When I was a kid (in the dark ages before color TV) the 'perfect couple' was symbolized by the athletic captain of the football team chasing the virginal head cheerleader. Today apparently supplanted by the skinny debate team captain chasing the high school slut, as "Revenge Of The Nerds" has become a reality.
The Hollywood Star Machine
Hollywood female sexuality and glamour were once epitomized by the likes of Sophia Loren, Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly. Then "Playboy Magazine" introduced a nude Marilyn Monroe and undressed Bridget Bardot, Jane Mansfield, Raquel Welch, etc., permanently inscribing the American male preoccupation with large naked breasts. Meanwhile in the 80's, the Hollywood star machine fading, sexuality was still illusory in Kelly Le Brock's "Lady In Red," Bo Derek's "10" and Rebecca De Mornay's "Risky Business" fantasy hooker. The 90's then began to introduce more relatable female stars like Sharon Stone, Julia Roberts, Cindy Crawford, and Liv Tyler. Today that relatability and sexuality are seen in women like Jennifer Aniston, Scarlett Johansson, Olivia Wilde, and curvy throwback Christina Hendricks.
Male glamour was always harder to define. Since Hollywood was originally run by old, rich, ugly toads, male matinee artists were always strong, manly, independent, and not necessarily attractive (men the studio mogul could identify with). Humphrey Bogart immediately comes to mind, along with Edward G. Robinson, fatherly Spencer Tracy, skinny awkward James Stewart, and big eared Clark Gable. Of course there were also female-pleasing 'hunks' like Burt Lancaster and Robert Mitchum, and closeted idols Tyrone Power, Montgomery Cliff and Rock Hudson. Even in recent years, the male sex symbol has been an eclectic mix, from Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino, to George Clooney, Christian Bayle, Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt. Although women have related more to internal character than external appearance, with increased female sexual independence, this may be changing.
Music and MTV
Even as a few male singers like Sinatra, Presley, McCartney, and Jagger; and females, Mary Travers, Joplin, Ronstadt, and Diana Ross broke through to stardom, for the most part, musicians were heard and not seen until the 1980's, and the launch of MTV. Like the introduction of talkies, but in reverse, The Buggles' "Video Killed The Radio Star" marked music's metamorphosis. Soon Rock and Roll was creating more sex symbols than film and TV combined. From disco divas Donna Summer, Irene Kara, Samantha Fox, France Joli and Kylie Minogue to rock's, Tina Turner, Debra Harry, Stevie Nicks, Ann and Nancy Wilson; to Country's Dolly Parton, Shania Twain, and Faith Hill. On the male side we saw Billy Joel, Billy Idol, Roger Daltry, Steven Tyler, Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Prince, and the lists still go on.
From Implication to Explicit
The "Webster's New World College Dictionary" defines sexy as "arousing or tending to arouse sexual desire or interest." But how has that changed over the years? May West once scandalized Hollywood with quotes like, "Is that a pistol in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?" or "A Hard man is good to find." The censors went crazy! Making all kinds of rules as to what could be uttered or seen on the silver screen. And the sex police persevered through the years, at odds with filmmakers constantly pushing the envelope of acceptability using innuendo and symbolism to avoid the censors. Then with 'The Pill,' sexual revolution of the 60's and video cameras in the 70's, the porn industry moved from paper to naked Broadway's "Hair" and "Oh Calcutta" and marquees displaying "Behind The Green Door," "Deep Throat," and "The Devil In Miss Jones," and all bets were off (along with clothes and inhibitions). Music also reflected the times, epitomized by Donna Summer's orgasmic "Love To Love You Baby" ushering in the Disco generation.
Women Find Their Voice
Another offshoot of 'The Pill' and sexual revolution was the birth of the modern women's movement. The National Organization for Woman (NOW) and MS Magazine, epitomized by Gloria Steinem's undercover expose of "Playboy" and Helen Gurley Brown's "Sex and The Single Girl" and daring "Cosmopolitan" covers proclaiming women's sexual freedom and independence. All then dampened in the early 80's with the scourge of AIDS, the fear of unprotected sex, and a wave of conservatism and religiosity. But 'Pandora's Box' had been opened and in the mid-80's Madonna broke the silence with the shock value sex and anti-establishment attitude of "Like A Virgin," and a generation of young woman found their voice and style... virginity no longer prized, but mocked.
Rise Of The Geek
With the advent of the personal computer, as football players made headlines with steroid use and brain damage, computer geeks were becoming millionaires in Silicon Valley. And the old stereotype of the football player getting the girl no longer held. Here's where the Yin and Yang come in to play. It's been my experience that women are turned on by sensitivity and by power, but 'power' relative to their own self-image. If based on intelligence, a man's brilliance does it. If she works out and lives a physically demanding lifestyle, she wants muscles. The stronger she feels her partner is, in relation to her, the more it turns her on. And if she ever loses that respect... there goes the sex.
The Digital Age Changes Everything
Digital technology and communications have completely decentralized entertainment creation and distribution. Today you can shoot a movie on your iPhone and distribute it to the world on YouTube. No need for the porn industry! TV's have over 200 channels and all the music ever recorded or being produced now can be downloaded from The Cloud. Feature films can be streamed shortly after, or even simultaneous to theatrical release. As TV networks, major record companies and film studios become dinosaurs of a bygone age, where will the sex symbols of the future come from? The answer is EVERYWHERE!