ; instead, we must call it out for what it is: glamorized pedophilia