What exactly do we want from Sydney Sweeney?
The ‘Euphoria’ star tried to minimize controversy over her seemingly MAGA-affiliated family, but her response didn't satisfy fans.
Over the weekend, Sydney Sweeney posted a slideshow of photos on Instagram of a recent celebration for her mother’s 60th birthday. In it, Sweeney, who was raised in Idaho, is laughing along through a “surprise hoedown” the family threw for the occasion, but all hell broke loose after people online took a closer look at the final photo of the slide.
The image features a man that is assumed to be Sweeney’s father wearing a “Blue Lives Matter” shirt, effectively endorsing the pro-police movement that began specifically as a run counter to the Black Lives Matter movement. Soon after, others pulled up photos from Sweeney’s brother’s Instagram of the same celebration, in which people were shown wearing parody Make America Great Again hats that read “Make Sixty Great Again.”
The photos caused many to question Sweeney’s family’s political affiliations — and Sweeney’s own — and her culpability in upholding MAGA ideologies. By Saturday afternoon, Sweeney responded on Twitter: “You guys this is wild. An innocent celebration for my moms milestone 60th birthday has turned into an absurd political statement, which was not the intention. Please stop making assumptions. Much love to everyone and Happy Birthday Mom!”
The response garnered even more ire, and deservedly so: there were no “assumptions” being made about a political statement. Her family was shown to be casually rocking MAGA gear: a red spade is a red spade. Both the casual dismissal and attempt at obfuscation from her are indeed eyebrow-raising, and posting the final photo in question indicates Sweeney either didn’t notice, which is telling, or that she doesn’t think it’s a big deal.
With that said, there is an unusual and misguided subtext to the whole debacle and how Sweeney is expected to handle this from a publicity standpoint, which is, it’s important to note, what this situation is ultimately about. Regardless of how one moralizes about the situation, she is a major actress posting a photo to 14 million followers and is managing public backlash in the aftermath. Putting aside the fact that Sweeney’s response was dubious, many have called her out as complicit for her assumed lack of pushback against her family’s purported political views.
These responses made sweeping assumptions about the actual nature of Sweeney’s relationship with her family and their politics; it is, of course, impossible to know what conversations, if any, she’s had with her family about political differences. What we have then is an implicit request for her to challenge these views publicly, which is in essence a request for some sort of virtue-signaling damage control. What is the endgame? Shaming her family so publicly would, of course, do little to actually achieve what people purportedly want, which is for racist people to stop being racist, and instead likely embolden them, if anything.
Sweeney ought perhaps to have crafted a more thoughtful response that acknowledged what was plain to see, but the internet’s desire for her to do the right thing by, presumably, writing some online screed condemning her parents is a case of bizarrely misplaced Twitter energy. In a poetic twist, there’s a lesson to the situation that can be found in Sweeney’s own character, Olivia, in The White Lotus.
Many joked online when the show aired last summer that Olivia was among the most terrifying characters on television: a scathing, snarky college student, she read Nietzsche by the pool with her friend, Paula, a woman of color, and would cut you down with a caustic glance. Throughout the season, she would often roll her eyes and scold her parents for their unenlightened boomer remarks, and in a situation like Sweeney’s, she would likely very loudly crucify her parents online. But Olivia, despite her progressive bonafides, was ultimately wearing a costume; she was shown to be a version of her parents nonetheless, looking to throw her friend under the bus while being ensconced within her privilege, despite how much she would hate to admit it.
Some are surprised about Sweeney’s family and wondering whether she is indeed like them — a fair thing to perhaps be disappointed about (though, as many have pointed out, it shouldn’t be so striking when practically everyone in America has Trumpers in their family). But as the saga has escalated, many have endorsed a certain way to conduct oneself online in their desire for Sweeney to essentially publicly tar her family. While the situation in The White Lotus is largely different, a core lesson remains: why do we want a show of call-out liberalism when that’s exactly what it would be — a show? Olivia’s outward actions were ultimately empty and self-serving — why do we care for Sweeney to be the same way?