I loved the Golden Globes Award Show last night, didn’t you? The music, the dresses, the film clips, the dresses, the acceptance speeches, the dresses, the comedy banter…
And the tuxedos and the handsome guys in them who all sport that new style where they look like they haven’t shaved in 48 hours.
You might think that I—and millions of other viewers—have a wholesome interest in “fashion.” I’m sure that some people do. But most men and women watching at home were seriously ogling the stars while imagining all those socially-approved stand-ins for sexuality and erotic power: romance, style, flirtation, charisma; gossip, people-watching, vicarious pleasure.
In fact, in this typical photo article about the actresses and their dresses, note the descriptions of the various garments: they are plunging, racy, slinky, seductive, provocative; they shimmer, have a high slit, show a little leg; and more than one is worn by a goddess.
I have no problem with this. Humans have always enjoyed looking at other humans. And every society has a consensus about which humans, in which situations, are most desirable to look at. The Bible expressed this, as did the Greek playwrights, medieval troubadours, Renaissance painters, and Victorian writers.
Although one society’s and one era’s consensus differs from another, the fact that there is consensus on who/what is attractive no matter where and when in history you look is remarkable. Even in pluralistic societies like ours, a handful of cultural minorities maintain their own consensuses; beyond these, there’s a significant drop-off in the variety of who people like to look at.
Evolutionary biologists have their explanation for this. For example, they’ve written a lot about the waist-hip ratio in women and its role in perceived attractiveness.
But I’m not here to explain the consistency of what most people in a society consider sexy and fun to look at; I just want to call it what it is: eroticism. Or sexuality, if eroticism is too fancy a word.
When it’s harmless and the woman (or man) being gazed upon doesn’t mind, I want everyone to feel permission to look, to imagine, to wonder, and to appreciate.
People tend to feel superior about their own venues for ogling (and about the euphemisms with which they describe it). For some it’s movies, for others it’s romance novels, TV, GoogleImages, the local tennis court, or aisle three in the supermarket.
For some it’s porn. And among people who can’t agree on whose way of leering is best, many do agree that porn is the worst. And then they explain why—whether it’s immoral or bad for the actresses or bad for one’s marriage or that it leads to global warming and childhood obesity.
What these people don’t say in comparing their own ogling to the porn consumer’s is that porn is just too explicit; no one looking at porn pretends it’s about romance or fashion. For people who like to ogle, porn’s ultimate crime is its tasteless admission that it’s about sex.
And so people who look at porn are shamed by those who don’t look at porn—and who instead get away with “reading” People magazine, following E! News, or watching the parade of designer gowns on the Golden Globes show.
I have patients who play video games endlessly, and then claim it’s work-related because they’re software engineers. That’s like eating tons of Oreos and claiming it’s work-related because you’re a nutritionist. No one reads People or watches the pre-award Red Carpet shows to become better informed. They’re all hoping to see some skin, hear some sexy talk, speculate on who’s doing who.
So you are hereby authorized to watch the babes (or hunks, if you prefer, or both) on the upcoming Oscars, VMAs, Victoria’s Secret special, and any other soft-core display. But don’t hide behind excuses. “I love watching the babes in dresses” should be totally acceptable for any adult. Just like “I love watching the babes without dresses” should be.
Final note: Cries of “sexism!” do not constitute a thoughtful critique here. No one ogling Leonardo di Caprio or Matthew McConaughey is thinking “what a fine actor” or “what an expressive artist.” No—eyeballing these guys is fully as erotic as eyeballing (or now earballing, I guess) Scarlett Johansson. Can’t we just admit it and get on with our fantasies?