Skin, Deep
Merle Kessler

09 April 2005

There is a website called that claims it “provides show reviews and previews, HDTV-specific viewing recommendations, HDTV news and HDTV shopping tips, among other consumer information.” 

It’s what the world needs now, I guess.

One of the services OnHDTV offered this past month was, of course, a list - and where would the internet be without lists?   - the “ top 10 celebrities who look even better in High-Definition TV,” accompanied by a list of those who look worse.

Topping the “best” list was tennis star Anna Kournikova:  “Her skin is glistening and luscious. It's easy to see why her matches sell out despite her limited talents.  It's not love-15; it's love Anna.” 

(I always try to picture the writer at work when I read a sentence like that, with its painful attempt to force a joke-like trope out of some familiar aspect of its subject.  What sentences did he or she reject, I wonder?  “On court, or on high-def, Anna will ace it every time.”  “Advantage, Anna!”  “It’s a close-up grand slam for Anna.”)

Angelina Jolie is also on the list.  After describing her as “breathtaking,” the writer then issues a caveat:  “The only negative: The actress has a small mole on her forehead. In high-def, it looks like Mt. Everest.”

So one of  HDTV's pleasures, apparently, is givng the viewer the ability to pore over the pores of the rich and famous.  And if you’re a critic watching, you get to praise the beautiful and sneer at them simultaneously. 

Then there’s the other list. 

On HDTV, Carmen Diaz “looks more like a Charlie than an angel.” Britney Spears: “The pop tart is still in her early 20s, but she looks about 10 years older in high-def.”  William Devane, “who once played John F.Kennedy in a docudrama about the Cuban Missile Crisis, should duck and cover the next time they ask him to star in a HDTV program.” Jamie Lee Curtis? “Christopher Guest, be my guest. Buy your wife some Botox! And, a wig!”  And, of course, Joan Rivers. “Do you remember that song, ‘Old Man River?’ Well, how about, ‘Old Woman Rivers?’”

Clearly, the author’s inventiveness started to flag by the end. Rhyming “Guest” with “guest” is not worth the punch in the nose Mr. Guest may give the writer should the two ever meet.  As for the “Old Woman Rivers” crack, well, it does reach new depths of witlessness, I suppose.  But this achievement is cancelled out, in my opinion, by its tin-eared clunkiness. 

I’ve never quite understood the appeal of these kinds of lists myself, and I certainly don’t believe that a celebrity’s luminosity, or lack of it would be a factor in your shelling out 1500 t0 4000 bucks for a high-def television.   

But there’s a larger puzzle: if this is just a campaign to push HDTV, doesn’t it seem awfully malicious?  These are the sort of catty remarks we used to whisper behind people’s backs.  Now we belt out gratuitous insults for the cheap seats.  It’s as though the physical flaws of our movie stars indicate some kind of moral failure. 

Maybe thanks to the internet, broadband, and HTDV, we have become convinced that movie stars can actually physically interact with us, that they will do our bidding if we are snarky enough.  Sandblast those acne scars, you skank!  Get off my television, old wrinkly man! 

And someday, if we wish hard enough, and if our sarcasm is polished enough, we will be able to examine our stars subcutaneously, scrubbing and mocking until every last one of them is blemish-free, even on a subatomic level. 

Then, finally our viewing pleasure will be as perfect as we are.  We will all be locked together, gazers and gazed, in the darkened living room, forever.

Comments (4)

Jason's picture


Thursday, June 16, 2005 -- 5:00 PM

I am the host of the Philosophical Question of the

I am the host of the Philosophical Question of the Day (PQD) Blog where we pose questions that may appeal to you. Please consider visiting the blog at and subscribing to the PQD Blog Alert so that you can be notified when new PQDs are posted. Just e-mail me at with the e-mail address you would like the Alert sent to. Also, please encourage your friends and colleagues to join as we are seeking to boost membership to the PQD Blog, a free blog for free expression.

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Sunday, July 17, 2005 -- 5:00 PM

Which is more important physical beauty or mental

Which is more important physical beauty or mental beauty? In Plato?s Symposium Alcibiades falls before Socrates in tears. He is enraged that Socrates does not love him for his physical beauty, the way he loves Socrates for his mental beauty. Socrates declares that it would be wrong for him to trade his mental beauty (gold) for mere physical beauty (brass).
Is this story the truth about beauty or is it nonsense. Which is valued more by the human race as a whole, physical beauty or mental beauty? Which type of beauty commands more power, respect, and reward? If physical beauty is loved more than physical beauty should it?
For many years I have agreed with Plato and held to the belief that physical beauty is lower than mental beauty. This idea also holds that physical beauty is admired by the majority of the human race, but that the majority of the human race does not have appreciation for higher forms of beauty such as courage/honor and reason/wisdom. But I have decided to attempt to push out all previous long held to memes about beauty and examine the whole topic anew.
What I have found is startling although it would not be accepted by philosophers who hold onto ancient beliefs about how beauty should be loved. What I have found is that physical beauty commands more power, respect, and love than mental beauty. For each unit of physical beauty there is more reward than for each unit of mental beauty.
I have also found that in the end what each human desires is in fact not mental beauty but physical beauty. People have taught their offspring that outside beauty does not matter, what matters is the beauty inside, but of course this is a lie. Whether you are apply for a job, whether you are trying to attract a mate outside beauty matters more than mental beauty. If fact I argue that appreciation and acquisition of physical beauty is linked more to survival that mental beauty.
What I also argue is that each unit of physical beauty brings more reward than each unit of mental beauty. Certainly we have been taught to admire the mental over the physical, but we know this is a lie. I am not arguing that mental beauty should not be admired, but that the acquisition and appreciation of physical beauty should be admired at the same level or even more than mental beauty-basically that Plato was wrong in assigning physical beauty a lower status than mental beauty. That the scholar should not look down on physical beauty, or state that they want nothing to do with it. One main reason is the power that physical beauty commands. Most physical beauty does not come natural it takes hard work, but I argue that the rewards for each unit of physical beauty are more than each unit of mental beauty.
I also argue that Plato was wrong or that he was lying to the reader. It was another noble lie. The admiration of the physical human form was not looked down at during Greek antiquity.

Guest's picture


Thursday, September 8, 2005 -- 5:00 PM

Physical beauty rarely comes naturaly. It takes on

Physical beauty rarely comes naturaly. It takes one a lot of time and money to groom skin.

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Sunday, March 12, 2006 -- 4:00 PM

It's good to have a balance in physical beauty and

It's good to have a balance in physical beauty and mental beauty.