I need to talk about the 2011 Chris Evans GQ profile
The latest edition of "Old internet things that I think about at least once a month"
Let’s get one thing out of the way real quick: If you don’t care about celebrities, think Chris Evans isn’t hot or think that social media is inconsequential to our everyday lives, this is not the edition of Amy Explains for you. Actually, Amy Explains in general isn’t for you. You have been warned!
All of those things are valid, but I want to talk about a different Chris Evans. Let’s rewind a good 12 years, shallst we?
The year is 2010: “Iron Man” was one of the highest grossing movies of the last two years, “Iron Man 2” and “Thor” are slated to premiere in the coming months and it’s clear that Marvel is ramping up its slate of superheroes to create the almighty “Avengers.”
And so it is announced to much anticipation that the casting of Captain America, the first Avenger, is… Chris Evans??
That jock from “Not Another Teen Movie”? Wasn’t this guy already a superhero in the “Fantastic Four” franchise? Phew, at least it’s not Channing Tatum.
The casting announcement received a cautiously optimistic response: Fans had been impressed with his onscreen presence in past films, but Robert Downey Jr. had set a high bar with his portrayal of Iron Man, and of course comic fanboys are picky as hell.
So, to appease the masses, what happens next? What any good mega-corporate film studio does: It secures a cushy cover story with GQ.
“Chris Evans: American Marvel” written by Edith Zimmerman published online on June 14, 2011, and quickly proceeded to take the internet and entertainment industry by storm.
If you want to know why, I’d implore you to read the story, but if you can’t read or hit the GQ paywall, or have an aversion to clicking external links, here is an excerpt from the introduction of the article:
Since we're both single and roughly the same age, it was hard for me not to treat our interview as a sort of date. Surprisingly, Chris did the same, asking all about me, my family, my job, my most recent relationship. And from ten minutes into that first interview, when he reached across the table to punctuate a joke by putting his hand on top of mine, Chris kept up frequent hand holding and lower-back touching, palm kissing and knee squeezing. He's an attractive movie star, no complaints. I also didn't know how much I was supposed to respond; when I did, it sometimes felt a little like hitting on the bartender or misconstruing the bartender's professional flirting for something more. I wanted to think it was genuine, or that part of it was, because I liked him right away.
This interview is… salacious, to say the least.
And like, OK, is this good journalism? No. It really isn’t!
It’s way too self-referential: As a writer, it is your job to tell someone else’s story, not your own.
The writer does not set boundaries: You should not be drinking on the job!
The false stereotypes: It reinforces the gross, age-old, completely false notion that all women journalists sleep with their subjects (Zimmerman does not say that she hooked up with Evans, but there is a lot of physical contact and general sexual energy throughout the story).
It has obvious bias: The story is essentially all fawning, zero substance.
All that being said, this is probably one of the best, most influential celebrity profiles I have ever read.
At the time, blue checkmarks (Actually I’m making that up, were blue check journos a thing on Twitter in 2011? I was 14 at the time idk lol) lampooned this story, calling it “cringy” and “unprofessional” and “feels like it was written by a teen girl.”
But you know what? That’s exactly what made this profile revolutionary.
Fandom culture has existed for decades, but found itself at a pivotal moment in the late 2000s/early 2010s with the rise of tumblr and Twitter, where large fandoms found places to gather online, and major entertainment franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, who supplied said fandoms with endless content.
I can’t recall if I’ve talked about parasocial relationships before (they were a hot topic in 2021) but this was also a time when they became a prominent part of media consumption. For those who want a quick definition: A parasocial relationship is a one-sided relationship, where one person extends emotional energy, interest and time, and the other party, the persona, is completely unaware of the other's existence.
Celebrities creating personal social media accounts only added fuel to the fire, as it gave them a direct way to communicate with fans, letting them in to the more personal aspects of their lives.
So all of this combined made for a profile like this one to absolutely explode. Celebrity profiles have always been a little more informal, more self-congratulatory, more fawning.
But this one. THIS ONE. Edith Zimmerman says, “Screw your standards!” This isn’t for journalists or film critics or even comic book fanboys. This one’s for whoever has looked at Chris Evans and thought, “Oh that guy’s kind of hot.”
Edith Zimmerman grabs you by the shoulders and screams “THIS COULD BE YOU. You could be a normal girl meeting Chris Evans and you could drink together and meet his mom and crash at his house and maybe hook up although probably not, but the feeling is still there! This is real life!!”
This is a parasocial relationship personified. All of your daydreaming has paid off. All of your fantasies very well could be real. The fan-fiction in your mind is actually happening in to someone.
So, 11 years after publication, why is this magazine profile occupying so much of my brain space? Funny. You. Should. Ask.
I want you to imagine you are me, mindlessly scrolling through TikTok, when you stumble across a BookTok recommendation, that starts off with, “Run, don’t walk, RUN! to buy this book.” (An aside, I absolutely despise that phrase in the internet’s lexicon, but that’s beside the point)
The TikToker says, this book is called “Funny You Should Ask” by Elissa Sussman, and proceeds to explain the plot of the book:
Chani is a writer, and 10 years ago she was asked to write a profile of an up-and-coming actor that just so happens to be her biggest celebrity crush. He is cast as the new James Bond and people are not happy so his team wants her to write a profile of him that will pull people into his camp.
She meets up with him, the interview doesn’t go very well but then he asks to extend the day with her and invites her to a movie premiere. She spends the whole weekend with him, writes this glowing profile launching both of their careers, but it also comes with the rumor that something happened between them.
Yes, it’s true, someone in our lord and savior’s year of 2022 wrote a fanfic-esque novel NOT about Chris Evans, but in fact, about a journalist writing about Chris Evans.
And no, I’m not making things up, Sussman confirmed it herself.
(Another aside is that that Tom Hiddleston profile is another must-read. It was written right after his short-lived relationship with Taylor Swift and he spills EVERYTHING. Incredible work.)
Maybe this all freaks me out because I’m also a journalist, but I can’t help but wonder what Edith Zimmerman’s reaction to this is. Could she have ever predicted that a one-off magazine story would lead to a bit of her life being dissected, fictionalized and published 10 years later?
And maybe I’m getting too galaxy brain here, but is this book just further example of how far parasocial relationships will go? Not only feeling like you know, maybe even are existing as the subject (in this case, Zimmerman), but going so far as to build a whole fictional world around this person’s story?
Everyone, EVERYONE is talking about this book. I just got a copy of this e-book from Seattle Public Library (yes, I still use SPL, sorry for using everyone’s tax money over there) after sitting on a waitlist for a good two months. There are currently 208 people in line to read it next.
And if you’re wondering, is the book any good? Not really lol*, I’d say just go back and re-read the Chris Evans story again.
*OK I’ll admit I’m highly biased because I’m deeply averse to any inaccurate portrayals of journalism and SHEESH the woman in this book is not a good journalist. If someone Venmos me $5 I will write a follow-up to this email with a detailed bullet point list of all of the things this character does wrong**.
**My poor bf would probably really appreciate that because I have spent the last two days interrupting his quiet evenings with my angry remarks about how bad the protagonist is at interviewing.