Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Dumb blond

For millennia, men had tried to make women conform to stereotypes. One of the fascinating traits of the female-dominated society of the 21st century was the way in which women turned these tropes around and imposed them on men.

A good example can be found in Taste of Sugar, a highly successful US TV sitcom from the 2040s which lasted 11 seasons. The low-brow show centred upon Amanda Sugar, a world-weary saleswoman whose surname was an ironic comment upon her acerbic and distinctly un-sugary character. Sugar had to endure a series of irritating situations created by her faddish househusband Tony and her two feckless children.

But the real star of the show turned out to be her son, Bobby Sugar, played by teen sex symbol Jason Bentley.

With his fussy hairdos, short skirts and minimal intellect, Bobby epitomised a new male archetype — the dumb blond. (An equivalent from the old culture might be Kelly Bundy from Married With Children.) He was flirty and promiscuous enough to titillate the audience he was aimed to appeal to, i.e. teenage girls, but at the same time too innocent to be frowned upon. In Bobby, prettiness and ignorance were celebrated as male virtues. His ditzy character began as a fairly normal teenage boy of the time, though his skirts were always short, but as the series ran into several seasons he became progressively more stupid. His comedic role was to be stunningly naive and ignorant, while his family enjoyed stringing him along. His sister Becka, the brightest member of the family, earns most of her laughs by making a fool of her gullible and perhaps too obedient brother, for whom she is the centre of the universe.

Bobby Sugar was a hit. Girls salivated over him, put up posters of him in their bedrooms, and held him up as an ideal boyfriend. Much to the annoyance of men’s rights campaigners, he even became a kind of role model for boys, who dyed their hair blond and copied his short skirts, hair-ribbons, pigtails and cutesy, pouting manner. For a boy to be smart and independent just wasn’t ‘in’. As Becka’s much-quoted catchphrase put it, “what does a boy need brains for?”

There was of course a great deal of sexploitation going on with the character, who was included in the series somewhat cynically as an object for female lust. As one comedienne later put it: “Bobby Sugar made me hit puberty.”

Bobby was hardly a positive role model for boys, or for how girls should see boys. But in a way, he was not far removed from contemporary boyhood. A complete loss educationally, intent upon seducing an alpha female, subordinate to his sister, tottering in short skirts and heels and constantly worrying about how appealing he was to the opposite sex, he was an exaggerated form of what most teenage boys were actually becoming. Perhaps this was the ultimate reason for his surprising cultural impact, and why this flirty halfwit defined a behavioural template for boys in the second half of the century.


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