Arts & Entertainment, Pop Rhetoric

The treacherous trend of celebrities dating teenagers

Music fans far and wide rejoiced on Nov. 12 over Taylor Swift’s re-recording of her 2012 hit album Red, rebranded as Red (Taylor’s Version). This redux country-pop album joins Fearless (Taylor’s Version) on the singer’s journey to finally own all the rights to all her music. Die-hard fans were especially excited for this album, as it includes the highly anticipated, 10-minute version of “All Too Well,” a song rumoured to be about her relationship with actor Jake Gyllenhaal. 

The release was accompanied by a short film, written and directed by Swift herself, starring Stranger Things actress Sadie Sink, a 19-year-old, and Teen Wolf star Dylan O’Brien, who, at 30, is 11 years her senior. Swift’s casting decision mirrors a pattern of grooming and exploitation that appears all too frequently in the entertainment industry. Beautiful and haunting, the film depicts a brief but intense relationship between the two main characters. The film’s casting is intended to make the viewer feel uncomfortable, even if this juxtaposition is often normalized. The story forces the viewer to confront the notion of physical relationships between people of vastly different ages, especially during one visceral scene when O’Brien and Sink are shown together in bed. 

On camera it looks, and feels, wrong. Sadie is physically much smaller, her movements are more colourful and she stands in stark contrast to O’Brien’s tall and dark persona. Emotionally, the same pattern is suggested. But in Hollywood, A-list celebrities in their 30s and 40s are known for having wives and girlfriends fresh into their 20s—precisely what Swift highlights in her film. Jake Gyllenhaal, 40, Swift’s former paramour, is currently dating Jeanne Cadieu, a 25-year-old French model who was 21 at the start of their relationship. Leonardo DiCaprio, 47, hasn’t dated anyone older than 25 since 1999. This gap is normalized and sensationalized, with actors celebrated for their professional success while their relationship misgivings are ignored. Swift’s film does what we should all be doing: Questioning why relationships that are undertaken between partners at tremendously different life stages are so common and accepted. Although technically legal, there’s something to be said about celebrities starring in Oscar-winning movies with partners freshly graduated from highschool—it feels potentially abusive and exploitative, and sets a dangerous precedent for young adults entering relationships. 

Audiences have always accepted age gaps in relationships between incredibly young women and significantly older men. For this, we can look at recent releases like the series Never Have I Ever, which stars Darren Barnet, 30, and Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, 19, as love interests. Swift rejects this practice, truthfully portraying the trope of an innocent, naive ingenue, and her older, cruel lover as problematic. A line in her song, “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” states, “The punchline goes, I get older but your lovers stay my age,” highlighting a joke and drawing attention to a decades old custom.

This phenomenon of older men dating younger women is not restricted to Hollywood either, as young adults have taken to TikTok to share the relatability of the film. The phenomenon in Hollywood has spilled over into the everyday lives of young people, who are now helping to dismantle the normalization of such relationships. Taylor Swift’s short film is a beautiful, intentional piece of media and the message is clear. In the age of women’s empowerment and Gaslighting, Gatekeeping, and Girlbossing, the acceptance of such inappropriate power dynamics should not persist. Taylor Swift is doing what she knows best and using her art to take a stand—this time against the glamourization of the Hollywood age gap.

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