“Sexy.” It’s the word of the moment. Your hair. Your shoes. Your car. Your App. Your blog. Your beard. Everything you value, everything that can be weighed or measured or compared with something else must be deemed sexy to survive.
You can hear it being used to describe everything from color choice on HGTV to plates of food on Food Network. If it’s not sexy these days, it is out.
What’s the problem? The problem is that our current culture has forgotten there were ever any other qualities, other reasons to value a person, a character, or a red-wine vinaigrette. People use “sexy” to replace a myriad of other words that have been forgotten, that have been eliminated, erased, and dumbed down. It has reduced merit to one single dimension: whether or not it is “sexy.” No other descriptive word will do, words like attractive or pleasing. Handsome or beautiful. Well-built. Enticing. Powerful.
But sexy isn’t just about being, well, “sexy,” is it? It isn’t just used to describe outward appearance, but also inner characteristics. “Sexy” is being used in place of the word valuable. Esteemed. Appreciated. Talented. What was once used as a description of physical beauty has come to mean anything “good” or “fine,” from a ten-year-old’s skateboard to an NBA player’s dunk. And it’s all tied up with worth. Those who aren’t sexy are not worthy of time or consideration.
Okay. I’ll bite. In fact, let’s turn the definition of sexy back on those who use it the most.
These are the people who are self-proclaimed style masters. They know what appeals to you and me and they churn it out over and over again in movies and television. They groom their royalty – actors – into the epitome of sexy. They write their stories to showcase sexy. “Give the people what they want,” they scream. “Give them sexy!”
It’s worked before. James Bond. Magnum PI. Malcolm Reynolds. Sidney Bristow. Buffy Summers. Jack O’Neill. These characters were sexy, yes. And they were also a lot more. For them, and for their fans, they were also brave. Committed. Talented. Skilled. Humble. Troubled. Commanding. Truthful. On the side of right. Our sexy heroes looked like the kinds of men and women we wanted to be.
Why then do modern media gurus insist on presenting heroes and heroines on my small screen that fail that description time and time again? I’m not talking about washboard abs or strong shoulders, cascading raven locks or pouty lips. I’m talking about the other sexy, the inner attributes that draw in admirers by the boatload. The internal qualities that make characters desirable, interesting, appealing. Heroes.
Instead, this year’s characters – no matter how swoon-worthy they may be on the outside – bear a crippling, ugly trait that turns people away of any gender. A trait that revolts. A personality quirk that can turn a runway model into a pariah.
This year, the media wants us to believe that smug is sexy.
Smug is not sexy. Smug. Superior. Egotistical. He knows better and, frankly, understands more than you possibly can. He is better equipped to handle the crisis, the law, the decision, the moral quagmire or the ethical dilemma than you and will gladly tell you about it. He can wrangle the baby, the horses, the jury, the cancer, the nuclear weapon, and the math problem while posting a selfie and doing his hair.
Smug is ugly. It takes a beautiful, handsome, clever, ass-kicking or puzzle-solving leather clad hero and turns him or her into the equivalent of Bluto in Animal House. Smug can take a well-beloved character and turn him into a hated one (McGee on NCIS, circa Season 4-6). It can replace a respected candidate with the antichrist (choose your own adventure). Or it can send a sports hero’s popularity into the dumper.
And yet. This year’s crop of television “heroes” has one characteristic in common. Yep, I’ve been subtle, but I think you can guess it.
The new MacGyver. Oh, he’ll grin and metaphorically pat you on the head, but he’s so much smarter than you and is happy to tell you about it.
Bull. Or, as I like to call him, Gibbs’ kinder, gentler, but no less egotistical twin. He can manipulate anyone, anytime, for any reason. And he does. Including his friends. You’re welcome.
Notorious, the entire main cast. These people take smug to a new level.
Scorpion. The lead of this brain-trust cannot imagine how we normally IQed people survive. Not only is the “science” hilarious, Walter’s deadpan “I’m so over this” attitude makes the viewer want to go back to middle school to give the geeks a wedgie again.
Training Day. Maybe Denzel could pull off the over-the-top, smug, self-centered cop in the movie, but on the small screen he just looks petty and self-involved.
Pure Genius. Well, thank heavens the medical field has a billionaire inventor to tell them everything they’re doing wrong. That will surely make the viewers kneel at the feet of the supercilious douchebag and beg him for all the answers the mere mortals couldn’t come up with.
Aren’t these enough examples? Enough proof that the media has lost the plot? Smug is not sexy. Egotistical is ugly. Vain and manipulative do not a hero make.
Here’s my theory. Words have consequences. Eliminating all the words that describe real human emotion, the actual traits that human beings value – like compassion and self-sacrifice and humility – and replacing them with the now meaningless “sexy,” have led the media to lose their awareness of these qualities. They don’t even see them any more. And they’ve forgotten what made those characteristics so valuable, so enticing, so heroic in the first place.
Take back your words. Call the steak mouth-watering, flavorful, seared and tender and delicious. Call the wall color bright and cheerful, or dense and moody. Tell your significant other that he is brilliant and thoughtful, heart-stoppingly good looking, clever, giving. Beautiful. Sensitive. Kind.
Maybe we can educate the media. Show them what a hero looks like on the inside and the outside. Turn on an old Steve McQueen movie instead the insipid crap on the television. Put Magnum on Netflix. Binge watch some Rockford Files. Or Stargate SG-1. Now those were heroes.