The Chris Pratt Backlash Was Always Coming
He’s arguably the most famous Hollywood Chris. But now that he’s everywhere, his critics have become more vocal.
Estelle Tang: Everyone is discussing Chris Pratt on the internet. He made an Instagram post that caused consternation. He was recently cast as both Mario and Garfield. He is living and breathing, which it seems is enough to cause pique for some folks. What’s your take, BuzzFeed culture desk?
Scaachi Koul: OK, let’s talk about the worst of all the Chrises in all the land.
Elamin Abdelmahmoud: Hello, I am here to say that Chris Pratt may not be the best Chris, but in no way, shape, or form is he the worst Chris. For god’s sake, are you people forgetting Thor 2? In fact, all Chris Pratt does is give us stuff to talk about, and for this, I am grateful.
SK: Very troubling that you think someone merely being at the center of a discourse means they are not actively bad.
Stephanie McNeal: I’m fascinated by his fall from grace. Just a few short years ago, he was arguably the number one Chris in this group. People loved him on Parks and Recreation, and when he made the jump into big blockbusters they really cheered him on. Now, he’s reviled. What happened?
EA: Not to jump right in, but I wonder if people actually dislike him or if that is just true in certain extremely online liberal corners of the internet, when in fact he’s out here carrying whole movie franchises on his shoulders. Guardians? Check! Jurassic World? Check! He’s been cast as Mario in the Mario movie (which is unhinged, but sure). He’s Garfield in the Garfield movie. Chris Pratt is…beloved at the box office. In fact, he’s one of the most bankable actors of all time.
SK: Remember when he was on Everwood, that WB show about a single dad moving to a small town, where Pratt is some B-plot character and his name on the show was...Bright????? That was a good show. Justice for Everwood, but not for Chris Pratt, with whom I am having a negative parasocial relationship with. He just feels like someone I knew, at some point in my life, whom I absolutely do not care for. He’s just everywhere, and I am increasingly unsure if I want him to be anywhere at all.
EA: Wait, I forgot the Lego Movie!!!! That movie hits.
ET: Well, he’s way more famous now than he was when we first started talking about the Chrises. Mid-2010s profiles of him are like, “Look at this doofus from Parks and Recreation suddenly being in all these MOVIES.” Now he’s arguably the most high-profile Chris, so people are analyzing his behavior way more, and also, expectations are higher; his off-the-cuff blue humor of yesteryear (apparently he surprised Amy Poehler by appearing naked in one Parks and Recreation scene and made a rude joke about Kim Kardashian in another), which might have seemed charmingly outré when he was a regular-Chris-made-good, wouldn’t fly today.
EA: I mean, I think we take it for granted that he’s more famous than he was, and forget how hard it is for someone to be this good at these blockbuster movies. His job is to sell the corniest dialogue, and truly, not everyone can do that! The compost bins of Hollywood are filled with folks who simply could not make the leap from massive TV success to massive movie success. For instance: Jon Hamm, where you at??? Taylor Kitsch, RIP. Chris Pratt got big because he is good at the thing he does, which is having mass appeal, and I’m not sure he’s ever pretended to be anything else.
SK: Please leave Jon Hamm out of this. He’s doing great work on Curb Your Enthusiasm and that’s enough for me.
ET: I’m interested in the role his social media has played in the latest backlash — this week’s post wishing his wife Katherine Schwarzenegger a happy birthday resulted in plenty of negative attention. “She’s given me an amazing life, a gorgeous healthy daughter,” he wrote. “She helps me with everything. In return, periodically, I open a jar of pickles. That’s the trade. Her heart is pure and it belongs to me.” Some people thought his “healthy daughter” comment was insensitive, given that his son with Anna Faris, Jack, has had health issues. Others thought that the line “Her heart is pure and it belongs to me” smacked of Old Testament possessiveness and traditional ideas of how a woman is supposed to act.
SM: I am of the belief that the change in public perception is entirely a result of his online presence. Ever since his divorce from Anna Faris and subsequent remarriage to Katherine, his Instagram has gotten weird: a lot of strange commentary about her devotion to him and not one but MULTIPLE photos of her giving him a pedicure. People tend to interpret his posts about Katherine as being self-serving and question the dynamics of their relationship. This latest post is just the culmination of a few years of content that the internet thinks is cringe. Their engagement post got made fun of for being stilted. IDK, the criticism is maybe too harsh, but it’s been going on for a while.
SK: It is really a case where if he just kept his mouth shut online, people would not dislike him so much. Like, who would have been thinking about Chris Pratt if he hadn’t posted something truly bizarre about how much his wife loves him? Staying quiet is a skill and a lesson for us all!
EA: Honestly, my read on the recent post was not anything evil or sinister like some folks think, but just that this guy does not have the facility with words — he can get away with that kind of sarcasm in a video format, where you can see in his face that he’s just playing dumb, but in words, it looks dark as hell.
SK: The fact that people don’t want to give him the benefit of the doubt is telling. If, say, Dax Shepard made the same post, I doubt people would so immediately consider him a figure of patriarchal anglo-Christian Republican agitprop. But Shepard and Kristen Bell have a very different public-facing relationship, and different public personas for people to cling to. Pratt, it seems, is not someone people want to laugh with anymore.
EA: I think you’re trying to get at the infamous giant cross Instagram post, yeah? I mean, look, no one has a good explanation for that. Maybe when you’re rich, you just buy bigger crosses.
SK: Looking forward to my future, then.
ET: All of the other Chrises do a pretty good job of being, if not openly progressive, then at least quiet enough for people to project any values whatsoever onto them. In contrast, Pratt is very openly Christian, with strong family values, as they say, which makes him an easy target for people who don’t agree with him. What part does that have to play in how he’s received/seen?
SM: In 2015, when he was at peak likability, there was a profile of him in GQ where he definitely had…how can I say this…conservative energy? To be clear, it didn’t talk about his politics, but it made him out to be a “salt of the earth,” hunting-and-fishing kind of guy. I wonder if some people began to question his values after that, and in the Trump era, looked at him more critically. But even though some people accuse him online of being a Trump supporter, there’s very little evidence he’s actually MAGA. I do think wearing a “Don’t Tread on Me” shirt shows a bit about his views, though.
EA: I’ve been wondering about his religiosity in the context of another man of God and fellow Hillsong Church member, Justin Bieber. Bieber is very publicly religious, he’s just as much of a wife guy, but it comes off differently with the Biebs. Is there something that Pratt does differently than Bieber? Because on the face of it, a celebrity being very religious and famous is quirky in this moment — I think it has become a lazy shorthand for conservatism, which for some people has become a lazy shorthand for being homophobic or racist, which is entirely unfair — but it wasn’t that long ago that it was quite common!
SK: I wonder if some of the negative response is a result of people feeling bait-and-switched. He was this sweet, dopey, cutesy actor who then loses a lot of weight, divorces his wife, remarries, and starts referencing Christianity (and, as you say, Steph, conservative energy) way more openly on his Instagram. I think maybe some fans felt like there was a pivot somewhere. Like, was he like this all along? Who knows. The point is this is who he is now.
SM: Exactly. I think the Parks and Rec heads felt a sense of betrayal. The show had a very liberal bent to its story and messages. It's safe to assume many die-hard fans identified with the show’s values, so when Chris, the breakout star of the show, started to express values that were different from that, I think some of them were upset.
ET: Is that the main inflection point where he lost some of his audience? He’s had detractors for a little while, perhaps inescapable when you’re that well known. Were there other pivotal moments? What about the Mario casting, for god’s sake?
SK: Mammmmma mia!
EA: JFC. Listen, as far as I can tell, he began to lose a certain portion of the very online audience when he and Anna Faris divorced. They were beloved as a couple, and their public relationship was sweet and playful. When they started being a thing, people were rooting for him because she was way more famous and way hotter than him. Or am I misremembering this?
SM: Yes, I think the breakup with Anna and the relationship with Katherine really changed people’s opinion of him. This is no shade to Katherine (I follow her on Instagram!), but people LOVED him and Anna together. When he then went for someone who was very different from Anna, and also much younger, he also seemed to change his public image. Some of his social media posts about Katherine and ways he has spoken about her in the press also read kind of off, like he was infantilizing her or not respecting her. Also, I think there was this sense Anna had been there since the beginning, they had been through so much together, and then as soon as he got big he dumped her.
ET: It reminds me of how people responded to John Mulaney’s relationship with Olivia Munn; people judge men harshly for seeming to slight their ex-wives.
Pratt is also someone whose body has changed quite a lot in a very public way; he’s talked about it in interviews. How do you think that plays into how he’s being perceived?
EA: People like a schlubby man, bruv. But he got jacked and was still funny. And that doesn’t happen often. We got to know his brand of goofball humor when he was schlubby Andy, but — we all know this — hot people are not funny. So when he got ripped, a lot of people weren’t ready for how he could be hot and funny at the same time. Like when people saw him in Guardians, it was so charming, I still remember the theater exploding in laughter at that opening sequence, where he’s dancing to “Come and Get Your Love” and holding a lizard-looking thing and singing and killing stuff. He was so chrismatic.
SK: Did you mean to write charismatic as “chrismatic?” If so, you will be hearing from my lawyer.
EA: This was a typo and it will now stand. Send your little legal notices.
SM: I actually don’t think his body changes impacted his likability that much because as I recall, people were loving when he got jacked, like what we just saw with Kumail Nanjiani. It was how he seemed to change the rest of his life (divorcing Anna, mainly, and being more open about his faith) that some of his fans were turned off by.
SK: I don’t know if it’s that his physical change heralded a spiritual or intellectual change or whether we just started to pay more attention to his personal life. Ultimately, it’s the red state vibes he’s started to give off in the last few years, combined with this kind of aggressive can-do attitude that always pisses me off. Take, for example, his response to the latest backlash: There’s something really out of touch about a very rich, very famous person lecturing the average person about how they just need to get out there and get their workout in and go for a run listening to your Christian rock playlist. He’s so distant from the realities of his audience that I think it’s playing a role in the way some people resent him.
ET: What do we think Chris Pratt is good at? What is his appeal?
SK: Tall? White? Loves protein, probably? He does have a kind of precious impishness that I did indeed find adorable a few years ago, and now I’m out here googling “Parks and Rec episodes without Chris Pratt.” I liked Guardians of the Galaxy too! I thought it was a perfectly pleasant Marvel movie, he made me laugh, I was open to accepting his large muscles. I think his failure is in his attempts to humanize himself to an audience that doesn’t find him personally charming.
EA: I think he’s a good utility player in a movie. He's very good at having chemistry with nearly everyone you put next to him onscreen. He makes Dave Bautista look good. He makes CGI baby dinosaurs look good! That’s why he keeps being cast in these ensemble projects. But remember Passengers? Where he had to be onscreen alone for like an hour? We learned quickly that he is no Tom Hanks. He doesn’t have the arresting presence that can carry a movie alone — but he’s a good conductor of energy, meaning he can be the fixation point when there’s varying quality of actors on the screen, and transform that movie into a hit. He can be the tall white guy in the center of the poster at the movie theater, and folks will say, "Sure, here’s 15 bucks."
ET: Has the basis for his likability changed over the past decade or so?
EA: No! He’s always been kind of a goofball, always been a little bit basic, can make you laugh, and he still does exactly those things! I am sorry to say I love a good Pratt. He commanded those pesky lil’ baby dinosaurs real well in Jurassic World. It’s not a movie that asks a lot of you, and nor does Chris Pratt. But we found out things like how he listens to Joe Rogan, and that hit different with some folks. But in terms of the stuff he does onscreen, I really think he does exactly the same stuff. That’s almost a better reason to dislike him, if you must: He hasn’t evolved a lot!
SK: I think it’s changed! Or at least, I think his likability within a certain kind of audience has changed. Like, think about Parks and Rec, which is a pretty clearly liberal show. I do not know if the Chris Pratt of today would be on that show, and as such, the people who loved Andy Dwyer are unlikely to love Chris Pratt: Noted Large Cross Possessor.
EA: That’s interesting, I hadn’t thought of how he might’ve benefited from the “halo effect” of being on an explicitly liberal show. You know what, Mark Ruffalo still vouches for him.
SK: Mark Ruffalo is a 9/11 truther, Elamin. You can’t have anything nice in this world.
ET: How is it that Pratt has managed to bounce back after some of these so-called missteps?
SK: Well, it’s not like he’s done anything particularly monstrous. To my knowledge (someone correct me if I’m wrong), he hasn’t been accused of abuse or assault or harassment or overt racism. It is simply that the Vibes Are Off, which isn’t really something to recover from — it’s just something for his audience to either accept or disengage with. Will I watch him as Mario? Yes. Will I enjoy it? I will not.
EA: I do want to flag that Elliot Page called out Pratt for attending Hillsong over alleged homophobia, and Chris Pratt was like, “No, my church is not homophobic!” And that gave the impression that he is a Church Guy, but that is only a crime on the Cool People’s Internet.
SK: See? The vibes are off! And the vibes are made worse by him insisting, absolutely insisting, upon talking when he does not need to do so.
SM: I think that’s a critical note. There’s not a ton of stuff he has DONE; people just think he has bad energy. The reasons why people disliked him were very opaque, until the recent IG post, which I think is why so many people jumped on it.
ET: What proportion of this mini-backlash is simply the idea of overexposure, given the recent Garfield and Mario castings and his various existing franchises? Is he actually more overexposed than the other Chrises?
EA: A friend of mine made the comparison that Chris Pratt is hated for the same reasons that James Corden is hated, which is that these folks are ubiquitous as hell. That checks out, in that some folks are not sure what the problem is, just that there is one. But no one knows what it is!
SK: It’s very hard being a straight white man of a certain age. Joe Rogan taught me that.
EA: I want to throw out one more thing working against Chris Pratt, which is that time his Avengers costars came to his defense and were all “he’s a pretty good Chris, actually.” It was fine, friends do that for each other, but it was particularly bad in light of the fact that they did not come to Brie Larson’s defense when she was getting sexist criticism. They basically said nothing.
SK: You know who’s great? Me. They should let me be the next good Chris.
EA: I think there’s something to what Scaachi said earlier: an inverse relationship between the amount a Chris talks and how great they are. This is why Chris Meloni reigns above all. Followed closely by Chris Noth. Rank the Chrises who do their job then shut the hell up.
SK: SUN IN CHRIS MELONI. ASCENDANT IN CHRIS PINE. MOON IN KRIS JENNER.
EA: Justice for Mintz-Plasse.
SM: Knowing what I know about America, I predict Maria Shriver’s grand plan will work and he will be our president in a decade. ●