Some time back I blogged on Hotness in Hollywood. In it I gave Angeline Jolie props for making a game effort at acting in a a movie with a script so execrable that her best effort was doomed, the original Tomb Raider movie. I also praised Liv Tyler playing Arwen, who became my personal all-time favorite example of screen sexiness in the Lord Of The Rings movies. And yes, I know this means I’m a geek; that’s not news to anybody.
My wife Cathy and I saw Wanted last night. Avoid it if you can’t stand the sight of people being shot through the head; otherwise it’s a fun popcorn movie with lots of implausible but extremely well-choreographed ultraviolence. (Well, OK, I started to giggle during the last knife fight a few minutes before the ending, because with the Marine knife-fighting technique my swordmaster taught my wife and I last year either of us could have filleted those two pirouetting idiots in short order.)
There was a moment in this movie at which Liv Tyler got toppled off her perch as my ultimate icon of cinematic sexiness. It was Angelina Jolie playing Fox the assassin, in tight clothing, standing alert and challenging, with a pistol slung low on her hip, looking like she damn well knew how to use it.
That went straight to my hypothalamus — bells ringing, lights flashing, rrrowwwrrr!. And, you know, the pistol was important. It trumped Arwen’s sword.
For me, at least, sexy women are sexier when they are obviously lethally dangerous. But Lara Croft didn’t affect me as strongly as Fox, despite being twice as heavily armed. I think it’s because Lara Croft was more of a cartoon, obviously bust-padded and stuck in a premise and script I had much more trouble believing. I got the stronger charge from a woman who seemed sexy, and lethal, and (at that moment) real.
OK, so why am I going on about my sexual quirks? Because I think there’s some sort of more general point here, and I think the politics and sociobiology of it is kind of interesting. The filmmakers were obviously working hard at maximizing the joint sexiness and dangerousness of Jolie’s character, and it is doubtful they’d have bothered without a pretty clear notion that a lot of men would respond to it the same way I did. At the very least they had to believe it’s a majority preference, otherwise Jolie getting seriously jiggy with firearms would repel more men than it attracted and depress their audience share.
This is implicitly a rebuke to a certain kind of feminist — the kind that believes in a vast male conspiracy to keep women disempowered. If a man of quality is defined by his not feeling threatened by a woman’s
equality ability to blow his fucking head off, the filmmakers were clearly betting money on the proposition that more than 50% of their male audience would likely fit that bill.
And this actually makes evolutionary sense, I think. I’m reminded of what sociobiologists call the Sexy Son hypothesis. According to this one, women are attracted to handsome sexy men because they believe those men will give them handsome sexy sons with an above-average ability to pass on mama’s genes.
Contemplating Angeline Jolie as Fox in this movie, I propose the Dangerous Sons hypothesis. That is: more than 50% of men want to jump lethally dangerous women because they think those women will give them dangerous sons with an above-average ability to pass on papa’s genes.
“But wait…” I hear you say. “Why not a Dangerous Daughters hypothesis? Could our instincts be aimed at making women better fighters and hunters too?”
Er, probably not. In the ancestral environment, female reproductive capacity was way too scarce a resource to be hazarded in combat. Short lifespans, the minimum of nine months between pregnancies, and a high rate of death in childbirth made sure of that. Furthermore, womens’ lighter build and lesser upper body strength meant that (with very rare exceptions at the top end of the female bell curve) women could simply never expect to win a serious fight against a male of even average strength.
(Pre-gunpowder weapons like swords could reduce the disparity some but not eliminate it. Gunpowder weapons eliminate it almost entirely. But in the ancestral environment that shaped human mating instincts, we had neither.)
So the sexiest possible presentation for a woman is to appear capable of bearing dangerous sons while also being smart and cautious enough that her daughters are unlikely to habitually take the sorts of stupid chances that more expendable males can.
I think this explains why Fox is sexier than Lara Croft. A dangerous man can take the kind of crazy, cartoony chances Lara Croft did without his genetic predispositions tipping over into being a net liability for his genetic line (close kin), but a dangerous woman has to be cooler. More measured. More competent. More real.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I need to go kiss my wife…