On Wednesday, 17-year-old high-school senior Jake Davidson became the latest kid to rocket to viral prom-date fame for a semi-clever video asking a celebrity to a dance — in his case, Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Kate Upton. In an essay on The Daily Beast, Kevin Fallon called for an end to the YouTube prom proposal, but it's really not the kids' fault that these gestures have started to feel so hackneyed. Really, it's the media's fault that these cute proposals have lost their charm: For all the impossible wishes made into real connections by the power of social media, there's nothing romantic about a forced dream come true.
Take Upton's new potential prom date. Davidson posted the video, which made its way to Upton, who's no stranger to the power of of social-media staging and subsequent fame, and she responded on Twitter:
Then this morning Davidson went on the Today show to talk about his proposal, and — what do you know? — suddenly Upton herself was on the line, considering the offer:
And there you have it: Any of the novelty of Upton's seemingly unprompted response is gone as soon this becomes an orchestrated media event. Suddenly, Davidson, who has an almost Seinfeld-esque nasality, is on CNN, a mini-celebrity himself for the day. Something that could have been pretty sweet is instantly annoying.
The Daily Beast's Fallon blames the kids:
Once upon a time, “she’s (or he’s) out of my league” was a resigned notion. Now it’s become a dare. The challenge is to create a YouTube invite so charming that it will go viral and catch the celebrity paramour’s attention. It’s almost genius—so much good will is funneled towards the wide-eyed teen behind the video that the celebrity couldn’t possibly say no without risking a damanged reputation. At the very least, he or she is required to muster an easily verifiable “my schedule won’t allow it” excuse.
But we shouldn't ask kids to stop making videos, because that's what kids (and members of the Marine Corps in the cases of Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis) do these days. For every Jake Davidson or Cady Eimer—after a campaign asking Justin Bieber to prom, she got to go to the Billboard Awards—there are other kids whose videos go unanswered. Search YouTube and you'll find propositions for Harry Styles (and other members of One Direction), Anna Kendrick, and Selena Gomez. Every so often the media chooses to highlight one of these proposals either because they are a) touching, as in the case of a leukemia patient who asked Taylor Swift; or b) particularly well produced, like Davidson's. As Julie Miller at Vanity Fair points out, Davidson is an "an apparent Bel Air inhabitant with access to what seems like a really nice outdoor pool"—not necessarily what you'd call a needy case. Telling kids to stop making the videos is denying them the right to do something that's been a hallmark of teenage fandom ever since Ann Margret sang in front of a blue background.
But speaking of Bye Bye Birdie, that story—which involves a girl plucked out of obscurity to kiss an Elvis-type figure—proves that our mainstream media has long wanted to capitalize on the heartsickness of teens. It also proves that our desire to place a "regular" person with a celebrity can sometimes go wrong.
So, kids, make all the videos you want. Maybe one day a celebrity will respond without the promise of extra publicity, you'll go to prom, and it will be a genuinely nice moment. No Today show producer has to know.