We all prefer to avoid telling stories that make us look bad. This is a fact of human nature. We like to make ourselves look good and no matter how much we claim to be open, we all have weaknesses in this area. We have things about ourselves we’d rather not expose.
That’a what this story is. It exposes things about myself I’m highly uncomfortable with, namely my sexuality. I’m a straight white man so in theory I shouldn’t be unsettled by discussing this. I should feel free to leer. But I’m not proud of doing so.
So why tell this story? I’ve thought long and hard about the topic of parasocial relationships, an idea ironically introduced to me by my virtual sister Laura. This is my story of a parasocial connection. It’s a story of how a simple, ridiculous celebrity crush helped fill a niche in my life at a moment I needed it. And how I moved past it at exactly the right moment in my life.
I have to note that I’m deliberately obscuring the identity of the subject. I’m trying to keep things vague for a reason. With famous people, there are feelings we all bring to that person. If I gave the name, and the subject is 100% still someone doing well in their career so you’d know the name, it’d affect your opinion of the story. Let this be vague. Fill in the blank yourself. The who is unimportant. The idea isn’t.
There’s also the question of what I’m specifically talking about. So let me lay that out. This is a narrative of a celebrity crush. It’s an innocent one. This isn’t a 12 letters a week one. It’s not a stalking story. It’s not a “we’re going to be married” tale. If you want a more exciting and wild story then look elsewhere. This is a story of a man observing a beauty from afar and knowing it was only that.
ACT I: One Shot
With that in mind, I set the mood with these details. In the period of December 2000/January 2001, I was in a strange place. I was between a lot of things. I was smart but my grades weren’t great. I had friends but only a bit of a social life. I wasn’t teased or loved. I wasn’t truly depressed but to be technical I was hellishly depressed. I was in a state of gray.
I think these moments made me susceptible to the Walmart newsstand that January day. I was doing my standard check of the books and magazines when my eyes landed on the latest lad mags. I won’t pretend that was accidental. I have a weird fondness in my memory for those magazines which were far more interesting to me than the harder stuff. Those had faces I knew. Why care about the hard stuff when I could see the star of Christian Mingle the Movie heavily airbrushed.
Anyway so it was that I saw an image of an actress I had been vaguely familiar with before on the cover of one of those magazines. It set my mind ablaze. There was something intensely seductive about it that stoked the fired in my hormonal nearly 17 year old brain. It switched something on for me.
Now I should note that in advance of this essay I looked up the image and found it almost laughably unreal. It actually bore no resemblance to the human being it depicted. The makeup was a farce. The photoshop work was over the top. And all of this makes sense to me all the same. Because maybe it was inevitable it was an image removed from reality to stoke this fire. Keep in mind in 2001 I had almost no interaction with women on anything even remotely romantic and wouldn’t for a few years. So of course an image I subconsciously read as unreal flipped something for me.
Once a switch is flipped and we notice something, we notice it everywhere. Suddenly I noticed she was on another cover, a more realistic but still photoshopped to hell cover. She was in a music video for a song I liked thus giving me the excuse to watch. She was on a show I occasionally saw. There was a new lens.
This is usually the point in the story where the teller talks about how loud the obsession got. They talk about how they bought all of the magazines and pinned them up on their walls. I didn’t do that. For the month the magazine was on the stands, I dragged my feet a half step too long at the aisle and I eventually ferreted a digital copy of the cover on my hard drive. But beyond that I didn’t make any noise. I didn’t even see the film that led to the media attention. It was by all accounts a not very good teen comedy which I wouldn’t have any reason to see.
Besides, she was supporting in it, which gives me a chance to hit on why she might’ve grabbed my eye. There’s an oddity about fame where we’re told who is/isn’t important. A person can be in the public eye to the point of covering magazines nationwide and still be only kind of famous. They’re not topping the agenda so they’re one of the rabble. In 2001, it felt like Kirsten Dunst (deservedly and seriously deserving of way more work in 2017) and Jessica Alba (undeservedly) topped the agenda. Everybody else scrambled for third place. perhaps I was drawn to fixating on someone far off the top of the agenda. Indeed, during the period between 2001 and spring 2008, her career would be that weird phantom of bad with a ton of dtv work that nobody saw and tv shows that failed yet also still good because hey, she had that.
Indeed, that uncanny valley kind of bothered me. I’d always been attracted to talent. I utterly fizzled on Anna Paquin after seeing her nightmarishly bad delivery in X-Men. She wasn’t talented to my eyes. Not nails on chalkboard bad but utterly unnotable. In my terrible way, this was weirdly appealing. I like something outside my norm.
All of this helped give me a nice mental cloud in the spring and summer of 2001. At the same time I was trying in vain to develop Unworthy. When that faltered I began thinking on a meta level about celebrity. I tried to develop a project or two on this thread but I couldn’t make it work for the same reason Unworthy didn’t work: the only happy ending is the character outgrowing their feelings and moving on. In real life, the famous and the plebians do not interact. Indeed that might have been why I leaned on the dream casting in my fantasies. I couldn’t bridge the gap but I could sure as hell picture appealing roles, unmade movies.
During this time, I had a very thin veneer of a social life. I was probably closer to the younger kids down the street than any of my peers. I was in isolation. No wonder I lived so strongly in my head. All was quiet. All was calm. My new addiction started to fade back, with only a set pic or two from a DTV thriller that summer to fuel it. The fall was coming though.
ACT II: Aflame
The next piece of kindling for this fire was a cover of a teen magazine in October. I looked it up too. It’s actually the image I suspect reflected the actual individual. It’s completely covered up, still airbrushed, but realer. It’s probably the most appealing of all of the picture I’ll discuss in this. It wasn’t the one to grab my eye the most but it was definitely still a reaffirmation.
So much of 2001-2002 was a a phantom reflection of life. If this were indeed script structure, you’d have fall 2001-spring 2002 as the first half of act II. I had a bit stronger social life but not yet the one I wanted. I was lucky to have daily chats with my friend Laura, an at times tricky connection that seemed to finally stabilize for good. (It did. Notice the reference to virtual sister above.) I interacted frequently with the drama students but wasn’t yet there.
So there was a nice symbolism in a muted picture to fuel the flames a bit. It kept an addiction going at a moment when I was getting stronger. I even kind of had a date even if I couldn’t grasp that or get it to a second date. I still had my dream worlds.
And I should point out there were others at this time. Of course there were. I had and have an eye for beauty. I noted Dunst’s omnipresence due to Spider-Man which I hardly minded but I noticed other celebrities. It’s just funny to me that from a vantage point of 2017 I can’t remember who. Memory is largely a narrative we craft so of course I’ve filtered out noise.
Then there was the 1-2 punch. The first was the release of the DTV movie. I have no idea who the hell the box is supposed to depict but it was only faintly its star. still. I found myself finding reasons to pass the image. A brief jolt of electricity beat nothing.
But wow, I remember the covers in the fall of 2002 so hard. Yeah if I feel any shame it’s about this part of the story. See I remember both covers. Both were the most revealing of any of these. One was with another actress I’ve all but forgotten. The other was solo, but the expression was far more appealing on the joint cover so it stays in my mind more.
I definitely lingered way too long in the aisles while these were out. It was like getting a dose of a drug. I got high on airbrushed beauty. Also some reason both covers were on shelves for a long time. Like I remember spotting these covers on the shelves in January. Likely just a fluke of laziness at a few stores but it stays in my mind. Oh and the idea of owning the magazines was out of the question. I was far too shy to ever make such a purchase.
If I was ever far gone, it was then. It definitely was never as bad as then. But there’s a funny side note to all of this. At the same time the covers were on stands, I started to have a real, raging social life. In fact, I spent most weekends hanging out with friends, the drama group I’d had interactions with in the fall of 2001. I was a regular at the movies in large crowds and just as often wound up at various houses hanging out. I had the life I wanted.
Which makes it fitting that after a fairly innocent teen mag cover in the spring of 2003 and an utterly photoshopped to hell magazine cover in the fall, a long radio silence set in on this story.
Act III: Onward
This is the hard truth about celebrity crushes. Without fuel, they fade. They get drowned out. We move on. And that intensity is especially doomed if we suddenly spike in maturity during the fading period. That’s what happened to me.
In the spring of 2003 I graduated high school. In the fall of 2003 I entered college. In the fall of 2005, I started dating a girl at school. My social life blossomed during that time and the crutch of my “dreams” vanished. I actually barely wrote any fiction at all during college because the sea of emotions I’d previously tapped was all but dry. My fiction stemmed from fantasies of a life denied. Now I was satisfied.
I can’t say I forgot who she was during this time but the importance faded greatly. I moved along. Every now and then I might see an image but it wasn’t until spring of 2006 I saw any notable cover. And even that was almost more like a happy memory revisited than a raging fire reignited. It was a nice cover though.
And that was more or less it. I moved onto reality. I still ogled the famous, of course I did and I still do. I’m only human. We all do it. But that flame, it was gone. Still, that’s not a very satisfying ending.
A better ending came in the spring of 2008 when she starred in a romantic comedy that got wide release. It was the kind of film I was guaranteed to see regardless of cast and indeed I dropped in on a matinee. Watching the film, I was startled and happy to discover that she was utterly fantastic in it. Her performance was the kind of sweetly sexy turn that careers are made on. My talent radar wasn’t glitching in her case. It was overly tuned up and spotted a genuinely strong one. As for the film itself, it was a wonderful comedy that I eagerly saw once more at the theater and purchased on DVD. One of my favorite comedies honestly.
The experience of watching the film in a large crowd made me happy because I knew however I’d judged myself for those trips in the aisle, I could let go of the shame. It didn’t feel weird anymore. It was normal.
As I’ve worked on this piece, and I took a few weeks to think it out, I spent a long time pondering what the real subject of it is. Is it the grand topic of celebrity crushes? Not really. There’s no deep point to make except that we all have them and they’re fun. Is it outgrowing immature things? Nah, that’s silly but it’s actually close to the real subject.
See, the reason I tell this story is to let go of an immature thing but it’s not the crush. It’s learning to let go of judging myself for it. There was nothing wrong with the experience. I liked looking at a beautiful girl. That’s not a shocking thing. It’s normal. It’s boring even. I had such nerves and drama about it in my head but in the light of day it’s really quite innocent.
But maybe it was the sense of shame and secrecy that I enjoyed. It’s ridiculous to claim privacy over an attraction to a woman who was all over the nation’s magazine racks but it felt like that to me. It was fun to just have it in my head while others talked about the Albas of the world. Immature but fun.
Do I still have the crush? Of course. It’s nowhere near like it was, ironically despite far more fuel in recent years, but it’s there. She’s been in several movies I’ve seen theatrically since. Most were damn good. One was great. She’s been fantastic in them. At one point the agenda setters I noted even shone their light on her. That was fun.
But it’s just a silly little crush. Fall in love hard with a real woman as I did with Amanda and you see celebrity crushes for what they are. They’re places to play at attraction but they’re nothing compared to the real deal. When you fall in, it wakes you up and makes you see life in a new way. That’s definitely what Amanda did for me. Still, I’ll always be grateful for the memory. I now accept it as part of me.
It was fun.