People Magazine named the country singer Blake Shelton the “sexiest man alive” of 2017 in its November issue. The decision was met with not just a mixed reaction but an open outrage from liberals of all sorts. Many find this choice offensive towards non-Whites, gays, women, you name it. Twitter is the only source they claim as evidence of Blake Shelton’s foes.
Blake Shelton is one of the hottest names in country music of the last two decades. With several gold and platinum albums, over 10 million records and more than 30 million singles sold, a host of CMA, ACM, CMT, AMA, Billboard awards and a few Grammy nominations, five winning seasons on the popular NBC’s The Voice contest behind his back, Shelton does not need any extra publicity. Still, now he is the first country singer (and the second singer) who was chosen the “sexiest man alive” by People magazine in the 32-year history of this title.
People is your typical celebrity life magazine found on newsstands close to cash registers in hundreds of stores everywhere in the USA. People love celebrity gossip and glossy pictures of their favourite stars, so People is quite people’s magazine. It may have made similarly controversial choices in the past, but you would not expect much from a publication with titles like “Feast Your Eyes on the Sexiest Body Parts of Some of the Sexiest Men Alive” or “Kim Kardashian West Would Rather Drink a Sardine Smoothie Than Confirm Her Sisters’ Pregnancies”. Moreover, what would you expect from any contest that aims to feature some person as “the sexiest alive” — it could surely oblige some and infuriate others while leaving many indifferent.
The media and tons of Twitter users woke up, found Shelton’s face on the cover of a magazine they saw while waiting in line at the checkout at their local Walmart, and took to Twitter to either dig up all the crap about the singer or tell the world where they thought People should shove its choice.
Salon ties this whole thing to the current political climate in its “In Trump’s America, Blake Shelton is your “Sexiest Man Alive”” by Gabriel Bell. Doubting the very nature of the tradition to select somebody based on their sexiness, the author cautiously notes that this year the choice is “problematic“. A number of reasons are given, most notable of which is Shelton’s race. The vast majority of these sexiest men on the magazine’s cover have been White Americans. Claiming that Blake Shelton is “being moderately okay in a few limited respects”, Mr. Bell comes to the singer’s biggest flaw — his history of “unenlightened comments that show tendencies towards homophobia, sexism, xenophobia and other unsavory positions“. These are said to be “not outstandingly horrible“, but representative of the current state of the heartland society.
All of the things we can see with People’s pick — the reinforcement and celebration of sometimes-toxic cisgender male sexuality, the elevation of an underwhelming white man to a position of public acclaim, the ignoring of people of color, the positive positioning of a regressive personality, the top-down attempts to prescribe a series of cultural and social norms that are past their expiration date on a popular level, the privileging of “heartland” tastes and values, the trumpeting of a reality-TV star — are par for the horrible course in the America that voted Trump into office.
The liberal outlet believes that only White straight men who voted for Trump, hate immigrants and are not particularly bright may like both country music and Blake Shelton. Salon makes condescending assumptions that Blake Shelton is only a so-so passable bro who is not a particular hottie. Gabriel Bell wants America to be more inclusive but wants to dictate whom he sees unfit for inclusion even in a low-sort celebrity magazine. Finally, when the author writes that Shelton with all his achievements is “the least popularly attractive, least talented dude“, I cannot but say — hey, Gabriel, go shove your judgment to some place where it might not offend millions of people who find the dude quite attractive and surely very talented.
Toronto Star is also quick to call Blake Shelton “mediocre“. His face is “perfectly average“.
It would be one thing if People had tried to convince us Shelton is the Nicest Man Alive or even the Friendliest Man Alive. While still subjective, we could at least debate those designations without falling out of our chairs in laughter. Sexiest Man Alive? This poor guy is not even the Sexiest Man in Country Music. He’s not the Sexiest Man in his Zip Code or Street. If you were to size up the gardeners, cooks, pool boys, assistants and errand runners, I’m not sure he’s even the Sexiest Man in His Household.
Though I would rather agree that there is more of niceness or friendliness about Shelton that there is sexiness, I must admit that things like beauty and sexiness lie in the eyes of the beholder. Editors of magazines make subjective choices just like we make subjective choices, and these rarely agree. But tell this to Miranda Lambert or Gwen Stefani and see what they have to say about Shelton’s sexiness. I bet, they would be less inclined to make such jokes about this man. What gives the Canadian newspaper the right to write Shelton off as less deserving of the subjective title than some unnamed gardeners, cooks, and pool boys?
Vox is slightly more neutral in its coverage of the issue. They are heavy with tweets from people who are not happy with Shelton’s new accolade and with links to previous publications about Shelton’s notorious Twitter history.
Gay media are more bewildered and angry for two distinct reasons. One, they are stereotypical in their denial of country music merits. Two, they rushed to recall every “homophobic” tweet by Shelton. Queerty is an example with its “People’s ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ is another white guy with a homophobic past.” I can agree with the rant on the homophobic citations, but stressing the skin colour degrades the piece entirely. How can you accuse a person of homophobia in a whitemanphobia way?
Damon Young, a columnist for GQ, is particularly open about his stand on the Whites. He ranks the types of “White Meats I Personally Find Much Sexier Than Blake Shelton”. With a few other posts on “weird white people”, “the most useless types of white people” or “we need a reset button for white people”, it is not surprising that Mr. Young is less than enthusiastic about Shelton.
What is really surprising is that a lot of people project a range of their negative emotions — from condescension to hatred — based solely on the fact that Blake Shelton is a straight White man with seemingly average looks and attitudes. I tend to agree with Toronto Star in its take on Shelton’s title giving your average guy hope to be considered sexy. Isn’t it great that you don’t have to be (here comes the name of a celebrity male you would consider worthy of the People‘s cover)? Are you denying straight men and White men the right to be considered sexy just because a magazine that caters to the tastes of the predominantly straight audience does what it has done for years — picking straight White men to bear the silly title everybody forgets about with the next issue?
Wake up, people! If you want a diverse range of guys in the pool you have to let go and start your own progressively inclusive magazine that would please the coastals. Bear in mind though that American heartland decided on who was to run the country, not the Coasts. If you start pissing the “Walmart-approved” public purely on the ground of race, sexuality or gender, do not expect the majority to either like you or vote your way. And since you are the land of the free, every magazine is free to make choices based on their own criteria.
Blake Shelton is not the sexiest man alive or the biggest country star, though he comes so close that the distance is negligible. But Blake Shelton is not a mediocre ugly man either. A lot of Americans are bulky, with debatable humour, wearing blue denim shirts, and hoping that one day they may be considered more appealing. People magazine cannot feature them all. Instead, it chose the one that many could easily associate themselves with, the one with millions as the fanbase. This has nothing to do with the colour of their skin, their sexual preferences, or even the fact that this is a man. After all, the title is the sexiest man, not the sexiest (Black lesbian) woman. Live with it.