When the American musical comedy-drama television series Glee’s popularity (along with its ratings) really exploded in 2010, few of us could have imagined that not only would the show painfully crash and burn but that three of its cast’s top characters would have tragically died. As if such a terrible turn of events wasn’t enough for one show, in 2020, the actress who played its main character Rachel Berry, Lea Michele Sarfati, was accused of being very rude to Samantha Marie Ware, who played Jane Hayward, and causing “traumatic microaggressions” while they worked together on the sixth season of Glee. More actors later came out with comments on how Michele is “a terrible human,” among others.
That should have been about enough drama even for the internet’s most avid gossip consumers—aka conspiracy theorists—right? Wrong, as I recently learned myself. If I’m being totally honest, I was more than happy to leave Michele behind when the 2010s finally concluded. Glee’s last episode aired in March 2015, allowing us five years to try and erase any memory of Matthew Morrison’s ultra cringe moments as Mr Schue.
And yet, some of us simply couldn’t leave things be, as less than a week ago, my FYP served me with a TikTok by @Kelseylikesthings where the content creator explained how she “risked her life” watching YouTube videos made with the aim of proving that Michele has been hiding the fact that she can’t read ever since her acting career started picking up. In other words, it was brought to my attention that there’s an online community somewhere out there that is so unwaveringly certain of Michele’s alleged illiteracy that they make conspiracy theory videos on YouTube to pass on their speculations.
If you’ve somehow arrived this far in this article and are now thinking to yourself, ‘Who cares?’ then perhaps it’s best you leave now. Evidently, I waste enough of my time on TikTok for the app’s algorithm to recommend this type of content to me, which says a lot. In turn, this implies that I also have enough time to get sucked into cuckoo theories like this one, even though I couldn’t care less about what Michele’s been up to lately.
So if you’re okay with spending ten minutes of your precious time on the wild ride that is the ‘Lea Michele is illiterate’ conspiracy theory, then buckle up, you’re in for a treat.
It’s only fair we start this journey with technicalities as Michele is, after all, an actress. This suggests that in order to do her job, she would need to be able to read her lines to learn them and then recite them when facing the camera. But the conspiracy theorists mentioned previously think otherwise.
Instead, they claim that Michele has had her lines read to her ever since she started her career as a child actor on Broadway. The fact that she began working so young is also used as the sole reason Michele can’t read—since you can’t go to school and learn to read when you’re already working full-time.
After auditioning for the coming-of-age rock musical Spring Awakening aged 14, Michele played the role of Wendla Bergmann up until she turned 20 years old. That’s six years of playing the same part—six long years where the actress didn’t need to learn anything other than her songs and dialogues in the musical. If she is indeed illiterate, it would have meant she only had to ask whoever helped her learn her lines for help once during those years. Before that, Michele performed in another Broadway musical, Les Misérables.
The theory goes on to explain that when it came to Glee, which heavily relied on songs instead of dialogues, the actress never had to read the lyrics to the songs she sang as these were pre-recorded on demo for the whole cast. As for who exactly was willing to read Michele her actual lines for the show, this point was left untouched by the usually nitpicking netizens.
Although I’d like to highlight the fact that I don’t believe such claims myself, I can admit that some facts about Michele’s life are somewhat dodgy when it comes to finding proof she can’t read. For example, there is photographic evidence that the actress never uses her phone—instead, she has a personal assistant who handles all communications for her. And yes, that includes written communications.
Secondly—and from now on, know that the evidence presented here will be less and less convincing each time—it is said that on her Instagram account, whenever a caption only includes emojis, it’s been ‘written’ by the celebrity. If the caption contains actual words, then it’s considered the handiwork of her assistant. And if you’re faced with a mix of both, then it’s a collaboration between both the actress and her assistant, duh.
If you want my opinion, she’s just a bit cheugy and loves an emoji or two in her captions.
Thirdly, it’s been stated that in a lot of pictures of Michele signing books available online, her pen is seen hovering above the paper, making it look like she never really writes anything. A simple Google search debunks this argument, though it’s true that the actress signs the book but never adds a written note.
In fact, did you know that in 2014, Michele came out with an autobiographical book titled Brunette Ambition? Funnily enough, the book doesn’t have a lot of words and is mostly made up of photos, recipes and workouts instead. Either she really can’t read or write, or she simply was looking for a quick and easy way to make more money—take your pick.
In another photo where she is pictured signing a wall, Michele’s name is already written on the wall as she poses and draws a line underneath it. At least she’s photo-ready, I guess?
When the cast of Glee got invited to play Cards Against Humanity—a fill-in-the-blank card game that requires the ability to read—on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, some internet users noticed that while the rest of the actors were shuffling through their cards, Michele didn’t interact with them much, implying that someone picked them in advance for her. I’m not sure I witnessed the same thing, as, to me, she looked like she was rummaging through her own cards too:
In March 2018, the actress took to Twitter to answer some of the elements of this now-full blown crackpot conspiracy that were circulating at the time. Though she deleted her account in 2020—deleting the tweet with it—SCREENSHOT found a copy of it online:
Evidently, this reply only led subtractors to knuckle down more and claim someone else wrote it for her. Whichever side you land on now that you’ve been presented with all the arguments conspiracy theorists seem to think are enough to prove Michele can’t read or write, I’ll leave you with two of the funniest memes I stumbled upon while researching this complex deep dive.
Depending on which generation you were born into, you might know the American actor and musician Jared Leto for a wide array of reasons. I personally remember him from Requiem for a Dream and the absolute trauma that movie caused my 15-year-old self. Some may also associate Leto with Fight Club’s Angel Face character while for others his face brings forth unwanted flashbacks from the car crash that was his performance as Suicide Squad’s Joker. Heck, if you’re not much of a movie buff but know a thing or two about fashion, then Leto can only represent one thing to you: Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele’s most favoured muse, placed even before Harry Styles and Lana Del Rey on the pedestal.
But Leto should be known for more than his surprisingly long-lasting acting career or the name he’s made for himself in the music industry with his band Thirty Seconds To Mars—fronted by the man himself along with his brother Shannon Leto on drums. It’s time for Leto to be dragged for more than his embarrassingly meme-worthy acting attempt in House of Gucci—it’s about time we addressed the problematic behaviour he’s been displaying for years without ever facing the repercussions. From accusations of paedophilia and rape to his bizarre cult island, we’ve gathered all the receipts.
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When the Leto brothers formed their rock band in 1998, they probably never imagined the fan base it would accumulate over the years. Thirty Seconds To Mars (also known as 30STM) went on to consistently enjoy sold-out tours and even headline numerous festivals. Known for its energetic live performances, fused elements from a wide variety of genres, its use of philosophical and spiritual lyrics, concept albums, and experimental music, the band took a strange turn when it started holding cult-like “summer camps” for its audience in 2015.
What seemed to have started as an ironic comment—in 2013, Leto told The New York Times Magazine that it was “a joke, a response to journalists saying, ‘You have such a cult following.’”—quickly turned into a golden opportunity to fleece their audience. In August 2019, while on yet another island retreat they’d held in Croatia for hundreds of fans, Thirty Seconds To Mars tweeted, “Yes, it’s a cult,” sending the internet into an understandable frenzy.
As reported by KQED in September 2019, the band’s fans “collectively refer to themselves as ‘the Echelon’, and are a group that seems overwhelmingly immersed not [just] in music nerd-dom, but rather a more general sort of love for the community surrounding the band.” I mean, just watch 10 seconds of the fan-made video below and you’ll get an idea of the megachurch vibes 30STM is giving off:
Oh, and in case you’re still not convinced, keep in mind that the Echelon also seems more than happy to don all-white uniforms and worship Leto’s feet. No biggie.
KQED further noted, “Like many cults, the Echelon espouses an us vs. them mentality via the hashtag #YouWouldntUnderstand, a refrain Leto repeats often. That idea has pushed supporters to ever more fervent degrees of devotion any time the band receives any degree of criticism.”
Looking into the band’s eyebrow-raising trips, the publication revealed that its Camp Mars event, which was held between 7 and 9 September 2019, charged $999 for two nights of outdoor camping, where you had to bring your own tent and supplies, Fyre Festival-style. The getaway also included daytime outdoor activities like rock-climbing and archery, plus two Thirty Seconds To Mars concerts, which the band called ‘Church of Mars’. More expensive dorm options were also offered, but the only way to sleep in a space that wasn’t shared with strangers was to pay $6,499 for a “VIP experience.” Neat.
But that’s all fine, because Leto declared the band “anti-greed” back in 2013. Whether the whole cult aspect surrounding 30STM started as a joke or not, what certainly seems to be serious is how aware Leto is of his fans’ dedication to him. This thirst for devotion has most definitely played a part in the worrying accusations the celebrity has faced both before and after.
In May 2018, in the midst of the #MeToo movement, Dylan Sprouse—yep, that’s the twin brother of Cole Sprouse who is best known for his role as Zack Martin on the Disney Channel series The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and its spin-off, The Suite Life on Deck—posted a tweet accusing Leto of sending DMs to every model aged 18 to 25.
It quickly escalated when Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn tweeted the following as an answer to Sprouse’s initial tweet, “He starts at 18 on the internet?” Though the tweet has since been deleted, many netizens managed to grab a screenshot beforehand:
This was not the first time Gunn tried speaking up about Leto’s predatory behaviour either. In June of 2015, the director reportedly did a live stream on the video app Periscope in which he made similar remarks about the actor’s habits of sleeping with underage girls. SCREENSHOT did not manage to locate a copy of the video in question.
In that same year, the New York Post reported that the 30STM frontman had been pursuing teen models. “He’s been approaching all the girls and inviting them to his shows,” an anonymous source told the paper. “He’s a serial texter. He is constantly texting these 16- and 17-year-old girls. It’s really kind of creepy.”
For a man who openly held a competition in which the prize was a night sleeping in his bed and who fronts a band that is known to specifically request their fans get tattoos in their honour, to be accused of such things should have been enough to eventually lead the actor to face at least some kind of consequence. And yet, not much happened to the cult leader in 2018, even after a worrying number of allegations, some from years before then, started appearing online.
Though the article has since been wiped clean from the internet, in July 2015, pop culture writer for the now-vanished media criticism site Contemptor, Evangeline Van Houten, made some waves for her piece titled Another Cosby? A Reminder That Several Women Have Accused Jared Leto Of Sexual Assault. In it, the journalist collected several confronting allegations of sexual misconduct from fans of 30STM.
A number of victims, as young as 15, described having sex with Leto and some of the allegations suggested the singer acted despite a lack of consent or continued even when asked to stop. One account stated, “He was very pushy into coercing me to do sexual acts with him and he was quite rough and forceful. Once he was unnecessarily rough and when I told him it hurt he didn’t stop—he never did anything slowly or for my pleasure… And no, he never asked me if I was ever ok or comfortable with anything he wanted to do, simply because he is not the person to care.”
The 50-year-old actor never tried to respond to such accusations, and let’s be honest, it never seemed like he really had to, especially since barely anyone even made the effort to shed light on his alleged predatory behaviour. A Reddit thread based on the article mentioned above includes many more shocking accounts, in case you’re wondering exactly how many victims we’re looking at here.
In 2014, a Star Magazine print issue featured an interview with former adult film star Vicki Marie Taylor claiming that, back when Leto dated Cameron Diaz, she and three other strip dancers had been invited to a post-concert get-together one night in April 2002.
“The other girls and I stripped down to bikinis and hung out with Jared and the band backstage,” Taylor told Star. “After a while, Jared invited me onto his tour bus. His brother, Shannon, the band’s drummer, was already on it and the three of us were the only people there. I gave Jared a lap dance for just a minute, but then he asked me to do the same for his brother, who was sitting on a couch. As I started to dance for Shannon, Jared suddenly grabbed me around the throat from behind and said to me, ‘I can reach pure sexual enjoyment in 30 seconds just by looking into your eyes’. Obviously, it was kind of a weird situation.”
She went on to say that Leto then sat back down and watched Taylor lap dance his brother for ten minutes until a roadie announced it was time for them to leave for their next gig.
The internet is home to many (many, many) more accounts of Leto allegedly sexually assaulting (sometimes underage) victims. However, some internet users have suggested that such online accusations are not to be taken seriously due to the fact that they never actually evolved into sexual assault and rape police cases—a very stupid and uneducated way of looking at the situation.
How many times do we have to say it? The fear of not being believed makes it even harder for victims to come forward, so imagine how frightening it must be for anyone facing Leto and his somewhat invincible yet invisible team of lawyers. Almost 90 per cent of sexual assault survivors will never go to the police.
And it’s not only that victims are worried people won’t believe them, they also worry they will face horrific repercussions for coming forward with their story—whether personally, professionally or from the perpetrator themselves—especially if they go on to report the assault to concerned authorities. Seeing how much of an expert Leto is at emptying his fans’ pockets, it’s not hard to think of the many options he has under his belt when trying to silence his victims.