In the early days of YouTube — we're talking 13 or 14 years ago — there was a series of popular videos called "Sassy Gay Friend," which was built on the premise that history's women could have saved themselves a lot of heartache if only they'd been accompanied by a man wearing a spangled pink scarf. "What are you doing?" the sassy gay friend demanded of Juliet as she was about to poison herself for Romeo. "What, what, what are you doing?" In another segment, he snarked with Eve over God's declared punishment of painful childbirth: "He made vaginas too small and he's looking for a scapegoat."
In 2023, the idea that a man should happily volunteer as an unpaid emotional-support homosexual for straight women is a tad dated. But for anyone who still feels their lives would improve with occasional injections of Sassy Gay Friend, there is now one man who seems happy to offer up his services, for a fee, and that man is disgraced former congressman George Santos.
Santos, in case you've been missing the circus, is facing a bunch of federal charges (he has pleaded not guilty) and, more recently, was the subject of a scathing report from the House Ethics Committee, full of allegations both grave and hilarious. (He has called it a "disgusting politicized smear.") On Friday, the New York Republican was expelled from the House of Representatives, only the sixth lawmaker in history to meet that fate. This week, he joined Cameo.
"Megan! How are you, darling?" Santos drawled into the camera in one personalized video that soon appeared online. "I hear that . . . life might be a little rocky now." His advice: "Be yourself! Unapologetically. Just love yourself. Just make sure that you don't buy in to the hate. . . . You do you, girl! I'm cheering for ya!"
Cameo, FYI, is a service that allows the public to purchase video greetings, well-wishes and pep talks from celebrities, filling out a few prompts for greater personalization. ("What is something special about the recipient you want Nicole 'Snooki' Polizzi to know?") There are some dignified thespians on the site, but, in general, the selection gives off an over-mortgaged Real Housewife-y vibe: D-listers more than willing to wish your friend a happy Hanukkah if it will pay for one more month of Equinox. Santos initially marked his Cameos at $75 apiece, a price that increased to $200 by the end of the day.
What did $200 get you, from the man accused of using campaign funds to buy himself Botox? They got you this:
"Hi, Katieee!" he said in a shaky handheld video uploaded Monday, wearing his trademark white-collared-shirt-and-dark-sweater combination. ". . . Botox keeps you young; fillers keeps you plump. Look, don't let the haters get to you. Haters are going to hate. And if you have haters, that means you're doing something right, girl, so just keep going. You're a Harvard Law School girl!"
Ignoring haters was a common theme in the Cameos that recipients chose to repost on social media throughout Monday and Tuesday, as was staying strong, as was being yourself — which is frankly a little rich coming from a man who apparently made false statements about working at Goldman Sachs, and about whether his mother escaped the South Tower on 9/11, and about whether he played volleyball at Baruch College.
"Hey, James and Sophia! Congratulations on your engagement!" he enthused to one couple who, I am assuming, purchased a Santos message not out of genuine admiration but out of a sense that such a greeting is basically an NFT commemorating the current death spiral of American governance. "Hey, girl!" he began another. "Hey fantasy football league dorks!" "Hey you beautiful bastards!" "Enjoy life, live life, laugh!"
Nobody is going to argue that Santos is offering up particularly transformative advice. You might, however, argue that serving up sassy platitudes on a third-tier media platform is at least less harmful than acting as the official mouthpiece for the 771,000 residents of Queens and Long Island that Santos was representing until less than a week ago.
While still a member of Congress, Santos appeared to try out Sassy Gay Friend on a few occasions, but the timing was never quite right. In the middle of a consequential vote for House speaker, he posted photos of two similarly dressed female lawmakers on Twitter, demanding, "WHO WORE IT BEST?! (Disclaimer: I'm a big fan of this look — bright vibrant hues and shoulder pads are POWER MOVES)." One of the targeted women responded, simply: ". . .anyway."
But what is particularly interesting about Santos' sassy foray into Cameo is the way that it seems to try to recast his messy foray into Congress. The political swindler is a known archetype. So is the saucy friend who DGAF. The first archetype is detestable; the second is beloved. On Cameo, Santos seems to be saying that we got him all wrong: We thought he was an evil political swindler, but really he's bitchy and fun. The kind of guy who, sure, might misappropriate campaign funds to pay for his own expensive dinners, but, girl, if you'd been there with him, he would have used some of that money to buy you some margs and a Death by Chocolate. Ignore the haters!
It's a bizarre, brilliant move and, oddly, one of the few paths to redemption that I could see working for a man who, after being summarily voted out by 311 of his colleagues, immediately left the building and told a waiting gaggle of reporters, "To hell with this place."
On Tuesday afternoon, I went to buy a George Santos Cameo, thinking I'd gift it to my editor as a meta commentary on writing this column. Alas, by then his services were listed as "temporarily unavailable." Which could mean that George Santos's Cameos were so popular that he needed to hit pause to catch up. Or it could just mean that he's moved on to his next brilliant plan.