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Vassar: We should know better than to sexualize young actors

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board. 

Despite being only two seasons, and 18 episodes in, the Netflix original Stranger Things has already engrained itself in pop culture and become one of Netflix’s most successful forms of original content. This success has also catapulted many of its young stars into the spotlight, specifically 14-year-old Finn Wolfhard and 13-year-old Millie Bobby Brown.

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However, this spotlight has become perverted by many fans, and shines light on an issue that hits all too close to home for modern day Hollywood: sexualizing child actors.

The acclaim and accolades many of the actors have gotten is deserved. Part of what makes the show so successful and appealing is the relationships forged between the characters and how they grow and change, all set in a vacuum of spooky 80’s nostalgia. It’s hard not to like the show: the main cast of kids are extremely charismatic and talented, with a camaraderie that really shows on screen. Complimenting a child actor’s range and expression is one thing, but the line should be drawn when admiration moves beyond praise for acting ability to that of a more sexual nature.

Wolfhard and Brown have been on the receiving end of much of the disgusting objectification. Instagram model Ali Michael was recently heavily criticized after putting a picture of Wolfhard on her Instagram story with the caption: “Not to be weird but hit me up in 4 years @finnwolfhardofficial”. In this case the “not to be weird” can be akin to other sayings that end up conveying the opposite of the intended effect like ‘no offense’ or ‘not to be racist.’

There’s really no other way to put it: sexualizing children is not okay. No matter how sexual the character they play may be, no matter how charming or talented they may be, it’s explicitly wrong to call them ‘hot’ or imply they should ‘hit me up in a few years.’

The message was not only weird but made those reading it and Wolfhard himself uncomfortable. In an interview with TMZ, he stated that “it was nuts, it was gross.” Throughout the clip, it’s apparent that the whole situation made Wolfhard uneasy and he didn’t want to talk about it.

Michaels prefacing with  “not to be weird” was a lazy attempt at covering her bases in case her story was taken the only way it could be by any rational human being with all their brain cells: offensively. Her apology was an even lazier attempt at rectifying her venereal offense, saying it was “just a joke.”

Tell that to any victim of the pedophilia recently brought to light in Hollywood and it’s doubtful they’ll agree. As a parent, raising a child who turns out to be an Instagram model can be embarrassing enough, and this situation should make for an awkward Thanksgiving at the Michaels household. Hopefully, Ali will be seated as far away from the kids table as possible.

Arguably the biggest star of the show, Millie Brown who plays Eleven, has also been the subject of sexualization. Not only has she been complimented on “how grown up” she looks on red carpets, but she was named “Sexiest Actress” by W magazine.  Sexy is not how a pre-teen should be labeled. From personal experience, I can tell you that a pre-teen should be labeled as “annoying:, “awkward”, and “cringey.” My pre-teen years weren’t very kind to me.

Waiting for a child to become “legal” or depriving a child of their innocence may be seen as just a result of fame, but regardless it is still immoral and downright wrong. Just let them be a kid, let them enjoy the last bit of their lives devoid of major consequences and responsibility. We all make the mistake of wanting to grow up too fast. This is a mistake that shouldn’t be forced onto others, no matter how charismatic or talented these kids are. No matter how grown up they seem to be, no matter how grown up we want them to be, they’re still figuring things out for themselves and we shouldn’t complicate that.

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Ethan Vassar can be reached at letters@collegian.com.

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