‘Hot or Not’: Where Lazy Sensationalism Meets Sexism

April 10, 2012 — 19 Comments

I’m going to link to a blog post that I don’t think is worthy of hits. But I’m going to do it anyway because it’s demonstrative of a serious problem, and because it features a comments section which has featured a lot of thoughtful debate that is very much worth reading. The post is an entry in a series over at Man, I Love Films entitled ‘Hot or Not‘.

I find that post pretty deplorable, but hardly unexpected on the chauvinist backwaters of the internet. In fact, it’s pretty par for the course. Not necessarily on movie blogs, but in other places. What gets me isn’t so much the post itself, which is easily dismissible as lazy piece of writing done for no other reason than to get some extra hits. No, I’m more bothered by the defences of the post. These are twofold. First, from the writer himself. Kai Parker says a lot of things in the comments, none of which help to quell my feelings about the post, and in some ways make things worse. Then there are the other women who come to his defence, which only makes me feel sad.

The ‘Hot or Not’ post is pretty simple. A list of female celebrities, each with an alluring photo followed by a quick list of superficial ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ mostly describing aspects of their physical appearance. My problems with this kind of post should be clear. This is the same kind of sexist shit highlighted in the Facemash sequence in The Social Network. Talking about a woman—or anybody’s—attractiveness is perfectly fine. Even quantifying that attractiveness is okay. The trouble begins when we get to reductionism. The title itself, ‘Hot or Not’, reduces things to a binary formula. A woman is either ‘hot’ or ‘not’ with no qualification or middle-ground. Granted, it’s a headline, and it’s partly meant to grab attention, but it sets a sour tone. The headline could have been mitigated by reasonable content. Kai, in the comments, points to an old post he wrote, which discussed man crushes and attractive male actor, and did so very well. Such a post about women would have been great. The headline wouldn’t have fit, but I get it, hits need to come in somehow and misrepresentative headlines are common.Unfortunately, the headline isn’t mitigated by anything. Rather, the content confirms the tone, as well as the lack of content. There’s no thought put into the post, which is an example of laziness, but also indicates the flippant approach taken to the subject. The little content that is there is very clearly reductionist. Pros and cons about the various women. Here and there a non-physical comment such as, “Talented. Arguably one of the funniest women since Lucille Ball,” written about Tina Fey. But then the next woman, Jennifer Aniston, is treated to this ‘pro’, “See. Picture. Above,” and this ‘con’, “Clearly has relationship issues. Slight Butterface situation.” Because apparently when it comes to Jennifer Aniston, we all know from tabloids that she is bad at relationships, and while her body is nice, her face is less nice. That’s all Aniston is about, and about all the commentary she deserves, you know, as a human being. Christ.

Under normal circumstances I would say that leaving out the final judgement of ‘hot’ or ‘not’ was a good idea, but in this case it almost makes the post worse. At least if there was a judgement we’d get an idea of Parker’s personal preferences in women, as well as some sense of purpose to the post. Not good, but something. Instead, we get nothing. Just those two categories without added commentary. These women have all been reduced to little more than a list of features. In that respect, even the fact that Parker most comments on Tina Fey’s talent and comic abilities comes off as crass.

In the comments section, Parker mounts his defence.

First, a little background… I had actually retired this post which is a stupid move as it is a popular post that generates a ton of traffic and comments. It was brought back after receiving requests for it from some of our readers. The reason I stopped doing it is merely because it’s not very challenging to write though I do enjoy doing it.

The post itself, started on my old website and was inspired by Kristen Wiig. See, I think Wiig is superhot but could not figure out why. Her body and face aren’t what I’d call a “10″. I’m sure my attraction was inspired by her talent and sense of humor which I WOULD define as a “10″. It got me wondering what it was that leads us to define celebrities as attractive.

Okay, so clearly the series hadn’t been stopped because it was sexist, instead it was just the posts were so lazy that even the hits weren’t worth the bore. That it was brought back because readers wanted it and in the past it got a lot of hits and comments shows the lack of thought and real cynicism of the post. As to the comments on Kristen Wiig and rating her a ’10′? Well, I think that’s pretty clear. Yeah, great he finds Wiig attractive, and not for conventional reasons. Well? Talk about that! Maybe do a post about actress in Hollywood who are alluring in unconventional ways. But nope. That’s not the mindset here. Instead it’s about rating women on a scale, as though their essence and sexuality can be reduced to a point on a line between 1 and 10. Parker should have been considering the impulse that lead him to define a woman on a crass scale of attractiveness in the first place. That might have been a good blog post.

His next defence doesn’t do him any favours either.

Now, my motivating force was not entirely pure. Men hang out away from women and constantly rate women over superficial things. However, that is not the point here. The “pros” and “cons” on these lists were added as a comedic form of commentary. The big joke being that there are no real pros and cons.

The one criteria for this list is that these women MUST be attractive. The big joke going in is that we do think they’re hot… but why? And can other things, such as personality effect your opinion of someone’s God given looks.

Okay, yes, it’s fair to admit that we men can occasionally be a little piggish, and we do comment on superficial aspects about women, even obsessing about them sometimes. Fine. In some respects it’s okay, but in other respects it’s something we should be alert to and try to avoid, just as we avoid racial slurs and other unsavoury speech about groups of people. But to claim that the entire post is a satirical joke? I have to call bullshit on that. Horseshit, even. It’s a joke that these women are being rated on their attractiveness because we all know they are obviously attractive? In no way does the post show itself to be satirical, nor is any woman on the list self-evidently attractive. Attraction is a personal thing. For example, there is one woman on that list, Jenny McCarthy, who I do not find attractive. I’m just not attracted to her look. But guess what? I’m not going to start making lists of apparently objective reasons for why she is ‘not’ hot. Now, maybe there is a way to write a satirical version of the ‘Hot or Not’ post, but either Parker lacks the wit to write such a post, or he didn’t actually try to and is now making excuses for the results of his laziness.

And this is where I must be clear. I don’t know Kai Parker and have no reason to think he is a sexist or a misogynist or any kind of ‘ist’. In fact, I generally like to think better of people’s intentions, and I assume he really didn’t mean for the post read as sexist. Unfortunately, for various reasons I stated above, that’s exactly how the post comes off. Had Parker put some thought into it he may have done a better job with the post and it wouldn’t have come off that way, or better yet he might have thought more than a second about his own feelings and looked toward the harmful nature of such posts and decided not to write it at all.

More disheartening than Parker’s unwillingness to see or admit the sexism of his post is seeing it played into and defended by various female commenters. Now, I don’t necessarily think women have to feel responsible about such a post, but I do think they need to understand their own culpability when they actively participate. It’s bad enough that most men are comfortable within a sexist patriarchy, but there’s no good reason for women to take part in it or defend it as well. I know that women often look at men and other women with the same superficial and reductive eyes that men do, but just because women also do it doesn’t suddenly make it right. I understand that these systems were ingrained in global culture for thousands of years, and they only began to shift about 100 years ago. These things will take time to change. Perceptions need to be altered, and entire modes of society operation need to be overturned. That doesn’t happen overnight. But it doesn’t also excuse women from fighting it where they can. And it certainly doesn’t mean women should happily play along.

There’s a point at which we can no longer blame the system entirely. Just has men who make sexist remarks need to be held accountable for them, women who support those remarks need to realize their culpability and responsibility. It is genuinely saddening for me to see female commenters on that post say things like, “I can be entirely superficial and make no apologies for it.” As I said, being superficial, while not a quality that’s great in large doses, is perfectly fine here and there. But being superficial is not the same as being reductionist, and taking part in the sort of reductionism exhibited in the post is disappointing. The fact that a female commenter was the first to play along with a list of the pros and cons of the women in the post is startling. No, you don’t have to be a raging feminist, but why go the opposite route? Why play into the hands of the same systems which have kept women as lesser persons for millennia? Things will only change more slowly when these systems are upheld by the very people who need them abolished.

Okay, that rant got a little preachy, and probably outside the scope of a stupid blog post. Still, I think these issues are important, and when mistakes like that blog post are made I think everyone needs to take a step back, recognize the mistake, and learn from it. The post itself would be easier to take if Parker saw the negative comments, realized why his post was extremely ill-advised, and then decided on another course. Instead, Parker has decided to defend his right to be sexist under the guise of light-heartedness and satire. I don’t grant him the satire at all, but even the light-heartedness is too much to agree with. Is it okay to say inappropriate things just because we say them with a smile? In a sense, the smile is more disturbing, because it illuminates the comfort with which we take our sexism. It’s just another everyday thing. It’s just a part of having fun.

I reject that. Find better ways to have fun. Find more constructive ways to discuss gender and sexuality. And please, don’t ignore how your writing is perceived just because you’re comfortable with your own intentions. Ultimately your intent doesn’t matter if you’re being perceived in another way entirely. Basically. Pay attention and don’t write lazy posts like ‘Hot or Not’ on a film blog.

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19 responses to ‘Hot or Not’: Where Lazy Sensationalism Meets Sexism

  1. 

    Ironically, I’d find the “hot or not” concept less degrading if it was purely on physical grounds. It gives a necessary detachment, an admission that it is not the total worth of the person. When “relationship issues” comes in, then it comes off as some attempt to capture the entire person, and either failing terribly, or placing overwhelming weight on the appearance. Though “relationship issues” can somehow trump appearance, while “faithful friend” can’t do the same. While there is the “but such and such personality is a turn-off” argument, that’s going partway toward acknowledging the existence, and relevance, of an entire person, without actually giving weight to the entire person.

    I wonder if there are any “worth talking to or not” posts out there. Probably not many. Those sound like troll-bait, to be quickly overrun with posts complaining that the women of average appearance are actually hideous abominations.

    • 

      It’s funny, I think you’re partly right. There’s something simplistic about judging a person’s looks apart from their personality or other qualities. Maybe a great person who you don’t find attractive. It may be a little crass, or socially iffy, but it’s not quite sexist necessarily. We talk about looks all the time, and to deny the importance to us as a species is silly. We often judge people based on their jobs or financial success. There doesn’t have to be anything wrong with that, but we need to always be mindful that we aren’t being reductive.

  2. 

    Thanks Corey for making the effort to write a post about what’s wrong with that post. I was a bit lazy not doing it myself, but you did it better anyway. You’re good at being opinionated you know. ;)

  3. 

    I read this yesterday before leaving work but got into a minor, minor car accident on the way home that made me forget to come leave a comment (everything was fine, but obviously it shifted my thoughts). I’m glad you wrote this. That post was hideous, capturing the full extent of the laziness and cynicism of such audience-baiting dreck. Stuff like that is the logical endpoint of doing things just for the hits and comments; it condescends to its audience and it generally engages in the worst form of lazy judgment calls. It’s bad enough when this kind of stuff is for actual films, but for human beings it’s even grosser.

    • 

      See, I think the post was bad, but it’s almost an understandable mistake. Sometimes we get lazy and fall back on base idiocy. But when those moments come we need to fess up and admit our wrongdoing. That’s why all the defences of the post int he comments bothered me so much.

  4. 

    Hmmm, I read Parker’s post and found it typical blog fodder – fishing for hits. I did not, however, read the comments so I can’t speak about what other females wrote. I can say that women can be catty and are often worse than men when it comes to this sort of thing.

    • 

      Yeah, women can be catty. It’s more normal for women than men. It might be a byproduct of a patriarchal society. It may be a result of how human beings evolved to find a mate. It may just be a social temperamental issue. But whatever it is, women would recognize it and at the very least attempt to avoid it in instances when it’s so base and obviously detrimental.

      • 

        I agree 100%. There is a real problem with women tearing each other to pieces. It’s a common theme in movies and television, and blogs too, both from the perspective of the attacker and the attacked. Logically most females know it’s damaging, and yet it keeps on happening.

  5. 

    If you were so seriously offended by it (I was too), then WHY did you then select overtly sexualized images of women on your OWN post?? Seems to me there’s another Sexist Pig (you) run amok right here on your OWN blog post.

    • 

      Two reasons:

      1. I don’t personally find such pictures offensive. I know some do, but I don’t. Revelling in sexuality is perfectly fine. A woman being seductive for her own reasons is perfectly fine. I do not judge the women for taking such pictures, nor do I judge men for looking at them. If I find a picture of Jennifer Aniston alluring because she’s posing in an alluring way I don’t see the problem. It’s basic human sexuality and not something I think should be swept under the rug.

      2. The context is key here. Whereas the post I referred to used pictures as a means of picking apart each woman’s looks and other superficial qualities, my piece was specifically about the problems with that kind of content. For example, the other post Kai had written about man-crushes featured male celebrities in seductive poses or looking sexy, but the actual content of the post is positive and so the pictures are there to be taken in a positive light.

      I’ll also add a couple points. The pictures themselves are specifically of women used in the original post over at Man, I Love Films. I also purposely chose those kinds of pictures of those specific women because of the juxtaposition between the images and the content of my post, as well as the one at the other blog. I felt no need to highlight the juxtaposition because I’m not interested in presenting them satirically since, as I just said, I have no qualms with such images being used when the content doesn’t treat the women reductively.

      Finally, though you may disagree about such images and the way such representations may or may not be harmful, your characterization of me as a “Sexist Pig” for using them is precisely the kind of rhetoric I try to avoid. It’s a superficial, reductive comment that is no better than the other blog post I’m criticizing. To question my use of the images is fine (and something I expected), but I see no reason to make those kinds of quick, reactionary, superficial judgements. Even in my own post (which I hope you actually read) I make sure to say that I am not calling Kai Parker a sexist just for writing a sexist post. People are too complicated and prone to mistakes for that to be a fair assumption.

      • 

        Hmm, I also wondered if the post was actually read, as I don’t see how someone could call you a sexist pig over the text, and the pics are an example of a specific point.

        Perhaps if your post was about taking Parker’s Hot or Not post a step further, and, I dunno, creating a more extensive numerical rating system or something, then I could at least understand the sexist pig comment. Throwing terms like that out there when there’s no call for it, however, well, that’s the reason people hear the term ‘feminism’ and equate it with angry b****.

        • 

          That’s been part of the trouble with the idea of feminism these days. I’m a guy, and while maybe I wouldn’t call myself a feminist from an activism perspective, I have been informed by feminism and I try to keep it in mind in my daily life. To me, the most important thing for feminist activists to keep in mind (and any activist really) is that these issues are never black-and-white.

          There are so many complexities to people’s opinions and experiences, and boiling things down to something as simple as “if you post seductive pictures of women you are a sexist” makes it seem like feminism is equivalent to angry, but also that it’s a movement that seeks to enforce strict rules on behaviour. The idea, of course, should be to try and change minds and systems in order to change behaviour, not impose harsh rules and labels on people.

  6. 

    I like your pictures a lot better than the ones posted in the original article :)

  7. 

    I came to that whole brou-ha-ha rather late and had no desire whatsoever to get involved in it, but I appreciate your well-reasoned analysis and I am very appreciative of “The Social Network” comparison.

    By luck or fate I happened to catch a bit of that movie the night before I read that “Hot or Not” mess, including the scene where Zuckerberg & his cohorts are ranking girls and where Erica Albright finds out what he’s written about on her the net. And that’s what I thought of reading that post – the look on Erica’s face.

    • 

      I pictured Erica’s face as well. Sometimes that’s all it takes. I do get annoyed with the way people are too politically correct or too quick to be offended about everything, but sometimes you have to look at the things you say or do and realize that it may be offense for very valid reasons. Gotta have empathy in those situations.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Why bother about a chewing gum when the entire ground is covered in litter? « The Velvet Café - April 11, 2012

    [...] The discussion I went back to the post and found that the discussion already was running. While I had been knitting my fists in my pockets, others had taken action. There were thoughtful comments from Ryan at The Matinee, Joanna at Man I Love Films, Ashley at Pussy goes Grrr and Corey at Just Atad, who wrote an entire post in reply. [...]

  2. Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged « The Movie Review Warehouse - April 11, 2012

    [...] whether certain celebs are hot or not (for more about the particular problems with the post, read this from my friend Corey at JustAtad or this more personal reaction from Jessica at The Velvet Cafe). [...]

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