Why do women make fools of themselves over George Clooney?

Society has decided that this one person should be the representative focal point of all sexual yearning

Click to follow
The Independent Online

There was a time, back in the last century, when there were such things as sex symbols. Brigitte Bardot was one in the 1950s, as was the topless model Samantha Fox three decades later. The image of these women provided a shorthand for universal desirability  – every male lusted after them  –  and were therefore helpful to comedians and lazy journalists. They represented sex in all its glorious simplicity.

Anyone who thinks that, in these more culturally sensitive times, we have begun to outgrow such nonsense is, it turns out, rather wide of the  mark. Today’s BB or Sam Fox is not sultry, big-bosomed or even female. His name is George Clooney.

What a peculiar role this actor now plays in our world. At a time when we have learned to disapprove of the sexual objectification, he is not only objectified, but women in the media seem almost contractually obliged to go all giggly and coy in discussions about him.

While in London promoting his latest film, Clooney had to endure the usual tiresome remarks about his looks. The general spasm of yearning seemed to reach Radio 4 – “What George Clooney and I get up to in my fantasies is entirely my affair,” gushed one presenter.

To get a visual image of this sexual meltdown at the corporation – real or faked – I would invite you turn to the Women’s Hour page on the BBC website, and study a photograph of Jenni Murray and George Clooney staring into each other’s eyes in a moment of post-interview tenderness. Would such a shot have been released if Ms Murray had been interviewing, say, David Beckham or Jude Law or Bill Clinton?

It is at first difficult to understand why Clooney occupies the sex-symbol role. He is obviously a nice-looking man and a pretty good actor (apart from his ghastly comic gurning in O Brother, Where Art Thou?). He has decent, liberal values. Considering how idiotically media women act towards him, he seems to have remained remarkably sane.

He is not, though, unusual in any of these things. It is as if, rather as with sex symbols of the past, society has decided that this one person should be the representative focal point of all sexual yearning. Just as it was fine for men to make oafish remarks about Brigitte or Sam, so intelligent, sophisticated women of a certain age are relaxed about coming over all girly when Clooney is mentioned.

He is the acceptable face of celebrity-lust. It is as odd in its way as, say, Jon Snow or Jeremy Vine moving into leery, lip-smacking mode before Angelina Jolie enters the studio to discuss refugees.

How embarrassing it must be for Clooney to see interviewer after interviewer behaving in the same herd-like way, and how reductive it is of women generally, this myth – hard-wired into the media – that one man’s looks have to be mentioned at every opportunity.

Perhaps this modern sex symbols tells us something about the way modern women see themselves. Just as, to men of the past, BB represented exotic foreignness and Sam Fox the crude sexuality of the bonking 1980s, so Clooney – smooth yet strong, grey yet never ageing, handsome yet always appropriate – is the perfect male archetype for our times.