May 12, 2014

Willow Smith: The troll is strong in this one

Courtesy of Willow Smith's troll bridge
Seen Willow Smith’s latest photo yet? Of course you have. She poses sultrily on a bed next to a shirtless 20-year-old man. All while being 13 and looking straight into the camera, daring you to clutch your pearls, or, even better, repost the photo with the hashtag #scandalous or #whereishermom or #WILLSOMEONEPLEASETHINKOFTHECHILDREN.

Reaction in the Twitterverse has been swift, breathless and dotted with the inevitable early-Will Smith references.

“I bet she's grounded for a willennium.”


“In bed with a grown man!”

“Someone needs to go live with her auntie and uncle.”

“You would think she was 35 with the amount of freedom she has.”

And then there’s the inevitable hot-pink-tipped finger-wagging from Hollywood Life, creation of Bonnie Fuller, the self-appointed Dear Abby of the celebrity sphere.

“Wake up, Will & Jada Smith! You need to be parents, not pals, to your 13-year-old daughter Willow!”

As Miley Cyrus-esque publicity efforts go, the Willow photo was a mixed success. The media picked up on it. But other than the outraged Tweets you see above, the rest of the world largely shrugged. 

Because, unlike the media, the rest of the world has finally figured out when it’s being trolled.

This ploy—the jailbait ploy, for lack of a wittier term more worthy of James Wolcott—is now so overused I’m surprised it shocks, or even interests, anyone anymore. Folk over 30 may trace the origins of the jailbait troll back to 1999, when a 17-year-old Britney Spears bared her midriff in her debut video. 

"She is a glorified 1950s high school cheerleader with an undertone of perverse 1990s sexuality . . . Lolita on aerobics," said Camille Paglia in a reaction that surely sent the marketing folks at Jive Records erupting in a flurry of high-fives.

My parents, in contrast, may credit the origin of the jailbait troll to Brooke Shields, who posed nude at age 10. By 14, she was lounging in a pliant puddle of her own unsettling hotness in TV ads for a denim company, breathing, “You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.”

And you want to know what’s come between these kids and their ham-handed button-pushing? Nothing. Certainly not their parents, whose snowflakes can do no wrong.

Smith’s mother, hearing the call of the media siren, responded via the paparazzi.

"Here's the deal," she said at LAX Airport. ”There was nothing sexual about that picture or that situation. You guys are projecting your trash onto it.”

Right, right. Shame on us for reading into the photo precisely what Smith wanted us to read into that photo. 

But really: Shame on us media people for again reacting on cue and keeping Smith famous for another 15 minutes.

It’s time to stop feeding the baby trolls.

Got a question about how Hollywood really works? Ask me via the feedback module to the right.

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