By Andrea Plaid
That is the only word that comes to my mind when I see Sendhil Ramamurthy.
(And that’s only when my mind functions whenever I even glance at a mere photo of him. Usually my thoughts are, “ljgajsohglhoaygetonmybodythoyohljaglhgjlfal.” And just forget about it when I see him in motion…unless we’re talking about how the creative team behind Heroes completely degenerated his character, Mohinder Suresh. Then, my brain works enough to be pissed off about it.)
Of course, I can get into stats and facts about Ramamurthy, but that’s what the Tumblr is for. But I want to get back to this man’s beauty and, yes, casting him as Adonis. Bear with me…
When Hollywood casts ideals of male beauty–and, by extension, who we should be attracted to and fantasize about–we get a plethora of the latest Sexy White Fellas, like…
or for those with a taste for a more mature man
or Clooney’s best dude and sometime co-star.
In fact, Pitt’s early acting years are grounded in the blond-and-blue physical-ideal roles, from Thelma and Louise to Legends of the Fall to Interview with the Vampire. However, even he tired of–and tried to play against–these roles, if the bored look on his face throughout Troy is any indication.
But Hollywood is simply the most recent echo chamber of whiteness-as-eternal-and-eternally-beautiful. When I was a nerdy schoolgirl, I swear that I checked out D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths from my Catholic elementary school library more than any other book. I loved that book and, to this day, I want it on my bookshelf, part childhood nostalgia and part coffee-table book. But I also need to be real about it–the authors imagined the gods to look like this:
Perhaps a reflection of the Greeks themselves, who come in various skin tones and hair colors except…the book’s illustrator drew almost all of the gods and goddesses as blond(e)-haired and blue-eyed. As a highly regarded children’s book in US society–that idealized these features as the physical epitome and, by extension, the moral complexity-as-goodness of whiteness–this book just adds to that notion deified whiteness in a nation where people flip out at the mere suggestion that another deity, Jesus Christ, could be skin-shades darker than Passion of the Christ‘s Jim Caviezel (though director Mel Gibson is said to have tried to make the actor look “more Middle Eastern”). As Nell Irvin Painter reminds us in her book, The History of White People:
Were there “white” people in antiquity? Certain some assume so, as though categories we use today could be read backwards over the millenia. People with light skin certainly existed well before our own times. But did anyone think they were “white” or that their character related to their color? No, for neither the idea of race nor the idea of “white” people had been invented, and people’s skin color did not carry useful meaning…[thus] we must sift through the intellectual history of Americans claim as Westerners, keeping in mind that long before science dictated the terms of human difference as “race,” long before racial scientists began to measure heads and concoct racial theory, ancient Greeks and Romans had their own means of describing the peoples of their world as they knew it more than two millenia ago.
Furthermore Painter states:
Ancient Greeks did not think in terms of race (later translators would put that word in their mouths); instead, Greeks thought of place. Africa meant Egypt and Libya. Asia meant Persia as far to the east as India. Europe meant Greece and neighboring lands as far west as Sicily.
But where and when exactly, then, did this whole white-beauty-ideal echo chamber–the chamber that can readily imagine and offer children’s book of and Brad Pitt as gorgeous Greek warriors yet can’t quite imagine this week’s Crush doing the same thing–arise? Painter explains:
Historians reckon Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-68) to be the father of art history, a fitting tribute to his importance to the field. And while Winckelmann did not contribute directly to theories of race, he does play a large role in this story by passing along assumptions on the ideal form and color of human beauty that inspired much eighteenth- and nineteenth-century racial theorizing. The hard, pure, white aesthetic that Winckelmann popularized rested on the authority of the Renaissance, making the issue of whiteness versus color more than simply a question of taste.
At the heart of this work were beautiful boys, themselves central to making ancient Greeks into timeless, universal paragons of beauty…[t]he fetishization of ancient Greek beauty is not Winckelmann’s invention. But as the icon of cultural criticism, he quite easily deepened it. For instance, Winckelmann declared the Apollo Belvedere, already the most famous statue in Europe, the embodiment of perfect human beauty.
But hold on…Painter says this (emphasis mine):
[Winckelmann] admits that various peoples display different body types, thus causing tastes to vary. Clearly, human beings find people like themselves beautiful. Even so, trapped in his German-Italian aesthetic, he pronounces Chinese eyes “an offense against beauty” and Kalmucks’ flat noses “an irregularity” equal to deformity. In the final analysis, however, relativity loses out as he adopts the Kantian notion of a single ideal figure for all humanity–“the Greek profile is the first character of great beauty in the formation of the visage.” White skin, he adds, makes bodily appearance more beautiful. Throughout the Western world, these rules soon became as carved in stone as the statues that inspired them.”
I’m not saying all of this to say that we should, then, restructure our thinking so that we don’t categorically find white people–in this case, white guys–attractive. (Let Jon Hamm knock on my door, hear?) Because–truth be told–sexual/romantic attraction in real life is wildly complicated, because of and in spite of race and/or ethnicity. (That’s the safe-hedge nuance behind the racist “that person is pretty for a PoC” comment. It’s also why, even with all sorts of media pushing the latest White Male Hottie–or that White men are The Marriage Solution–a majority of people of color fan up/date/mate/partner with people within their own races and/or ethnicities, even with the rise of interracial marriage and seeing other races and ethnicities visually represented in media.) What I am saying is dig the history of who is cast as ideally beautiful that is still in operation today…which is probably why not too many people in Hollywood would offer this week’s Crush the role of the mythical Adonis. Though I think, physically, he’s totally qualified to do it.
But, if not Adonis, what about the male lead in a movie adaptation of the Red Shoe Diaries of the Bible, Song of Solomon? Yes, the Male Lover is described as “white and ruddy…his countenance as Lebanon, excellent as the cedars.” But, he’s also described like this:
His head is as the most fine gold;
his locks are bushy and black as a raven…
his hands are as gold rings set with the beryl…
his legs are as pillars of marble, set on sockets of fine gold…
his mouth is most sweet…yea, he is altogether lovely.
And, yea, Sendhil most definitely qualifies for that, too.