Boredom causes me to be in the middle of a The Office re-watch. The show is pretty easy to just put on in the background, only occasionally making me think. Recently the part that made me think was that one part where Michael says he’s like Neve Campbell in Scream 2 where she thinks she can just go to college but then the murderer comes back – I think he’s referring to Toby returning from Costa Rica – and then he says that he learned a lot of lessons from that movie. I’m confused about whether that joke is at Michael’s expense or at Scream 2‘s expense or both, and for some reason it’s really bothering me, because – what did Scream 2 do to anyone, ever?
But this one subplot in the episode “Prince Family Paper” has most of the office workers formally debating each other about whether Hilary Swank is hot, and I have a couple of observations, weirdly.
So Stanley complains: he’s been corrected for referring to her as something besides “hot,” intending it as a synonym, and he thinks he can refer to her as beautiful, attractive, hot – it’s all the same, right?
But Kevin says that it’s not the same, because, a painting can be beautiful, but he doesn’t want to have sex with a painting.
Lo and behold, The Office has explained (sort of) the Split Attraction Model.
(That romantic and sexual attraction can be separate things for some people)
(So… that’s not really what Kevin just explained there, but, aesthetic attraction is a thing too – someone can be aesthetically attracted to someone without being sexually attracted to them)
It gets better, though. Jim seduces Kevin as a fantasy Hilary Swank who shows up at Dunder Mifflin to have sex with Kevin.
But Kevin ultimately retains his opinion that Hilary Swank isn’t hot because “is she hot” isn’t the same question as “would you do her.” And lo and behold, The Office has just explained that people can want to and do have sex with people they aren’t sexually attracted to.
At first glance it’s a little absurd – it seems like Kevin is contradicting himself. And maybe he is, just to be stubborn. However, people can want to have sex with people for a lot of reasons besides just being sexually attracted to whichever specific person so, he could also be telling the truth when he says she’s not hot because he “wouldn’t bang a painting” and also when he says the question isn’t “would you do her.”
Kevin isn’t asexual but he could be motivated to have sex with Hilary Swank, even lacking at least some degree of sexual attraction, for various reasons: in this scenario he’s being seduced, so, arousal, which can happen without attraction, desire, which can also happen without attraction – it’s an opportunity to have sex, and he’s clearly one of those guys who buys into the whole “peak masculinity = having as much sex as possible with women” thing, so, there are actually quite a few complex physical and psychological reasons for him to want to have sex with Hilary Swank even if he isn’t sexually attracted to her.
So while Kevin is almost convinced to switch sides when he realizes he would actually have sex with Hilary Swank, he maintains his original opinion because he, on some level, knows he can want to have sex with her but he still isn’t sexually attracted to her, which means, to him, that she’s not objectively hot.
To be clear, I’m 100% positive that The Office isn’t trying to examine all of the grey areas of sexual and other forms of attraction here. Probably instead, the debate is supposed to be whether she is conventionally attractive, which is clearly what Oscar is arguing against when he brings out a facial symmetry chart, but, come on.
This debate is completely pointless, which is something none of the participants brings up. If the question “is she hot” is supposed to refer to someone’s universally accepted sex appeal, as in, the only way we can say “yes she’s hot” is if we prove that objectively, she’s sexually attractive, well, that just isn’t a thing.
Lots of reasons for that: some people aren’t sexually attracted to women; some people aren’t sexually attracted to anyone, and even those people who are sexually attracted to women aren’t sexually attracted to EVERY woman.
“Conventionally attractive” is the sort of concept that’s only useful when we’re interrogating society’s standards of beauty and the fallout associated with them. The term is also not what they’re looking for, because “conventionally attractive” is a broad enough concept that it allows for both the existence of queer people and for the reality that people are attractive in lots of ways besides the socially upheld “conventional” ways of being attractive.
Anyway. Congratulations, The Office, because, I think this subplot was supposed to mainly be absurd and yet, here I am, having spent brainpower contemplating it. Well played.
And the image.