It’s completely fine to be horny for Pedro Pascal.
I don’t actually think this fundamental human right is under serious threat, but it’s starting to feel a little authoritarian on the thirst internet. In the past month or so, a curious shift in what’s “OK” while ogling male celebrities has emerged, and one minute-long red carpet exchange has become a flashpoint in the conversation. A sampling of recent headlines: “From Pedro Pascal to Keanu Reeves, the Internet’s Fetishisation of Male Actors Is Unhealthy for All Involved,” “Maybe Stop With the Uncomfortable Pedro Pascal Thirst Edits,” “Pedro Pascal’s Daddy Persona Is a Bizarre Violation of Consent,” “The Rabid Sexualisation of Male Actors is Getting Creepy,” and so on.
How did we get to a place where lust levels are being so closely monitored? First, we should establish that Pascal is having the kind of 2023 most entertainers would kill for. He’s had top billing in not one but two hit TV series, Disney+’s The Mandalorian and HBO’s The Last of Us, which made him feel culturally ubiquitous. On top of that, he’s achieved what’s known as “internet boyfriend” status, which is what it’s called when “everyone” on the internet decides to fixate on someone at the same time.
More specifically, Pascal has been crowned an “internet daddy,” which, for our purposes, is a subcategory of internet boyfriend. (The internet is not monogamous; it has multiple daddies and boyfriends at the same time.) The “daddy” designation, which has roots in queer culture, acknowledges that Pascal is not some barely pubescent boy-band member who can’t grow a full beard, but a full-fledged adult man. He has paternal energy, but in a sexy way, not in a doesn’t-know-how-to-use-a-smartphone way.
Pascal’s rise to the top of the internet daddy charts has followed a pretty standard trajectory. Tweets about him went viral, TikToks about him took over For You pages everywhere, and many of these posts focused on how, ahem, physically attractive he is. The internet’s tendency toward hyperbole meant that these things got pretty cheeky—there was the tweet that infamously called Pascal a “cool, slutty father,” and a wave of posts that commented on the sexiness he brought to activities like standing and saying his name. Like most celebrities, he also has a dedicated fan subreddit, where people post GIFs of him “doing sexy things with his mouth” and lament having to hide their secret stashes of photos of him from their spouses.
There isn’t time to go into full a disquisition on the history of online thirst, but in brief, we’ve been in the “run me over with a car” era for a few years now. It’s become trendy to be openly shameless and even a little weird about your famous crushes, particularly for women and queer people, who’ve gone increasingly horny on main. The theory goes that these people have taken the kind of leering that used to be called “the male gaze” and reclaimed it as a subversive and radical thing of their own. Meanwhile, mainstream drooling over beautiful women has become more culturally verboten. This has occasionally gotten confusing: Why are the girls and gays getting away with saying filthy things about Chris Evans (or whomever) and meanwhile, straight men are left having to claim they admire Scarlett Johansson’s intellect? Thirst advocates and scholars would be quick to clarify that it’s not a one-to-one comparison. As the culture writer Soraya Roberts has noted, “Some men think the objectification of women has simply turned into women’s objectification of men, but that’s not what thirst is: Where the male gaze limits women to the flesh, the female gaze fleshes men out.” Objects of this sort of thirst frequently end up being men who go out of their way to reject traditional masculinity, or publicly support gender equity, or proclaim themselves LGBTQ+ allies. Plus, it’s not as if the world has stopped objectifying women like Johansson (or women at all).
Pascal and the people who help him craft his image appear to understand the modern thirst playbook—and how useful it can be for building a profile. When the actor has been asked by interviewers and TV hosts about his rabid fans, he’s been game to play along with his newfound sex symbolism. On a red carpet in January, he leaned into a journalist’s microphone and confirmed that he was, indeed, a “cool, slutty daddy.” On British television in February, he was asked what an internet daddy was and responded, “Me!” Later, he added, of his daddy-hood, “I’ll take it all.”
But then came the backlash. A little over a month ago, a clip of an entertainment journalist interviewing Pascal at an event promoting The Mandalorian circulated widely online. In the video, an unseen reporter provides Pascal with a list of so-called thirst tweets about himself and asks him to read them to the camera. Pascal takes off his glasses, smiles, and doesn’t say anything for about 10 seconds as he silently looks over the tweets, his eyebrows going up as he does. He then looks to the camera and sweetly says no while shaking his head and grinning. “Dirty, dirty!” he adds in (what I read as) mock indignance. We don’t know which tweets she gave him, but for what it’s worth, most Pascal thirst tweets I’ve come across have been relatively harmless: fans posting that they think he’s sexy, they can’t stop watching, they like that one expression he makes. Overall, they’re more PG-13 than R-rated.
Still, Pascal’s rebuff was a fascinating moment. I was impressed with his ability to remain so charming, adorable even, while turning down a journalist’s request—the same journalist who’d been the one to prompt the “cool, slutty daddy” verbal confirmation at a previous event, it’s worth noting. But others saw it very differently. They said he looked uncomfortable and that the question was inappropriate. BuzzFeed ran a piece with the headline “It Looks Like Pedro Pascal Has Finally Had Enough of Being ‘the Internet’s Daddy’ After He Was Asked a Seriously ‘Degrading’ Question on a Red Carpet.” Some observers online even said that asking Pascal to read dirty tweets about himself was sexual harassment.
I have to admit I initially thought the backlash was absurd. No one knew for sure why he declined—maybe he wasn’t in the mood, or maybe he didn’t want to go full “daddy” at a Disney-sponsored event. The journalist asked for him to consent to the bit, he said no, and she didn’t push him—wasn’t that exactly how these things were supposed to go? Wasn’t “sexual harassment” pushing it a little too far? Fans have crossed the lines in real ways—just this February, actor Paul Mescal spoke about being groped by a female fan as he posed with her for a selfie. This wasn’t that, and I don’t think one is a slippery slope to the other.
That’s not to say sexual harassment—or just being creepy—can’t be more ambiguous and underhanded than that, because of course it can. But it made me a little crazy to see articles about how things had gotten out of control this time. Can we really extrapolate that from Pascal turning down one reporter? What’s going “too far,” in my estimation, is scolding people for making fancams and being too thirsty. Sexualizing people has always been a foundation of advertising, fashion, and entertainment—it shouldn’t surprise us when that scheme actually plays out.
More importantly, Pascal hasn’t appeared too bothered by any of this himself. He even made light of it when he acknowledged the ludicrous number of fancams of him on a February episode of Saturday Night Live. (Fancams, by the way, are fan-made video montages of celebrities that show different examples of them being particularly attractive and/or charismatic.) “You have made thousands of fancams of me, and I’m not sure what they mean, but I know it has to stop,” he said in a skit where he played a high school teacher who was baffled that his students kept making video edits of him. This behavior may be ridiculous, but it’s hard to see how it’s harming anyone, especially if Pascal is unbothered enough to joke around about it on live TV. Had he stated otherwise—or even more directly asked fans to cut it out—that would be one thing, but he hasn’t.
In some ways, the fans now projecting all of this on him seem a little ridiculous themselves. They started to feel as if they were in some kind of unspoken contest over who could be the most enlightened member of the fandom, the most protective of “daddy,” if we’re still allowed to call him that. My former colleague Lili Loofbourow wrote about these sorts of parasocial relationships in 2021, during the whole John Mulaney mishegoss, pointing out that one effect of all the time we’ve spent revisiting how cruelly we treated celebrities like Britney Spears is that we’re now overcorrecting in how much we sympathize with them. As a result, we worry that maybe we shouldn’t gossip about them at all.
Nearly every celebrity wants to be seen as a multidimensional figure with many valuable talents and traits, but here’s a reminder: It’s fine if the main thing you have to say about them is that they’re hot. It’s fine to care way more about their abs than their “craft.” The point of much of celebrity is to amuse, entertain, and titillate, and it’s incredibly profitable for the people involved. You probably shouldn’t objectify people you know in real life, but the beauty of celebrities is that you don’t know them, they’ll likely never hear you, and if they’re smart, they won’t spend too much time online reading the comments. There’s a larger discussion to be had about how fame is perhaps inherently flattening and dehumanizing, but we’re not going to solve that problem by disingenuously insisting that the only way to care about Pascal is as a capital-A Artiste.
Weeks after that clip where Pascal declined to read thirst tweets went around and this strange wave of scolding began, I’m still thinking about it, and I’m not the only one. Is this the new phase of celebrity thirst, one that marks the end of “run me over, daddy” and the beginning of a more muted form of idolization? Consider actor Penn Badgley’s decision to stop doing sex scenes on his megahit Netflix show You, and the near-constant debate about how movies have gotten less sexy, or the handful of other male stars who’ve spoken out over the years about feeling objectified. In-your-face lust for famous men rose as a way to turn the tables on eons of women’s objectification, but it really does feel as if a sea change is afoot, and as if some people are deciding that the lessons of #MeToo need to be more universally applied to the genders. In ways that are often good, fans want to do right by the stars they admire. I just fear that it may get lost in all of this that objectification isn’t inherently bad—especially when it’s aimed at a distant figure whose job involves titillating you. There’s nothing wrong with a little thirst. It actually is quite all right to sexualize someone, especially someone who has outright told us that he’s our cool, slutty daddy.