Around this time each year there is a small uproar in the online communities of people who like men, as a result of People magazine announcing their pick for Sexiest Man Alive. The degree of controversy varies with each recipient of the title, as do the justifications by those who consider the title deserved. I do not wish to comment on the appearance of individual celebrities in this article; rather, I am intrigued by the very fact of the uproar. Its existence seems to aptly demonstrate a fact so often overlooked in Hollywood, or perhaps the mainstream entertainment industry at large: it’s impossible to please everyone.
Currently, the standards of beauty around which Hollywood attempts to construct (and the choice of word here is deliberate) its leading men seem to be a desperate grasp at that impossibility. As cinema attendance wanes and competition in the home entertainment industry expands, big studios are starting to frame their films rather as events than as works of art or storytelling. And as events of that scale, they cannot pick a specific audience to cater to. They must offer as much to as many as they can, and failing that, at least avoid overtly putting anyone off, lest the cultural event be prevented from enforcing itself.
To this end, they cast the most uncontroversial looking leading men as well. A chiseled jaw, a straight nose and a white smile, a hairless, muscular torso exhibited in exactly one indulgent topless shot entirely irrelevant to the plot. Traditionally masculine, unimaginative costuming. Hair colour and complexion ranging from blond to dirty blond. Carefully constructed through rigorous dieting and exercise, and likely steroids and plastic surgery, although those are drawn far less attention to on press tours.
The result is a body that could not, with even the greatest malice, be described as distinctly unsexy. But it’s not distinctly sexy either. The press attention establishes the Hollywood hunk body as standard; replicable and formulaic, just like the films in which they feature. At the same time, sexuality itself is increasingly obscured and pushed out of these films to ensure family friendly ratings and wide distributability. The goal is not to show the audience something sexy, but to sell them the idea that that is what is happening; the Standard Hollywood Hunk, as an amalgamation of individual features that most people are not offended by, is the best tool for this.
Sex sells, but selling is frowned upon. Hollywood appears to be trying to solve this dilemma by aesthetically distancing its leads from regular humans with regular human drives to the greatest possible extent. The concept of sexuality is hinted towards in casting only objectively beautiful people, but as the Standard Hollywood Hunk body bears no evidence of having ever been hungry or lazy or indulgent in any other way, how could it possibly ever be, well, horny? In trying to have their sex and eat it too, or however the saying goes, Hollywood is creating a standard body that does not do any of the things a body enjoys doing.
As a man I of course find this problematic from an ethical, body image -related point of view. But as a man who likes looking at other men, I also find this to be rather irritating from an entertainment perspective. The art of the good bad movie is dead or dying, exactly because of the same “something for everyone” formula that is killing real sexiness in media. The availability of contemporary silly fun movies with some hot guys is alarmingly low. In its stead, we have the latest installment of a franchise, where the main enjoyment comes from understanding references made to previous installments of the same franchise, starring a handful of moving Ken dolls.
In order to produce a film that some people really like, the risk must be taken that other people may really not like it. The same applies to leading men; if there is no risk of anyone finding him unattractive, he is not likely to be truly, memorably hot either. Just like a bad movie is usually more engaging and remarkable than a mediocre one, a cast that is not comprised entirely of display mannequins will always make a bigger impression.