September 22nd, 2006


Queen Midas

In the newly super-dialectical spirit of recent Click Opera, I'd like to present, in the form of a fairy tale, an opposing thesis -- an antithesis -- to yesterday's entry It's so nice to be a beautiful girl.

My thesis today is simple: it may be nice to be a beautiful girl in showbusiness or porn, where you can share your image with millions and reap huge rewards, but in ordinary life it can actually be pretty rotten to be a beautiful girl. Let's call it Queen Midas Syndrome; everything you touch turns not to gold, but to jealousy and possessiveness, to unwanted intensity, to stalking and the crime passionel. You experience the very worst of the mating game, the stuff that happens when a strong force is unleashed, Pandora's Box is opened.

Beauty puts real strain on monogamous relationships for the obvious reason that it provides constant opportunities for, and therefore temptations to, infidelity. When beauty is combined with spontaneity and generosity (and it's tempting for the beautiful to share their beauty with multitudes), dangerous and provocative scenarios unfold, scenarios of promiscuity and polyamory. Trying to keep everyone happy, the beautiful person (let's just call her Beauty) ends up alienating everyone when each suitor demands to be her only one, and each in turn discovers he isn't. No matter how well Beauty keeps secrets or compartmentalizes her life, she cannot prevent her generosity from becoming known eventually. And when it does, her good nature provokes only bad blood. Disappointed beyond belief, each suitor becomes The Beast.

Our beauty, Queen Midas, is a just ruler who wants to help each one of her citizens. But their demands are too great; her beauty has emboldened each of her subjects to demand that he alone should be king. They will not tolerate the equality she tries to supply. Given an inch, they immediately want a mile. So intense is the competition between the queen's suitors that all other affairs of the state fall into neglect. Crazed by love, the beasts forget that they are starving, and have no jobs, and nowhere to live. The land falls into ruin.

To solve this crisis, the queen decides she must choose one suitor, the best beast, and make him king. This is done. The rejected suitors harbor black, murderous thoughts for a while, but eventually accept her decision. They are not entirely beasts, after all. And in time, there will be consolations: she will appear on postage stamps, perhaps, or make a speech every new year. They will remember their ardor with sweet, gentle nostalgia. "Ah, the time I really thought I could be king, and call such beauty my own!" the ex-beasts will chuckle, wiping away a tear.

But this is where the queen metaphor breaks down. It may be fine to be beautiful on the throne, in showbiz or in porn (they're all the same thing, really: a means of sharing yourself without giving everything), but it's not so fine in real life, as an ordinary person. For someone beautiful who isn't making a career based on being beautiful, the dramas of personal life must necessarily occupy more space than they do for the rest of us. We Muglies must fill with work or hobbies the empty time in which people are not calling us, pestering us for dates, flattering and courting us. We must do something social, productive. As a result, we reach an enviable balance and calmness in our lives, something the beautiful can never achieve. We have been left alone to develop interests in society, in the life of the mind. We've compensated for our lack of beauty by developing other skills and attractions: we've become an expert on something, an artist, a politician, or a writer. We've made ourselves attractive by cultural means; unlike the beautiful person, who owes everything to a sort of genetic accident, we Muglies feel "self-made", responsible for our own position.

Little by little, the enormous sense of possibility Beauty sensed in every situation is revealed as an illusion. The only possibility present -- the erect elephant in every room -- is that someone she's never met before immediately wants to fuck her. Just like the last person she'd never met before. Quelle surprise! She has little say in the matter. It becomes depressingly predictable, and every new admirer is a potential new stalker.

For the Mugly, on the other hand, there's more and more liberty and possibility, as she develops interests and pursues paths which are entirely her own. She can sublimate, work with colleagues, be treated non-sexually, get on with things. The strong force doesn't tug her off course, and Pandora's Box stays, inchallah, shut.

Meanwhile, Beauty is debating donning a burka or entering a nunnery. She even feels suicidal sometimes, so miserable is she to see how her beauty destabilizes every relationship and makes commitment so difficult. Even a partner who is loved and chosen can develop paranoid jealousies based on nothing, and these suspicions (based only on beauty) can undermine everything.

Finally, instead of entering a nunnery, Beauty moves to the countryside with her Chosen One. Here no-one will bother her. She can look after animals, raise children. But this is an all-or-nothing scenario. If things don't work out with the Chosen One, she has nothing else in her life. She's in limbo, in free fall. All her eggs are in one basket, and one day they may lie broken.

But there is one sure salvation. Nature has the answer. It's called ageing. We all age, and as Beauty ages she becomes less "a beauty" and more "a person". While never quite becoming a Mugly, she sees the strong force -- and with it jealousy, paranoia and torrid crimes passionels -- gently declining, like a storm blowing itself out. Finally, she can develop other interests. The dynamite of love and sex can turn into something more manageable, but also more lovely. Fireworks, perhaps.