Beauty is in the eye of the casting agent
Actors were once judged on talent. Today it's all about being 'hot.'
"Artists are the antennae of the race," Ezra Pound once said. He was referring to the way that turbulence in the arts – the rise of dissonance in music or distortion in painting – has often preceded and presaged major upheavals in society. But today, that dynamic has been reversed.Skip to next paragraph
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As an acting coach, I'm writing specifically about actors, who today are being cast more and more on their looks and less and less on their talent. The continual display of perfect bodies on television and movie screens has contributed not only to an epidemic of eating disorders, but also to spiritual disorders that increasingly lead young people to evaluate all humanity as either "hot" or "not."
A while ago, I had a conversation with a 12-year-old girl about "The Diary of Anne Frank," which she was reading for school. I asked how she liked it, and she replied, "She was a liar." "How can you say that?" I asked. "Because she said that a lot of boys liked her. No way." "Why not?" I probed further. Because, the girl replied disdainfully, "she wasn't hot."
I'm convinced that this extreme fixation on appearance represents one of many canaries fluttering their last breaths in our cultural coal mine, warning us of the toxic atmosphere we're inhaling from television, film, and computer screens, and all manner of publications: a world of "hotties," wearing hot clothes, riding in hot cars, wearing makeup and jewelry that famous, hot people wear, reading cool magazines that tell you who and what is hot (and what to buy so that you too can be hot), while watching music videos of other hot, cool, glamorous people.
These irresistible images are going directly into people's bloodstream and consciousness, clogging our arteries with prurience, arousing rather than inspiring, hardening our hearts and dehumanizing us. This constant bludgeoning of our sensibilities damages our souls and leads us astray, toward the material and ephemeral and away from the eternal.
Surely we can lay much of the responsibility for this on the criteria and values of the entertainment industry.
Where once casting seemed to strive for a combination of looks and talent, the equation now appears to have shifted radically toward the former, particularly with regard to film and television aimed at the youth market.
Not long ago, I coached a young woman on a screen test for a television project. Afterward, the casting director told me that she had been "hands down the best actress of the bunch" but they had decided to go "another way." "Why?" I asked. "Because the girl we went with is a Victoria's Secret model," he said, as though that were the most obvious explanation imaginable.