Despite having heartily denied these accusations, I continue to falter at the suggestion of power. It’s true. Prime time has become a sexual surrogate for action heroes, politicians and leading men with the most unlikely faces raising our pulses with their profiles.
Perhaps it’s the intimacy of television — right there in our sitting rooms; or its 2.0 ubiquity — on smartphones, on laptops, on demand; but without a doubt, television has the uncanny ability of making men more attractive. Or does it?
Life Stories host Piers Morgan recently admitted to having been sent knickers in the post, something he referred to as “a perk of the job”. Corkonian reality star Breffny Morgan owes his sex symbol status to a 2009 stint on The Apprentice; while rugby pundit Brent Pope and cuddly comic Dara Ó Briain continue to charm the nation without a six pack between them. So just what is the fascination?
Social and Personal editor PJ Gibbons explains. “What television does is allows people to play up to their personalities. If they are confident and have a sense of humour, it makes them more appealing for whatever reason — whether people want to meet them or want to know them.”
Having run the annual Ireland’s Sexiest Men poll in the magazine for four years, Gibbons is no stranger to the popularity, and indeed limitations, of the country’s Farrells and Fassbenders.
“Each time we ran the poll, the panel would choose generally the same names over and over again. Irish guys aren’t known for über-style in the main, except for a few younger guys who are coming up through the ranks now. If we had continued that list now, it would have wound up in the same vein of guys every year and so it had become redundant really.”
That said familiarity only breeds contempt if perfection gets in the way.
The likelihood of bumping into Dylan Moran in the pub or bumping into Diarmuid Gavin at a garden centre seems more attainable then discussing Shakespeare with Jonathan Rhys Myers, and thus more attractive. Reality may lack the glint of the silver screen but its unlikely lads are rapidly replacing Hollywood hunks in the pin-up stakes.
“Give me someone like the late James Gandolfini over Brad Pitt any day,” claims one anonymous editor.
“Brad is handsome but he’s not sexy; James, on the other hand, was interesting, intriguing even. He might have been balding and overweight but he had this raw, masculine sex appeal.
“Plus, the fact he was out of shape showed a complete lack of vanity, which is irresistible. There’s nothing worse than a man who is too groomed, gym-honed and overly focused on their appearance.”
Indeed, our televisual totems are not dissimilar to those we use when looking for a mate: relatable, down-to-earth, good sense of humour — these all trump good looks when it comes to the long-term. Given the average Irish adult spends over 25 hours per week watching television (TAM Ireland/Nielsen figures, 2012), our on-screen partners need to measure up.
If TV’s cult of personality is the new heart-throb, then power is its archetypal bad boy. Let’s talk Cowell. Despite the high-waisted pants years, the square-haired talent show Svengali has singularly managed to win the public on both sides of the water.
Combine a back catalogue of caustic put-downs with a self-satisfied air; add to that the ineffable ability to make or break a young star and you’ve got an alpha male idol.
Of course, that knowing wink and calling tone-deaf grannies “sweetheart” after they’ve crooned through an audition add a beating heart that gets hearts beating.
Fellow talent show host Piers Morgan most recently came third in a poll by 888.com’s Wink Bingo to find Britain’s favourite nude celebrity — trailing two spots behind David Beckham and beating out the likes of Michael Fassbender and Mark Wahlberg.
Although his views on US gun control landed him in the midst of an internet campaign to deport him back to Britain, it would appear his powerful persona still holds sovereign sway.
Unfortunately, women don’t seem to get away with indiscretions so lightly. Remember Cheryl Cole and the infamous 2010 X Factor ‘Gamu-gate’? Choosing wanabees Cher Lloyd and Katie Waissel over the hotly-tipped contestant Gamu Nhengu hardly warrants death threats, but overnight the nation’s sweetheart became a national disaster with #HateCherylCole trending on twitter.
Does polished celebrity perfection leave one open to public opprobrium? Or is it simply a case of demanding more depth from those we allow into our sitting rooms night after night.
“I think without question women get a hard time,” admits Gibbons.
“Everything is pinpointed at the way she dresses, the way she talks, her accent — all those things come into play. If she has any slight attractiveness at all and she’s on TV, God love her. She’s a target.”
MAYBE it’s not so much a case of declawing the masses as it is a return to authenticity — less polish, less poise, simply less. ITV’s Daybreak host Lorraine Kelly continues to top the sexy polls at age 53 with her bubbly, down-to-earth personality, something that undoubtedly lends to her unofficial ‘cougar’ status.
“She’s the kind of woman that people would think “Yeah, I’d hang out with her,” says Gibbons, “or could imagine her coming around for tea or whatever and a chat. So she’s no threat. It’s that kind of thing.”
As for Gibbons, he prefers the laissez-faire late night talk show host Chelsea Handler. “I think she is extremely sexy in a way because she’s bold,” he maintains.
“She throws things off the cuff which is obviously all very well-rehearsed but it seems like she would be like that in real life — great craic to be around.”
Ultimately, viewers want a TV star that could potentially fit into their lives — male or female.
Sure, sipping cocoa and playing Scrabble with Stephen Fry of a Sunday evening might be somewhat far-fetched but the imagined realism of it all makes it all the more oh-so-attractive.