How Keanu Reeves became the most desirable man of the #MeToo era
From Brad Pitt to Chris Brown, archetypal bad boys have dominated Hollywood's "Most Desirable Men" landscape since forever.
The bad boys of Hollywood exude raw sex appeal both onscreen and off, their personal lives as messy and dramatic as their biggest blockbusters. Their sweaty six-packs on glossy magazine covers erase any temporary fallout from scandals, affairs, or abuse. Sure, they may not be nice, but that doesn't mean they're not nice to look at.
Or at least, that's how things used to be. Nowadays, Hollywood seems more defined by rampant #MeToo scandals than anything else. For the first time, maybe ever, the bad deeds of the rich and famous actually seem to stick to their reputations––at least sometimes. Alongside the increased visibility of sexual assault and toxic masculinity, many formerly beloved stars now come with asterisks next to their names: *rapist, *pedophile, *woman beater, *accused. In the history of celebrity culture, never before has it been so clear that we don't actually know our idols––not Johnny Depp, not Morgan Freeman, not Aziz Ansari. Are all Hollywood heartthrobs potential scumbags?
Enter: Keanu Reeves. Recently, Keanu Reeves has been having a major cultural explosion. It's not that he wasn't big before––in his 30 year career, he's played iconic characters as varied as metalhead stoner Ted in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and office drone-turned-cyber warrior Neo in The Matrix. But only now, at 54 years old, is Keanu Reeves regarded as the ultimate heartthrob.
Unlike the many heartthrobs of Hollywood's past, and in spite of his badass action hero roles (like John Wick), Keanu Reeves isn't a bad boy. He doesn't party like a rock star. He doesn't move from girlfriend to girlfriend or marriage to marriage. He doesn't get into feuds. He's just a really, really, really nice guy. Unlike many other celebrities, whose media attention revolves around tabloid drama, Keanu Reeves' stories tend to revolve around being nice to strangers and actively not touching women in pictures. In many ways, Keanu Reeves is like the adult version of a teen heartthrob.
Since Disney's primary audience is young girls, their marketing of young teen idols can't rely on obvious sex appeal. A large chunk of their target demographic doesn't even actively understand what sex is. But that doesn't mean they're not interested in boys, so instead, Disney sells a boyfriend experience. Disney boys are kind, attainable, and most of all, safe. Boys like the Jonas Brothers circa the mid 2000s, purity rings and all, are the kind that young girls want to ask out to dances and share secrets with.
As girls get older, their love interests do too. Nice, wholesome boys give way to angsty, troubled teens who break all the rules and just want to get out of this suburban town, man. Those bad boys don't need to be nice; they need to be sexy. And unlike the fresh-faced young lads of Tiger Beat, the bad boys never go out of style. In fact, more often than not, the good boy teen idols transform their image into bad boys in order to stay relevant.
That guy from NSYNCRCA Records
But that's what makes the Keanu Reeves effect so special. After years and years in the spotlight, no matter what else is going on culturally, Keanu Reeves remains consistently nice. No matter what roles he takes, his public image seems authentically kind. And in the age of #MeToo, when celebrities are being outed left and right as creeps and predators, Keanu Reeves' sincere goodness is in short supply.
That's not to say every bad boy is necessarily a bad guy, but even at their best, the bad boy archetype comes dangerously close to toxic masculinity. Bad boys tend to be defined through their negative traits like anger and angst and their misdeeds like cheating and punching jukeboxes. Their appeal lies largely in the desire to change them or the knowledge that even though they shun the rest of society, they're loyal to the proverbial you and only you. Culturally, we're finally moving away from glorifying that breed of masculine rage. We've come to understand that a lot of the time, angry guys aren't just misunderstood, they're dangerous. Bad boys may be hot, but no level of hotness is worth mistreatment, predation, or abuse.
Now, wholesomeness is more in demand. Why would anyone want a guy who's only nice to them when they could have a guy who's nice to everyone? As society shifts and grows, and more young girls come into their own as powerful women, notions of masculinity change too. Men shouldn't strive to be complex puzzles of darkness and rage. Men don't need to define themselves through pent-up violence. Men don't need someone to "understand" them and "fix" them; they need to take responsibility for themselves. Men can be kind and decent and friendly and still be just as masculine and attractive as even the baddest bad boys. Just look at Keanu Reeves.
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Plus celebrities react to Nigerian protests.
Young people across Nigeria have been pouring into the streets for the last two weeks to protest police brutality, specifically the controversial special police force known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Tension came to a head on Tuesday when armed forces fired on protestors in Lagos, the biggest city in Nigeria, who were out past the state-mandated curfew. According to AP News, "Police also fired tear gas at one point, and smoke could be seen billowing from several areas in the city's center. Two private TV stations were forced off the air at least temporarily as their offices were burned."
Not all non-binary people prefer gender-neutral pronouns.
October 21, 2020 marks the third annual International Pronouns Day.
Created by an independent board and first observed in 2018, it's one of those small commemorative holidays that trends on Twitter in hopes of drawing attention to a pressing social issue, like International Women's Day (March 8th) or the ever so serious National Taco Day (October 4).
But Pronouns Day in particular "seeks to make respecting, sharing, and educating about personal pronouns commonplace." The organization's website further describes, "Referring to people by the pronouns they determine for themselves is basic to human dignity. Being referred to by the wrong pronouns particularly affects transgender and gender nonconforming people. Together, we can transform society to celebrate people's multiple, intersecting identities."
But in the words of nonbinary activist and Trevor Project's Head of Advocacy and Government Afairs, Sam Brenton, "Pronouns are hard." Never before have pronouns been scrutinized as closely as they are in 2019 for their power to (in)validate or accurately describe something as fluid as gender identity. In fact, it was only this year that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary expanded the definition of "they" "to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary" (thus codifying a long history in English language of using "they" to refer to a singular non-gendered entity).
‘Everyone has the responsibility to be respectful.’ — The @TrevorProject’s Sam Brinton is explaining why pronouns a… https://t.co/pMMO8KRvBR— NowThis (@NowThis)1571253180.0
But throwing an additional wrench in the works is the fact that not all non-binary people prefer gender-neutral pronouns.
Take me, for instance: Despite having female biology, I couldn't pass a lie detector test saying I'm a "woman." But my pragmatic, Puritan family is still endearingly confused by the idea of "liberal arts," let alone the notion of gender fluidity. And I'd rather share a communal language with them than do the emotional and mental labor of re-orienting their worldview for them. Plus, I have the privilege of passing as female without feeling too, too, terribly dysphoric (which non-binary people can definitely suffer from, despite not identifying as trans).
But enough about me, look at Queer Eye's beloved Jonathan Van Ness. While he's been outspoken about being genderqueer, gay, and HIV positive, he prefers he/him pronouns. "The older I get, the more I think that I'm nonbinary," Van Ness said. "I'm gender nonconforming. Like, some days I feel like a man, but then other days I feel like a woman." As he told Out magazine, he doesn't identify as a man, but he does prefer "he/him/his" pronouns. In his view, those pronouns don't detract from or contradict his non-binary identity, because gender is not about simple binaries between masculine and feminine identifiers. "Any opportunity I have to break down stereotypes of the binary, I am down for it, I'm here for it," he said. "I think that a lot of times gender is used to separate and divide. It's this social construct that I don't really feel like I fit into the way I used to."
On the other hand, last month non-binary singer Sam Smith announced that their preferred pronouns are "they/them." Smith posted to Instagram, "I've decided I am changing my pronouns to THEY/THEM ❤ after a lifetime of being at war with my gender I've decided to embrace myself for who I am, inside and out." People like Smith and Trevor Project's Sam Brenton simply feel more validated, seen, heard, and true to themselves with gender-neutral pronouns. Smith wrote, "I'm so excited and privileged to be surrounded by people that support me in this decision but I've been very nervous about announcing this because I care too much about what people think but f*ck it!"
Most importantly, as pretty much every non-binary person and activist is aware, changing cultural norms is hard. While LGBTQ+ activism is inspired and passionate and dedicated to expanding human rights to all gender identities, we all know that changing society's entire understanding of gender and pronoun usage is about slowly opening minds. As Smith wrote, "I understand there will be many mistakes and mis gendering but all I ask is you please please try. I hope you can see me like I see myself now. Thank you." Happy Pronouns Day to you/him/her/they/(f)aer/zim.