Aesthetics

Today’s Times view and counterview debate is about “beauty” vs. “merit”-

Wimbledon, of course, is not a beauty contest. But All England Club spokesman Johnny Perkins has admitted that good looks are a factor in scheduling Centre Court matches, adding “it’s not a coincidence that those (on Centre Court) are attractive.” The howls of outrage that have followed ignore that the attractiveness of players does have a role to play in winning fans for the game. And it’s viewership that brings in the money that enables contests like Wimbledon to be held. Scheduling Centre Court matches is a small matter; it isn’t as if competent players are being kept out of the tournament on the basis of their looks.

As a BBC spokesperson pointed out, “Our preference would be a Brit or a babe as this always delivers high viewing ratings.” Looks have had a prominent role to play in women’s tennis since the days of Chris Evert. Or does anyone truly believe that Anna Kournikova was popular because of the astounding skills that saw her win, well, not a single Grand Slam? Many of the players themselves have made no secret about the importance they attach to their glamour quotient. Why the indignation when the organisers decide to do the same?

Wimbledon apologists can defend what the organisers have done until they’re hoarse. But the fact remains that the grand slam that matters the most has descended to sexist methods again to make money. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that the All England Club would decide to privilege babes over top tennis players this is, after all, the same tournament that only started awarding equal prize money to male and female champions in 2007. Nevertheless, given how Wimbledon portrays itself as the last bastion of class, such crassness comes as a shock.

A few weeks back, Marguerite Theophil made a similar argument

Details that don’t appear when writing about men easily and regularly find their way into reports about women. Last year, during the US Democratic presidential debate, stereotypical remarks were casually flung about. The articulate and intelligent Senator Hillary Clinton, the lone woman on stage with seven men, was described as appearing “demure” and “ladylike”. Later, Michelle Obama, a Harvard-educated lawyer, “looked well-turned-out… classy, as we used to say.” We have become so used to this patronising language that we generally unthinkingly say, “What’s wrong with that?” or even “But it’s a compliment!” A journal dealing with women and development highlighted this, creatively inserting tongue-in-cheek additions to a report of the kind often included in information about women, but unfamiliar, even bizarre-sounding, when writing about men: “When the negotiations opened in Luxembourg, negotiators had a clear mission to fulfil. A new cooperation agreement needed to be drafted between the twelve states, represented almost entirely by elderly grandfathers, dressed conservatively in gray or navy suits, and the African-Caribbean-Pacific Group’s states … visiting Luxembourg for the first time, and dressed in a colourful array of robes and tropical wear from their home countries… A welcome diversion during the opening session was the arrival of several younger men, elegantly outfitted in outfits from leading fashion houses… Speaking articulately and intelligently, they finished their remarks with a folk song from the host country.”

I think they are making a mountain out of a molehill. How does appreciating beauty become sexism of the “discrimination” kind? The fact remains that the better player will win the title, and neither Clinton’s nor Obama’s appearance would be relevant when it came to their jobs. Beauty is about aesthetics. People like beautiful things. All beautiful things. That’s why they enjoy gazing at, among other things, “babes” and “hunks” instead of hags and scrawny octogenarians.

An interesting conversation between Cameron and the incorrigible House goes something like this

“Why did you hire me?”

“Does it matter?”

“Kinda hard to work for a guy who doesn’t respect you.”

“Why?”

“Is that rhetorical?”

“No, it just seems that way because you can’t think of an answer. Does it make a difference why I think I’m a jerk? The only thing that matters is what you think. Can you do the job?”

“You hired a black guy because he had a juvenile record.”

“No, it wasn’t a racial thing, I didn’t see a black guy. I just saw a doctor…with a juvenile record. I hired Chase ‘cause his dad made a phone call. I hired you because you are extremely pretty.”

“You hired me to get into my pants?!”

“I can’t believe that that would shock you. It’s also not what I said. No, I hired you because you look good; it’s like having a nice piece of art in the lobby.”

“I was in the top of my class.”

“But not the top.”

“I did an internship at the Mayo Clinic.”

“Yes, you were a very good applicant.”

“But not the best?”

“Would that upset you, really, to think that you were hired because of some genetic gift of beauty not some genetic gift of intelligence?”

“I worked very hard to get where I am.”

“But you didn’t have to. People choose the paths that grant them the greatest rewards for the least amount of effort. That’s the law of nature, and you defied it. That’s why I hired you. You could have married rich, could have been a model, you could have just shown up and people would have given you stuff. Lots of stuff, but you didn’t, you worked your stunning little ass off.”

“Am I supposed to be flattered?”

“Gorgeous women do not go to medical school. Unless they’re as damaged as they are beautiful…”

You wouldn’t choose your cardiologist based on his looks. And you wouldn’t attend a concert given by an intelligent, hardworking, talented but essentially tone deaf bunch of amateurs. Merit—talent, intelligence, hard work etc—has its place in the scheme of things, an important one. So does beauty, or aesthetics.

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