Serious Question: Why Are We Obsessed with Yacht PDA?

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After Aperol Spritzing through Tuscany, Harry Styles and Olivia Wilde surfaced on a yacht this week. They kissed; they nuzzled; they possibly danced (or, alternate theory, simply clung to each other for balance). The couple, who met on the set of Wilde’s second directorial effort, Don’t Worry, Darling, even left their big boat so that an artfully mustachioed Styles could captain a smaller vessel through glittering Mediterranean waters. In my estimation, the Styles fandom lost at least a full afternoon’s worth of productivity to a forensic examination of this photo set. All I could think, to quote Courteney Cox in Scream 2, was: It’s happening again.

After all, it’s July, also known as yacht season—an annual micro-season within summer—in which super-celebrities and moguls embark on luxe floating vacations, often with sparkling, sexual overtones. Styles and Wilde join a long, storied tradition (one well-documented on many episodes of The Ringer’s Jam Session podcast) that includes Styles himself and Kendall Jenner, along with each of their mothers, off the coast of St. Bart’s in 2016. Beyoncé has been known to yacht-dive from great heights (once, from an aptly titled rental yacht named the Halo) on yachting jaunts with Jay-Z to Capri and Croatia. In 2019, Timothée Chalamet and Lily Rose Depp ardently made out aboard a yacht off Capri, as Italy is the unofficial global epicenter of yacht season. After two terms in the White House, President and Michelle Obama decamped to David Geffen’s superyacht, the Rising Sun (or as he prefers, “RS”) in Tahiti, which is how we’d all decompress after eight years of Mitch McConnell, if we could. 

It must be said that while the appetite and voyeurism for yacht season photo evidence is strong, there are also persistent ethical questions about breaches of privacy. Yachts are at once one of the only places celebrities can be entirely alone … save for the prying eyes of long-lens paparazzi. And yet couples sunning and smooching are often accused of doing it for publicity, a murmur that Chalamet, for one, denied. In an interview with GQ, he recalled “waking up to all these pictures, and feeling embarrassed, and looking like a real nob… and then people are like, ‘This is a P.R. stunt.’ A P.R. stunt?! Do you think I’d want to look like that in front of all of you?!”

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There is something endlessly fascinating about yacht PDA, as well as platonic group yacht vacays (see: Oprah and Gayle King aboard the RS, on which Geffen notoriously quarantined). Much of modern celebrity culture, from the aughties zenith of Us Weekly to the present, is predicated on a kind of imagined relatability. Stars—at least occasionally—are like us. They go to Starbucks, sometimes wearing Juicy jumpsuits. They walk their dogs. But most spectators will never find themselves lolling starboard, a la Styles and Wilde, on a yacht near Monte Argentario. It’s like glimpsing a Gatsby party from the other side of the Long Island Sound. Not easy to look away. Of course, yacht-watching can border on grotesque. Amazon employees had to fight hard for their $15 per-hour rate; meanwhile, Jeff Bezos’s $500 million superyacht comes with a “support yacht” complete with its own helipad.

With the rise of Bennifer 2.0, I can’t not think about the scenes from the now-vintage “Jenny From the Block” video in which Affleck, in all of his pompadoured glory, caresses Lopez’s bikini bottom sur la mer. It was a bit of celebrity satire—a nod from two celebrities who never fail to feed the beast. In the spirit of second chances, here’s hoping for the real thing in 2021. 

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