I read this piece on Saturday at the wonderful Paper Machete in Chicago, which I highly encourage you to check out if you live in Chicago. I'd just like to point out that I chose this topic from a handful offered to me, so I don't have anything in particular against Jennifer Aniston that inspired me to pile on her for no reason. That said, I will be waiting for my Pulitzer.
On June 4, 2011, Jennifer Aniston joined the ranks of actresses Charlize Theron, Cameron Diaz and Halle Berry as recipients of the Spike "Decade of Hotness" award. This award, bestowed by the seven-year-old network (previously known as the Nashville Network, or TNN, launched in 1983), honors women every year at its Guys Choice Awards for their brave decision not to let themselves go despite the cruel passage of time. It may be worth noting that of the previous winners, all are currently unmarried and only one has borne a child, as it seems to be common sense that being a married mom is a known hotness-killer.
A celebrity accepting an actual, physical award (shaped like a pair of buck antlers) for her desirability is an event the media isn't quite sure how to handle. iVillage declares that Aniston is "finally getting some formal recognition" for her longtime hotness, as if the fact that Aniston is a wealthy, working actress and frequent cover girl is not actual validation. Their piece includes a quote from actress colleague Julie Bowen, who "raved," "I've met (Jen) a few times before. She's an incredibly nice person. I don't think I've ever heard a bad word said about her, and it's all true." Apparently saying what essentially adds up to "I don't know her very well but she seems all right" equals a "rave."
Sodahead.com named the previous winners of the award, concluding, "Not a bad list to be included on -- especially when you're 42," which is to say, it's slightly amazing that a woman who dares to be as elderly as Aniston still manages to be acceptable to many men. The Decade of Hotness award is most likely designed for a much younger woman, although probably, due to legal reasons, not anyone younger than 28.
Aniston thanked her yoga teacher in her acceptance speech, which is a depressingly straightforward nod to what makes a woman hot. Even though Spike's award describes the "Decade of Hotness" award as lauding a woman we "just can't get enough of" thanks to the "magical combination of hotness and humor," Aniston was savvy enough to know that between her looks, her talent and her personality, it wasn't her acting coach or colorful family she should be thanking for this award.
The question today though isn't why a television network is handing out awards on sustained hotness, or even why Aniston bothered to show up to accept it, but why Jennifer Aniston? Not, why did Jennifer Aniston win the award, but why have we been talking about her hotness for so long?
"Hotness" is difficult to define or quantify in any way, when it comes to the male gaze. It doesn't mean "beautiful" or "pretty" or "cute" although obviously physical attractiveness does come into it. A woman, in strictly magazine-cover pop culture terms, cannot have an ugly face or a lumpy body in order to be "hot."
"Hot," in simplistic terms, is the opposite of "cold." "Hot" implies a certain level of accessibility, not, necessarily, that a hot woman would date you, but that she can at least acknowledge her own "hotness." Not to name names, but there are other, undeniably physically beautiful women out there who might not be considered guys'-television-network-award-winning hot just because they wouldn't deign to accept an award for their hotness, probably because they'd be too busy doing unhot things like raising their six children or flying to Africa to do boring dumb helpy things there.
If Jennifer Aniston were a cash crop, she'd be corn. Hear me out: on the surface, corn is a wholesome, delicious product, a tasty side to any meal, especially when grilled (actually, this metaphor is starting getting away from me.)
But there is a somewhat menacing inevitability to corn, in that in the American diet, it's ever-present. It's in the meal we feed our livestock, its in our juices and sodas and in our breakfast cereals and convenience foods. If you don't pay attention, you could be eating it with every meal.
Of course, corn syrup has been linked to lots of unpleasantness including obesity, high blood pressure. Thus far, Jennifer Aniston has not been linked to any of those things. But there does seem to be a similar urgency in that the nation seems to require both Aniston and corn to do well, to be ever-present, even if neither one is particularly substantive.
There seems to be a hidden agenda at work to ensure that the world loves Jennifer Aniston, despite, it may be argued, the fact that she is not classically beautiful nor has hit a serious professional stride since her Friends days, where she was legitimately funny. Other Friends actors have gone on to work on other projects, yet none has been as fixated on as Aniston. The media so breathlessly holds her in the spotlight, determined to at least make it seem as if she's an A-list top-billing star, even if she hasn't done that much professionally to deserve it. She may appear in high grossing films (the upcoming "Horrible Bosses" will probably do well) but she has yet to stick a professional landing that will cement her, actress-wise, as having outpaced her turn as Rachel Green. Cameron Diaz will always have "Being John Malkovich," Halle Barry and Charlize Theron their Oscars to remind us that they're more than just decades-long hotties. Aniston appeared on "The Tonight Show" with Conan O'Brien's in 2009 to promote the blandly-named film "Love Happens" and the rather dull interview largely consisted of him informing her that she's incredibly beautiful and famous, as if he were sticking to the script that's supposed to continue to remind us of Aniston's hotness-and-not-much-more-than-that-ness.
The entertainment industry, perhaps with Aniston's implicit approval, perhaps not, has played a constant game of "She's a loser"/"She's a winner" on its pages. She's a loser because she's unmarried and has no children and does things like collect awards for being hot. But she's a winner because she just doesn't give a damn what anybody thinks of her and look at how hot she is, and at the ripe old age of 42! Of course she deserves an award for her hotness!
The mystery of why we ingest such a steady diet of Aniston may never be solved. Unlike the starlets who clearly call the paparazzi whenever they make a tampon run, Aniston doesn't seem to actively court this attention, yet, by the fact that she gamely shows up for the photo shoots and talk shows and hotness-awarding-ceremonies, she doesn't seem to mind it, either. Maddeningly, Aniston's most high-profile celebrity endorsement is for SmartWater, which doesn't tell us anything about her. Jennifer Aniston drinks water. Doesn't that speak volumes about her?
We may never know why the entertainment industry, and perhaps we as well (it's never clear whether we follow the news or the news follows us) want Aniston to succeed. Perhaps if she doesn't, we've been wasting time lo these many years? Perhaps we don't want all that yoga to go to waste? Or perhaps it's to remind us, American women, that even if our husbands leave us and we get old, with enough effort, we, too, can string together ten consecutive years of hotness.
The irony is not lost on me that by discussing Aniston's dubious achievement, I'm perpetuating Aniston's mythos, and the fact that I can't truly decide how I feel about her exemplifies...well, how I feel about her. From a personal perspective, she seems like a good enough egg. She's made me laugh and doesn't seem like a terrible person. She's obviously an attractive woman, but not so much that I'm either consumed by hateful jealousy or filled with those funny confused feelings the way I am when I watch Sofia Vergara. It's the mystery of Jen's ongoing appeal that consumes me. The slipstream of entertainment is quickly moving, yet Aniston remains lodged in there, sort of like that one piece of popcorn shell that gets stuck behind your gum and you can't decide whether you hate having it there or you kind of love the effort of dislodging it.
Jennifer is hot because she is there, and she may not be all that good for us, but dammit, she's what we've got and there's no avoiding her. You can either let her in and infiltrate your every waking moment to the point where she makes you sick, or you can make thoughtful decisions and include her in moderate portions as you see fit, in which case I recommend your Aniston on the grill with a bit of salt and butter. I believe this brings the mystery of Jennifer Aniston and my brilliant corn analogy to a triumphant full and closed circle.