Picture this: You’re Oscar-winning actress Emma Stone. You’re riding the high of starring in a movie that, while no Moonlight, was still nice. You’ve acted in a bunch of great films, and somehow managed to look like a totally different person in every single one of them. You used to date Andrew Garfield, and it seems like you two are on good terms. That can be a really hard thing to do. Interpersonal relationships are difficult! Good for you, Emma Stone!
You, Emma Stone, are an accomplished actress, and you’ve made out with Ryan Gosling. So imagine your surprise when a random 17-year-old—a boy who has never met you, and has done nothing—has the audacity to ask you to his high school prom. Would you, Emma Stone, be thrilled and exhilarated at the prospect of putting on a fancy dress and flying to Arizona to spend the evening with a group of random teenagers? No, of course you wouldn’t. You would wonder why a pubescent boy presumed that you have the free time to go on an inconvenient date with a total stranger.
As you may have guessed, this is not a hypothetical situation. Last week, high school student Jacob Staudenmaier went viral when he asked Emma Stone to go to the prom with him. In the past few years, the concerning trend of celebrity promposals has produced increasingly elaborate YouTube videos. Doubtlessly aware that he would have to go big or go home (and, you know, invite an age-appropriate plebeian to his prom), Staudenmaier recreated the opening number “Another Day of Sun” from La La Land. If you thought that La La Land was super white and slightly mediocre, just wait till you see this La La Land-inspired Emma Stone promposal video. Staudenmaier sings about taking Stone to Olive Garden—really, that’s the best you can do?—insisting that, “It will make my night, and maybe yours too.” No, unlimited breadsticks and a high school dance will not make Emma Stone’s night, and frankly, the mere suggestion that it might is quite rude.
As classmates dance in and out of the frame, the 17-year-old crooner begs, “Please don’t let me down.” Presumably, Staudenmaier thinks that Emma Stone owes him something, because he was nice enough to tell her that he likes her and thinks she’s cool. Of course you think she’s cool: You’re 17, and she’s famous and has boobs.
At this point, it’s important to mention that teenage girls also ask male celebrities to prom. However, when a girl asks a famous guy to prom, he’s not under the same sort of gendered pressure to acquiesce. It’s disturbing enough that we live in a society where overconfident boys feel that female celebrities owe them something. To make matters worse, they actually sort of do. When a boy makes a celebrity promposal, his creepy entitlement is routinely interpreted as adorable and sincere, to the point that women are actually expected to respond. As Jimmy Kimmel explained in his riff on the viral promposal, “In fact, this is a hostage situation, because if Emma Stone didn’t write him a letter, she would look like a jerk.”
Additionally, this celebrity promposal trend sends a horrible message to young women. We teach girls that, if they absolutely have to reject someone, they should be considerate and kind about it—even if the proposal was unrealistic, inconsiderate, and frankly not even that well done (yeah, Staudenmaier, I’m looking at you). It’s never too early to learn that if a boy is charitable enough to pay attention to you, you have to go out of your way to be super nice to them. Luckily, Emma Stone is well-liked enough that she didn’t feel the need to attend a 17-year-old’s prom for PR points. She did, however, have to send her would-be prom date a very nice personalized letter, writing, “Jacob, thanks for making the greatest proposal I have ever received… I can’t tell you what an honor that was and how much I smiled through that entire beautifully orchestrated video. I’m in London working, but I hope you have the best time at prom, and I’m grateful you thought of me. Thank you. P.S. I do see Gosling around the eyes. Love, Emma.”
Moral of the story: Every high school boy should have the confidence to ask out random celebrities, because at the very least they’ll receive some forced compliments, which will make them even more confident. And if there’s one problem white men have in America, it’s a lack of confidence. In addition to this letter, Staudenmaier also got his 15 minutes of fame, and even appeared on Good Morning America. In one of his many interviews, the 17-year-old explained that while he “definitely thought it was a total long shot,” he decided to make the video because he’s a “passionate filmmaker.” Staudenmaier continued, “The response from this whole thing has been enough to keep the self-esteem high for a long time.” That’s great news, because the entertainment industry is currently suffering from a dearth of self-assured director-dudes.
Men are horrible in so many ways that it can be hard to spot the insidious ones. While a celebrity promposal video might seem cute—aw, look how much effort he put into pirating Final Cut Pro!—it’s actually a self-serving method of putting an unsuspecting woman in a shitty position. Of course, Emma Stone is not the first celebrity to fall victim to this viral scourge.
In an ABC interview, Staudenmaier cited another celebrity promposal as inspiration—a former student from his very own high school who had asked Miley Cyrus to prom. “She didn’t actually go to prom with him, but he was invited to one of her concerts and got to go up on stage with her, so I think it worked out,” he recalled. So before you feel bad for these love-struck kids, consider the possibility that they are literally trying to get things from strangers. In a world where likability is any woman’s greatest asset, these proto-men are manipulating a sexist system for attention, concert tickets, and free swag.
And the list goes on and on. Vine “star” Cole LaBrant tweeted a promposal at Selena Gomez. When she didn’t respond—as is Selena Gomez’s right—he just kept asking, this time with a music video (because there’s nothing creepy about a guy escalating his advances in the wake of romantic rejection). Then there’s the strange tale of Jake Davidson, a Los Angeles teen who invited Kate Upton to his prom in 2013. While Upton, like Stone, clearly felt enough pressure that she responded personally to the proposal, she ultimately couldn’t make it. So Inside Edition took it upon themselves to make sure that Davidson got the date that he did not deserve, sending in model Nina Agdal. I don’t know what’s more disturbing: the notion that Inside Edition thought this would make a really sweet story, or the fact that Agdal was forced to attend a high school prom as a teenager’s back-up date. Then there’s the entire sub-category of invitations from military men, like when Mila Kunis famously accompanied a fan to the Marine Corps Ball. Of course she had to accept the Marine’s invite—otherwise, she would look like a total unpatriotic dick! This military tactic is weird, manipulative, and remarkably effective.
I get that in the grand scheme of patriarchy, celebrity promposals aren’t a huge deal. But this is why a pimply kid with a celebrity crush and a passing fluency in iMovie production scares me: Boys don’t ask celebrities to prom because they are huge fans of their work or want to get to know them. They’re not putting on song-and-dance numbers because they’re obsessed with the artistry behind La La Land. They’re horny, and they (rightfully) think that having a regulation hot person on their arm will make them look cool and popular. These promposals feed into a young kid’s worst desires: for viral fame and for a date who’s a societally ordained perfect 10. Look, no one is making YouTube videos begging to spend an evening in conversation and formal wear with a groundbreaking female director or a boundary-pushing lady scientist or academic. They want to go on a forced, awkward, barely consensual “date” with someone who made out with Ryan Gosling, because that basically makes them Ryan Gosling. They want to feel superior to their classmates who have age-appropriate, normal-looking dates by showing up with a fully-grown woman with cleavage. And the absolute last thing teenage girls need is another reminder that their Y chromosomed peers would rather be dating skinny, stereotypically beautiful movie stars.
Even non-celebrity prom proposals can be terrifying. More than one American teenager has been killed over a prom rejection. In 2016, 16-year-old Maren Sanchez was murdered by a classmate because she didn’t want to go with him to the high school dance. Putting prom aside, statistics show that an American woman is shot and killed by a current or former partner once every 16 hours. Newspapers and chryons routinely tell the stories of women who are murdered for leaving their partners or rejecting romantic advances. Experts believe that, “Men are more likely to turn to aggressive behavior as a means of navigating rejection.” These phenomena are connected. In a world where boys who just discovered antiperspirant believe that fabulous celebrities at the very least ought to respond to their proposals, of course men are getting disillusioned and violent when “normal” women have the audacity to turn them down. How dare any mean lady refuse to accompany a man-boy to Olive Garden!
Prom proposals are an early rite of passage during which a woman is taught that she needs to be nice to a man just because he’s made an effort. And, naturally, there’s an undertone of “or else.” Don’t be mean or disagreeable, or you’ll be labeled a bitch. Or his friends will say mean things about you, and stop inviting you to parties. Or you’ll be bullied in homeroom or, you know, stabbed to death. So yeah, self-entitled teenage boys scare me.
At the very least, can we stop rewarding their unearned confidence with forced niceties and viral fame?