Virgil Texas, Grooming, and Parasocial Relationships

A toxic mixture, but one all-too-common in the age of the internet.

What distinguishes online celebrity from its older counterparts is easier access to the figures we hold oh so dear–social media allows for unfettered rapport with the entertainers whose voices were once only broadcast through magazine spreads, TV and radio interviews, and much of what enabled mass media consumption in the past. With those barriers broken down, the claws of parasocial attachment are free to sink their influence in deep, and it can lead to some pretty unpleasant experiences as the accusations of child grooming leveled against Virgil Texas—former member of the Chapo collective—by Twitter user ‘Jennifer Seberg’ promptly demonstrate.

While there’s much to suggest in the testimony that it’s not a fabrication meant to discredit a member of the Chapo universe—and it’d be foolish to deny they’re a convenient target of regular scorn—it serves as a useful reminder that the bonds formed with the content creators we so idolize can be the source of much grief if power dynamics are not kept in check. It would already be bad enough on its own if Virgil thought appropriate to initiate intimate contact with a literal child, but that is further made worse by the prospect of this interaction being a strong possibility whenever there’s a lopsided relationship between creators and fans such that access to the former feels so exclusive that fans endowed with this opportunity are compelled to hold on to it even under the most compromising of circumstances.

Much ink has already been spilled on the transgressions of powerful (often male) entertainers, precipitated by the outpour of #MeToo-inspired testimonies on the heels of blockbuster investigations putting figures like Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and Jeffrey Epstein under heavy scrutiny long-overdue, but those pale in comparison to the sheer volume of similarly-natured interactions between fans and content creators given their communities’ largely-insular nature. Since those who make content predominantly for the internet don’t have a tall circuit of media gatekeepers to scale, they have even bigger leverage to take advantage of their fans, even when that goes beyond the usual course of badgering to contribute monetarily to their endeavor.

Being a popular cultural produce, Chapo Trap House naturally invites itself to blanket characterizations by those skeptical of its cast and their influence, so it’s been rather disappointing to see familiar faces like Jude Doyle, Xeni Jardin and Gwen Snyder trivialize this as yet another entry in their personally-held grievances against the podcast and its neighboring ecosystem of broadcast leftist media. Even when the concerns of a grooming victim should take center stage, those eager to ascribe an entire class of creators a similitude of behavior based on vague ideological coherence are being naive at best, perhaps even delusional at the very worst.

Treating this as a phenomenon unique to Chapo or its adjacent entities very much ignores the long history of abuse that some content creators have indulged under the spell of ever-corrupting power and influence. Spoken plainly, competitors of Chapo aren’t any less vulnerable to doing the same–if they have media to sell, are a notable social media presence, and they interact with their fans on an even semi-frequent basis…they’re just as susceptible to doing what they accuse Chapo of being uniquely capable of.

It’s important to properly contextualize this story amidst what has been a tumultuous year for content creators previously thought to be beyond reproach, with internet culture coverage proving itself ever-so-crucial as those traditionally held to tepid standards finally have an impetus not to succumb to their worst instincts. In that sense, it’s not really useful to classify this as a pathos unique to the leftist podcasting sphere as much as it is a byproduct of our reticence to engage with the thorny proposition of celebrity when it is sprung and powered by a medium of mass communication–it’s not until very recently that literature abording that very topic became more readily available for both fans and creators to educate and inoculate themselves against the faint, but very real possibility of an inappropriate interaction taking place.

The above analysis isn’t meant to take away from Jennifer’s plight–her case is barely an aberration in this space. It serves more so as a reminder that even those with a principled moral and political stance against predation can indulge it–neither conservatives, nor those to Chapo’s right on the left are immune if only for having a tame sense of humor. It’s possible to sound the most deranged on a podcast and still maintain an orderly profile in private, and the opposite is just as plausible–to intuit Virgil or any of his former colleagues a problematic character based solely on their public demeanor does victims of grooming and sexual assault a major disservice by feeding into often deceiving and erroneous harmful stereotypes.

Where to go from here then? It remains to be seen whether the Chapo crew will see fit to address these allegations—considering that Virgil hasn’t been a part of their roster for quite a while—but the lessons learned are no less valuable. Creators should take conscious stock of their every interaction with fans, perhaps with the serious consideration of limiting discussions to the content made–it also goes without saying that fans should familiarize themselves with the literature of parasocial relationships if they ever wish to not supercharge creators’ collective ego such that they think themselves to be beyond accountability when reprimand is due. The issue is a complex one to be sure, and it is made no less easy by lawmakers’ seeming disinterest to treat the internet with the seriousness it deserves, but there’s plenty all parties can do to mitigate further damage done in the future.