At this point in our long and miserable lives, we are accustomed to the short life cycle of the viral celebrity. Chewbacca Mom, Plane Bae, Curvy Wife Man – ordinary people who rose to internet prominence for a brief, shimmering moment before being dismissed for being needy, problematic or just a little too proud of themselves for having a curvy wife. I have learned to watch the ebb and flow of the viral celebrity as a god watches the lives and deaths of mere mortals. I am casual, disinterested and dismiss their calls with a wave of my godlike hand. But once in a while, a viral Odysseus appears and I sit up and take notice. Today, that Odysseus comes in the form of Pieter Hanson.
Pieter Hanson is a Navy veteran, a college student and a custodian of the fattest ginger tabby in Florida. Until yesterday, he had a very normal life. Until Pieter’s mother, a Fox News fan who goes by the Twitter handle BlueStarNavyMom3, decided to turn him into a poster boy for the #HimToo movement.
“This is MY son,” she wrote, attaching a picture of Pieter in his navy uniform. “He graduated #1 in boot camp. He was awarded the USO award. He was #1 in A school. He is a gentleman who respects women. He won’t go on solo dates due to the current climate of false sexual accusations by radical feminists with an axe to grind. I VOTE. #HimToo.”
Let us not be too enraged with BlueStarNavyMom3. Let’s not get too stuck on the fact that social media allows us to turn our beloved family members into propaganda for a movement that denies the trauma of sexual assault. Let’s instead focus on Pieter, who, at the time this tweet was going viral, was sitting a marketing exam at the University of Florida and receiving dozens of texts from his friends about how “we know this isn’t you”.
(Let’s briefly pause: CAN YOU IMAGINE? Your mum has not only posted a photo of you in A SAILOR COSTUME, but it has GONE VIRAL, your FRIENDS have seen it and – here’s the real kicker – she’s made you the face of a voluntarily celibate dating plan where you are never alone with women. And you’re in college.)
Pieter and his brother Jon (listen, guys, I may not agree with BlueStarNavyMom3’s politics, but I admire her commitment to giving her children the most awkward iterations of the names “John” and “Peter” as possible) have since been determined to turn the negative story into a positive one. Both men have displayed the kind of strong moral character and easy charm that only comes with having to spell your name using the phonetic alphabet down the phone.
In a way, this story has become a microcosm of the battle so many of us fight with our parents
“That was my mom,” Pieter tweeted from his new account, @Thatwasmymom. “Sometimes the people we love do things that hurt us without realising it. Let’s turn this around. I respect and #BelieveWomen. I never have and never will support #HimToo. I’m a proud navy vet, cat dad and ally.”
Pieter has since used his newfound viral fame to tweet pictures of his awesome cat and rally support for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which, in my opinion, is a pretty noble use of online fame. He doesn’t seem like the kind of viral celebrity who will try and parlay this into a TV series or a book deal, and I presume that in a couple of days we will have forgotten completely who he is.
But there are a couple of modern lessons that we can take from the story of the Hanson brothers (the Hanson brothers!) and their Navy Mom. Most obviously, it’s yet more proof of how the internet and politics have converged to create something truly terrifying. A few years ago, Navy Mom would have complained to her neighbours, possibly making up a few convenient lies about how her adult children behaved. Now, she has the power to start a whole movement or support an existing one. That’s terrifying. But also, it reminds us that the battle for justice for sexual-assault survivors isn’t strictly about gender, geography, class or job – it’s generational. So many people were able to believe in the image Pieter’s mother painted of him because they saw a young man in a navy outfit, whose mother claimed to be a “navy mom”, and therefore presumed that he, at the very least, is as right-wing as she is. And yet, their politics couldn’t be more different. In a way, this story has become a microcosm of the battle so many of us fight with our parents. Every time we think we’ve gained a little ground (people get raped, Dad! And usually it’s men doing the raping!), we have to sacrifice something (no, Uncle Henry, I’m not suggesting that we believe every single word that every woman says about everything, for ever. Yes, Uncle Henry, I recognise that women, being people, are capable of lying).
All I can say is: thank God Pieter is a Navy man. Because it looks like he has a long, gruelling war ahead of him.