Trump-supporter, hedge-fund defrauder and HIV drug hiker Martin Shkreli has added online-harasser to his roundly charming list of attributes. “Pharma-bro” Shkreli was yesterday suspended from Twitter for using the platform to harass Teen Vogue journalist Lauren Duca. In a purported attempt to “date her”, Shkreli bombarded Duca with a series of unsolicited direct messages, including one inviting her to attend the inauguration as his plus one, the irony of which is surely not lost on a writer who recently made waves with a scorching op-ed on Donald Trump’s gaslighting of America.
After Duca failed to pander to his attentions, he changed the header image of his Twitter profile to what is a presumably homemade collage of images of Duca, updating his profile picture with a photoshopped image of her and her husband, Shkreli’s own face superimposed over the top of her husbands’. It’s message clear: I am going to assert myself within your existence whether you want me to or not. When called out for his creepy and invasive actions, Shkreli tweeted the journalist with “dont [sic] disrespect the sovereignty of my love for you. your [sic] being unfair.” He also claimed to have purchased the domain name “marrymelauren.com”. He has a "small crush" on her, he says; an appropriate employment of the language of little boys.
While the behaviour is extreme, there is also something dourly familiar; a man privileging the perceived romance of the gesture over how the object of said affection might respond to it. Even the phrase “object of affection” becomes meaningful, as in the context of the grand romantic gesture, the feelings of the subject of the gesture are null and void; they are rendered truly objectified, passive vessels positioned to receive the manifestations of the male romantics’ ego.
Grand romantic gestures are misleadingly romanticised. The Subterranean Homesick Blues inspired placard scene in Love Actually springs to mind; in which Andrew Lincoln’s character turns up at Kiera Knightly’s character’s front door, the new wife of his best friend, who he proceeds to communicate his love for via a series of handmade signs. Tellingly, the interaction is necessarily silent. Knightly cannot tell him to do one, the heinous creep; instead she is singularly burdened with the knowledge her husband’s best mate is obsessed with her.
There are a host of apparently iconic romantic gestures; John Cusack’s boombox in Say Anything, Dustin Hoffman busting up the wedding in The Graduate; all of which telegraph the dogged pursual of women as a manner of wearing us down. The grand romantic gesture becomes a transactional act: a means to an end, an investment that will return. It validates men unable to recognise their pursuit of women as forceful and discomforting; while women are socialised to remain at all times courteous and convivial, encouraged to be flattered, at worst, told to "let them down gently". I recall a friend telling me she had a boyfriend when we were both twelve; he’d stolen her bike and wouldn’t give it back until she agreed to “go out” with him. “Isn’t that romantic?” her mum commented. But it wasn’t romantic, it was extortion – and stealing! But good that nobody explained the difference.
Shkreli believes Duca is “not respecting the sovereignty of his love”; it is he who feels entitled to outrage. He is apparently outraged that she is not responsive to his gross, grand gesture, that she didn’t require or ask for, that she is not flattered or letting him down gently, as he seems to expect she should. A privileging of his own, tender ego over the feelings of a harassed woman, whose attention he is not entitled to. It is part of the indignation of men who can’t understand why you don’t want to entertain their advances in a bar, that shout and smile at you in the street and then expect you to. Shkreli clearly does not recognise his behaviour for the deeply creepy harassment it is; it is to his mind, the bombastic gesture that gets you the girl.
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