Christopher Darren Cunningham (born December 7, 1987), better known by the stage name Chris Crocker, is an American Internet celebrity, blogger, songwriter, recording artist, pornographic film actor and former YouTuber. Crocker gained fame in September 2007 from his viral video "Leave Britney Alone!", in which he tearfully defended pop singer Britney Spears' comeback performance at the MTV Video Music Awards; his video received over four million views in two days. The video gained international media attention, hundreds of parodies, along with criticism for Crocker.
Christopher Darren Cunningham
December 7, 1987
Bristol, Tennessee, U.S.
|Known for||Comedy, performance art, recording artist, LGBT and youth issues|
Producing and acting in his own videos, Crocker is a self-described edutainer. In almost all of his adolescent works, he presents himself as an openly gender non-conforming person and effeminate Southerner in a "small-minded town" in the Bible Belt. Using "Crocker" as a stage name, he kept his exact location private due to safety concerns and death threats in response to his YouTube and Myspace video blogs and profile until he was no longer a teenager. According to his Myspace profile, Crocker lived in Los Angeles as of January 2008. In May 2010, he returned home to Tennessee, and now travels to Los Angeles for business.
Crocker's work consists mainly of short-form, self-directed monologues shot in his grandparents' home. As of October 2010[update], his videos had received a combined 50 million plays on MySpace, and his vlog channel on YouTube was the 100th-most viewed of all time in all categories, with over 205 million video views, before Crocker closed his YouTube account in September 2015. Crocker's detractors and critics have accused him of narcissism, melodramatics, histrionics, and using Spears' personal shortcomings to bolster their own fame. Others have accused Crocker of acting in the "Leave Britney Alone!" video, although he insisted it was genuine on a September 2007 appearance on Maury Povich's Maury show. In 2014, Queerty stated that with Crocker's thousands of Facebook and Twitter followers, he is "one of those self-invented social media icons".
Crocker was born in East Tennessee to a teenage couple and was raised by his grandparents. Crocker said he "raised eyebrows" by bringing Barbie dolls to kindergarten for show and tell rather than the toys or action figures more conventionally associated with boys. Crocker continued to live in Tennessee throughout his youth, and was homeschooled in response to constant "death threats, bullying and glares at his clothes and makeup" specifically after allegedly being "harassed by a homophobic high school gym coach". Crocker lived with his fundamentalist Pentecostal grandparents who continued raising him when his teenage parents were not able. While his grandfather reportedly knows little about his Internet fame, his grandmother has reluctantly appeared in some of his videos.
Style and followingEdit
Crocker's uncensored vlogging has been attributed to his isolation as an "effeminate, Southern, flamboyantly gay" adolescent in a "small-minded town" in the Bible Belt." His sexual orientation and outspokenness have been described as a "subtext... rarely addressed directly and never completely accepted" in his hometown. According to Crocker, when his grandmother found out that he was gay, she initially "said that [he] needed an exorcism". Crocker has further commented on his town's lack of gay culture, saying, "The only gay pride parade where I live is in my bedroom" as he held up a rainbow frosted cupcake. He added, "We don't have pride and rainbows here. We have MySpace. We don't have bathhouses, we have outhouses."
Crocker's earliest experience with online networking was as an editor of an e-zine, where he met his first boyfriend, with whom he was only able to interact online and by phone. Crocker later found another online forum, where his acting skills helped him blend in on a free phone party line run out of Los Angeles "filled with flaming black men, black drag queens, and trannies from Compton", where he was outed as white and dubbed "cracker". In June 2006, Crocker began uploading self-produced videos, characterized as his "singularly bizarre and angry take on gay life and his intolerant town".
Although his video defending Britney Spears drew the attention of the wider public, Crocker had already become one of the most-watched video producers on MySpace and YouTube, having gathered what MSNBC described as a "cult following". Prior to Crocker's defense of Spears, some of the more than sixty videos he had posted to the two social networking websites had already been viewed more than a million times each, and his YouTube channel was in the top rankings. Some of the videos were only posted on one site or the other, many becoming "viral video hits".
In May 2007, Crocker was the subject of a lengthy profile in the Seattle alternative weekly The Stranger, which discussed his Internet fame prior to and after the "Leave Britney Alone!" video, and the adversities he has faced. Dave Schlenker of the newspaper considered him bold and seething "flares sent up by a young gay man marooned in a sea of rednecks" who is stuck in a small town that "can't tolerate homosexuality and punishes flamboyance." He stated that Crocker's videos include "sex-filled confessions" and "wild monologues" talking "about everything from AIDS to pubic hair." In many of the videos, he portrays characters, such as an older deeply religious woman in "The Earl Annie Edna show" series and exaggerated comic characterizations of Southern stereotypes.
"Leave Britney Alone!"Edit
Crocker is best known for his Britney Spears video, uploaded to YouTube on September 10, 2007. The first part of the infamous work was posted September 9, 2007 called "Leave Britney Alone pt.1" to his MySpace page, while the better-known "LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE!" (part 2) was posted to both Myspace and YouTube. In "Leave Britney Alone pt.1", an emotional Crocker stated that he did not want fellow Southerner Britney Spears to spiral out of control like Anna Nicole Smith, who had died in February 2007. As of November 2010[update], the video had been viewed over 35 million times and had accumulated a total of over 500,000 comments. It is just a few seconds shorter than the second part, and Crocker, although emotional, remains relatively calm and composed, becoming teary only at the very end.
In the videos, Crocker condemns gossip columnists such as Perez Hilton and reality TV star Simon Cowell who criticized Britney Spears' onstage music performance at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards in Las Vegas. Within the first 24 hours of its posting, the video had accumulated over 2 million views. As of January 2009[update], it had accumulated a total of 24 million views and was the second-most discussed video of all time on the site (in all categories), with over 350,000 comments. "LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE!" was one of YouTube's fastest "climbing" videos, reaching the minimum seven million views needed (as of September 2007[update]) to be included in the "Top 100". The video was nominated in the Commentary category in the 2007 YouTube Awards. The video received worldwide attention and earned Crocker interviews on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, The Today Show, Maury, The Howard Stern Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live! and Ryan Seacrest's KIIS-FM morning show. Crocker and his video were also commented on in the mainstream media by shows like The View and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. YouTube said "the melodramatic two-minute clip made Crocker an instant YouTube star" and named it one of the top videos of 2007. Wired magazine named it the top video of 2007.
Although sometimes shown in conjunction with news footage of Spears' performance, the "pure performance art" video became its own story, with the news media and the gossip industry offering opinions on the phenomenon, joking that Crocker could be "an insidious satiric mastermind" and comparing him to Andy Kaufman. In the video, Crocker proclaims, "All you people care about is readers and making money off of her. She's a human! Leave Britney alone!" Crocker stated that although he is often acting in his videos, his emotions were genuine and "straight from the heart"; although he described the clip as a "second take" in one interview, he clarified on Jimmy Kimmel Live! that he meant that it was the second part of a longer video, the first part being "Leave Britney Alone pt. 1".
The "Leave Britney Alone!" video became a satire target, with parody videos, references in mainstream television spoofs, and films. Actor Seth Green's parody, which included him applying eyeliner several times and promoting his show Robot Chicken, called for people to "leave Chris Crocker alone!" Some video responses characterized Crocker as a drama queen, and Wired magazine stated that the video "sent world Schadenfreude levels zooming to heights unseen since the Fatty Arbuckle scandal." The January 2008 parody film Meet the Spartans used pop culture references and met with generally poor reviews; the Electronic Urban Report called Crocker's cameo the "film's funniest moment". Both Crocker and the video were also parodied in the South Park episode "Canada on Strike," with a cartoon Crocker running around in a fight between various Internet memes, telling them to "leave the others alone". In March 2008, a "trance remix" dance single "Leave Britney Alone" was released on iTunes and other sites by "Double J" featuring quotes from Crocker's video.
While numerous news and media outlets reported on the viral video, Fox News Channel's morning program Fox & Friends commentators questioned Crocker's gender and compared the fabric backdrop in his video to Osama bin Laden's videos. Crocker produced two response videos – Poor FOX "News".. and Rosie O'Donnell was right about FOX "News" (originally posted as "Dear Fox 'News'") – addressing what he characterized as biased treatment while he called Fox News the "Republican, conservative, homophobic channel". Crocker's stated concerns were the commentators calling him a "she/he" and what he felt was their needless questioning of his gender instead of commenting on the content of his video.
After the February 2021 release of the New York Times documentary Framing Britney Spears led to broader public reconsideration of how media treated Spears in 2007, Crocker released a statement on Instagram framing his experience as a teachable moment. He described the backlash he faced as a visibly genderbending teenager for expressing the same then-unpopular opinion as straight media critics such as Michael Moore as transphobic. He also said that he was verbally and physically assaulted by members of the LGBT community for making them look bad in the media. Crocker said that the backlash made him fear for his life as a gay teenager without much money living in the South.
Other career opportunities and appearancesEdit
Crocker has been involved in various projects. In a June 2007 autobiographical comic strip, where Crocker discusses future plans, he states, "I'm going to make the leap from living with my Pentecostal grandparents to living with drag queen roommates. I'm going to star in my own TV show. I'm going to make the leap from outhouses to bathhouses...to my very own house." In October 2007, Crocker opened Fox Reality channel's "Reality Remix Really Awards".
Crocker was one of Lily Allen's Internet correspondents on the February 2008 premiere episode of BBC's Lily Allen and Friends where he posed questions for the guest celebrities, in this case David Mitchell and later, Cuba Gooding, Jr.
On May 23, 2008, rock band Weezer released a viral music video for their song "Pork and Beans" – "a natural anthem for the self-expression that's been taking shape on YouTube" – which featured various mash-ups of viral videos and YouTube celebrities, including Crocker, all playing themselves. On May 22, 2009, Crocker made a video showing a Grammy plaque that he received for his contribution to the band's video.
Prior to the attention from his September 2007 Leave Britney Alone! video, Crocker was seen as a viral video sensation and was asked by MTV vlogger and news staffer Matt Sunbulli to provide video for MTV's website which also broadcasts on MTV itself. Crocker indicated that he hoped to develop his acting career; he agreed to develop ideas for a TV show with Los Angeles producer Glenn Meehan and met with representatives from MTV's gay-themed channel LOGO. According to Variety, Crocker signed a development deal with 44 Blue Productions to create a "docusoap" reality television show, which would be called Chris Crocker's 15 Minutes More. Rasha Drachkovitch, the production company's co-founder, stated, "It's going to pretty much be the Chris Crocker experience. We consider him a rebel character that people will find interesting. He's going to be a TV star."
Onch promotional deal and lawsuitEdit
In October 2007, TMZ.com reported that Crocker was being sued by Onch Movement Jewelry for $1 million for fraud and breach of contract, and provided a copy of the civil complaint filed in Los Angeles. Jewelry designer Nelson Chung, professionally known as Onch and a fan of Crocker, hired him as a celebrity spokesmodel for more than two days' worth of publicity work as well as appearance at World of Wonder's Just Britney art show in exchange for airfare. It was speculated by DMW Media that Crocker had no legal representative as the agreement seemed unbalanced. Crocker did make appearances including at gay club Rage and the art show where he was interviewed by MTV showing artwork of him in homage to Spears. Onch's YouTube channel also posted videos of appearances which were later removed.
Music and documentaryEdit
Crocker released his first single, "Mind in the Gutter," in 2008. He released his first EP titled The First Bite digitally on iTunes March 19, 2011. The EP peaked at #3 on the iTunes Electro Album charts. "I Want Your Bite" was released as the second single and has since reached a peak of #12 on the iTunes Dance Charts. Later that year, Crocker released the songs "Second to None", "Tug of War", and "Taking My Life Back". In 2012, Crocker released the songs "Locked Up Lovers" and "Lucky Tonight".
Crocker's second EP "Walls Down" was released on March 14, 2013 under his new stage name Chris Cunningham-Crocker. The EP debuted on the iTunes electronic albums chart at number eighty-four and has so far peaked at number five. This gives Crocker his second top five album on the chart. The EP is a departure of his previous dance style, mainly consisting of ballads and features a duet with his mother. The first single from the EP, "Breaking Up", was released on January 24, 2013.
Crocker announced in August 2011 that a film documenting his life over the past few years would be released, titled Me at the Zoo. The film also explores how video sharing and social media have shaped the way people share their stories and go about their lives. On January 17, 2012, HBO Documentary Films secured the US broadcasting rights to the film. It premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival on January 21, 2012 and on HBO on June 25, 2012.
In July 2011, it was announced that Crocker had been signed by Chi Chi LaRue to appear in a pornographic film. He made his adult debut in October 2012 for Maverick Men. In 2014, Lucas Entertainment digitally released Chris Crocker's Raw Love, which features Crocker in a scene with his then-boyfriend Justin Dean.
Crocker believes that the Leave Britney Alone! video and his performing in porn have hurt his chances of pursuing an acting career. "A lot of people think the Britney video is what got me famous and what gave me all these opportunities, but if I were to have gone to L.A. as an unknown actor—I probably could have gotten a lot more work." He said, "I don't regret it necessarily; I think it just gives me more hurdles to overcome... Which, you know... and obviously doing the porn thing didn't necessarily help me." Crocker described the porn aspect as having tarnished things, but said that it is up to him "to make those little calculated moves". "It kind of created a whole other box that I have to overcome," he stated. "But when you're known as the Britney-boy, or you're in a '15 minutes of fame' box, it's very interesting, because the offers start coming at you really quick. And when they dwindle, you don't know what to do."
Crocker stated that acting in porn was going to be more than a single event; "it was going to be the porn and then a website, with the same companies." He said he was focused on setting up a future with his then-boyfriend and getting a house and a mortgage. "I said, 'Well if I’m going to do it, then let's make it worth it.' So, then we broke up a week before the porn came out. So then, yeah, it kind of ended." He added, "You have to contractually, and things, promote a porn. So I regret doing it with my ex more than I regret doing it in general." He says he could do porn again, but wonders how he would extend that into a viable career. "[W]here is the reality show? And where are the people that have seen how interesting my life is? Not that many people were, like, the first of their kind to be an Internet celebrity—what happens after that?" he said. "What happens after you extend your 15 minutes of fame to 30 minutes of fame, and it's six, seven years later, and you’re still living at home in Tennessee? I think that’s an interesting story, a little more than Honey Boo Boo."
Appearance, genderbending and gender identityEdit
Following his mainstream success, Crocker gradually began to change his image from feminine to masculine, eventually having adopted a predominantly masculine appearance by 2012. Crocker said that although he understands he is more socially or traditionally attractive, he dislikes people saying it and "the most irritating thing" is when men he finds attractive say they find him more attractive this way. He felt that people should accept all of him instead of only the masculine side of him, and that dating is difficult because "[the guys] can't always accept that [he] used to dress up or that that's a part of [him] still and that [he still dresses up]." He identifies with the acceptance he received from his grandmother, who always wanted him to present as masculine, but he also finds it upsetting because she did not accept the way he was before.
Crocker said that his gender is not one or the other, but a combination of both, although it is more so a different gender at times, and that it was not a conscious effort for him to become more masculine. "I started gradually. I was wearing less makeup and pushing my hair back and putting it in a pony tail instead of curling it or wearing it long." He stated that he "never realize[s] the changes that are taking place. They literally just happen" and that "[his] hair extensions got shorter and shorter and [he] went from 26-inch extensions to shoulder-length extensions." He said that the process is the same with regard to "dressing like a girl," adding, "It's little by little." With regard to which gender he is more comfortable as, Crocker stated, "I definitely feel the most connected with myself I've ever felt. Maybe that's because before I began to explore my more masculine traits, I thought I was going to go through with a boob job." He said he has now "explored both sides" and feels like he knows himself well.
Crocker has expressed discontent with the LGBT community not understanding his genderbending and accompanying gender expression or gender identity: "I can understand straight people being confused but within the gay community? The gay on gay hatred or the gay on gay discrimination is what I find so puzzling." He said "[w]hen other queer people say, 'If you were really transsexual...' – because I lived as a girl for three years and people ask, 'Was that all an act?' That's the biggest thing that I get disgusted by." Crocker said if it were all an act, he would not have gone through the trouble for three years; for example, using women's bathrooms and therefore encountering problems in airports. He said he thought the whole point of being transgender is being what you feel on the inside. "For me, I wonder why do you have to just feel like a woman trapped in a man's body? Or vice versa? Why can't you identify with both genders and tap into those without being accused of dressing up as a girl for attention?" Crocker feels that he is "fulfilling whatever vibe [he wants] to go with at that time." He "[tries] to block out people's voices in [his] head and just go with how [he feels]." He acknowledged, however, that his masculine look being "easier on [his] family and society" factors into presenting as masculine.
In a Queerty February 2014 interview, Crocker stated that he is reconsidering whether or not to transition to a female gender identity. "I think I'm getting tired of that chameleon lifestyle," he stated. "Like I said, I know I would be 100 percent happy living as a girl. But it's a lot of work, and it's a lot of therapy you have to go through. And I'm willing to put in that work." He added, "Some people get a haircut. I change genders or gender aesthetics. I don't know that I'll ever be content just one way or another." Crocker said that he is on a journey when assessing that part of his life, and that he would not mind completely transitioning for himself. He said that while living as an everyday guy, he wanted to see if he liked the experience, but that he was unhappy living that way and it did not work because that is not who he is.
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- Johnson, Bob (2011-07-26). "C1R Signs Mainstream Entertainer Chris Crocker". XBIZ Newswire. Retrieved 2011-09-29.
- Ayala, Nelson (2012-10-02). "YouTube Star Chris Crocker Makes Gay Porn Debut". XBIZ Newswire. Retrieved 2012-10-03.
- Bargnes, Kevin (2014-03-10). "Chris Crocker, of 'Leave Britney Alone' fame, is now a gay porn star". Chicago Spectrum. Archived from the original on 2014-03-10. Retrieved 2014-03-10.
- Narkunski, Michael (March 8, 2013). "It's Not a Hair Flip: Catching Up With Chris Crocker". Out. Retrieved 2014-03-10.
- Michelson, Noah (January 10, 2012). "Chris Crocker Discusses His New Look, Gender, Porn, Britney Spears, His Documentary, 'Me At The Zoo,' And More". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2014-03-10.
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