How Are Those Gross Birthday Countdowns Still a Thing?

Listen to this episode

S1: I built a reputation for basically being prudish, conservative, nerdy, serious in an attempt to feel that my body was safe and that my voice would be listened to.

S2: Hi, I’m Madison Malone Kircher

S3: and I’m Nichole Perkins filling in for Rachel Hampton and you’re listening to I see. Why am I

S2: in case you missed it?

S3: Slate’s podcast about internet culture Nichole Hello.

S2: Welcome to the show.

S3: Thank you so much for having me.

Advertisement

S2: I’m thrilled to have you here and just to give you a little bit of introduction to the. Why am I guys? That is what I have named our fandom. Rachel doesn’t like it. I love it. Nichole is the host of the podcast This Is Good For You. She’s the author of the memoir Sometimes I Trip on how happy we could be. And you’re a slate regular. You’ll probably recognize her. She was formerly host of Slate’s own Thursday kit. Yay. Thank you. Now down to business, the queen is dead. The Queen is dead.

S3: Are we sure about that?

S2: We really are not, and I do love that we’re talking about this while Rachel is gone because this is such a Rachel Hampton bread and butter topic.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: Oh, really? Oh OK.

S2: How I’m going to lure her to never leave me ever again for a elaborate Parisian vacation.

S3: Well, I’m sure she is enjoying herself and probably getting even better news on this topic than we are right now.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: Right, right. Boots on the ground. So the question at hand is earlier this week, Jason Lee of the gossip blog Hollywood Unlocked claimed that the Queen of England is no more

S3: right and that that rumor is completely unfounded, though. You know who doesn’t love a conspiracy theory? I, you know, as long as they’re kind of like harmless, I’m really into them. So, Madison, do you think the Queen is dead?

Advertisement

S2: I do think the Queen is dead, and I agree on the harmless ness level. We are talking about a very elderly woman who was recently diagnosed with COVID, so it doesn’t seem that outlandish to make the jump that they’re hiding the news. What about you?

S3: I think she is definitely on a decline and they’re hiding that while they when I say they, I mean, like the foundation, the firm, the firm. Yeah, all the, I don’t know, royal who’s it’s in, what’s it’s in, the titles and all that kind of stuff. I think that they are trying to figure out the best way to, you know, announce it. You know, that will cause the least amount of fuss, I guess.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: Look, she appointed Camilla Queen Consort that this is this is the end times.

S3: Absolutely. I was like, There has to be something wrong. Something is really going on behind the scenes back there because there’s no way she would have let that happen unless she is no longer in complete control of her faculties.

S2: So this story takes an incredibly funny turn on Wednesday evening this week, when it’s revealed that Jason Lee had basically gotten this information through a game of telephone thinking that he overheard a royal source discussing the death of the Queen when actually they were discussing the death of queens of the stone ages Mark Lanegan, which was reported hours before the Hollywood Unlocked Post was published.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: You know what, I’m going to say it. That’s a fairly simple mistake to make, because I don’t know if you saw all these tweets where people were like telling their friends, Oh, the Queen has COVID and people like who? Nicki Minaj, who Beyonce said, like everyone has a different idea of of a queen in their head. So I think it’s a simple mistake. But as a journalist and I’m going to put quotes, verbal quotes, quotation marks around. Jason Lee definitely should have fact check that before launching that post,

S2: we’ll have to see how this plays out.

S3: If it turns out that this is true and that this gossip blog was the place to announce to the world that the Queen is no more, I don’t know. I don’t know what I would do with myself, and I’m just going to say this is just the state of the world today.

Advertisement

S2: I know what I would do with myself, and it would be immediately attempt to get that man on this podcast.

S3: Fair, fair. That seems logical

S2: on the show. Today, we’re going to be talking actually about a phenomenon that that originated in the the pantheon of gossip blogs, female celebrities turning 18 and the extremely creepy birthday countdown clocks that inevitably pop up in a run up to that fated date.

S3: Yeah, it’s it’s really it’s really creepy. You know, it kind of makes my flesh crawl. But this situation just happened with actress Millie Bobby Brown, who turned 18 on Saturday, February 19th. But it is absolutely not a new phenomenon. We have seen this time and time again with people like Britney Spears, the Olsen twins, Natalie Portman, Emma Watson and so many more. It’s actually it’s actually quite popular, which makes it even more creepy.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: Yeah. The ubiquity is sort of I feel like we’re wearing out the word creepy, but I don’t have a better adjective handy.

S3: Gross euros is good. Yes, I like gross.

S2: So after the break, we’re going to be back to talk about that grossness, the history of these birthday countdowns, how they’ve evolved over the years, and who is seen as desirable in our culture. And we’re back with the countdown clocks, tick, tick, tick.

S3: Last weekend, actress Millie Bobby Brown turned 18 and you know, let’s first of all, let’s just say this happy birthday to her. OK.

S2: Yay. Yeah, great.

S3: But the thing is, turning 18 as a female child star has never been fun. It kind of it comes loaded with a lot of unnecessary stuff. Usually there are a slew of creeps as I wear it again, just hungry, you know, for the day that they can publicly and legally lust after the latest celebrity. And this birthday, unfortunately, was no different.

Advertisement

S2: Millie Bobby Brown, who is an actor probably best known for her performance in Stranger Things, a show that. Were you aware this show is still happening? Are you watching the show?

S3: I have not watched it since season one, but yes, I am aware that it’s still going on.

S2: OK. This was news to me. I thought we had bought out all the Lego Lego waffles, all the Eggo waffles. The country’s grocery stores had to offer during that first season and we said farewell. But anyway, it’s got another season coming and Millie Bobby Brown, who plays a character named Eleven, turned finally 18 this weekend, right?

S3: And as her birthday, you know, got closer and closer, these countdowns to the date of her 18th birthday started popping up all over the internet in places like Reddit. And it’s like, of course, it happened on Reddit, where else is going to happen?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: I’m now trying to rack my brain for like a wholesome Reddit experience, and I’m sure they exist. But personally, for me, I think that it is just weird, creepy and gross. Things go to thrive.

S3: You know, I have found some nice things on Reddit, but for the most part, you’re absolutely correct. There are a lot of like, really interesting things. Shall we say that I click out of very quickly.

S2: The closest I’ve come to a nice thing happening to me on Reddit was one time a photo of me wound up on the front page and everyone was calling me like a middle aged bitch. And the people defending me were saying things like, No, she’s like 30. She’s only middle aged. She dies at 60. Thank you so much, Reddit for having me back.

Advertisement

S3: Well, yeah, on a technicality, but it counts.

S2: Sure. So as BuzzFeed pointed out, there was this one particular subreddit labeled as NSFW w Nazi for work that appeared with the message at the top. This subreddit will open when Millie turns 18, which is February 19th, 2020.

S3: Two user incognito iglu posted. A screenshot of the forum to a different subreddit are awful everything alerting people to this gross place. Luckily, they crossed out the subreddits name to prevent it from spreading even more widely. But this screenshot showed that over 6000 people were already in that subreddit, and many of the comments responding to the user just kept asking for the actual name of the subreddit so they could join it too.

S2: OK, well, Nichole, you just provided me with another twisted but good thing on Reddit, and it is incognito igloo refusing to hand over the keys to this creepy subreddit.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: You know, it should not surprise anybody out there that there are a lot of creeps and perverts and gross people out there on the internet.

S2: Surprise. Welcome to ask why am I? This is a really disturbing thing to witness, and I cannot imagine what it is like to be Millie right now. You know, wanting to relish the joy of her birthday, turning 18 supposed to be fun. But instead, you know, experiencing that joy and that fun peppered with headlines popping up everywhere, pointing about, you know, how quickly people are just jumping on this sexualization bandwagon? Yee ha Millie Bobby Brown. 18.

S3: Yeah, I mean, you know, again, this isn’t such a new phenomenon. After all, people have been checking child stars ages for years, especially for the girls. The first modern example I think we have is Britney Spears.

S2: Yeah.

S3: I was not expecting that, but I appreciate the impression

S2: it’s my one party trick. I do a pretty good Britney.

S3: When she turned 18 in 1999, there were all kinds of tabloids publishing headlines like Britney is a big girl now. It’s really unsurprising that this sort of discourse surrounded her at the time because people were so busy sexualizing her throughout her entire teenage years.

S2: Yeah, Britney is a big girl now, but don’t worry, she’ll still put on the school girl uniform, which we really know you’re all in it for anyway. Look. Another example is, of course, the Olsen twins who you mentioned, you know, radio station shock jocks in internet forums spent a lot of the early 2000s, you know, checking their their crepe time exes to see if the Olsens were 18 yet.

S3: It’s really nasty. I remember seeing a website that was just the the clock. It was like this big red digital clock that was counting down. And now I was just like, Why? Why? I mean, we know why, but it was still just nasty.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: Learning to code was a mistake. David Spade actually even made a joke about it on SNL. You know, it is wild to see a what passed for a joke in those days, and also just the cavalier ness with which this topic was discussed as though it was totally normal to be like. And yes, now it would be legal for you to have intercourse with this person who yesterday was a child. How fun?

S3: Right? And it seems like, you know, as the internet grew and this trend went online, it only continued to pick up steam as so many other famous girls were subjected to it. Hilary Duff, Lindsay Lohan, Natalie Portman, Emma Watson and the list, unfortunately, just keeps going and going.

S2: I really respect your proper pronunciation of low in my mind. When Lindsay Lohan joined TikTok and set her own name and I discovered I’d been saying it wrong for my entire life. It was blown.

S3: I don’t understand. No one has ever asked her to say her own name before, but you know, well,

S2: the era where she developed that like hybrid European-Russian. I was born in a country not of this Earth accent. You know things. Things got a little lost there and true.

S3: Well, in recent years, the women who have been subject to this alarming lust clock have come forward to speak about their experiences. In 2017, Mara Wilson, known for her childhood turn in Matilda, wrote an essay in Elle magazine where she shared what living with this sort of objectification was like.

S2: Nichole, do you want to read a little bit from that? I feel like we should hear from Mara.

S3: Sure. As soon as I’d hit puberty, it had become OK for strangers to discuss my body. Every time I stumbled across an article about myself, every fear I had about my pubescent body was confirmed. I was ugly, which as a woman made me useless or I was cute, which made me an object. I was grown up, which made me vulnerable because I was a child actor. My body was public domain. She even goes on to bring up Millie Bobby Brown, specifically, who had turned 13 that year because Wilson could already see the discourse forming around Brown that have formed around her in her experience.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: It really was. I’m thinking back now to that that one season of Stranger Things I watched because it was, you know, happening on Twitter and I didn’t want to miss out. It was wild to watch the way people talked about Millie Bobby Brown, you know, as that shaved head haircut of hers grew out. It was like, Oh, she’s hot now. No, she’s she’s a teen. She’s this is a child, right?

S3: And Mara’s major point in this was the way that public figures like Brown or Wilson or any other woman whose body is, you know, completely sexualized on the internet is that humanizes them as people. The commenters aren’t thinking of them as real people living next door or going to school or going grocery shopping. But they are this sort of other untouchable thing.

S2: I’m going to invoke a one of our favorite and least favorite terms here, and I see why am I the Paris social relationships we have with celebrities have gotten more and more intense. Obviously, this is not a mind blowing concept, but have gotten more intense with the rise of social media. And I think that also plays into this countdown clock

S3: situation, right? I think we also need to talk about Drake and Millie Bobby Brown.

S2: You are correct. I was hoping maybe we would take a hard left turn into something I hadn’t foreseen, and we could skip this little nugget. But yeah, we should talk about Drake.

S3: So Drake and Millie met in like 2017, and then in 2018, Millie told Access Hollywood about her friendship with him.

S1: What advice does he give you? Like, what does he say about boys? He helps me. Yeah, yeah, yeah, he’s great. He’s wonderful. I love his advice with boys. You know, that stays in the text messages,

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: which I guess is sweet or maybe could be. But there’s also something really unpleasant about a 32 year old man who is friends with and giving advice to and not just regular advice like dating advice to a 14 year old girl.

S2: Yeah, I. I hesitate to over over speak because the aforementioned pair of social relationships, I am not immune to them, but I do firmly feel that no grown man should be in a teenager’s relationship business like that. And I do think because the internet goes from zero to pitchfork and three point five like we’re not we’re not saying what Drake did was grooming. We’re not, you know, making like huge allegations here. But it definitely connects to this darker side of this situation with Millie that we’re talking about, which is that this online phenomenon is just an example of something happening offline in real life to real girls.

S3: Right? And later that year in 2018, Natalie Portman also spoke about her experience at the Women’s March.

S1: I understood very quickly, even as a 13 year old, that if I were to express myself sexually, I would feel unsafe and that men would feel entitled to discuss and objectified my body to my great discomfort. So I quickly adjusted my behavior. I rejected any role that even had a kissing scene and talked about that choice deliberately. In interviews, I emphasized how bookish I was and how serious I was, and I cultivated an elegant way of dressing.

S3: You know, it’s a really kind of sad to think of this young Natalie Portman having to go through all of that. A child should never be tasked with managing their own image in this way, you know, teens are already thinking about their bodies way too much. I have nightmares still about my my teenage body image issues. So to think about the public weighing in on that and usually in a very, I guess, you know, we’re just going to stick with creepy in a very creepy and inappropriate way. It just seems it just it’s unfathomable.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: One thing that’s missing in all of these stories, as you sort of lay them out as we have done thus far is race. You know, so far, the women we’ve talked about are exclusively white. Where are all the creepy countdown clocks for women of color then?

S3: I’m so glad you asked that, and I want to make it clear that we’re going to talk about this after the break. We’re going to talk about how race factors into this discussion, who is seen as desirable and the adult suffocation of black girls.

S2: Hey, there, I see, why am I guys? Thank you so much for listening to the show. Wanted to take a moment to shout out anybody who might be listening for the first time? Seriously, welcome. We’re so glad that you’re here. In case you missed it, our show actually comes out twice a week, Wednesdays and Saturdays. So if you’re liking what you’re hearing today, be sure to go back and listen to our episode from Wednesday, where we explain to you, Horse Plinko. I will not say more. You got to listen. OK, we’re back so Nichole before the break, you set us up, so well, why do you think black girls are being left out of these discussions?

S3: Well, you know, before I get into that, I do want to make sure that everyone understands that no one is asking for these countdowns. No one wants these countdowns for anybody. So I’m not out here crying for black girls or any other people of color to be included. But the lack of these countdown clocks is yet another illustration of who society deems as desirable. Plus, when we talk about the adult vocation of black girls, it comes into play when we think, well, they don’t need a count down because they’re already considered mature enough. Or maybe they look old for their age already, so people are already being creepy and inappropriate with them. So it’s just kind of this whole idea that black girls don’t get to be kids and they don’t get to have a childhood anyway, so they’re already getting all kinds of stuff projected onto them.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: Right? I know I keep using the word twisted, twisted and creepier. Apparently the only words I know today on the show, but it is very bizarre to see. In some warped way, how these countdown clocks are like a show of respect. A tiny, tiny layer of protection that is only being offered to young white female celebrities.

S3: And again, it comes back to who gets that protection because not all black girls do. I don’t know if you remember the 2013 Oscars when Chrissy Teigen said something about nine year old, then nine year old Quvenzhane Wallis, who is Oscar nominated.

S2: What were you doing at nine Chrissy Teigen? I certainly wasn’t being nominated for. I’m still not being nominated for Academy Awards.

S3: Q Why Johnny was, you know, a delightful young girl being nominated for Beasts of the Southern Wild. Eventually, she went on to I think she was the star in Annie, right? Chrissy was just like, Is it OK to call a small child cocky? I’m forced to like Quvenzhané Wallace because she’s a child, right? OK, fine. Never tweet. Just don’t do it. And then the Onion took that tweet from Chrissy, and they they, like, ramped it up a notch. And they said everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhané Wallis is kind of a c word, right? And it’s just like, Oh

S2: no, that given Ginny Wallace is a nine year old. Leave her alone.

S3: So again, it’s just kind of like, who gets to be, you know, coddled and protected and safe from criticism. Because I’m telling you, if there had been, you know, if I had been a nine year old white girl, all hell would have broken loose. But the reaction to both Chrissy and The Onion’s tweet was just like, Oh guys, you should take a joke. No, no, that’s not funny. Don’t talk about a child that way.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: It’s just it’s bizarre. It’s twisted.

S3: It really is. And I think it also is kind of a, you know, for some people, it might be a countdown for how long they actually can’t find them desirable, like, OK, they’re 18, and they only have so, so much time left in their in their youth. So maybe this is something, you know, that speaks to that? I don’t know. It’s really hard to get into the head of anyone who is, you know, clicking on these clerks in the first place or even just establishing them.

S2: Yeah. Who are you? Show yourselves publicly so we can shame the shit out of you.

S3: You know, if you had told me last year that we would still be counting down to the 18th birthday of famous girls, I would not want to believe you, but I would have to. I would obviously have to. And these countdowns, they just feel so dated and old, like they belong in a Perez Hilton Post or something. I don’t understand why they’re still going on, but as we saw last week, and unfortunately, we’ll probably keep seeing them, they are alive as ever.

S2: So instead, we’ll just keep counting down until the Queen’s 96th birthday, which is totally going to happen. But all right, that’s the show we will be back in your feed on Wednesday, so please subscribe. It’s the best way to make sure that you never miss an episode. Leave us a rating and review in Apple Podcasts or Spotify and tell your friends about us. Drop our name into your favorite subreddit. You can follow us on Twitter. We are at I.C.. Why am I underscore Pod? We love it when you DMs questions concerns about the general state of the internet. We have many and you can always email us. I see. Why am I at Slate.com? We might just have you on the show.

S3: I see why am I? Is produced by Daniel Schroeder, were edited by Forrest Wickman and Allegra Frank. Amber Smith is senior manager of podcast Audience Development and Alicia Montgomery is executive producer of Slate Podcast. See You Online

S2: or in Buckingham Palace.

S3: Wait, sorry, my cat just jumped on that. Oh, hello.

S2: Oh, what’s your cat’s day, right?