God knows that James Franco loves nothing more than an elaborate PR stunt masquerading as “performance art.” So it is entirely possible, as some people have speculated, that his recent attempt to pick up a 17 year old fan outside the stage door of Of Mice and Men was one big plug for his upcoming movie, Palo Alto.
For those who don’t know, Palo Alto, based on a series of short stories (written, of course, by Franco himself), is about a group of rebellious teens, one of whom has an inappropriate and mutual crush on her much older soccer coach (played by — you guessed it — Franco). The trailer was released the day before this all went down. Here’s it is, if you’re interested:
But if this wasn’t a hoax or a stunt, if we’re just going to approach it as plain and simple fact, then let’s really talk about what happened and why so many people have a problem with it.
I am personally uncomfortable with a 35 year old man — especially a man who is famous, powerful, successful and wealthy — hitting on a 17 year old girl. With that said, a few things need to be acknowledged:
In both this girl’s home country and in the state she was visiting, she was the legal age of consent. Rather like when the secular, liberal left laughs at the religious, conservative right for claiming that their feelings about what a homosexual couple does in the privacy of their own home is relevant, it is similarly laughable to suggest that my comfort level with a man approaching a legal adult woman for sex is something that should be taken into consideration.
Next, how exactly did that man approach this woman? If the answer was, “By repeatedly and respectfully asking for her consent,” then why exactly is that inappropriate?
Franco asked the girl to confirm her age. Then, when she did, he asked her if she had a boyfriend. I get that some people might take this as a bit of a “I want to make sure I’m not disrespecting some other man,” and while that might be a little eye-roll-inducing, it’s hardly horrific or rude.
Then he asked her if he should book a hotel room. He didn’t say, “I wanna fuck you,” he didn’t show her pictures of his dick, he didn’t make lewd comments about her body.
Again, an adult asked another adult, in a respectful and mature way, if she wanted to consent to have sex with him. He asked her what day she would prefer. He asked if she’d like him to book a hotel room. He didn’t coerce her, he didn’t force her, he wasn’t rude to her.
She, in response, asked him to prove it was really him. He did — fully clothed and sans any kind of inappropriate language or behavior.
I’m not saying he should be patted on the back for not calling her a whore or sending her a dick pic. But I am saying that I don’t see anything in this behavior that deserves to be vilified either. Requesting consent, making sure someone else is comfortable with sleeping with you, and then backing off when they decide that they aren’t… none of that makes him an asshole.
Go ahead and find that creepy. Go ahead and consider it something you wouldn’t respond positively to if you were in her position. But I am seriously uncomfortable with the number of people shaming him for doing something that, at the end of the day, was neither illegal nor abhorrent.