Why We Thirst After Celebrities

chris pine screen actors guild awards white tuxedo

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Chris Pine. Today, I have thought about him eight times. I have thought about the white tuxedo he wore to the Screen Actors Guild Awards, so tight it was bordering on the profane. I have thought about the way he hugged Emily Blunt at the ceremony as he handed her a statue. I have thought about his honeysuckle-hued hair and I’ve thought about running my hands through it.

I have thought about the fact that, if Chris Pine and I were in a relationship — which I am repeatedly assured we are not — we would spend Sundays discussing The New Yorker before cooking #TheStew together from scratch. We would have a whole recurring bit about the temerity of turmeric stains and we would laugh, and laugh, and laugh.

For a while I toyed with Bradley Cooper in A Star Is Born, and I will always carry a torch for Michael B. Jordan, but Chris Pine is, clearly, my number one imaginary boyfriend. And if I weren’t confident I wasn’t alone in these preoccupations, I might be shy about admitting it. But pinups have existed for as long as there were bedroom walls for posters to be pinned upon, and I’d wager we are living in a golden age of the celebrity crush.

“It’s 2019 and women are horny as heck,” a recent article on declared. And it’s true — we were horny for Beto O’Rourke, for Noah Centineo, for Pete Davidson and for that glossy-haired duck preening its way around Central Park last summer. (The heart wants what it wants, and all that.) Is this because crushes are no longer confined to locker doors and diary pages and the witching hour just before falling asleep? Now, women — and all people — can thirst in ways we never thought imaginable, thanks to the internet.

Online, craving connects people. The internet can provide safe and uninhibited space for sharing your desires and seeking others who might feel the same way about, say, the way that Jake Gyllenhaal corrects mispronunciations of the word “melancholy.” It’s a hopepunk flavor of community-building, but it’s also more than that:

“When it comes to sexuality and desires, it is very important to vocalize and share,” Jannette Davies, co-founder of sex-positive online community Scarlet Ladies explains. “This helps to normalize [these types of] conversations.”


Does that mean thinking about Chris Pine upwards of [redacted] times a day is good for me? In a way, yes.

Does that mean thinking about Chris Pine upwards of [redacted] times a day is good for me? In a way, yes. As Davies explains, a crush is ultimately a fantasy, and fantasies help us to explore the recesses of our sexuality. What do we like? What don’t we like? What do we want, and I mean really, really want? “Something as simple as a celebrity crush will help as a conversation starter to deeper discussions,” Davies explains. “When it comes to our desires, it can be very isolating… So having these conversations helps us to feel okay and ‘normal.’”

These conversations can also tell us a lot about the society having them. Davies’ crush is Idris Elba. “He has this very masculine energy and edginess,” she explains, entirely unnecessarily. Compare him — or other contemporary crushes such as Henry Golding or Rihanna — with some of history’s classic pinups and you’ll see just how much a crush is shaped by the era in which it is forged.

After World War II, Hollywood responded to a perceived need for protection by churning out an assembly line of stoic, strong-jawed heroes — Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, Jimmy Stewart — whom you might imagine women around the world holding out for, Bonnie Tyler-style. Today, we’re living in what some are calling the “total package” era of celebrity crushes. These figures must contain multitudes to earn their place on our proverbial bedroom walls. They need to be Tessa Thompson, campaigning for diversity in Hollywood; they need to be Timothée Chalamet, giving interviews to Harry Styles (another crush) in which he tells men that it’s okay to be vulnerable. Our roster of celebrity crushes is a window into the social and sexual mores of the time. “Crushes change throughout our lives, and so do our types,” Davies adds. “A crush shows you more about your current needs.”

Crushes used to be a thing of ecstatic adolescence held in swoony secrecy. Now, we can moon over our internet boyfriends and girlfriends online in as much or as little detail as we want. A crush can teach us about our desires and about the world we’re living in. It can show us that we’re not alone.

But mostly, it can teach us about ourselves. Thirst is more than thirst: It’s anthropology. It is a reminder that to lust is human. I love Chris Pine, my mother loves Chow Yun Fat, my grandmother loved Richard Harris circa Camelot. And on and on it goes. Celebrity crushes are universal, while in the same breath deeply personal. So, who is yours? And what does that say about you?

Photo by Kevork Djansezian via Getty Images.

Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer and podcaster living in London

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