It took me a long time to understand celebrity crushes. They’ve always seemed so irrational to me.
I never had posters of New Kids on the Block or Jonathan Taylor Thomas hanging in my bedroom as a pre-teen. I never screamed and cried at a One Direction concert or pasted their photos inside my locker. I refused to take sleepover games of M.A.S.H., which were designed to predict my future through pencil, paper, and lists, dead serious (I knew I would never live with Ryan Gosling in a beach shack with our twenty-seven children.)
I think the closest I ever came to a real celebrity crush was in middle school when my sister and I flipped through a Teen Vogue and I pointed out a picture of Daniel Radcliffe in a spread on the Harry Potter movies said: “He’s so hot.” And that was more likely rooted in a wish that there were more boys with shaggy brown hair at my middle school.
Then, last autumn, cartoonist Theo Ellsworth happened.
I didn’t fully understand what I was feeling when I first read one of his comics. Maybe I just really liked his drawing. A lot. Then I found myself ordering more of his comics. His comics weren’t enough, though. I wanted to know more about him.
I Googled his name, checked his tumblr account daily, and browsed his Flickr account. As I entered “Theo Ellswoth” into an search yet again, I felt angry that there wasn’t more revealing online material on this Montana-dwelling cartoonist—why wasn’t People publishing a tell-all or house tour article? From the brief bios I did find, it seemed likely that he lived with a woman, maybe his wife, and I became insanely jealous.
For months I justified my obsession as avid admiration of his artistic brilliance.
I finally confronted my crush for what it was after ordering an original print from Ellsworth and immediately tossed the art aside in favor of the over-sized manila envelope he had hand-addressed. There it was—my name written in his handwriting. I imagined him fulfilling the order, wondering who I was as he addressed the envelope with the same blocky font characteristic to his comics. I texted a picture of the envelope to a friend who also loves Ellsworth’s work. He said I was creepy. I was about to protest when I realized that I was entering the return address into Google Maps’ Street View option. I was creepy.
I still have the envelope on my kitchen counter weeks later. When I bring out the trash I try to convince myself to toss the envelope, but it feels like I’m throwing away art.
The irrationality of celebrity crush culture makes more sense to me now. Infatuation with a celebrity is similar to investing in a character in a novel. However, we mock celebrity crushes, but describe caring for a literary character a side effect of good writing. Why do we value one unattainable relationship over the other?
I think those of us in the literary community, especially those tied to academia, like to separate books and the experience of reading as a higher art from the it’s-a-guilty-pleasure-at-best celebrity culture. But they have a lot in common. Both serve as a distraction, but both can also serve to engage. My obsession with Theo Ellsworth led me to read a lot of great comics that have positively influenced my own work. His comics made me think about the comics community and my own role as an artist.
Crushing can also influence to experience great concerts or movies or TV shows—maybe that’s really why these crushes feel so good. The heart-thumping and swooning over Colin Firth is a gateway to experiencing something bigger like community with others who have the same interests or a film that leads you to meaningful self-reflection. The pleasure of experience sneaks its way in through a crush.
While celebrity crushes might spur used envelope hoarding, they can also deliver some great art. So crush away.