The Netflix original series Stranger Things is enjoying immense popularity at the moment and the cast of the show is on top of the world. Between the media victory lap and hitting all the big shows and red carpets, people are obsessed with its teenage stars.
But with their fame comes public scrutiny, and while these teens should be celebrated for their badassness, many people forget—or ignore—that they are still children. Between uncomfortable comments on Millie Bobby Brown's appearance and Finn Wolfhard having to ask his fans to stop calling him "daddy," the sexualization of these teens is more troubling than the upside down.
Mike Sington, a retired NBC executive and pop culture insider, tweeted photos of Millie Bobby Brown on the red carpet with the comment, "[She] just grew up in front of our eyes. (She's 13!)"
— Mike Sington (@MikeSington) October 27, 2017
The tweet quickly sparked outrage from Twitter users, most notably former child star Mara Wilson. "Knock it the fuck off," she wrote in the now viral tweet. "The people that were mostly a threat to me as a child were not Hollywood insiders, but grown-up male 'fans.' It does not feel good to have strange men comment on your body when you are 13, whether in a 'positive' or 'negative' way."
Mike Sington released a statement apologizing, explaining that his intent wasn't to contribute to "the objectification or even sexualization of a minor."
Finn Hardwick, who plays Mike on Stranger Things, has been getting sexualized abuse since his appearance in the remake of Stephen King's IT when he had to ask fans to stop calling him "daddy." Even after that controversy, Ali Michael, a 27-year-old model, posted a photo of the 14-year-old on Snapchat with the caption, "Not to be weird but hit me up in 4 years."
The screenshots circulated on Twitter and people were not in a laughing mood.
this is disgusting, she’s literally 27 and he’s 14 what the fuck pic.twitter.com/apZRunPlIR
— cal (@tomothyholland) October 30, 2017
"There's so many stories about pedophilia in hollywood and yet y'all continue to sexualise this kid like it's funny and not weird af," wrote one Twitter user.
Once Michael saw the outrage, she posted an apology on her Snapchat story. "It was completely absolutely a joke but I understand that people have been offended by it. It was wrong to joke about and I apologize. I do not want Mike from Stranger Things to call me. I hope this clears things up."
TMZ asked a visibly uncomfortable Wolfhard about Michael's joke. "Oh, that was nuts, that was gross," replied Wolfhard. "That's good that she apologized. It was weird, but... yeah it's fine."
Finn talking about the 27 year-old model that sexualized him pic.twitter.com/luAiRVh1mV
— Affinity Magazine (@TheAffinityMag) November 5, 2017
These incidents are especially troubling considering the recent allegations against Kevin Spacey and Charlie Sheen, who allegedly preyed on and sexually assaulted young actors. Does the public lusting of 14-year-olds enable predatory adults to believe what they're doing is okay?
These ideas could use further examining in the gay community. The iconic gay television show Queer as Folk begins with a 30-year-old man knowingly sleeping with a 17-year-old boy; that's only a slight step up from the 15-year-old in the British version. The upcoming, critically-acclaimed film Call Me By Your Name evokes a romantic relationship between a 17-year-old and 24-year-old.
Are these relationships consensual sex, or sexual abuse? The thin line between them is blurry and highly debated, but these conversations around sexualization and consent have never been more important.
While the adults are figuring it out, let these children be children.