People’s decision to crown Channing Tatum with this year’s “Sexiest Man Live” title hasn’t been without backlash. Ryan Gosling devotees can’t possibly understand why the magazine keeps snubbing him. Matt Stopera has offered a rebuttal in the form of photos on -- where else? -- BuzzFeed, in a post that juxtaposes terrible photos of Tatum next to dreamy pics of Gosling. (And remember the “Occupy People” effort last year? Oy.)
Over on the Daily Beast, Tricia Romano also takes People to task for its lack of diversity. “Tatum is part of a 26-year-long tradition of anointing square-jawed white men as the hottest in the land,” she writes. “The one exception: when they chose a square-jawed black man -- Denzel Washington in 1996.” Of course, you’ll find African American men inside the issue, but as Romano writes, they’re “scattered throughout like chocolate sprinkles on a vanilla ice cream cone.”
Slate’s Amanda Hess takes the argument a step further, making a really good point: “The Sexiest Man Alive ought also to reflect our developing understanding of the sexual desires of women and gays.” She says the magazine’s selection should be in step with the “sexual-political climate of the time in which he is living.”
I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, for every poignant point, Hess muddles her argument by lobbing playground insults at Tatum. Take, for example:
And what is going on in 2012? Our Sexiest Man is white. Straight. Ginormous. Frequently goateed. Wearing a white tank top in his cover photo. Yes, he can dance. But as a nation, we must ask: What is left of Channing Tatum’s sex appeal after the final strains of Ginuwine’s “Pony” recede? Buzzfeed has described Tatum as “a thumb” and “a gyrating human potato.” His sexy is bland. Traditional. Republican in a Democratic year.
Yes, it amusing. But it’s also unproductive. If Hess has a problem with People’s pick, wouldn’t it make more sense to take it up with the magazine’s editors? Doesn’t it debase an otherwise smart argument to tear Tatum apart? Isn’t it a bit unfair to Tatum, who’s really just an innocent bystander in this whole mess? And, is there anything more “Republican in a Democratic year” than cheap insults directed at people who don’t deserve them?
People’s annual selection of “Sexiest Man Alive” is absolutely an opportunity for the magazine to reflect the cultural shifts in this country, embrace diversity and help change how we define what’s attractive.
Our commentary on the subject is also an opportunity to engage in a meaningful conversation. But when a good argument is interrupted by below-the-belt insults -- and especially when those comments are about the way someone looks -- it perpetuates a toxic culture. (See also: Holly Petraeus, Gabrielle Douglas, Jennifer Lawrence.)
Maybe it seems forgivable because Tatum -- who, let’s face it, isn’t unattractive in the least -- seems like he can handle a few jabs. What does it say to everyone else, though?
Follow Alexandra Le Tellier on Twitter @alexletellier