The name’s Abs. James Bond’s Abs.
I would like to say that the controversy brewing on the opinion pages of The Post and spilling over onto the rest of the Internet (see: Gawker) about James Bond and redefining sex appeal has some Higher Purpose for the National Discussion, but really it boils down to one question. James Bond’s abs: Approve or disapprove?
Richard Cohen disapproves. After you read his comment, you want to dart into gyms and throw wooden shoes into the equipment. He waxes almost lyrical. After noting a story in the New York Times that reports 40 percent of middle- and high-school-age boys work out with the intent of increasing muscle mass, he laments: “This is all very sad news. Every rippling muscle is a book not read, a movie not seen or a conversation not held.”
Here is an illustration:
But the weird thing is that Cohen seems to think abs are a relatively recent innovation. They have been around at least as long as marble statues.
This does raise a larger question, though: How do we, as a nation, feel about abs? We ought to resolve this now.
As go the middle-school boys, so go the nation. And there appears to be a trend — disturbing or heartening, depending on your attitude — toward, well, muscles.
There is something crudely egalitarian about all this musculature. Anyone can have them if you put in the hours. There is no barrier to entry. Vice presidential candidates have them. James Bond, now, is constrained to have them. Sexiest Men Alive have them, even if with them — as Buzzfeed states — Channing Tatum resembles a thumb.
This was not always the case. Matinee Idols once looked something like W.H. Auden, who noted aptly of himself that “my face looks like a wedding cake left out in the rain.”
The era of Cary Grant was much kinder. You could drink all night and awaken looking like a damp bathmat, and people still swooned over you. Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart look slightly weather-beaten and rumpled, and that is half their appeal.
No longer. Rained-on cakes are out. And thumbs are in.
I’m not against muscular men — well, not as often as I would like — but I do think this is an interesting trend.
I am not the kind of person who beholds a cheese-grater and swoons. Show me a cheese, on the other hand...
In general, I find it odd that we see someone with muscles and our first thought is household chores. “Look at those muscles!” we say. “Why, I could grate cheese with them!”
“My, what abs,” you murmur. “Like a washboard!”
“You could crush walnuts with those things! Gosh, I would stay and chat, but I have the overwhelming urge to do laundry.”
The one thing I like about this trend is that it requires that men put in boatloads of effort in order to seem attractive. Why should women have all the fun?
It is for this very reason that I have always been a proponent of bringing back 18th-century styles. Certain eras in fashion ask equally ridiculous exertions of both genders, and I am willing to put in the time with my gowns if the guys have to clomp around in powdered wigs and high-heeled shoes. It seems more just, if less convenient for everyone.
The equation of beauty with mild inconvenience cuts both ways. If this ab scheme progresses, we can start to market magazines to men that promise to tell them Six Surprising Ways To Moisturize and The Only Fruits You Can Eat If You Want Anyone To Love You and the Thirty-Nine Essential Muscle Tools For Fall. Why should women suffer alone under the stern tutelage of the glossy page?
What of the other things that go into attraction, though? Most people do not exist in a vacuum, on the covers of magazines. Abs last only so long, no matter how much gravity they defy. Then you are stuck making conversation.
Maybe the answer is to make books heavier. This could solve everyone’s objections. You would spot someone with washboard abs and murmur, “Ooh, he probably made it through all nine volumes of ‘The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy.’ ”
But it’s not as though the mens sana and the corpore sano are at war. That’s James Bond’s appeal: He combines the two.
Beauty is a many-splendored thing. Some people see someone who looks like he could crush walnuts with his pecs, and they swoon. Other people see gents who, to the untrained eye, resemble ill-nourished lizards, and they swoon.
The last time everyone unanimously agreed on who was the most attractive person in the surrounding city-states, they threw a giant 10-year war to celebrate and completely destroyed Troy.
Fortunately it takes all kinds. One of the perpetual chores of friendship is trying to reassure your friends that the people they are seeing are objectively attractive. To you, they look like gargoyles in flannel, but you understand that, as Neil Simon said, romance is inspired by the participants and not the accouterments.
So live and let live, as James Bond wouldn’t say. I have no particular objections to abs, although I hope you hold them against me. For those who like that sort of thing, as Abraham Lincoln said, that is exactly the sort of thing that they would like. And Ab was his first name.