If years of hysterical media coverage have taught us anything, it’s that lusting after children is wrong. Paedophilia – the great cause everyone can get behind and feel safe raising a flaming torch or pitchfork to. It’s immoral, and always will be.
The legal definition of a child can vary from country to country – and even states within countries – but it’s generally agreed you can’t go around dreaming about a teenager in their underwear until they’ve passed that great invisible milestone, the age of consent. Or if you do, you don’t talk about it.
And yet here’s Brooklyn Beckham giving us something else to scratch our heads over, other than his family’s incessant quest for world domination. He’s the latest in a long line of tween-to-teen sex symbols who’ve been finally declared “Hot, ready, and legal” by a load of people who are, at best, pretty cold, desperate and morally bankrupt. This time, it’s Tatler doing the inappropriate salivating:
Brooklyn’s been not-so-quietly making his way from cutesy kid to potential object of lust for the last couple of years. He kicked things off with his cover of Man About Town magazine at barely 15, which was largely innocent but had just enough ick that you’d want to see the browser history of anyone who’d bought it. Recently, he cemented his heartthrob status with his ‘Guide to Instagram’ video for Vogue. The media’s been grooming Becks Junior for our bedroom in plain sight.
Nobody’s dared to call him hot before, of course; that’s not the done thing when you’re talking about a 15-year-old, so why the sudden change for Tatler? Why is he “hotter” than before? More trips to the gym? A new haircut? Well, maybe. What is he “ready” for, exactly?
In case you needed a neon sign with a huge flashing erection on it to get their general thread, they’ve made it easy for you, by shoving the word “legal” on the end. The big change here is that, in March, Brooklyn blew out an extra birthday candle. Now there’s been a respectable grace period between the last song played at his birthday disco and today, it’s time to get your objectifying specs on! Yuk.
Congratulations everyone: you can stop looking at as cute, ultra-famous offspring and instead imagine him undressing and getting in the shower with you! Result! Right? Even though only the day before you… couldn’t do that? Yes, correct! What a time to be alive.
Now he’s “legal” – no word on whether he’s remotely interested in you or willing to be a part of your gross fantasies, of course – it’s open season on having improper thoughts about the no doubt bemused teenager.
One wonders how long these pant-wetting articles have been sitting on ice within computer hard drives, just waiting for the calendar to change.
About three years ago, there was a similar frothing at the mouth, and elsewhere, for Justin Bieber once he turned ‘legal’ – 18 in the States.
Rolling Stone breathlessly trotted out the old “HOT READY LEGAL” chestnut, alongside a picture of what looked like somebody who wouldn’t yet know their way around a can of Gillette shaving foam. The numbers may add up to make him legal, but everything else, not so much.
The anticipation at Brooklyn and Bieber’s balls finally becoming legitimate fantasy territory is nothing new. Kisses from child stars are usually the dream sequence of only fellow children, but that’s never been enough for the world of showbiz; adults have long wanted to get into the act of crushing on super-talented underage celebrities.
Polite society has, quite rightly, flagged concerns as the press counts down the days to young females’ sexual availability, but so far it’s perfectly acceptable to let out a barely concealed “phwoar” at the vision of a teenage boy in his scants. Witness the chest-clutching surrounding everything One Direction did when they first found fame, especially floppy-haired, MILF-loving teenage lothario Harry Styles. Your mother’s opinions of him are likely to relieve you of your lunch.
See also Olympic diver Tom Daley, who’s been photographed in his speedos since he was 13, the media very careful to remain appropriate, at least on the surface of it. Once he was 16, they held off still – the frustration probably making them froth at the mouth – as Daley continued his studies with his A-levels. Even a schoolboy past the age of consent is still a schoolboy after all.
Thankfully, on 21 May 2012, Tom finally got to climb to the top diving board and turned 18, leading to an inundation of articles about how sexy he was, complemented by pictures of him canoodling models (sigh) or leaping about in his underwear, under the guise of “Well, he’s a diver; it’s OK to show him in next-to-nothing.” And with his lucrative sideline as a calendar model, Tom’s been canny to exploit this to the max. Fast-forward to a coming out and an engagement, with his future husband Dustin Lance Black as an added extra, you’re never too far away from a topless selfie of our Tom.
In a world obsessed by sex and sexuality, we still haven’t worked out how child stars fit in with our very rigid ideas of appropriateness. “Can we fancy them yet or not?” scream our loins, in desperate need of moral guidance. Thank goodness the press is only too happy to spell it out for us.
Actress and tabloid punchbag Lindsay Lohan was herself the subject of a Rolling Stone cover once she became “hot, ready and legal”. And, boy, did she shake her pigtails loose.
It was almost as if the press had been waiting for the day it could stop reporting on rumours of a chaste kisses with members of McFly and get down to the hard stuff – the DUI charges, lesbian love affairs (rememberSamantha Ronson?) and the revolving door into rehab.
She wasn’t just sexually available; she was everybody’s property, every saccharine childhood headline eviscerated with harsh, adult, sexually active reality. Like a punishment for growing up.
Rolling Stone was also responsible for Britney Spears’s first photoshoot in her underwear, shortly after the release of her very first single. Britney wasn’t quite “hot, ready and legal” enough then, so she had to make do with “Inside the heart, mind and bedroom of a teen dream” as her pretty tame coverline instead. And we all know how that one played out.
On both sides of the pond, Charlotte Church was a child chanteuse who did all her growing up in public. She had the voice of an angel, but it wasn’t her acrobatic vocal cords the red-tops were interested in. Once she reached 16, the school uniform off and the Juicy Couture jogging bottoms on, every aspect of Church’s sex life became standard tabloid fodder – all ‘bad boy’ lovers and drunken snogs. A switch had been flicked. It didn’t help there’d been a website set up to count down the days until she hit 16 (but this was not created or hosted by a national newspaper, despite reports to the contrary).
Child stars confuse the media because the easiest way to sell a magazine or newspaper is sex. They’re popular, and also have the advantage of attracting younger followers, the kind of audience the media is eager to hook onto.
You can’t put a child on your cover and expect your older audience to get excited, but whisk them onto it within seconds of them passing their 16th or 18th birthday, in a cute little vest, and you’re in business. Hey, they’re legal, OK?
It is perhaps a reaction to society’s pathological fear of accidentally sexualising children that we take the first opportunity we get once they’ve reached the age of maturity. From the scandal of a childrenswear store selling what was perceived as ‘sexy lingerie’ in the 1990s to agonising over the early performances of Christina Ricci and Natalie Portman in sexually ambiguous roles, we’ve long been afraid of talking ourselves to the gallows.
Our stars are getting younger and younger, but Joe Public isn’t growing up fast enough. Youth is everything. Kidults of 35 can bop to pop and nobody bats an eyelid. We are all Peter Pan. But when it comes to our crushes, shouldn’t we leave the young to the young and start picking on someone our own age for a change?
Any adolescent reading Tatler and in love with Brooklyn Beckham doesn’t care whether he’s ‘legal’ or not, so who is that message actually for? For people in their 20s and 30s? “Don’t sweat it, guys, you can jerk off thinking of him and not worry about being sent to prison”, is that it?
Thanks for the heads-up, guys, but I’m good, honestly.
This is an updated version of something I wrote a few years ago about Justin Bieber; it appeared in Huffington Post.