Online, Zelenskyy has become a sex symbol. It gets weird. – The Front

“I know now is not the time, but I have the biggest crush on this man,” one commenter admitted. The video in question? Ukrainian President and former comedian Volodymyr Zelenskyy, now stone-faced, speaking to the press amid Russian attacks.

During times of great crisis – and we’ve had many of these over the past two years – it’s human nature to reach out, to grab hold of the community, a strong leader, a sense of stability, a… man more old and sexy. At the start of the pandemic, people were craving Andrew Cuomo (and even, a bit, Anthony Fauci). Somehow, “Cuomosexual” has become a household term.

Now, as war heats up in Ukraine, it’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy – aka Zaddy Zelenskyy. (“Zaddy,” for those unaware, is a sexualized term for an attractive, often powerful older man.)

@str3lly2.0 Legend. #fyp#for you♬ original sound – alexa 🌙

TikTok is full of videos featuring clips or photos of a grim-faced Zelenskyy making announcements or wearing a camo military vest and setting them to dramatic music. On Twitter, older videos of Zelenskyy’s time on Ukraine’s TV celebrity dance competition are doing the rounds, and even the Ukrainian president’s fedora and pinstripe suit can’t quench the public’s thirst.

The comment sections on each platform are the same: half declare him a hero, the other half claim him as their future husband.

“Who knew ‘a strong president’ was a small problem,” wrote one commentator. “Okay, is he really hot or is it just me?” asked another, who got nearly 40 enthusiastic agreeing responses.

After Cuomo and Fauci, Zaddy Zelenskyy felt inevitable. But there is a setback; Cuomo resigned in shame amid accusations of sexual harassment. Even before that, everyone seemed to come to their senses, realizing that publicly lusting after a rock-faced governor who was simply doing the bare minimum to stop a raging pandemic was cringe enough. Have we learned nothing?

There’s no proof that Zelenskyy is going to turn out to have a damaging secret, but it’s still a bad look to drool over a world leader; in fact, this global conflict seems to have started, in part, because only one world leader – Putin – had an inflated sense of himself and built his own ego-boosting version of reality with the help of a circle of yes-men.

Zelenskyy himself understands the dangers of focusing too much on a leader rather than on actual policies; when he took office, he begged people not to put him on a pedestal, encouraging them to stay focused on the future of the country. “I don’t want my portraits hanging in your offices, because the president is not an icon or an idol,” he said in his inaugural speech. “Hang pictures of your children on it and look them in the eye before each decision.

Thirsty comments are well-meaning, and there’s a natural attraction to the charisma inherent in any leader who responds to disaster. I feel like the people who flatter Zelensky are trying to be encouraging, even if the compliments seem to have lost sight of the fact that he’s in an active war zone. Plus, Zelenskyy was an actor and comedian, so he knows how to operate a camera, and there’s plenty of video footage of him to work with, even before he entered politics.

But they also lessen the gravity of the war. Zelenskyy’s sexy “alpha male” qualities are embodied in standing up to Putin waging war on his country, not pleasing the ranting commentators. His selfie videos, as made for social media as they seem, have to prove to the public that he is still alive. And to focus exclusively on Zelenskyy is to lose sight of the millions of other people in Ukraine who bravely resist the Russians and suffer the fallout of war.

Online today, tweets about cats sit alongside photos of babies in bomb shelters, and clips of bombs falling on Kiev are replaced by twerking TikTokers. It’s easy to blur the lines, so it’s just as appropriate to yearn for a world leader as an influencer – perhaps it’s even more moral or higher to choose the heroic president over the idol. Hollywood or pop star.

Yet when we cheer on a man trying to save his country from the mighty Russian army in exactly the same way we would if we were watching a basketball game, we lost sight of reality. I promise you there are better ways to support Ukraine with real resources or money, not weight. Influencers may be flattered by thirsty fans, but Zelenskyy doesn’t care if you think he’s hot – he just comes wants to be admitted to the European Union.

Online, Zelenskyy has become a sex symbol. It gets weird.

James V. Hayes