by Mary Margret Daughtridge
It's been a strange week. Anyone who has watched any news at all knows there's been a huge turnover in popular culture icons. From the sublime Farrah Fawcett to the ridiculous Billy Mays to the bizarre Michael Jackson.
Billy Mays' black bearded face smiling molar to molar on the screen was enough to make me reach for the mute button. I often wondered about the gadgets, glue, and gimmicky gee-gaws he hawked. Does anyone buy squares of cloth or pieces of plastic for $19.95? They must have, or he wouldn't have come back as tenaciously as crab grass.
Still, he influenced popular culture. A friend and I have a running joke that begins "BUT WAIT!"
Farah Fawcett had a hairstyle that defined a generation. Though she did other things, I can't actually recall ever seeing her in anything except Charlie's Angels. I wonder if she will become like Clara Bow of whom I know nothing except that she gave the world "bee stung" lips.
And then there's Michael Jackson. There's almost nothing to say about him. It's like he was the weirdest person in the world, and then he got weirder. I get the feeling one isn't supposed to say this now, but the further he moved from the center of the bell curve, the more he gave me the creeps. But he also taught me an important lesson about androgyny.
In his twenties he was obviously masculine--nice looking but not particularly handsome. But somewhere in the middle there, before he pushed plastic surgery past its natural limits, he was quite, quite beautiful. This photo shows what I mean. If one didn't know who this is, at a glance would you think this was a very pretty man, or a pretty woman?
As a romance writer, I often think about what qualities I need to capture and emphasize about my characters to show their masculinity and femininity. In a romance, a large part of the interest comes from the contrasts between the sexes.
When the hero is drop dead gorgeous, the writer often points out the scar, the broken nose, the crooked eyebrow that "saves" him from being "pretty."
Something I try to do in creating characters is to find one distinguishing physical characteristic. Caleb in SEALed With a Promise has mobile "Brad Pitt" lips.
In my work in progress, SEALed With a Ring, my hero, though he isn't vain, has been defined by a face so extraordinarily perfect that it couldn't be ignored or overlooked by either men or women. But after he is injured, although he feels the same, his identity in other people's eyes is changed. All his life, in a lineup, he was "the gorgeous one." The scar isn't horribly disfiguring, but now, forever, he's the "one with the scar."
So I'm thinking a lot about what makes a man handsome, but not pretty. Suppose a man is pretty? Could he be a romantic hero?
How about ugliness? How homely could a man be and still be a romantic hero?