“To Temper Wit with Morality”: The Comforting Moral Fantasy of Instagram’s Celebrity Gossip Account, Deuxmoi

I spend a lot of time thinking about Hilary Duff and Mandy Moore and the fact that their babies are in the same baby music class. I was never even that into John Mulaney, but I can recite several TikTok theories about his relationship timeline with Olivia Munn and where exactly his ex-wife Anna Maria Tendler and their formerly shared bulldog Petunia fit in. After reading that Lauren Conrad from The Hills was obsessed with Cameron Diaz’s natural wine brand because it “doesn’t give her headaches,” I had to try the brand for myself. (I didn’t get a headache either, for the record.) I am obsessed with everything from the relationships celebrities have with one another to the kinds of culture that they consume. The imagined world that they inhabit is a mental place in which I am content to forever dwell.

It’s not that I’m drawn to celebrities because I harbor unhealthy parasocial fantasies or even because I have an especially insatiable appetite for gossip. I just like to think about their lives in excruciatingly nuanced ways. The Instagram gossip account Deuxmoi validates all of these feelings. Deuxmoi is managed by an anonymous woman who publishes mostly anonymous tips about celebrities through the account’s Instagram stories. Because it publishes gossip—and often of the salacious variety—the account has naturally drawn comparisons to Gossip Girl. Yet, Deuxmoi lacks both the focus of GG and its omniscient sheen: it is a vast mine of crowd-sourced tips whose relationship to truth is precarious at best. “Deuxmoi.world publishes only rumors and conjectures, not facts,” its website declares in a disclaimer that the account’s administrator reposts in some form or another near constantly. And indeed, her information is never vetted: anyone can submit a tip, and the tips vary dramatically in scale and quality, covering everything from the return of Bennifer to Nicole Kidman’s latte order (a “bone dry” cappuccino). In a tip that was later debunked, a follower alleged that Chris Pratt would be collaborating with Subway on a new footlong “that is basically just for guys.” If Gossip Girl is concerned with scandal, Deuxmoi’s interests are more prosaic and more granular.

But this is precisely its magic. Although I certainly like to stay apprised of Ben and Jen, the real reason I check Deuxmoi every day is to learn and think more about what celebrities are like—to find out who tips the most or who is the most likely to pet a stranger’s dog or who bestows the most generous gifts on their assistants. (It’s important to me that Keanu Reeves gives everyone on his team $500 at Christmas.) In a December interview with Today’s Alexander Kacala, the woman behind the account mentioned that she is often mocked for this aspect of her content: Why, skeptics ask, should we care whether or not a celebrity was once nice to their server? Yet, these kinds of details are currency on Deuxmoi. It turns out that people care a great deal about whether or not celebrities conduct their daily lives with kindness. And this shared concern with kindness—what we might think of as a commitment to moral accountability—is matched by the account’s online persona: despite her anonymity, Deux has cultivated an eminently congenial online presence. She calls everyone who DMs her “Babe” and occasionally turns the account’s Instagram story into an advice column, where the personal travails of her followers share space with those of the celebrities they care so much about. A lot of people write to her for relationship advice, as you might expect.

Deuxmoi’s moral investments suggest something more expansive than Gossip Girl. It’s more like a lifestyle account: its Instagram bio reads “curators of pop culture,” and indeed one might go there for everything from celebrity gossip to life advice to TV recommendations. If Deux finds a show that she likes, it becomes “an official Deux rec,” and in December she published her own “Definitive Guide to Celebrity Wines” on Bustle (anonymously of course). Deuxmoi’s tendency to tackle moral questions while shaping tastes, I want to suggest, finds a more apt parallel in eighteenth-century periodical culture—and namely in Richard Steele and Joseph Addison’s Tatler and Spectator papers. Just as Deuxmoi amasses a great deal of interest among its 1.3 million followers, so too did the eighteenth-century periodical generate intrigue among its expansive middle-class readership who liked to take it with their afternoon tea. And, perhaps also to distance themselves from their audiences, Addison and Steele published under pseudonyms, sharing the fictional personas of Isaac Bickerstaff (the Tatler) and Mr. Spectator (the Spectator). Although both publications were penned primarily by Addison and Steele, they also featured contributions from several contemporary wits, poets, and playwrights. Most importantly, they, like Deuxmoi, combined entertainment with edification. The Tatler and the Female Tatler, which was written by the anonymous Lady Crackenthorpe and addressed exclusively to women, published “scandal sheets” put a moralizing spin on the gossip collected at the local London coffeehouses. Making good on the titular promise to “tattle” on the elites, such sheets present their upper-class subjects as examples of how to be—or, in many cases, how not to be. Crackenthorpe, for example, saw her documentation of the “unaccountable whims and extravagant frolics committed by the better sort” as a kind of accountability: “the only way to correct great men’s foibles,” she insists in the Female Tatler’s first issue, “is handsomely to ridicule ’em.”

Whether or not Crackenthorpe’s scandal sheets achieved any higher moral purpose is questionable, but the collective interests that such periodicals generated paved the way for the kinds of sprawling meditations on taste and morality that would find their greatest expression in the Spectator papers. If the Tatler and its feminine counterpart focused primarily on gossip, the Spectator, which Addison and Steele started as a kind of sequel to the Tatler, took a more literary bent. Featuring essays on everything from fashion to manners to Paradise Lost as well as a series of fictional “character sketches,” its stated goal was to “enliven morality with wit, and to temper wit with morality.” To accomplish these ends, the Spectator also abandoned its predecessor’s claims to truth: the gossip that appears in the Tatler is a mixture of reality and fiction, but all of the Spectator’s characters are fabricated. Such characters appear as members of a rotating cast—including such personas as Sir Roger De Coverley, Will Honeycomb, Sir Andrew Freeport, and Captain Sentry—who collectively comprise “The Spectator Club.” Each club member represents a different social type, and Mr. Spectator’s accounts of them are meant to be instructional. The libertine traits of Honeycomb, who is “an honest worthy Man,” Mr. Spectator writes, “where Woman are not concerned,” are often contrasted with the more sensible traits of De Coverley. In one issue, Mr. Spectator visits De Coverley’s home and takes pains to describe his kind treatment of his servants.

The Spectator’s characters are not real, and their portrayals can be heavy-handed; yet, the kind of reading that they invite is highly reminiscent of what one experiences perusing Deuxmoi’s Instagram stories. Its featured celebrities are of course more tethered to real life than Addison and Steele’s types, but they too come to take on the qualities of fictional characters. Week after week, followers report on the same crew of celebrities, inflecting their observations with a decidedly moral slant. Succession’s Nicholas Braun—or “NYC’s Boyfriend” as the account has more recently dubbed him—is perhaps the most frequently recurring player. Followers are especially drawn to his willingness to engage (and hook up with) non-celebs and to his awkward but generous manner. One fan spotted him dancing solo to a musician in Washington Square Park and followed up on Venmo to make sure that he had paid the performer before reporting the sighting to Deuxmoi. Sarah Jessica Parker and the cast of AJLT also make regular appearances—one dispatch from set reported that SJP was incredibly generous to the crew while alleging that Cynthia Nixon ignored everyone and spent the whole time on her phone.

Some tips will never be verified, while others will only start to take on the weight of truth once they’ve been multiply corroborated. Enough people have reported incidents of Owen Wilson nearly running them over on his bike that he simply must be a reckless rider. And yet, oddly enough, substantiation only seems to only fuel further fantasy: Owen and his bike are a regular topic of conversation on Deuxmoi, where they have taken on a second life in the vivid imaginations of its followers. For Deux, though, truth is somewhat of a moot point. What the account proffers instead is a kind of collective fantasy of shared values. It is an exercise in defining the parameters of acceptable celebrity behavior, in imagining celebrities as we both want and don’t want them to be.

I have been emphasizing the mostly trivial nature of these conversations, but it’s worth mentioning that Deuxmoi deploys its moral framework to more serious ends too. It published sexual assault allegations against Chris Noth well before the story broke in the mainstream news, and a series of anecdotal tips about the horrific ways that celebrity stylists treat their underpaid assistants anticipated the discussions that ensued around the IATSE strike last fall. While she won’t publish anything about a celebrity’s addiction issues or their closeted sexuality if it hasn’t already been addressed publicly, the account’s administrator doesn’t hesitate to post incriminating information about a beloved public figure. Her gossip resists both the kind of naïve reverence that one might associate with celebrity obsession and the urge to be too sensational. Rather, it seems to be underwritten by an earnest belief in justice, and by the core conviction that accountability is always important.

I’m no more confident that Deuxmoi is capable of instigating change than I am that the Spectator was instrumental in achieving any of the social reforms it claimed to care about. After all, both operate in the world of fantasy, not facts. Yet, there is profound comfort in knowing that there is a community of people online whose love of celebrity culture is of a piece with their belief in the possibility of a better world. We can find it reassuring that some celebrities are “actually really nice” (people have said this unanimously about Rihanna) at this same time that we can want more and better. We might not always be able to hold celebrities accountable for their actions, but we can hold ourselves accountable for how we wish they were.

Plus, it is a great deal of fun to see what they’ve been up to. While Addison and Steele’s readers convened in coffeehouses to discuss the latest issue, Deuxmoi’s followers tune into its Instagram stories every Sunday to tap through its unwieldy list of celebrity sightings from the previous week. Among the tiny dashes to navigate, though, are not just discussions of celebrities but reposts from followers’ own stories, usually depicting a picture of their coffee (or cocktail) and a caption to the effect of: “Sunday reading! @deuxmoi.” That Deuxmoi posts these alongside its regular programming is highly indicative of its priorities. Celebrities are merely a pretext for community-building, a way to assemble a group of people who love to think about their lives as intricately as I do.

Kirsten Martin is finishing her PhD in the English department at Rutgers. Her dissertation examines how eighteenth-century writers and artists turned to technique to theorize aesthetic experience, and her articles appear or are forthcoming in Eighteenth-Century Fiction and Eighteenth-Century Studies.

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