In the 2000s, there was a phrase journalists used to describe intelligent actors who weren’t conventionally good looking — “the thinking woman’s sex symbol”. I used to laugh at how demeaning that phrase really was. For starters, it outright segregated good-looking actors from the badlooking ones. Secondly, if you didn’t get turned on by Abhay Deol, you weren’t an intelligent, “thinking” woman? Really?
In the crowded fish market that is social media, men always need to reinvent themselves if they want to be deemed attractive. It obviously started out with narcissism — pecs and abs. Then, as hot bod became mainstream, we yawned. So, the funny guy became the new aphrodisiac. With the stand-up boom, everybody wanted to boomboom a stand up. But, that fizzled out too. So, what could a hot guy do, now that funny wasn’t “in” anymore?
Poetry. For starters, poetry is dead. Anything can be poetry these days, and you don’t want to fight them hipsters on that. Poetry is about nostalgia now, it’s about posting your love for analogue on digital platforms. It is about wearing khadi, and maintaining a unibrow, or a manicured stubble, while talking about chai and baarish and geeli mitti and jalebi and chaat and nukkad and everything desi, that is oh-so delightful, only when enjoyed with an Ayushmann Khurrana filter. Every poet is a tourist — because retro and puraani baatein and woh ‘90s ke din are all hot trends these days. They stop by, exploit memories, for likes and fandom. If the biggest issue with most poetesses is copying Rupi Kaur and line spacing every word in a seven-word “poem”, the lockdown has turned male models and actors into poets. And because the mantra of the lockdown has been “don’t judge anyone, everyone is finding their own ways to cope with the stress of the pandemic ya”, we have had to put up with a lot of shit on our feeds.
During the lockdown, I came across a bunch of really goodlooking dudes who started putting out videos of them reading their own writings on a regular basis. I thought, okay, creative. Then, I started paying attention to what they were saying, and I couldn’t understand a single thought. Almost like they didn’t care if you understood or not, as long as you stared at them. Because, every piece of poetry is also a photo project, right? Always shot on black and white — that beautiful shortcut to making anything and anyone look artsy — these pieces of poetry would be accompanied by shots of the guys looking deep in thought, looking sombre, artistic closeups of their eyes-pecs-laughter-veins, looking at you. Do these photographs have anything to do with the piece? Nope. But then again, was it about the piece, in the first place?
Then, as the lockdown extended, they had to find new ways of pimping themselves out. “Poetry projects” became popular. The video would have a specific colour code, or the poetry would be set to music (the ukelele is always hipster instrument of choice). Random hashtags were created — The Aubergine Evening Project, The Black Alley Project, The Yellow Shadow Project. Everything they write, is an art project these days. Everybody is “working on something exciting” these days. I’ll tell you what it really seems like — thirst traps. These guys know that they are hot. But the “artistic” ones don’t want you to know that they love it when you objectify them. Because objectification, like we intelligent ones believe, is for the brainless gits. When you don’t have any talent, you allow yourself to be objectified, right? That is the logic we use to look down upon people in the modelling-acting industry. So what do you do when you want people to pay attention to you, but you don’t want to seem like you are asking for it? You click dreamy photos, accompany shirtless photographs with lengthy poetic write-ups to elevate that shirtless pic from a thirst trap, to an artwork. You give people loud enough a hint to be objectified, while overtly making it seem like all of this is serving a cerebral purpose.
And, people fall for this. People fall for glib, smooth-talking, good-looking artistic men. We are always looking for good-looking and intelligent men, because we have always been told that they are two separate commodities. The thinking woman is told that she does not deserve a good-looking man if she is in the pursuit of a smart one. So, when the package is a combo, jump up and rejoice. But, they never are a combo, now are they? They still love themselves more than they love you, right? When all they have to lure you with are selfies of their bodies and beards (because somebody told them that women love beards), how can you expect them to be healthy fodder for your minds?