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Are You Hot?

I teach a class called "The History of Gender" to high school students. Right now, we're slogging through ancient Greece. I find it all terribly interesting, but one of my students recently informed me that the class is "not as sexy" as he thought it would be, and I think he was speaking for his colleagues. So, this we week took a pop culture break to watch an episode of Joe Millionaire. We've devoted a lot of time to discussing the physical appearance of participants in the show. Is Zora fat or isn't she? Concensus is that she is not, but that she is fat for TV. Is Sarah a natural blonde? My students all agree that she is not. No one, it seems, finds Evan at all hot. I've tried to explain that, regardless of our individual opinions, Evan is supposed to be hot—in the universe of the show, he is hot. Clearly, I have not had a lot of success making this conceptual point, as the response tends to be, "But he is so not hot?"

I should point out that only the girls in the class are willing to voice an opinion on Evan's level of attractiveness, while the boys keep their views—if they have them—to themselves. I should also point out that the girls all think Evan is a doofus, and I believe this colors their feelings about his attractiveness. Their opinions about the attractiveness of the women on the show is similarly biased: They don't care if Zora dyes her hair, because she is nice; with Sarah, on the other hand, dark roots are the outward sign of her dark, greedy, duplicitous soul.

All of this, I believe, goes some way towards explaining why a show like Are You Hot cannot work. Somehow, I was unaware of this program's existence, but Heather Havrilesky offers a scary synopsis and analysis at Salon. While it's undeniably pleasant to look at hot people, it's even more pleasant when there's some sort of emotional connection. And, that connection has to be there in order for public humiliation to be entertaining. Would watching Mojo get the boot have been as much fun without the love poetry, without the sad, bizarre jigsaw puzzle? I think we can all agree that the answer is "no."

On a tangential note, while looking at gender roles on Joe Millionaire, my students and I discovered that Paul the butler is neither man nor woman. While he is certainly male, he has low status, no money, he has access to both Evan's quarters and the women's wing, he's a foreigner, and he's bitchy, all of which makes him suspiciously unmasculine.

February 10, 2003 | Permalink