When I was around 10 or 11, I begged my mom over and over again for a copy of Tiger Beat magazine. You know the type — they’re hard to miss, with a neon cover, an obtrusive face of a teenage heartthrob and headlines like “Take a quiz to find out what color your birthday cake will be” plastered across their glossy surfaces. Tiger Beat and other teen magazines like it were more than just sugar-drenched literary beginnings for preteen girls and boys. For me the full-size poster of Zac Efron that hung on the back of my door was a constant companion, keeping me company from the moment I pulled him out of a magazine until a friend who slept over said it was creepy. May he rest in peace.
There’s nothing wrong with a shrine to your celebrity crush, especially in that hormonal hell we affectionately call tweenagehood. But in the modern age, the flashy quizzes and posters and kissing tips that don’t actually work are no longer relegated to the pages of magazines like Tiger Beat and Seventeen — instead, they’re very, very online. Somehow, in the last 10 years the tabloid media and its tried-and-true tropes of sensationalism have merged with teen media to create something of an amorphous monster, constantly hungry for bits of personal information left by careful (or not so careful) celebrities. It’s invasive, but not in the cute way it used to be. We all had our Zac Efrons at age 13, but should we really still care about the girlfriend of a famous young man? His favorite food? Colors he likes girls to wear?
I woke up one day during the summer, rolled over and found on my Twitter feed the same Seventeen Magazine article posted seven times in a row. The headline read “Everything You Need to Know About Tom Holland’s Girlfriend Olivia Bolton.” Tom Holland of “Spider-Man” fame apparently had a new girlfriend. But the comments left alongside the article expressed outrage. “Do we really need to know this much about a normal woman?” one asked. “Leave her alone,” another echoed.
I hesitated, then clicked on the link, which took me to a pretty standard list of web-sleuthed information about poor Olivia. I can’t even imagine the lengths to which the reporter searched for some of the facts noted, which dive deeply into her education, age and everywhere she had been seen with Holland in the past few months. “Tomdaya stans everywhere thoroughly freaked out, horrified at the fact that Tom and Zendaya may not actually be an item,” the author wrote. I rolled my eyes.
Seventeen Magazine isn’t just for 17-year-olds anymore. Really, nothing is. The loss of those neon covers and the glossy pages in our hands has made it easier to fall into a clickbait trap. No tween is going to beg her mother for a copy of Tiger Beat because all she has to do is look up her questions, her quizzes, her deepest darkest loves on Google. The tween mentality is no longer just for tweens; it’s for everyone and their mothers, literally. And for people like Olivia Bolton, that is a big problem. We don’t need to know everything about her. No self-respecting adult person does. The teen media industry used to sugarcoat it, to wonder where her clothes were from and where to get them. Now, people on the internet send her nasty messages trying to find out more, mixing the worlds of fiction, media and reality beyond recognition. Our hunger for information isn’t surface-level, isn’t cute, isn’t a phase anymore.
That’s what it used to be, a phase. But as the Tom Hollands and Olivia Boltons of the world continue to proliferate in celebrity gossip, it’s clearer and clearer to see how this aspect of our culture has changed. The introduction of the internet into the equation has spun it out of control, allowing everyone to go deeper than the pages of a poppy magazine. There are no limits or ethics. There is only opportunity to go deeper, and sometimes too deep. No, we don’t need to know everything about Tom Holland’s new girlfriend. As adults, with our own interests and relationships and responsibilities, do we really need to know the personal lives of celebrities at all?