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Tuesday, August 19, 2003

When "Aren't they cute?" becomes "Aren't they hot?"

Prompted by a cover photo on Rolling Stone's September issue, Daniel W. Drezner's blog asks, with tongue I think only partly in cheek:

Mary-Kate & Ashley OlsenWhy is it that some celebrities under the age of eighteen can be universally acknowledged as sexy, whereas if that adjective is assigned to other underage but physically mature stars, people start leveling accusations of perversion and lechery? Why was it so shocking for Britney Spears to start flaunting her sexuality, but everyone instantly accepted Anna Kournikova as a sex object?....

I ask because of the Olsen Twins. They're on the cover of the Rolling Stone in September. Their ever-closer 18th birthday has prompted some, er, obsessive web sites as well.

Drezner continues:

The wildly divergent reactions to the Olsens are on full display in the comments sections of [various blogs] — though, to be fair, much of the vitriol is devoted to whether Rolling Stone is now officially lame.... I fear that this issue could split the country.

Before this happens, I hope the blogosphere, using its collective, distributed nodes of intelligence, can determine why it's OK to admire the shapeliness of some 18-year olds but not others.

Reading through the links he offers, plus the various comments and trackbacks (here and here) to his own post, the "collected, distributed nodes of intelligence" of the blogosphere don't seem to have developed either a Anna Kournikovaconsensus or even a particularly enlightened response — although he's quite right that the reactions range from "Ewwww, this is weird!" and "Dude, I'm gonna hurl!", through "Well, they have turned out to be beautiful," and on to considerably more graphic and enthusiastic admiration.

For me, though, this is a vaguely nagging issue that I fear will get worse rather than better in the next half-dozen years.  I'm forty-five and single/divorced, but among my four kids are two preteen daughters, and I am far, far from having made the necessarily emotional adjustment to accept the inevitable fact that someday my daughters will begin dating.  In fact, I'm quite certain that the one thing that could instantly put my reptilian hindbrain in complete control would be someone, anyone, making any kind of sexual advance toward my daughters.  I say to you all — I hereby warn the world! — that I have a hard time imagining not becoming homicidal in any such scenario.  (This blog will be Prosecution Exhibit 11-B to show premeditation, probably.  Oh well.)

Yet I say this as a man who, as a teenaged boy, was once caught at a motel with his high-school girlfriend by her father — said father driving a pickup truck with the proverbial well-filled shotgun rack in the rear window.  We were not quite en flagrante delicto but were very close to it, and I only lived to tell the tale as a consequence of her brilliant improvisational acting.  It was very much a case of, "Who are you going to believe, Daddy? Me as your beloved daughter, or your own damned lying eyes?" 

Mariel Hemingway & Woody Allen in 'Manhattan'It seems inevitable that at some point as a man ages, the dilemma faced by Humbert Humbert, Issac Davis (Woody Allen's character in Manhattan), and Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey's character in American Beauty) becomes less intellectual and remote.  Has there ever been a more ironic movie to rent and ponder than Manhattan, knowing what became of Woody Allen?  We're talking foreshadowing on a cosmic, embarrass-even-the-Greek-tragedians scale.  But when I rented it on DVD a few weeks ago, my reaction to the then-18-year-old (and now 41-year-old) Mariel Hemingway (who played Allen's high-school-student-turning-actress girlfriend, Tracy) was, "My god, isn't she just naturally, breathtakingly gorgeous?  How could any man of any age not be smitten with her?"  (She fully deserved her supporting-actress Academy Award nomination for that part, by the way, and it's still a great movie notwithstanding Allen's later ugly peccadillos.)

Britney SpearsYes, I'll admit I've felt the internal conflict between "Hand me that remote, sweetheart, so I can switch off that Britney Spears video" and "Hand me that remote, sweetheart, so I can turn up the sound and make sure we see the end of that Britney Spears video."

So I suffer from this huge emotional and hormonal disconnect.  I already am zealously overprotective of my own daughters and (at this point anyway) absolutely unable to conceive of them evolving into young adults with normal sexual instincts and interests.  Yet I know I still have within me the potential to become "no fool like an old fool" — although the actual prospect of ever acting on that impulse is, fortunately, very remote.  It's a comfort, I suppose, to know that it's a common suffering among men my age and older.  One can take solace in clichés, even the pathetic ones.

Mena Suvari from 'American Beauty'As far as the answer to Drezner's original question:  My own theory is that the collective visceral reaction of pop culture to these young starlets has a great deal to do with how famous they've been as children.  I'd bet that the people who were most shocked by Britney Spears were those who were aware of her as a "Mouseketeer" on the Disney Channel.  Likewise, those who watched whatever sitcom the Olsen twins were in acquired strong and lasting mental images of them as little girls, and it's the cognitive dissonance between that remembered image and the present sexy ones that create the discomfort and even revulsion. 

By contrast, Anna Kournikova and Mena Suvari and Mariel Hemingway weren't ever child stars; I'm sure they were cute little kids, but they were already The Olsen Twinshot (albeit very young and young-looking) when they first impinged on the public consciousness.   My having never seen much of the child-star Britney or the child-star Olsen twins would thus explain my lack of parental-type projections with respect to them.

Still, I'm not quite sure how embarrassed I'm supposed to be for thinking, as I look at the cusp-of-18 Olsen twins:  "Yep, they're hot."

Posted by Beldar at 11:53 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to When "Aren't they cute?" becomes "Aren't they hot?" and sent a trackback ping are listed here:

» Late Night Reading from Modulator

Tracked on Aug 23, 2003 12:29:39 AM

» School uniforms from BeldarBlog

Tracked on Feb 1, 2004 5:34:59 PM

» red pepper afterglow from f/k/a

Tracked on Sep 15, 2004 4:15:22 PM


(1) Robert Schwartz made the following comment | Aug 21, 2003 11:38:53 AM | Permalink

Wait until they are 21 and don't have boyfriends. Then you really start to worry.

(2) jeana made the following comment | Nov 7, 2003 11:52:32 PM | Permalink

hi I'm a big fan of the Olsen twins Ashley & Mary-kate Olsen,their 17 yrs of age, I think ashley will become pregnant before mary-kate,by the way I'm 20,

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