Why, why, WHY?
Oh, why is this trope so pervasive, especially in chick-lit? Do we delight in watching fictional women reduce to babbling incoherence in the presence of attractive men? Is this a reflection of real life? Do women really lose their self-control in similar situations? Do other women enjoy observing it? Is it schadenfreude?
SO MANY QUESTIONS!
The hot guy and the hot mess: a memoir
I just about lose it every time I run into this Hot Guy scenario. The heroine starts out as smart, witty, cool, together, and then in walks Mr. Perfect and she’s a mess. Take a deep breath, girlfriend. Momentary self-consciousness I can handle, but the endless gambit of physical missteps and brain-to-mouth misfires is just embarrassing.
I know, I know. “But the drama, Kate! Where would the drama be?”
Speaking of drama, my favorite Shakespearean play was the one where that hot guy showed up and the girl started rambling and falling all over herself. What was it called again? Oh, yeah. Much Ado About This Doesn’t Happen in Shakespeare. You want drama? Match your characters’ wit to a solid plot.
The underlying complaint
Probably my biggest issue with this trope is that it perpetuates the narrative that pretty people are better than everyone else. This is especially true when the Hot Guy gets paired with the Girl with Low Self-Esteem. Why does such a heroine become all tongue-tied and clumsy? Because she’s usually not pretty (at least in the predictable pre-makeover stage she’s not), and because his interest in her gives her value.
Except that it doesn’t because the whole narrative is rubbish and we need to chuck it into the trash bin.
On the one hand, we have female protagonists wallowing in self-pity (lamenting plain appearances, or how all they want is for someone to love them, or so forth) and on the other, we have aesthetically ideal male love interests quizzically intrigued by said wallowing females. I will not claim to understand the mind of the common Hot Guy. Maybe he’s like a bird, colorful himself but attracted to a drab little mate. Maybe my skepticism for this plot line draws too much from my own experiences. (Seriously, it bears no resemblance to any form of Real Life that I’ve ever encountered.) Maybe I’m just being fussy.
Okay, we all know I’m being fussy. That’s what I do.
The trope in a nutshell
For me, it all boils down to sloppy story-telling. The bumbling heroine is much easier to produce than a Beatrice or a Rosalind. It’s far more compelling to put the guy up on a pedestal like a trophy to be won, so that the reader feels that thrill of triumph when the conquest occurs. Even though it’s the guy doing the conquesting. Because the Girl with Low Self-Esteem is an object to be acted upon, so of course the guy doing the acting should be hot. The object is worth more that way.
(Cue violent retching here.)
And please don’t get me wrong. I do love a handsome hero. But handsome is as handsome does. No description of his chiseled jawline is going to remedy a character who simply strolls smirking into every scene and ultimately gets exactly what he wants. (And oh, the smirking! When has smirking ever been attractive?) The Hot Guy is typically the total package: looks, brains, wit. If he sweats, he has a “manly musk” instead of body reek. If he’s disheveled or scarred, it’s somehow dashing. He’s not foul-tempered; he’s “brooding” or “aloof” (Translation: “better than you, so allowed to act as he pleases, even when such behavior would be socially unacceptable in others”).
There’s a psychology behind all of it—there must be—but I’ll be darned if I understand it.
Or, well, I do. Our society values pretty people. We all want to be one, and we all want to be loved by one.
At least, that’s what the Hot Guy would like us to believe.
And he’s hot, so he would know, right?