Thursday, July 2, 2009

Pop culture passes

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?


  1. There is definitely such a thing as too pretty when it comes to heroes. I mean, if he's so doggone pretty, how come nobody's nabbed him? And if no one's nabbed him, that must mean he's a real a-hole, and I don't like that in a hero. I'd prefer a flaw in his appearance to a flaw in his personality.

    For a not-so-handsome hero, I'm thinking Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre, who has always been one of my personal favorites.

    And, yes, no two ways about it, MJ was weird, but my God could he dance.....

  2. Good question, MM. I love the idea of a less-than-perfect hero. I have plans for a short guy--in a family full of tall brothers--in a series I'm working on. He's not the youngest but he's always treated like the runt of the litter. I think that will be fun.

  3. Interesting topic! The hero of my upcoming book HEALING LUKE was uber sexy, perfect looking...before his accident. When the story starts, he is in an accident that leaves him scarred in many ways. I tried to make the most visible scars still be sexy...for example, he wears an eye patch. But he hasn't lost his ability to send the heroine toe-curling smoldering looks. And he still has a wry sense of humor (which the heroine uncovers under the facade of hostility he uses as a protective shiled). But most important, the heroine can see beyond the few facial and bodily scars and finds aspects about his physical appearance that turn her to goo. His smile, his smoldering stares, his sexy butt. (grin) I think as long as the heroine thinks the hero is handsome the reader will go along for the ride. Ultimately, as in real life, what's inside will matter most to the heroine, right?

  4. What one thinks is gorgeous or sexy is not a universal consensus. I have always thought Brad Pitt was amazingly gorgeous - if a tad too pretty, especially when younger - and most ladies agree. But I have met some who do not think so at all! Same with Tom Cruise - I never saw much in him, but clearly many others do. I like a hero with some flaws if you will. Same with the heroine. Why does she have to be big breasted or have a perfect hourglass figure? Attraction comes from the physical, but only in part. It is a visceral reaction between two people. That is what is the most fun to write.

  5. Interseting post, MM! This week has been incredibly strange and sad for the entertainment world...

    Beth--I was hoping you'd comment on this one, because I immediately thought of your book as I read it! For a character to know what it is to be "too attractive" and then go to being so different... And Cheryl, I agree totally about Mr. Rochester! I'm pretty sure he was called unattractive a few times in Jane Eyre--still one of my faves, and I think, along with Mr. Darcy, is the prototype for many of our brooding, mysterious heroes :)

    I think, in all of these situations, what mattered was the heroine saw beneath everything and found the man she was meant to be with.

  6. Cheryl,

    I had forgotten about Mr Rochester! And of course there's always Cyrano, but it's so hard to decide how one feels about him.

    You're right. Weird or not, MJ was immensely talented in many areas.

  7. Marie,
    So you're planning to fly in the face of the TALL part of Tall, Dark and Handsome. :-)

    Many years ago I read a romance by Anne McCaffrey in which the hero was 5'3" or so--short enough to be a jockey. I absolutely loved it!

  8. You bring out an interesting point, Beth. Ultimately the H/H must be brought together by who they are, not how they look.

  9. You know Sharon, I'm with you. I think it's one of the reasons the question came up for me. Although I can agree that Tom Cruise's features are esthetically balanced, I don't think he's attractive. Brad Pitt is more attractive, largely because, to me, he looks intelligent--and these days, a little overwhelmed.:-)

  10. Danielle said: I think, in all of these situations, what mattered was the heroine saw beneath everything and found the man she was meant to be with.

    You've put your finger on it. It's what makes Beauty and the Beast such a perinnial favorite. And regardless of how the H/H look, it's still the challenge.

  11. It'll be interesting to see if I ever write a not-so-pretty hero. *shrugs. I like 'em good-looking in a tall, dark and handsome (or auburn, or blond, or with flippers... LOL) sort of way.

    And ya know? Maybe I shouldn't mention that on a post that includes Michael Jackson...