A bunch of people on the internet are arguing that, on the new Netflix show Love, the conventionally pretty Mickey is “too hot” to be dating nerdy Gus. But that argument just feels so… basic.
Is everyone familiar with Love, the new Netflix series created by Judd Apatow, Leslie Arfin and Paul Rust? If not, Love is a talky rom-com about two 30-somethings named Mikey (Gillian Jacobs) and Gus (Paul Rust), awkwardly navigating modern romance. Since its release last month, the show has sparked a handful of disgruntled think-pieces. Basically, according to the internet, Mickey is too hot for Gus, and that pisses people off. Everyone from the New Yorker to Vulture to Slate has weighed in on the “attractiveness gap” between the two. To quote Yahoo News, “In terms of conventional standards of attractiveness, they’re not only not in the same league, they’re not even playing the same sport. In fact, they’re not even playing sports. Mickey is playing touch football while Gus is, I don’t know, making a mug for his mom on a kiln in the arts and crafts cabin.”
After reading these articles, my initial reaction was one of confusion. Firstly, because I think Paul Rust is literally one of the most physically attractive people I have ever seen—that beautifully concave, hairless chest, that dreamy beaked nose; he’s like a 3D print of my fantasies. But that detail aside, I just don’t understand why anyone would write an article to point out that someone is “not hot.” Beyond it just being mean, it’s predicated on a worship of conventional beauty that just feels so… basic.
Now, in theory, I get where this argument is coming from. This is an issue bigger than Paul Rust’s nose. The truth is, women are held to impossibly high standards of youth and beauty, while men get off a lot easier—both in Hollywood and IRL. And for years, there’s been a trope on television, particularly in sitcoms, of schlubby guys being paired with women who are seemingly out of their league—think Modern Family, The Simpsons, King of Queens, etc. In these dynamics, the guy tends to be a stereotype of the worst parts of American male culture—an incompetent, lazy, sports-and-beer-loving overweight dude, whose one redeeming factor is that he’s a “family man.” Yet somehow, despite all of this, he’s the magnetic center of his world and has a conventionally hot wife who dotes on him and basically sorts out his life. Not only are the pair physically mismatched, but their overall characters seem to be as odds.
Many have been quick to place Gus and Mickey into this category of sitcom convention. But I think that sells short Gus’s character, who is far more complex, and more contemporary than that. He’s not a chauvinistic bro—he’s charming, sensitive, funny and smart, and he looks at the world in the unique way that only nerds can (in episode 2, Mickey rightly points out that he’s a “weird little dude”). All of these things up his market value, and make it clear why a Paul Rust-type is worthy of a hot girl (in fact, Rust’s co-creator Leslie Arfin is his wife, who’s a cool hot girl—art imitates life).
And anyway, why are we assessing their validity as a couple based only on their looks? Sure, Mickey is pretty, but she’s also a petulant addict who has problems with drugs, alcohol, sex, relationships and intimacy. She’s a bit of a mess, basically. Whereas Gus is a far more balanced person. But hey, Mikey’s hot so she deserves to be dating a neuroscientist male model with a 9-inch dick… or something? Surely, we all understand that relationships are give and take (and also involve something called an emotional connection).
The issue, of course, is that these dynamics rarely happen in reverse. It’s not often that you see the quirky, weird looking girl dating the conventionally super-hot guy (unless it’s in a She’s All That Way, where the climax is a makeover that ultimately erases her quirkiness [read: glasses] to reveal a thinly veiled conventional hotness underneath). And I agree—that’s annoying. But does that make it “feminist” to point out when a guy is “not attractive”? What is the implication of calling Paul Rust ugly? That in the name of equality we should only bang guys with six-packs who look like they could star in a Disney movie? How embarrassing. Conventional beauty can be so boring. I’m so much more interested in someone who looks extreme, or like no one else (or like a cartoon bird, frankly.)
Something that annoys me about feminism is when women adopt the shitty behavior of men. Equality isn’t about being able to be as annoying as dudes. Of course, I don’t think that women should be called ugly, or have their worth as human beings based solely on their physical appearance. But I don’t think that men should have to deal with that, either. It’s like that episode of Girls when Lena Dunham slept with Patrick Wilson, and afterward the bro part of the internet was like, “OMG he’s too hot for her, that would never happen in real life.” And then the feminist part of the internet was like, “I can’t believe you said that, if the gender roles were reversed this argument would never be happening.” But now it is happening. And I guess my argument is that we shouldn’t even be having this argument. (Convoluted, I know.)
For the record, these offbeat pairings do happen in real life. Maybe the trope of the nerdy guy with the conventionally attractive girl exists in television because it’s pretty common behavior. Hasn’t culture finally acknowledged that nerds are sexy? Don’t we all want a geeky tech person? All I know is, more of my friends go to Ted conferences looking for sex than go to bars. And I do think, despite a history of imbalanced sitcom marriages, that television is changing. When I watch my favorite shows—Broad City, Transparent, Master of None, Girls, Orange is the New Black, Mozart in the Jungle, etc—I never feel like I’m watching impossibly hot women dating gross losers. The women on these shows are dynamic and relatable.
Attraction is a complex gangbang of hormones and emotions. The hottest people are hot because they’re smart, have good taste, and are passionate about what they do. And I know this sounds like the cheesy, politically correct thing to say, but I think we should stop preaching about what’s hot and what’s not. The conversation feels outdated, and just mean.