Editor's Note: This article was first written on November 09, 2015 — right around the time former Subway spokesperson Jared Fogle plead guilty to two counts, one of distribution and receipt of child pornography and one of traveling to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor. In light of current events, we pulled the piece from the archives in hopes of embedding it into the narrative, one which seems to be the dismantling of influential men abusing their power. Because while Fast and the Furious actor Paul Walker's relationships with children appeared cute (and entirely legal) on the surface years ago, the blatant disregard of sketchy behavior by those around him shows just how sinister and subtle the wielding of authority can be. It's behavior long unchecked in Hollywood, and beyond.
Jared Fogle and Paul Walker have a lot in common
People are a strange bunch. Even taking away the current climate of outrage and arbitrary spearheading of viral campaigns, America's obsession with celebrity character portrayal is enough cause for concern. Some really do believe the personalities on screen are real. And somehow, that gives actors a pass to be real life villains.
But for a sandwich spokesperson who got caught having sex with a minor, there is no pass. Finished. Yet for some, comparing someone like Jared Fogle to Hollywood actor Paul Walker is unheard of. One's a disgusting predator, sentenced to what he deserves. The other? A dreamboat with a heart of gold.
Except they both did the same thing.
Fogle recently garnered himself a massive (though still not long enough) sentence of 15+ years in prison. He recently plead guilty to multiple disturbing charges related to him having sex with minors and owning a massive library of child pornography.
To be clear, Walker was never caught with child pornography, that's where they differ. But he dated, and held long-term relationships with, multiple teenage girls that were the same age as the girls in Fogle’s tried and convicted case.
It's long been documented. In an interview with the Las Vegas Sun, Walker’s ex-girlfriend Aubrianna Atwell admitted the two met in 2001, when Walker was 28 and she was 16. The two dated off and on through the next few years, even having lived together in Santa Monica and Santa Barbara, California towards the end of it. Then, in 2006, he met Jasmine Pilchard-Gosnell, who would be Walker’s love interest until his death in 2013. In 2006, Walker was a highly successful 33-year-old Hollywood actor, Pilchard-Gosnell was a 16-year-old child in high school, barely legal to drive.
The two influential men may have had different ways of finding victims, but what difference does it make what medium used when both chose to exploit power and wealth to get exactly what they wanted from younger girls? Each had a pattern, each had a preference.
Some will point to the fact that what Fogle did is immensely more sadistic because of the nature of his crimes; and if Walker was in fact doing the same thing as Fogle, why was he never brought to the police by friends, peers or girlfriend’s family? Great question, but regardless of how the two were received by those around them or why their victims chose to stay silent, in the state of California, Walker's transgressions were illegal — both of them.
To that, why would dozens of women only now come to the forefront of media attention in Bill Cosby’s case? It's clear many were frightened and manipulated by those in power. Yet as anyone now knows, turning a blind eye in Hollywood is also a societal norm, especially when those involved are making other people lots and lots of money. Even so, Walker's relationships weren't viewed as a ruthless act of perversion, many likely thought what Walker was doing was right. Perception of both Fogle and Walker's cases makes a huge difference.
TL;DR: Sleeping with 16 year olds is exactly like sleeping with 16 year olds.
Others will also point out Pilchard-Gosnell seemed “old for her age,” and that the only emotion either of them showed in the face of the public eye was love. They were together for a very long time — ages in Hollywood terms — so it must have been morally applicable, yeah? The ol' "she knew what she was doing" and "age is just a number" excuses.
However it’s been clinically proven teenagers aren’t the best when it comes to making judgment calls, which is why we have age restrictions on things like voting, driving, drinking, smoking, watching porn, etc. etc. That's not to suggest teenagers never become involved with any of those, it just shows society knows better of the way humans perceive the world at large in relation to their age. American lawmakers do the best they can to protect them from themselves — and from those who wish them harm.
Though harm perpetrated by others in authority isn't uncommon and comes in all forms.
Crushable.com writer Alexis Rhiannon was an underage girl when a predator came into her life, much in the same way Walker and Fogle came into their victims' lives. She penned a tale of it in her op-ed, "Paul Walker Was Wrong To Date A 16-Year Old…And I Know That From Experience."
“I don’t care if Jasmine was in love with Paul or how long they were together, or any of that,” writes Rhiannon, “because he took something from her by beginning a relationship while she was underage. At sixteen, you are legally still defined as a child, and at thirty-three, you are legally defined as an adult. I don’t care how mature you are for your age, or what the goddamn age of consent law is in your state (eighteen in California, as I’ve been informed), or how many times your parents have signed off on it and why — there is an inequality of experience and literal brain function between a child and an adult that makes a relationship unacceptable.”
She adds that if she had known better when she was younger, she wouldn’t have gotten involved with an older man, because either way you spin the story, it was still wildly inappropriate sexual attention from an older man. Rhiannon was only 8 years his junior. Walker was 17 years Pilchard-Gosnell's senior.
Fogle, 19+ years his victims' senior, according to court documents.
Fogle and Walker committed the same exact crimes (Fogle's child porn stash notwithstanding). So how is it that we as a pseudo-functioning society allow one to slip through the cracks, even having #1 hits performed about his untimely passing (with massive numbers still maintained at the box office post mortem), while the other is rightfully vilified as what he truly is — a sexual predator.
It’s likely because when we see an attractive, white-skinned hero jumping from rooftops and pushing his modified cars to breakneck speeds, we actually believe that this is the man Walker is, and that his real life exploits are just a fictional part of who he pretends to be inside. The dichotomy of his being is flipped through celebrity, with supporters actually championing the "Brian O’Connor" him instead of the predatory "Paul Walker" him. The power of the phenomenon is unmatched. He was able to tighten his safety net long ago with the release of Fast and the Furious in 2001 — well before social media became a productive tool of shame and investigation.
If Walker was alive today, barely starting out in Hollywood, dating a 16-year-old kid, does anyone really think he'd come out of it unscathed?
But what about Fogle? He’s just a goofy dude who lost a bunch of weight. His time in the limelight was over anyway. His campaign with Subway is old hat, and something millenials shunned during its attempted resurgence of his character. The footlong jingle pushed him out a long time ago, and now his demons are catching up to him, able to push through the shroud of celebrityism.
Walker? He’s long dead. He’s locked in nostalgia at an attractive 40 years old. His demons won’t have to catch up to him. Even if they did, they still wouldn’t be able to penetrate the public’s shield of idolatry. He's safe from the village's electronic version of the humiliation stocks. Nobody cares, because his movie characters built him a reputation outside of reality and rationality.
Imaginations have made Paul Walker's indiscretions untouchable.