let them all talk

It’s Time to Ban Lip-Reading

Imagine you’re at a boring party and run into a friend you weren’t expecting to see. Thank God, now you can do something fun. “Did you hear that Kelly left Dan for a 23-year-old barista?” “You can’t tell anyone, but I slept with my boss.” “Get this, she got a nosebleed halfway through.” How delicious! Now imagine the next day you open up TikTok and someone has posted a video of you and your friend, claiming to lip-read your entire conversation, and now you’re embroiled in a minor scandal.

Some version of this scenario has happened to celebrities twice in the past week. First, a lip-reader claimed that Selena Gomez whispered to Taylor Swift that Kylie Jenner wouldn’t let her take a photo with Timothée Chalamet at the Golden Globes. Gomez herself denied the claim, saying in an Instagram comment that she was actually telling Swift about two friends of hers who hooked up. Why she told us that part is beyond me, but we cannot dwell on it for too long.

Later, a video of Emily Blunt and John Krasinski having a conversation on the red carpet went viral. People swore up and down in the comments that he was saying something along the lines of “I can’t wait to divorce.” (However, some commenters insisted he “can’t wait to get indoors.” Others read it as “I can’t wait to get through this.”) There was enough conversation about the couple that they eventually had to address the situation, with a source telling Us Weekly that they “are absolutely not talking about divorce.”

I usually do not want to defend celebrities, but as a gossip’s-rights activist, I have to take a stand. Stop telling me what you think these people are saying to each other. Do I want to know what Selena said to Taylor that made her jaw drop? Yeah, of course, and maybe it was about Timmy and Kylie, but at the end of the day, I have to respect a woman’s right to talk shit in peace. They’re at a boring work function where the host sucks and the room smells like sushi. What else is there to do?

As for Blunt and Krasinski, think for two seconds. Why would he say “I can’t wait to divorce” on the red carpet in front of one million cameras? That’s something you say in a tense Uber ride after the ceremony.

It does make sense that so many people saw what they wanted to see, because lip-reading is really hard to do. If you’ve ever tried to talk to someone from across a party, you know that it requires context, gestures, and good lighting to figure out what someone is trying to say. According to the CDC, only about 40 percent of sounds in the English language can be seen on the lips of a speaker, and that’s in ideal conditions. The idea that you can tell what someone is talking about from a 20-second clip on Instagram is, at best, misguided.

Celebrities really have no privacy any more. They can’t go wild at the club because everyone has a professional-quality camera in their pocket. They can’t take a walk without someone sending Deux Moi their coordinates. Even if they do have a private Instagram account, Julianne Moore might accidentally share it with the world. I know that they’re rich and famous and this is “what they signed up for” or whatever, but I do think we should give them this one bit of peace. Imagine suddenly being stripped of the ability to gab with your friends, lovers, and co-workers in peace. Read my lips: That sounds like hell.

It’s Time to Ban Lip-Reading