The Death of Sexiness Part II: Men and Sex[iness]
To read Part I of this series and what sexiness means for women, click here.
Orson Welles, as the title character in Citizen Kane, flings himself languidly into a chair in Thatcher’s office; his powerful figure is silhouetted in an immaculate black dinner jacket as he looks at his neurotic former guardian with sardonic contempt.
And his eyes burn, burn through the movie with a heat that blisters the shadows of the crisp black-and-white film. It is a glance of power, desire, restlessness—a look that has more mystery and meaning to it than the phrase “Rosebud.” It is an extremely sexy look.
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In a recent episode of Downton Abbey, Michael Gregson coolly wins out against a cardsharp who has given Lord Grantham, as he himself admits, a financial “whalloping.” As Gregson smilingly tells Edith, he did it by “reviving a dubious talent from my misspent youth.”
Up until now, Gregson has looked pretty mild: a nice man caught in a bad situation (á la Jane Eyre’s Mr. Rochester) who is Edith’s avid suitor. But now he’s tipped his cards, so to speak: he’s imperturbable under pressure in a high-stakes situation, and use both cunning and intelligence to turn the tables on a rogue.
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Last fall, I walked into one of my friend’s studies, and stood, amazed, on the steel-gray rug spread over the cobalt blue wood floor, with the two or three scattered lamps creating pools of dusky light on the dark desk and, mismatched bookcases on every wall filled with Milton, Churchill, Hemingway, and Aristotle.
This man’s eye for beauty had created a refined, scholastic, but indisputably male room that radiated assured taste. I didn’t put it in these terms when I praised him, but it was very sexy.
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Confidence in his own abilities, the willingness to take a risk to achieve something admirable, refusing to be intimidated or pushed around, and a cultivated sense of the aesthetic, these are a few the traits which makes a man very sexy. Perhaps that’s why men who are great dancers are so damn sexy: it takes a lot of confidence to stand up with a woman, and it’s a risk—what if you trip up and look like an idiot? To top it off, all the confidence and daring in the world aren’t enough if you don’t have a certain grace and poise on the dance floor. (A confident but awkward partner may be endearing for his attempts, but he cannot be sexy.)
Kane’s—or, indeed, Welles’ himself—drive to do something and his boundless ambition is a lost trait in the modern world. It’s a morally ambivalent trait—ambition makes tyrants and heroes alike—but it’s one which has the mark of greatness. Mediocrity has neither the danger nor the appeal of ambition. Likewise with daring and cunning: the first can devolve into foolhardiness, and the latter put to the service of wicked ends. The unspoken eye for beauty casts an air of mystery about a man, but, then again, that might be all the substance to him; he may be entirely vain and empty-headed. (There has been quite a bit of chatter about how the gay movement has threatened the existence of non-sexual male friendships. While I agree, I suggest that this trait of good taste has been endangered as well. Don’t we all know people who look askance at perfectly straight men who possess a discerning eye?)
Perhaps that’s a key point about what sexiness is: a series of morally gray traits which can be used for good or for ill, to make a charming womanizer or an incredible husband. The kinds of things that make a man or a woman sexy are not virtues, per say, but they possess an inherent attractiveness, a trait that virtue seems to have lost in modern society. Paglia thinks along similar lines in her book of essays, “Vamps and Tramps,” where she celebrates the wanderlust of the tramp and the dark, Nordic, creative sexiness of a vamp. No one wants to be “good” because that’s boring. Women want the “bad boy” because he is so much more interesting than the nice guy.
What rankles me to no end is that good men are so often told that things like strength, ambition, cunning, and culture are dangerous, socially unacceptable, un-Christian, and decadent. (Just as good women are told by some forms of conservative Christianity, by the way, that they need to wear ankle-length jean skirts and forswear makeup.)
Simply put, it’s ridiculous and deadening. Can you imagine if those of us pursuing a life of virtue also took up some of these glamorous, deeply attractive habits? From a purely selfish point of view, our lives would be so much more interesting. Wouldn’t people do a double-take, and think, admiringly, “I never thought he was capable of that”? What kind of new life could we breath into our vanilla-flavored relationships? And what charm would be left to those who manipulate and destroy?
So, my good men, why are you leaving the realm of sexiness to your worthless and morally bankrupt peers? Don’t settle for shuffling your feet and being blandly nice. Give yourself permission to be sexy.
Image credit: the indelible Banksy