When Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis praised Danny Masterson in character letters, the internet brought receipts. An expert explains why.

"Fans don't forget" what celebrities have said in the past, one expert tells Yahoo Entertainment.

Danny Masterson and Ashton Kutcher during MTV/Firm/Interscope listening party for the new Limp Bizkit CD
Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis praised Danny Masterson as a "role model" and "tremendous positive influence." It didn't sit well with the public. (Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)

Danny Masterson's 30-year prison sentence for rape has led to a resurfacing of past unchecked comments made by the male stars of That '70s Show. Over the last week, and certainly since Ashton Kutcher's character letter to the judge calling Masterson a "role model" was made public, social media has been flooded with so-called "receipts" making a case to the contrary.

Receipts surfaced on '70s Show actors

Since Masterson's sentence was handed down, putting him away for 30 years to life for two rapes (he's appealing), old videos have been resurfaced of questionable behavior. The practice is part of internet receipt culture, when "proof" or "evidence," also in the form of videos, DMs, screenshots, audio files and old social media posts, are used to call out someone — usually someone famous — for lying, hypocritical behavior or shadiness.

For Masterson, fans have taken the receipt gathering into their own hands, dipping into the internet archives and pulling out doozies. There was a clip of Masterson joking about showing people his genitals on Late Night with Conan O'Brien in 2004. A video of Masterson telling Kevin Pollak in 2012 about how he came up his deejay name, DJ Donkey Punch, which is a slang term for a violent sex act, was shared. A transcript of Masterson talking about how "hot" his minor co-star Mila Kunis was when she joined '70s Show at age 14 (to his 22) was posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

It only spiraled after the character letters written by Masterson's former co-stars Kutcher and Kunis surfaced. The now-married couple praised Masterson as a"role model" and "tremendous positive influence" with "exceptional character" and "innate goodness." It didn't sit well with the public, leading to their apology video, which brought more receipts showing Masterson and Kutcher being unprofessional with then-child actor Kunis. Masterson accuser Chrissie Carnell Bixler shared many of them, calling Kutcher "just as sick" as Masterson.

Among the new clips was Kunis telling Rosie O'Donnell in 2002 about a bet Masterson made with Kutcher, then 19, for the latter to put his tongue in 14-year-old Kunis's mouth during their first kiss scene. Another video showed Kutcher saying he only agreed to do a promo because it involved Kunis sitting on his lap. "And it feels good," he said, groping and grabbing her. Another video showed Kutcher — who co-founded the nonprofit Thorn, which combats child sexual abuse — talking about how his 15-year-old Cheaper by the Dozen co-star Hilary Duff was "one of the girls that we're all waiting to turn 18."

That '70s Show co-star Wilmer Valderrama didn't write a character letter to the judge for Masterson, but he's been checked too. An old interview he did with Howard Stern has been surfaced in which he discussed and rated famous women he slept with. Valderrama has a long history of dating younger women, including Mandy Moore when she was 16 and he was 20. She later slammed him after he publicly claimed to have taken her virginity. This week, Demi Lovato, another ex-girlfriend of Valderrama's, talked about "gross" past relationships with older men. She met Valderrama at 17 to his 29; they started dating once she turned 18.

Actors from the sitcom,
Ashton Kutcher, Danny Masterson and Wilmer Valderrama, at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas in 2002, were known for their sort of bro culture and partying from coast to coast. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

How receipts became a thing

While exactly who started using "receipts" as slang is unclear, but, according to Dictionary.com, it appears to have originated in Black English and spread mainstream.

It entered the lexicon when the late Whitney Houston denied having a $730,000 drug habit in a contentious 2002 ABC News interview with Diane Sawyer. "No way," the singer shot back. "I want to see the receipts," beyond the tabloid headline the newswoman was referencing.

"Show me the receipts" became a meme. The expression became popular in the LGBTQ community, according to Daily Beast, with it being further popularized by Black drag queens on on RuPaul’s Drag Race. It's since become a staple on reality TV, especially with the Real Housewives. Merriam-Webster added it to its dictionary in 2019.

Celebrities have sometimes brought "receipts" on each other. There are many examples, but one of the most famous was in 2016 when Kim Kardashian surfaced video of Kanye West talking to Taylor Swift about using her name in his song "Famous" after she claimed he didn't. (Though Swift maintained that he didn't say he referred to her as a "bitch" and talked about having sex with her in the song.)

There are many others, but recent ones include: Prince Harry quoting text messages between Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton's fight over the flower girl dresses in his book, Spare. Sharon Osbourne sharing texts to prove she apologized to her The Talk co-host Sheryl Underwood. Jonah Hill's ex, Sarah Brady, posting messages he sent her, accusing him of being abusive. Model Sumner Stroh surfacing messages a married Adam Levine sent her.

That said, it's largely people who have many degrees of separation from a celebrity bringing the receipts. Jimmy Fallon, recently facing toxic workplace claims for the Tonight Show, apologized in 2020 when a 2000 clip of him in blackface from Saturday Night Live trended with the hashtag #JimmyFallonIsOverParty. Social media turned up receipts on Justin Timberlake for years before he apologized to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson. When Courtney Stodden talked about being bullied by Chrissy Teigen as a teen, Teigen's old posts — still online — were quickly rounded up.

"Nothing is ever forgotten" on the internet

When a celebrity is accused of bad behavior, why do fans dig up receipts? For one, people don't like being lied to. And two, they can. The internet has become a deep well and nothing gets forgotten.

"We have this very long memory and remember the details," Pallavi Kumar, a professor in American University’s School of Communication, told Yahoo Entertainment. "I think that's something celebrities forget because while they're living their lives and have probably done countless interviews, we as consumers remember the obscure details — like what they said in an interview and who they dated. So part of it is just the fact that fans don't forget [because] celebrity culture resonates with people."

Another layer is that "the hypocrisy of Hollywood is such a frustrating thing to see," said Kumar, whose expertise includes social media, pop culture and crisis communications. "If you're a fan that has a long memory, when you see people contradicting themselves and forgetting the past, I think fans do feel like it's sort of their right. 'You're a public figure saying all these things. I have to call you out on it, because I know [it's untrue]."

She continues, "So it's really fans calling celebrities out on their hypocrisy. But also to be a fan of a celebrity, there's a trust there. So when a celebrity completely contradicts something they said 20 years ago, it's a violation of the trust. And, because of the public nature of the internet, nothing is ever forgotten."

The era of receipts is not ending

We've long been in this gotcha era — because most have a mobile device and access to the internet or social media. We've also seen a rise of amateur online sleuths doing detective work around crimes — look to how many of the Jan. 6 rioters were identified — and trials, both celebrity and non. It's become something unifying.

"This whole culture is part of this communal need for people to want to belong to something," Kumar said. "As we become more isolated post-pandemic and also just because of everyone's in their smartphone, you do feel this sense of belonging when you're all looking for things together and then sharing on Reddit. 'Hey, did you look at this? Did you look at that?' It's like you created this tribe, this online tribe of investigators. It's like a club. It's something that you can belong to. It's something that fuels your day, And so I don't think that that aspect is going away."

That said, "I think the hypocrisy aspect of things is what really just drives this culture," explained Kumar. "It's like: No, you can't pull one over on me. I know what you wrote. I know what was said."

As for this need to expose, "It's not gonna go away. Once it's here, it's here. So the next time something comes out, the same thing will happen. But right now, [people are surfacing] 20 years of history" from the internet archives. "In 10 years, it'll be 30 years of history. So as celebrities are aging and deeper into their careers, there is sort of this gotcha aspect to things that's only going to get worse," she said.

"Celebrities really should learn" from Kutcher and Kunis

She also pointed out that Kutcher and Kunis could have avoided being pulled into this had they not written the character letters with over the-top-praise heaped on the convicted rapist.

For them, "it seems self-inflicted — a problem which easily could have been avoided," she said. "They tarnished their reputation by getting involved in this whole thing. They had a pretty good brand affinity because they're a very likable couple."

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Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis and Danny Masterson in 2000. (Chris Weeks/Liaison)

This should be a lesson to others.

"I think celebrities really should learn from this," Kumar said. "They all have publicists. Before they make statements, they should make sure they do the deep dive — the deep dive that the fans are already doing — to make sure that they're not contradicting their own past statements."