Can you imagine asking Audrey Hepburn to the prom?
Fifty-some years ago, when she was the silver screen’s biggest name, and men dressed like Don Draper, movie stars seemed so far away they felt otherworldly. Did people want to ask Hepburn to the prom? Probably. But would anybody actually have had the gall to do it? Would there have been any expectation that the exchange would be two-sided, that she’d wind up slow-dancing under the streamers in the high school gym?
Of course not. To think of going on a date with a celebrity was to think of being the man who jammed an American flag into the surface of the moon: Sure, someone would get to do it, but that someone would not be you.
Today, we don’t have to imagine, because today you can be Jake Davidson, the high school senior who invited model Kate Upton to his prom with an elaborate video he posted online. As the film begins, he is reclining poolside with the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue in his hands. Kate Upton is on the magazine’s cover, wearing perhaps the least practical parka the Arctic has ever seen.
Like a good Los Angeles teen, the kid’s got an impressive pitch: “I’m Jewish, 5-foot-9 on a really good day, and I can’t dance. At all. You’re Christian, 5-foot-10, and that Cat Daddy video should’ve won an Oscar for best short film. You could say this is destiny.”
Jake promises the dance is a great opportunity for Kate, even though his curfew is an hour earlier than Cinderella’s. “It would mean the world to me if you came.”
That could have been the end of it. But Kate wrote back. Her tweet — which, along with Jake’s invitation, went viral on Wednesday — read, “You can call me Katie if you want! How could I turn down that video! I’ll check my schedule ;)”
A winky-face emoticon! A green-light on the nickname! He’s Seth Cohen, she’s Summer Roberts! Anything is possible!
Jake isn’t exactly a trailblazer. In 2011, Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis were invited to Marine Corps balls via YouTube; both accepted and attended. Depending on how generous your definition of “celebrity” is, you can add former “Laguna Beach” star Kristin Cavallari to the roundup. She was asked to a Marine Corps ball on Twitter and replied with a yes in less than 30 minutes.
Our attitude toward celebrities hasn’t always been so presumptuous. But social media has done a number on our relationships with the people we once worshipped from afar. We don’t feel distant anymore. We feel connected. We want to be — we are 100 percent sure if they only knew us we would be — the best friend of Jennifer Lawrence, the girlfriend of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the boyfriend of Emma Stone.
And why shouldn’t we feel that way? But for the grace of a million Jake Davidsons, what would become of the world’s Kate Uptons?
“There are more examples today of this shrinking distance between the celebrity and the fan,” said Nathan Jurgenson, social media theorist and contributing editor at the magazine the New Inquiry. “But for the most part I think this shrinking distance is overrated. . . . Twitter is a place where old-school celebrities can reinforce their distance from everyday people.”
Twitter is an optical illusion, the inverse of a car’s review mirror: Objects may appear closer than they are.
“Obviously, we are not friends of celebrities,” said Kelli Burns, author of “Celeb 2.0: How Social Media Foster Our Fascination with Popular Culture.” “But through social media, it does create this perception that we are a lot closer than we really are. This happens on Facebook, too, even with people you know. You don’t know them that well, but . . . you feel like you’re a part of their life when you’re really not.”
The same day Kate and Jake made a date, the Onion jumped in with a parody: “Scarlett Johansson Immediately Rejects Heartwarming Prom Invite From High School Senior.” As Johansson was fake-quoted as saying to her teenage suitor, “What you’re doing essentially amounts to emotional blackmail.” The story nails what’s so bizarre about the requests: Should one invitation rise up out of the cluttered abyss of requests, the star who receives it is in a PR bind. You can’t say no without looking like a jerk, and you can’t really take credit for saying yes, because everyone knows you only said yes because you can’t say no without looking like a jerk (repeat until brain explodes).
“Think about the motives of the celebrities,” Burns said. “They are not really motivated to bond with you as a fan or to really make their fans their friends in real life. They are motivated to build their fan base, increase fan loyalty, and really make sure these fans show up for them when they’re releasing a movie or starring in a television series.”
Jurgenson said that both the person asking and the celebrity responding are in a game of attention: Upton gets positive press, and Jake gets to be “a microcelebrity,” 2013-speak for a normal human enjoying his 15 minutes of fame.
“Everyday people want to touch fame and almost expect to touch fame in that way,” Jurgenson said. “We expect that we’re worthy of attention. My intuition is that it’s very, very likely that these mega-celebrities are not reading all their tweets, or even any of them, uncurated.”
The choice of which ordinary-person prom date to accept, he said, is probably handled by handlers as well. “I think these are very calculated decisions [about] how the video and the response to the video will play out in the news cycle and whether it will reinforce the positive attention of the celebrity.”
In the meantime, what’s going to happen at Jake’s prom? What if he meets Kate and it turns out — spoiler alert! — that they do not, as he swore they would, have all that much in common?
“The reality is, celebrities never meet our expectations,” Jurgenson said. But he has faith Kate can handle it like a pro. “That’s part of the everyday life of the celebrity: doing these surreal meet-and-greets. You’re just meeting people and being photogenic and saying the right thing.”
And getting your biggest fan home by 11 p.m.