Is it really necessary to spend even a moment denying the connection between looks and talent? Apparently so, after this dumb article in the Sunday NYT. Making "snap judgments" based on appearance is perfectly natural, the author claims, because back when we were cave people, our very survival depended on our ability to rapidly put stuff into categories. What nonsense. What survival advantage is there in assuming a woman who doesn't pluck her eyebrows can't sing? The real purpose of the essay is to make us feel a little better about being shallow people who read the Sunday Styles section.
While I'm apparently the only person in the world not moved to tears by Susan Boyle (I mean, as happy as I am for her, is anyone really surprised that an unattractive person is actually talented? How often have we seen this cliche? It's always the froggy little guy in the college a capella group who steps up and wows everyone, or the zitty teen who's a piano whiz. Beautiful people don't need talent, because the world loves them anyway) and find the whole thing grossly manipulative, I'm fascinated by the story anyway. Most of the commentary on the phenomenon ignores the fact that this happened on a British show. The British have always loved underdogs, and as Americanized as their pop culture has become, the Susan Boyle episode has served to make them feel British again, i.e. better than Americans.
Which, okay, they are. When are we going to get our chubby, homely, 50ish woman on American Idol? Ha ha!
Anyway, it got me thinking about good-looking writers. Traditionally, writers have been a bad-looking bunch. Not only are the less physically gifted of us drawn to the bookish life, but that life -- indoors, surrounded by cigarettes, booze, and coffee -- has not done us any favors. Lately, however, you can be pretty sure that when you flip to the back flap of a new hardcover, you'll see a quite attractive person. Part of this is just the wondrous skills of photographers like Marion Ettlinger, who can make the frumpiest writer look acceptable (and who told me once that she photographs writers instead of, say, actors, because of the challenge). And these days, with ubiquitous orthodonture and good grooming, it's not hard to look okay. But it is no secret that editors ask agents what their writers look like. It is much easier to create a literary sensation if the writer is gorgeous.
It's all very depressing. I find it hard to accept that even readers are this superficial, that we won't buy a book written by an ugly person. Why is it, though? Why do so many people assume -- if they actually do -- that a beautiful author will create a beautiful work? Here's a theory: we interpret good looks as code for I want to please you. A pretty woman wants to please us, so her book will please us, too. She cares about our needs! An unattractive writer -- perhaps one who has committed the cardinal female sin of unplucked brows -- doesn't care what we think, so heck, who knows what we'll find in that book! Maybe something unpleasant.