Gender and Sexuality Column

A feminist’s guide to James Franco’s problematic past

/ The Daily Orange

UPDATED: Sept. 1 at 2:43 p.m.

University Union is starting out the year with everyone’s favorite freak and geek: James Franco. But before Franco graces Syracuse University’s campus with his uncensored humor and outlandish views at Goldstein Auditorium on Sept. 17, here’s a handy guide to understanding the scandalous history behind your problematic fave.

Notorious for being misogynistic and vulgar, Franco has a shaky record when it comes to his life in the public eye, specifically his sexuality and sexual expression. Apart from being an actor, Franco writes short stories and tends to create mayhem on social media.

Franco is the kind of celebrity that gets attention for his actions, not so much his intentions. It appears that he does things without fully thinking them through, as he often recants and apologizes for his unsolicited commentary. While Franco’s lecture is sure to be entertaining, one should attend it fully educated on his record of arrogant behavior and biased attitude.

Franco’s extremely public sex record doesn’t help his case. In April 2014, Franco controversially almost landed himself on the sex offender list when he attempted to seduce Lucy Clode, a 17-year-old fan visiting New York City. After sliding into her Instagram DMs and asking her if she had a boyfriend, he asked her to meet him at his hotel, even though he knew that she was only in high school, per the well-publicized screenshots.

Franco understood the effect his fame would have when he assumed that any fangirl would go weak at the knees given his attention. And even though the age of consent in New York is 17, Franco still crossed the line and asserted his power to pursue someone as young as Clode. Franco later made a statement that it was bad judgement and expressed his embarrassment. “I’m just a model of how social media is tricky,” Franco said on Live! With Kelly and Michael.

After the Clode incident, Franco’s name appeared on Lindsay Lohan’s leaked list of past hook-ups. Franco then wrote a passive-aggressive essay for Vice in June 2014 that called Lindsay Lohan “damaged” and said she acts out for attention. Albeit long, Franco’s essay clearly deflects responsibility from whatever supposed sexual relationship he may have had with Lohan — another testament to his character.

Charisse L’Pree, a professor of mass communications and media studies professor in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, addressed his response to Lohan’s statement.

“This could be his fantasy of how things went with Lohan,” said L’Pree. “He made the choice to put that out there and perpetuated a narrative.”

This kind of attitude is in line with how he views women as just sexual conquests. Case in point, Franco characterizes women as sex-obsessed dimwits in his two novels, “Actors Anonymous” and “Palo Alto.”

Whether his art really reflects his true self is up for debate. L’Pree said she believes there are, in fact, three sides to Franco. There is his real side, a mystery to us all. There is the virtual self that he portrays in his writing and on social media, which is a false representation of our real and thoughtful selves anyway. And there is the actor, the character he is paid to create.

“I would never say that he hates women or others because we don’t actually know his real self,” L’Pree said, “I would argue that nobody really knows the real James Franco and that’s his whole thing: elusiveness.”

On the flip-side of Franco, he has revealed what L’Pree refers to as his “real side” after coming out to Metro Weekly as being gay “except for the sex part” in 2015. This was no surprise as Franco has a history of portraying queer characters on the big screen. Franco displayed his actor-self in the 2008 film “Milk,” when he was hired to play Harvey Milk’s lover Scott Smith. He also appeared in “King Cobra,” a feature at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in which Franco plays an aspiring gay porn producer.

But in the same month as the “King Cobra” premiere, Franco shied away from his statement from Metro Weekly by telling TIME that there has been too much of a focus on his sexuality. These statements don’t add up, especially after Franco’s representing the LGBT community for art and his self-conducted interview in which the “straight” Franco interviewed the “gay” Franco for dot429.com.

“Franco doesn’t necessarily know who the real Franco is because the virtual Franco has taken over and that is the beast of social media,” said L’Pree.

But it is worth noting that L’Pree believes we can only take Franco at face value and speak to his past actions, however problematic they are.

Whether it is through acting, writing, or social media, Franco is constantly reinventing his persona for better or for worse. It will be interesting to see if Franco uses his fame in a public forum at SU to promote his true self and views on women and the LGBT community. And for that, we will just have to stay tuned.

CLARIFICATION: In a previous version of this column, a paraphrased comment from Charisse L’Pree was unclear. It is important to note that L’Pree also suggests that students can only form opinions on James Franco at face value based on his past actions.

Myelle Lansat is a junior magazine journalism major and policy studies minor. She can be reached at malansat@syr.edu.

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