Angélica Escobar

Staff Writer

While watching The Wilds for the first time, I realized a huge problem that I hadn’t when I was younger, when watching shows like Pretty Little Liars: predatory behavior. Amazon Prime’s thriller The Wilds showcases Hollywood’s problem with predators who hook up with teenage girls by displaying the experiences of these young women — for example, the story of Leah Rike, a high school girl trying to get over a heartbreak. The Wilds broadcasts these experiences from the perspective of young girls. Every emotion you have is heightened in your teens, as it’s likely the first time you’re ever feeling these emotions. Writer Sarah Streicher told Teen Vogue she created a show “that would portray a kind of emotional space of the teenage female and honor how intense those emotions can be,” as emotions during this time feel like they are a matter of life or death. The first episode of The Wilds follows Rike and her plotline revolving around her brief relationship with a famous alumni author, Jeffrey Galandis, that comes to her school — and he’s a lot older than she is. This is the leading trauma as to why Rike ends up lost on an actual island in the first place because she is completely shattered after this relationship she has with Galandis.

For years, relationships between adults and minors have been very popular within movies and TV shows. Well-liked TV shows such as Riverdale, Glee, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Wilds all display these hypersexualized relationships of adults with teenagers as if it’s ordinary and unproblematic. When binge-watching The Wilds for the first time, I realized how many shows actually normalize minor-adult relationships, and how everyone watching thinks it’s not problematic. It’s not just in television shows, either; it’s Hollywood in general, as so many celebrities like to prey on the younger girls they work with, or who are even just around them. It might seem cool or fun to date someone who is a lot older than you as a teenager to get validation, but it’s really not. It’s inappropriate.

Predators take advantage of the fact that teenagers don’t know any better, as, more often than not, it is the first time these young adults have ever felt this way, or have ever experienced a relationship. If, in the real world, a 20-something-year-old man were to be hanging out with a teenager all alone in a hotel room, the man would be considered a creepy criminal that needs to be in jail. These types of relationships should not be romanticized on television because it teaches people that it is okay for these minor-adult relationships to happen, and shows unrealistic expectations of how relationships are. I’m not saying The Wilds romanticizes minor and adult relationships, but it is a good example of displaying the aftermath of what happens once these relationships end. The show displays the amount of trauma the lead character, Rike, went through after Jeffery threw their relationship to the side because he was afraid of being caught dating a minor, despite knowing she was one from the beginning. The fact that television shows thrive off of young people (specifically girls) having relationships with significantly older partners is disgusting. I’m not sure why it is so normalized on television and in the world of celebrities.

Age is not just a number, but, in Hollywood, it often is. Celebrities have an infinite amount of beautiful and rich partners who are of their age to pursue, yet some of them still get entangled with partners they can’t legally take into bars. The age difference between these celebrities and their partners is extremely sketchy; I’m not saying there can’t be an age difference, but a 21-year-old dating someone who’s 18 or 19 is a lot different than a 27-year-old dating a 16-year-old. Jerry Seinfeld, on the brink of being 40 in 1993, picked up a 17-year-old high school girl in Central Park, and openly dated her until 1997. The media called their relationship “The Game of Love” in order to push society to accept it.  These celebrities are abusing their fame and power by using it to get with younger girls. R. Kelly is a major example of this as well. The LifeTime docu-series, Surviving R. Kelly, unveils the decade-long rumors surrounding Kelly sexually abusing teenage girls, being involved with sex trafficking, and marrying his 15-year-old protégé when he was 27 years old. If this doesn’t scream abuse of power, I don’t know what does. R. Kelly abused his status and power in the industry to prey on younger girls, and he absolutely isn’t the first one to do it. Thankfully, though, he was arrested for it in June of 2019.

Wilmer Valderrama is another celebrity rumored to have dated teenagers as an adult, but he has never been arrested for it. In 2000, he pursued 15-year-old Mandy Moore after meeting her at a photoshoot, and, years later, even bragged about taking her virginity to Howard Stern, though she denied it. Not only that, but, in 2004, as a 24-year-old, he dated 18-year-old Lindsay Lohan; she even moved in with him. Valderrama also talked about her body to Howard Stern. I, for one, am completely disgusted by the comments that Valderrama has made about the underaged women he has been with, and people were completely okay with this? In 2010, Demi Lovato, who was 17 at the time, started dating 27-year-old Valderrama because it was “love at first sight,” according to the popstar. They dated for nearly six years before they broke up. Valderrama seems to have a trend for dating younger girls, yet no one seems to have a problem with it. He still got many acting jobs after this, while many women who have spoken out about the predators in Hollywood have been blacklisted from professional acting jobs. This is the problem within Hollywood: they’d rather have a sexual predator on screen than those who have exposed how manipulative, coercive, and non-consensual the atmosphere behind the scenes of Hollywood movies is. The examples can go on for days when listing every relationship with a predator involved: David Bowie, Woody Allen, James Franco, Steven Tyler, Fergie, and Chad Michael Murray are just a few examples of the many, many more that populate the silver screen. All these people are well-known and idolized in the business, and they are still able to be on television. This says a lot about Hollywood, and what their morals are. Only after the #MeToo movement did they just start paying attention, yet they’ve barely worked on getting predators out of the industry.

Predators aren’t only revealed in relationships, but through behaviors of the leading males from your favorite films and movies; many of them exhibit predatory behavior as well. When it comes down to sex and relationships on TV, most male protagonists don’t take “no” for an answer, as they are usually persistent and are determined to have their partner say “yes” for their own benefit. These are universally depicted as admirable traits for leading men, especially when it comes to the pursuit of women. These behaviors of manipulation, coercion, and stalking are usually characteristics of the heroic main male character; it is not seen as creepy, but very “effective” in winning the woman in the end.

In The Amazing Spider-Man series, Peter Parker stalks Gwen Stacy in all of them. Some may find this romantic if they knew the context of their relationship, but it’s extremely weird to swing from skyscraper to skyscraper and watch your ex-girlfriend from afar, between chasing down criminals and rescuing cats from trees. Some may say this is romantic, but I find it creepy. In Passengers, the main character, played by Chris Pratt, is obsessed with having sex with his co-passenger, so he traps the lead actress, played by Jennifer Lawrence, in a spaceship with him for the rest of her life. This depicts how Hollywood’s leading man always gets the girl in the end, even when being a predator.

This is a pattern within Hollywood! Males who manipulate women are rewarded by getting exactly what they want: the girl. This is not okay because it is basically showing people that it is not wrong to behave this way, since it is so normalized in these movies. We learn from what we watch; it shapes how we act, whether it’s from society or the media. This is especially true when it comes to ideas about love and relationships. The more movies I watch as an adult, the more I realize that the relationships I idolized as a child were wrong and gross because of the non-consensual male behavior.

Hollywood needs a big change within what they display on television. Normalizing predators will only make the problem worse in the world; more people will think it’s okay to be treated badly in their relationships, or get involved with a predator way older than them. With the #MeToo movement bringing out what is wrong with our society, men must begin the difficult process of transforming their own behavior, keeping their friends in check, and reevaluating their collective ideas about masculinity in order to help the movement. This starts with how TV shows and movies depict relationships; we need to see depictions of people who respect women’s boundaries and take “no” for an answer. These are models of healthy relationships we need in the media, not this toxic masculinity plotline we have been getting for years. This is where it starts, anyway, as society has a long way to go in getting rid of the predators in society.

Featured Image: Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video

Author

  • Angélica Escobar has just started working for the Quaker Campus for the 2020-21 academic year, and is currently a copy writer. She enjoys writing about politics, opinions, and arts and culture.

Angélica Escobar has just started working for the Quaker Campus for the 2020-21 academic year, and is currently a copy writer. She enjoys writing about politics, opinions, and arts and culture.
  1. AJ
    April 12, 2022

    Thank you so much for writing this. As a victim of predatory behavior, I am so relieved that people are pushing back on this normalization. It’s sickening.

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