“Ned loves Ariel with all his heart. I’m not crying, you are.”
In 2018, user Nico Jones commented on The Try Guys’ Youtube video, “The Try Guys Try 14 Hours of Labor Pain Simulation.” Their comment garnered over 9,000 likes in agreement.
In the video, Try Guys member Ned Fulmer recreates his wife Ariel’s 14-hour labor experience during the birth of their son. Hooked up to a machine that simulates labor pains, the remaining three members of the group attend to the “pregnant” Fulmer. The video includes cuts to both an expert who explains what happens during labor and Ariel, who explains the events of her own labor in detail.
This video is the Try Guys’ most popular video with 16 million views. It not only captures the playful dynamic of the group perfectly, but Fulmer’s devotion to his family. Over time, the members of the group created brands for themselves. Fans labeled Fulmer as the doting husband who mentioned his wife at any given opportunity.
Which is why his secret relationship with co-worker Alexandra Herring came as such a shock.
The scandal led to an onslaught of memes as fans expressed outrage and shock. Many made comparisons to comedian John Mulaney, who’s stand-up often revolved around wife Anna Marie Tendler. In May of 2021, Mulaney abruptly ended their relationship and began a new relationship with actress Olivia Munn.
Scandals among media icons are not new, but Fulmer’s and Mulaney’s feel different and almost personal, as the brands they built for themselves contradicted their behavior. While Mulaney did not technically cheat, fans feel betrayed by the abrupt ending of his marriage.
Ron Becker, professor of media and communications at Miami University, said our perceptions of celebrities are often very slim.
“Oftentimes it's about reducing who you are to a very narrow brand identity,” Becker said “And people are always more complicated than those self presentations. Usually a lot.”
When we look at Mulaney’s or Fulmer’s work, we build ideas around them based on the information they present to us. It’s easy to become invested in the family friendly, wife-loving stories they tell us.
“There's a way in which consumers are often passionate,” Becker said. “We can often be invested in these idealized celebrity brand identities. We want to believe them.”
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Then, the audience perpetuates the brand built by the celebrity.
Kathleen Kollman, visiting assistant professor in the Department of Media, Journalism and Film and Global and Intercultural Studies at Miami, said one-sided relationships between fans and celebrities also play a role in our perception of figures like Mulaney and Fulmer.
“A lot of this all has to do with the phenomenon of parasocial relationships … where we do get really invested in popular culture figures who we admire and enjoy,” Kollman said.“So you begin to develop relationships, at least mental ones, even if you don't actually know that person.”
The audience builds a relationship with a person based on the specific image or brand they portray. This generates feelings of betrayal when our favorite stars behave differently from the idea we create of them.
“There's a blurry line when it comes to certain kinds of content that isn't necessarily branded as fiction,” Kollman said. “We just always default to the idea that this must be fact.”
If Fulmer didn’t heavily brand himself as a devoted family man, perhaps the audience reaction would be less harsh. Kollman notes how different styles of brands can create different audience expectations.
“Leonardo DiCaprio has kind of cultivated a brand for himself that is not necessarily very family-friendly, per se, in his own personal life,” Kollman said. “So when he dates very young actresses and models, we're not necessarily surprised. But something like the John Mulaney situation, where a lot of his content was built on a little bit of a wholesome wife guy persona, that sort of disconnect happens because of the way he had built his brand.”
Despite the immediate backlash to Fulmer and Mulaney’s cheating scandals, Kollman believes cancel culture will have little to no lasting effect on the stars.
“There really aren't too many long term effects [to cancel culture],” Kollman said. “There's always going to be fans who want to see them, rally and see a comeback story. So I don't know that it's as long term or long standing as people think.”
Becker said cancel culture is complex. Audiences don’t like hypocrisy, but they also hold celebrities to impossible standards and are harsh on them when they fall short.
When celebrities do inevitably fail to live up to these standards, it’s another form of entertainment.
“We also like to see celebrities fall,” Becker said. “That's a trope, and that's a narrative that has existed for a long time and there can be pleasures in that.”
Fulmer and Mulaney’s recent scandals are mirrors into our own morality. We don’t know these people, yet we express genuine interest in their shortcomings. Instead of becoming so invested with the lives of celebrities, we should always hold a lens of skepticism and admire their work while recognizing that’s not who they completely are as a person.
“We are all complicated people,” Becker said, “who are often filled with contradictions and have different parts of our personality.”