Hark! Ashton Kutcher, the arbiter of truth, owner of divine intuition, has broken his silence once again. Since descending unto the masses, in the early aughts, the actor has proven himself an orator of the highest acumen. His intellect had been sharpened by his participation in the cerebral masterpieces Dude, Where’s My Car?, Two and a Half Men, and the particularly scholastic My Boss’s Daughter. When the architect behind Punk’d speaks, one would do well to listen.
Alas, even the shrewdest sage cannot throw only strikes. Kutcher’s most recent pitch, a character defense of his That ’70s Show co-star Danny Masterson, who this month got sentenced to 30 years to life in prison for the rape of two women, was evidently an ill-fated gospel. “He’s an extraordinarily honest and intentional human being,” Kutcher wrote in a letter to the Honorable Judge Olmedo ahead of the trial. “Intentional”? An uncharacteristic faux pas. “As a role model, Danny has consistently been an excellent one,” he continued. “I do not believe he is an ongoing harm to society…”
Note the use of “believe,” meaning that Kutcher, having known Masterson for only two and a half decades, may have lacked or, at the least, forgotten the prescient facts. If only he had remembered that $10 bet proposed by Masterson for Kutcher to “French-kiss” his future wife and fellow Masterson champion, Mila Kunis, in an episode of That ’70s Show. Kunis was 14 years old at the time of the referenced kiss, five years Kutcher’s junior.
He seemed to remember the wager quite acutely when jovially relating it on The Rosie O’Donnell Show, in 2002; but a mind bursting with data is prone to overflow. Or Kutcher could have conflated the file with an equally nauseating pronouncement he made one year later, on an episode of Punk’d, where the then 25-year-old introduced a then 15-year-old guest star, Hilary Duff, as “one of the girls that we’re all waiting for to turn 18.” And then the conclusion: “Along with the Olsen twins.”
When the architect behind Punk’d speaks, one would do well to listen.
We can only guess what principles Kutcher might have absorbed from his Scientology-practicing, prison-bound “role model,” Masterson. What we know with certainty is that Kutcher has mastered the value of swift repentance.
He offered a glimpse of his apologetic efficiency in a three-paragraph letter released on September 14 declaring his resignation as board chair at Thorn, a charitable organization he co-founded with his ex-wife, Demi Moore, aimed at “[building] technology to defend children from sexual abuse.”
But the most recent showcase of Kutcher’s speedy sorriness came in the form of a shoddy Instagram video taken alongside Kunis and released on September 9, just days after Masterson’s conviction and sentencing. In the clip, Kutcher ensured his followers that he was “aware of the pain that has been caused by the character letters,” but that, importantly, his defense was “intended for the judge to read.” In an ingenious inversion of fault, the philosopher wonders if it is us who should seek forgiveness for reading his private letter, instead of its writer, who had thought the thing up behind closed doors.
Further demonstrations of Kutcher’s self-justification appear in his tumultuous skylarking on Twitter (now X), an app that he has long patronized (he was the first user to reach one million followers), to disastrous effect.
On September 11, 2011, exactly one decade after the Twin Towers fell, Kutcher gushed to his followers, “This without a doubt the greatest day of the year!” He was referring to the start of the N.F.L. season, which began only hours after President Barack Obama delivered a moving speech at Ground Zero. (“I got mad respect for the people that suffered in 9/11,” Kutcher later tweeted. “Pls don’t twist my enthusiasm.”)
That same year, when Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was fired in the midst of his team’s child-sex-abuse scandal, Kutcher asked Twitter, “How do you fire Jo Pa?…as a hawkeye fan I find it in poor taste.” After the ensuing public badgering, he followed up: “Heard Joe was fired, fully recant previous tweet! Didn’t have full story.” This incident proved defeating for the actor, who then decided to “stop tweeting until I find a way to properly manage this feed.” He handed his Twitter keys over to his management team and promised that such gaffes “won’t happen again.”
“I got mad respect for the people that suffered in 9/11. Pls don’t twist my enthusiasm.”
It did happen again. Kutcher must have wrestled his social-media access back from his press representatives, because in 2018, the evening after a mass shooting left 12 people dead in Thousand Oaks, California, he struck anew. The horrific act took place at the Borderline Bar and Grill, where Kutcher had celebrated his birthday nine months prior. “Only reason we are alive is the shooter chose a different night,” he reflected. And then, soberly: “My friend gave me a gun as a gift in the parking lot of the [Borderline] on my birthday. I’ve never shot it. I don’t think I ever will. ❤️ to the families of the lost.”
These days, Kutcher uses Twitter mostly to promote matters related to his venture-capital fund. He achieved great success in the space after co-founding A-Grade Investments in 2010, alongside billionaire businessman Ronald Burkle and talent manager Guy Oseary, and acquainting himself with companies including Airbnb, Uber, and Spotify. He now serves as a leading member of Sound Ventures, which raised $243 million in its A.I. fund over the course of five weeks this year.
But some still question whether Kutcher’s wisdom extends into the tech-start-up marketplace. These doubts festered in 2019, when Kutcher notably sang the praises of WeWork, a then private company which had just received a monstrous $47 billion valuation. “The price they just raised at is extraordinarily reasonable,” said Kutcher on CNBC in January of that year, just after calling the company’s C.E.O., Adam Neumann, a “friend.”
Though Kutcher’s knowledge of the company seemed dubious during the televised interview—“For the longest time, I didn’t understand how WeWork was a technology company … and now I do”—his assuredness was not impaired. “I have confidence in the company.” Less than a year later, as top investors became privy to malpractice and negligence within WeWork’s governance, the company lost about $30 billion of its original valuation, Neumann resigned, and 20 percent of its workforce was fired.
Sometimes, but only rarely, the actor prefers to remain silent. This was the case after the snack brand Popchips was forced to pull a 2012 TV ad starring Kutcher, in which he wore brownface and put on a bizarre version of an Indian accent. In this case, Kutcher allowed Popchips to do the talking for him; they released a statement asking for mercy in response to the immediate outcry.
In light of his recent catastrophe, we may well hear less from Kutcher moving forward, a best-case scenario for all involved parties. (Kutcher did not respond to requests for comment.) But do not put anything past the actor who, last February, in an interview with Wired, innocently pondered a mystery that has plagued the human species since his appearance as “College Kid,” in Reindeer Games. “Is Ashton Kutcher a genius?” the reporter asked him. He thought only briefly. “I don’t know,” he said with slick, all-knowing humility. “I don’t think I’ve ever taken an I.Q. test.” Well, if the omniscient Ashton Kutcher has no ready answer, rest assured there isn’t one.
Jack Sullivan is an Associate Editor at AIR MAIL