give me chaos

What’s Behind Our Thirst for Roman Roy?

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images, HBO, Shutterstock

Can you feel that? The shift in the air? Not the changing of seasons but the ushering in of a new era; we have skipped right over “short king” season and into a new chapter of a demented fairy tale, that of the “chaos goblin.” A chaos goblin, for the uninitiated, is a short man with undeniable charisma and an unpredictable energy. They are usually below five-foot-eight with a confidence that seems unearned and an aura that teeters on disturbing but is never unsafe. This era is heralded by a widespread thirst for Kieran Culkin as Roman Roy in HBO dynastic dramedy Succession but also as himself. While Succession has been on since 2019, a horn for Culkin seemed to really kick off when the teaser posters for season three dropped. In one, he sits with his “mommy girlfriend” Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) standing over him, her hand inching toward his throat. The nod to his season two “Will they, won’t they?” Oedipal tease seemed to set something off in people who either already had a yen for him or were on the fence.

Then it started to leak out of the screen. In an interview, Cameron confessed she and Culkin call one another “baby man” and “mommy girlfriend” on set. The on-screen flirtation was born from a very real chemistry, which made it 10 times weirder and 50 times hotter. Then Culkin hosted SNL. The episode, featuring a sketch in which Culkin plays a pop-punk jockey, set something off on Twitter, where i-D editor Róisín Lanigan tweeted, “my take on SNL: there is not one of those culkin brothers I would not let absolutely ruin me. I love haunted little freak men.” Five hundred women, myself included, agreed. It is not a straightforward horniness that Culkin inspires or Roy radiates — it’s very specific, very desperate, and a little strange.

Let’s investigate: Culkin is five-foot-six, standing below his absurdly lanky co-stars. But Roman walks around with an absurd confidence, strolling into rooms and climbing all over furniture in a way only a short man can. He has some of the best one-liners of the show, but he also has the most in-depth sexual backstory. His own siblings often mock him sexually, calling him a “toddler with a hard-on” and making fun of his inability to actually fuck anyone. So naturally, regardless of size, that makes his teasing back-and-forths with Gerri, the hot fascist — and anyone else — even hotter. His desperation to jerk off at any given moment, whether it’s in his office or in Gerri’s bathroom while she berates him, adds to that. It’s also, probably, that he’ll flirt with anyone — men, women, colleagues. That confidence and sexuality is, well, simply put: hot.

I did not initially watch Succession because everyone else was watching it or because it seemed good or even because it was created by Jesse Armstrong, whose work I like. I watched it because I saw a picture of Culkin on the red carpet hugging co-star Nicholas Braun (six-foot-seven) and barely coming to his chest. I had to know who this man was, had to get a handle on the demonic energy radiating from the screen. Roman, I am sorry to say, is my exact type. They’re usually “chaotic good,” but sometimes, as with Roman, they are “chaotic very, very bad.” Jorma Taccone as weird artist Booth Jonathan in Girls is another on-screen example. Remember when he talks to Marnie and it’s enough to make her run off and knock one out? It’s that.

I tried to interview dating and attraction experts so I could build this piece on more than a hunch, my own experience, and the reams of fanfiction in my inbox. I didn’t get very far. I asked dating expert Charly Lester whether she had any insights into why women are so horny for chaotic little men, but she told me there was no data to support it. I respect her integrity, but I can’t ignore the women treating my inbox like a confession box for their sins of thirsting over tiny men packages bursting with personality and chaos. However, it would be dishonest of me to act as if I have any unbiased integrity in this area. I do not! The reign of pocket-size chaos goblins is very important to me, and I will do anything to catalyze it.

I recently got engaged to a five-foot-five man, but before I manifested him, I harbored a soft spot for anyone similar. My first male crushes were: Jackie Chan (five-seven), Marty McFly (five-four), Link from The Legend of Zelda (around four feet), and Seth Green (five-three). As I got older, those desires became much more specific — a man had not only to be short but to seem ever so slightly unhinged. Charlie Kelly, for example, but not Charlie Day. On It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Charlie Kelly has an untamable energy, an unpredictable physicality, and really weird interests. In real life, Charlie Day is just a nice, clean man with a wife and children. As is Culkin, I guess, but the “mommy girlfriend” flirting gives him a goblin edge.

This thirst for pocket-size chaos goblins has been simmering online for a while, but Culkin as “slime puppy” seems to have brought it into the cold light of day. The internet on the whole has played a big role. It’s the space where we go to explore and legitimize our thirst, logging on the day after a Succession episode drops to talk about every look exchanged between Gerri and Roman as if we were by some kind of horny watercooler. Horniness on the internet is owned by women, and as genuine desire in women is becoming less taboo, our true needs, however unusual, start to come out. Many women go their whole lives liking only what they’re told or expected to like. I think the thirst for Roman comes, at least in part, from a breaking down of those expectations.

Loving short men as much as I do used to be lonely. The straight or bi women I knew craved height. The idea of sharing clothes wasn’t romantic to them — it just somehow dimmed their femininity. But Culkin, specifically as Roman, seems to have unlocked something I have long enjoyed. “I used to be that annoying girl on dating apps who was like, ‘Tall men only,’ even though I’m five-three” says Lanigan, 25. “A meme that swayed me toward the little haunted men is ‘Is he hot or is he just tall?’ Hot guys five-nine and under are hotter in the truest sense because they can’t rely on the passive hotness of height.” However, the energy that gives Culkin a unique leg up isn’t solely due to his size. “I don’t even think goblin energy has a specific size limit. Small men inhabit it best, of course, but it’s more of a vibe. I feel like it used to be a real insult to say someone has small-man energy, but now the chaos goblins are reclaiming small-man energy,” she adds.

Maybe Lanigan is right, that Culkin/Roman taps into not solely a desire for small men but also for an energy that can inhabit any body. Many have been baffled by Pete Davidson’s ability to land a series of famous, hot, successful women, but I am not. He may be six-three, but he still has a weird, dorky, impulsive quality often found in shorter guys. Similarly, a Google search for “Adam Driver hot” (six-two) brings up articles like “Investigating Heterosexuality: Why Do Women Love Adam Driver?” in which lesbian writer Jill Gutowitz searches for reasons why so many women thirst over the unconventionally attractive Driver. I would argue it’s an offshoot of goblin energy but turned inward; he has a simmering intensity that comes out in bursts and lanky-armed fits. Also — especially in his debut, Girls — why is he always completely shirtless but wearing pants and shoes? It’s a little odd and therefore intriguing.

The only tall celebrity I crush on is Tyler, the Creator, who despite being six-two, I would argue carries goblin energy. Like Driver, he oscillates between quiet introspection and loud outbursts. He carries a childish curiosity with a simmering temper, as seen in videos and on his TV show Nuts and Bolts, in which he endearingly investigates things he’s fascinated by. I love that unpredictable, playful energy, and I posit there’s something hot about watching a man navigate a world that seems not to be built for them. Whether it’s because they’re so lanky they have to stoop in a doorway or so small they have to tiptoe to reach a shelf, it’s just fun to watch.

Dating expert Callisto Adams says she recognized the shift but believes “one of the reasons why a lot of women are changing their perspective on the standard regarding men’s height is that they’re becoming more open to the idea of getting to know the man as a person.” She added, “It’s more of a way to look for emotional fulfillment rather than an aesthetic one.” While that might be true more widely, when it comes to the “Polly Pocket chaos goblins,” there’s something deeper going on than widening the net. The women I spoke to aren’t turned on by men like Roman because they’ve drained the sea of tall guys and are lowering their standards. They, like me, find something hot about him and men like him specifically. Eliza, 27, says she is “shocked” by what Succession has “done to her,” citing Roy’s “trickster energy.” It’s also, she says, that he “is babiest of all” and “needs a hug” — maybe the eternal impulse to change a man who seems fucked up is at play.

Amelia, 25, is in a relationship with the very tall father of her child. She says that while she is “​​obsessed with tall long men IRL,” when it comes to Succession, she’s “horny for Romulus.” “I’m always attracted to the mean, weird men on TV. I guess because I wouldn’t go for these men IRL, it’s a little fantasy. In Roman, it’s the dry sense of humor and the giant ego despite being a tiny goblin man.” This isn’t new for Amelia. In 2019, she tweeted, “thanks for all the succession tweets that made me eventually watch it, but what NONE OF YOU prepared me for was how much i would, to my own disgust, fancy roman roy.” She followed up: “the bit with the ringing iphone? u know the bit. i’m thinking about it,” referencing a scene in season one in which a jealous Roman makes a waiter call a girl and then holds the vibrating phone against her.

Short men are often derided for their stature and presumed lack of masculinity, which is obviously archaic and cruel. The men people name as being short and hot — Green, Oscar Isaac, Tom Holland — are all confident in their size. Most of them have gorgeous, towering wives and not a care in the world. Green in particular looks nothing short of smug with wife Clare Grant. He should be smug — she’s hot, they’re in love, and he has defied society’s rigid expectations. So maybe in part it’s that — a confidence that appears outsize. Christina, 32, says she’s often into taller men, but her Hollywood crushes are all smaller like Chris Messina and James McAvoy. “Short kings are just the purest, most elemental form of Big Dick Energy. They have a DGAF appeal.”

With Culkin, Christina’s latest short-king crush, she says “the attraction is because he’s chaotic energy concentrated. It’s a whole lot of personality packed into a tight-and-right stature. It’s alpha male vibes but in a tiny-dancer body that I could throw around if needed.” She ruminates that this could be part of the appeal — that a lack of towering physicality is less threatening and more approachable. She links it to the “Age of the Twink” physique and the recent trend of women thirsting over men like Timothée Chalamet and Troye Sivan. “It’s a subversion of the ‘male ideal.’ They’re not a Hemsworth, but that doesn’t make them any less hot nor us any less horny for them.”

I hope never to be lonely again, that this moment doesn’t end with season 3 of Succession, when Culkin goes back to existing in his home with his hot wife and not on our screens doing weird things to satiate his own thirst. I won’t be, I hope: The (sweeter) reaction to Holland and Zendaya alone indicates we’re more open to an era of tall queens and short kings. A loosening of what we think we should find attractive serves us all, and for too long, we have been sold the lie that hotness has a metric, that it can be learned or understood. But it can’t be defined by inches, and desire this powerful cannot be harnessed or contained. Even if our horniness can’t be backed up by data, that doesn’t make it any less real.

What’s Behind Our Thirst for Roman Roy?