The Tween Treatment
Written by Sarah
I noticed it a few months ago in a cover profile of Robert Pattinson. The journalist kept mentioning how beautiful he was in between sound bites from her subject. I’ve seen Pattinson and he is a very good looking guy. Even allowing for a moment to be taken aback—if those sorts of things take you aback—there’s really no editorial need to keep harping on it. Toss it off once: It’s hard to believe that yes, Pattinson really is that good looking, and move on. Dwelling just becomes, well, embarrassing.
So imagine my horror, my overwhelming second-hand embarrassment, when I read this new cover feature on Captain America star Chris Evans. Generally I like Evans, though lately he’s on some kind of perverse quest to revolt me, so at first I was content to pick on his ridiculous sound bite about waterfalls. But then I read the whole piece and by the end I was so horrified that I had a rage-induced blackout. This article is so unprofessional, so EMBARRASSING, that as a female writer, I was ashamed on behalf of women everywhere. If you haven’t read it yet, the article consists of the “journalist”, Edith Zimmerman, recounting a drunken night spent with Evans which included her getting so loaded that Evans had to fish her out of his gutter, and lots of reflection on whether or not Evans was sincerely flirting with her, or just fake-flirting. I’m calling this behavior “the Tween Treatment”.
Granted, Zimmerman isn’t solely responsible for this mess. I looked her up—she’s a comic writer. So when GQ hired her for this piece, she delivered pretty much what they asked for. I put the burden on Zimmerman, but her editor is culpable, too, for ever thinking her profile was fit for print. But I also think back to that Pattinson article from a few months ago. Is this going to be a thing now? Embarrassing puff pieces written by women going full-tween on a handsome movie star? Because if it is, let’s kill that right now.
What does this approach accomplish? A celebrity profile is supposed to do two things: 1) give the reader the illusion of intimacy with the subject, and 2) promote whatever movie/show/project the celebrity is hawking. Zimmerman’s piece on Evans failed, miserably, at both of those things. There’s very little of Evans in the piece. There’s that silly comment about waterfalls and sunsets helping him to “get out of his own head”, and then there’s Zimmerman’s speculation as to whether or not he’s sincerely flirting with her. (My take? Evans is just a flirty dude and he’s mostly harmless—flirting with no intent, if you will.) But this is Evans’ big moment, the last best chance for a guy who’s been On The Cusp forever to take it to the next level, and his major-magazine cover feature has been reduced to drunken giggling.
You know how I know this is a bad profile piece? There’s too much “I” in it. This is supposed to be an article about Chris Evans, not “Edith’s wild night out”. Zimmerman isn’t a bad writer per se, and if she had been commissioned to cover a celebrity event and she turned in something like this article, it’d be fine. There’s a place for Gonzo but a profile isn’t it. Evans was there to sell himself and Captain America and instead I ended up thinking that Zimmerman might have a drinking problem. For comparison’s sake, consider Jessica Pressler’s profile on Channing Tatum. She goes out to a remote desert town with Tatum and drinks to the point where they sleep in bushes, yet the profile lacks the tweeny tone of Zimmerman’s because Pressler doesn’t fawn on Tatum; she makes him sound like a big dumb kid who likes beer and “real people”, and he remains the central focus of the article. There’s a lot less “I” happening.
I just can’t believe the editors at GQ thought this was acceptable, that it’s okay to go full-tween on Evans, or any cover subject. Maybe I’m being oversensitive. Maybe I’m reading too much into it. But GQ’s main readership is male and this isn’t the first time they’ve sent a woman out to interview a male movie star and the result has been less than stellar. So am I to understand men think it’s funny when a woman embarrasses herself like this? Where, exactly, is the joke here? I find it hard to believe that the Tween Treatment is an acceptable journalism style. The alternative then is that men find these setups funny. And that disturbs me.