If you asked 17-year-old me which celebrity I loved the most, my response would have been James Franco. Not only did I want to be with him, but a part of me also wanted to be like him. In the last half-decade, my opinion of him has been diminishing, but this most recent situation broke my heart. Someone who I saw as a crush and inspiration attempted to take advantage of a girl; a girl who seems a lot like me five years ago. Further, in his apology he avoids genuine honesty and opts for a publicist-written half-truth that seems like it was directed for someone who had heard the story second-hand and not seen the screen captures (available here) of the actual interaction. The dismissive nature of how this celebrity “mishap” is being handled was a final twist of the knife.
Some outlets are connecting the dots that reveal a bigger picture of what seems like a perverted version of a campaign for media attention. While it seems like a very plausible — yet still scummy — explanation, it feels more like a pretty coffee table placed on top of the rug, under which the reality of his behavior has been swept.
Age of consent varies state-to-state and legally, in New York, it is the 17-year-old’s choice whether they wish to engage with a 35-year-old. Had this interaction taken place in my home state of California, he would have been eligible for jail time (page 16), if found guilty. Though he did not commit a crime in New York, he did still prey on the vulnerability of a teenage girl who was probably star-struck by their interaction. As a teen girl, I would not have thought twice about such a large age gap, especially with the added feature of the man being my celebrity crush. Now, a few years later I see more clearly that an adult man was soliciting a nubile girl for sex. In our already ageist society, it is harmful for celebrities to indirectly normalize the fascination with the immature female form. Despite his assertion in his apology that he was just trying to meet people, it is apparent that his intention was to solicit sex.
Regardless of the attention he may have been trying to attract from this stunt, it was still a big mistake. I’m sure there many young women and men in the position I once held toward James Franco. They idolize him and want to respect him and his actions. For someone who knows the authority they hold -whether it is deserved or not, it was incredibly ill-conceived to make the choices he made. It is even more irresponsible of us as a society to allow him to continue in his pursuits with just a slap of “embarrassment” on the wrist and not hold him accountable for his actions in the way we would with any other non-celebrity.