Did Harry Styles spit on Chris Pine at the Venice Film Festival? Thousands of users have been asking themselves this question for 24 hours on social networks, but there is now an official answer. In a statement, Pine’s representative denied that such an incident had occurred, calling it a “ridiculous story.” “This is a complete fabrication, the result of a strange online illusion that is patently misleading and allows for foolish speculation,” the letter said. But why has this ridiculous story, this hypothetical story, this non-story monopolized the Internet conversation for the past few hours?
Everything comes from video. In the presentation Don’t worry, honeythe expected thriller by actress/director Olivia Wilde, Stiles is seen walking up to Pine to sit in the movie theater. As Stiles settles into his chair, leaning against his partner, he makes a subtle, almost invisible movement with his mouth. It is not this that draws the viewer’s attention, but Pine’s reaction. At this point, the actor looks down at his lap, stops clapping, shakes his head and smiles resignedly. The video is ambiguous and of poor quality enough to leave room for speculation. Did he spit on you? Is this an inside joke between them or a hostile gesture? The phantom sputum became nets in the new blue or gold dress that dominated the conversation in February 2015. It is shared because the incident directly challenges the viewer, encouraging them to comment on its existence.
“I don’t think anyone saw the spit in the presentation,” Tommaso Koch reports, special envoy of EL PAÍS in Venice. The journalist admits that he felt some tension in the event, but there is no sign of the mysterious gargaggio. He found out about the alleged incident, like many of his colleagues, the next day on social media. In the original video, which has accumulated nearly a million and a half views (and that has hundreds of replicas on YouTube and social networks), there is room for intuitive salivation. But other footage of the scene quickly emerged from different angles, casting doubt on the original story.
In one of these videos posted by the deputy director of the film magazine Diversity, the actors were seen talking quietly seconds after the release of the alleged gargaggio. In another, after the screening of the film, colleagues were seen smiling and joking with a casual air. Despite all these videos, the hashtag #spitgate continued to be among the most commented on on Twitter. Harry Styles Word Search a goat (goat in English) has grown by 2450% according to Google Trends. Why did people continue—and continue—to comment on an incident that had already been denied?
In his book, The Science of Storytelling, journalist Will Storr points out the importance of causation for a story to succeed and go viral. “The brain cannot help but make causal connections. It does it automatically,” he claims. Storr offers the reader an experiment with two words: bananas, vomit. “Psychologist Daniel Kahneman describes what just happened in our brains that outlines the scenario in which the bananas caused the discomfort,” he claims. “The brain creates cause-and-effect relationships even when they don’t exist.”
Causal reactions arouse public curiosity. The same thing happens with the video of Styles and Pine, where the latter’s reaction is evident. The effect is there, but the cause is missing. The viewer is inclined to fill in this information gap, and the presence of spit fits perfectly not only in the video, but also in the story that has been created in recent months around the film.
Don’t worry, honey is one of the most talked about films of the season for reasons that go beyond the cinematic. Its filming and promotion sparked a series of controversies and news stories that would make a documentary in itself. Chief among these is the supposed confrontation between Olivia Wilde, his director, and Florence Pugh, his character. The latter announced that she would not participate in the promotion of the film and during her presentation in Venice, she skipped the press conference and went only to the red carpet.
Wilde also clashed with another actor, Shia LaBeouf, whom he eventually fired from the project. She slipped to Diversity that the motives were related to LaBeouf’s behavior. He later published an open letter giving his side of the story. “I left your film (…) You and I know the reasons for my leaving,” he said. He also shared a video in which the director can be heard encouraging LaBeouf and Pugh to “make peace.” He didn’t call the actress Pugh, but “Miss Flo,” a nickname that slipped in with an ironic tone that didn’t help lighten the climate.
Harry Styles finally replaced LaBeouf. But not only. Weeks after the singer entered the project, the director announced the end of her nine-year relationship with actor Jason Sudeikis. A few months later, she started taking pictures with Styles in an affectionate way. Their joint appearances are repeated as the relationship strengthens, always in public.
All these news create a story of disagreements, quarrels and rivalries around everyone involved in the film. So far, all the news and speculation has been slow and indirect, but the Venice festival was an opportunity to see all the participants live and analyze how they interact with each other.
The film was preceded by brutal anticipation, and all cameras and mobile phones were directed at its translators to publish images that were later dissected and analyzed ad nauseam by Internet users. Much was made of how Olivia Wilde and Florence Pugh sat four seats apart, too far apart to spit at each other, but also look each other in the face during the three or four minutes of applause from the audience. Here again, a first video avoiding eye contact went viral, but a second montage, longer and from a different angle, ruined that story.
Pine’s alleged absence from the press conference also drew attention or the video posted by Florence Pugh’s stylist, which showed the actress toasting with a Spritz while at the press conference her co-stars excused her absence as scheduling issues. It was there that Olivia Wilde tried to silence the various controversies with a phrase that very well sums up the digital movement of her film: “As for all the gossip, the Internet feeds on it, it’s fed enough and I’m not going to contribute.” It seems that this is not necessary either.