Debating current affairs
Paul Thomas is a Weekend Herald columnist

Paul Thomas: Hotness - it's all in the eye of the beholder ...


I don't know about you but my immediate reaction on seeing the headline "Sexiest Woman Alive Named" was: Says who? I don't recall being asked my opinion.

Of course the naming wasn't the culmination of an exhaustive global survey.

What happened was the editors of the American magazine Esquire put their heads together over a few drinks and came up with Scarlett Johansson.

While Johansson is unquestionably easy on the eye, Esquire's choice and the attendant coverage raise questions.

This accolade has been bestowed annually since 2005 yet, with the exception of Rihanna, the sexiest woman alive has been a Hollywood actress.

Even if you accept that Esquire is really naming the sexiest famous woman alive, it seems unfair and unworldly not to look beyond Los Angeles.

Then there's the fact that Johansson is the first to be the sexiest woman alive twice.

I know we're a fickle lot and our idea of what's hot and what's not can change like the wind, but eight different winners in nine years suggests these women have yet to grasp that getting to the top is the easy bit. The real mark of a champion is staying there.

Tiger Woods has been the world's No 1 golfer for 12 and a half years; Roger Federer dominated tennis for almost six years. And they had to win tournaments, rather than just look good.

Most of all though, stories like this make you wonder why journalists attach such importance to other journalists' opinions.

This is a harmless enough example compared to that infuriating ritual whereby a British journalist makes a flying visit to New Zealand, finds it not to his or her taste, dashes off a piece describing it as a "philistine hellhole" or some such, and our media accord it semi-official status, as if he or she has spoken for Britain.

Getting hot and bothered over the opinion of an individual journalist who in all likelihood is either stirring or pandering to their readers' ill-informed prejudices suggests the cultural cringe is alive and well.

It suggests we haven't come as far as we might think since 1972, when Austin Mitchell portrayed us in his Half-Gallon Quarter-Acre Pavlova Paradise as a self-obsessed, insecure bunch who sidled up to visitors like puppies craving an approving pat.

Mind you, it's not all one way traffic.

When Herald sports columnist Chris Rattue called the Welsh village idiots in 2006, the UK media got in a right old strop.

The Daily Mail previewed the Cardiff test thus: "Wales have been primed to engulf the All Blacks with a tidal wave of furious indignation after being written off as the village idiots of world rugby in a New Zealand newspaper."

The Welsh lost 45-10. Imagine what the margin would have been if they hadn't been furiously indignant about what one journalist on the other side of the world thought of them.

On the subject of what's hot and what's not, I see the fallout from Miley Cyrus' transformation from cute-as-a-button Disney child star to exhibitionistic trollop continues unabated.

Cyrus has copped blasts from former pop star Cher (67) and 46-year-old strange Irish person Sinead O'Connor.

To be fair, Cher was quick to remove her foot from her big mouth. Perhaps someone made her sit through her If I Could Turn Back Time video in which she performs for a baying crowd of sailors in a mankini and fishnet stockings.

Fashion designer Richard Blackwell, renowned for his famously catty annual Worst Dressed Celebrities List, described her as "a bag of tattooed bones in a sequined slingshot".

Cher was 43 at the time, old enough to know better.

By publicly dumping on Cyrus, these dimming stars emphasise their obsolescence and invite the assumption that they've got a bad case of limelight deprivation syndrome.

Is it really about Miley or about them? If O'Connor genuinely wanted to give Cyrus "motherly" advice, why didn't she ring or email, rather than post open letters on Facebook?

For that matter, why didn't she couch her "advice" in less provocative language, instead of raving about Cyrus "prostituting" herself?

At the end of the day they look like sad old farts resenting the attention Cyrus effortlessly attracts and wanting to deny her the opportunity to make her own way and her own mistakes - to be young in other words - that they once made the most of.

Before she posts another shrill screed, O'Connor should remember a song she wrote when she wasn't much older than Cyrus is now: "And I'm not going to change my mind, just because of what they said/The worms have laid eggs in their hearts, but not in my head."

- NZ Herald

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