Once upon a time, many media years BKE (before the Kardashian Era) sexy was defined by absence. It was what you didn't see when you caught the glimpse of skin between the slits of the skirt that made it sexy. The lives of celebrities were sexy because you saw only a "sneak peek" of the good stuff and got to imagine the rest. Fictional dramas imagined how the one percent lived and it was the guessing -- along with the scheming -- that kept us hooked. The humble email, the earliest ripple of the social media tsunami, was sexy because it may or may not have been there. Sometimes you clicked and "got mail;" sometimes not so much. Over all, there was just a little less showing and as a result, what showed had impact.
We all know what has happened since. The era of the oversharing has descended upon us and bemoan it we may but turn away we do not. And media, from social networking to network television, cannot be blamed for simply giving us what we want. Suddenly we didn't get the lifestyles of the rich and famous; we got their whole lives and we got hot for more.
I'm not predicting an end to this anytime soon. We humans appear to have an endless appetite both for rubbernecking and for forgiving ourselves the guilty pleasure therein. Kim and Kanye will have a baby and we will watch that baby's first steps on our mobile devices, then tune in for the inevitable breakup and custody battle.
Still, there is reason to be hopeful that the new sexy in media will be just a little more discreet than the old, that it will take a cue from the unfiltered authenticity that is the best of this new nakedness and add just enough dignity to give it real impact. It will learn -- just to put this in the starkest and most tangible terms -- to provide content that speaks to us enough as individuals to subscribe to it behind a pay wall rather than settle for what drifts toward us for free.
Witness, for example, the very real disgust when reality star Brandi Glanville showed up at the Oscars wearing, essentially, pasties. Now compare that to the reaction to various Jennifer Lopez get ups from Oscars past. Was the dress really that much worse, or is it just that we are getting a little tired of seeing so much of everyone's everything all the time? Or perhaps, is it simply no longer sexy to mine your pain for fame? That not-quite-authentic note is the proverbial ad before the YouTube video -- you have to really, really want to see what's on the other end to wait for it, and the vast majority of us just don't.
Or consider the peak of interest in Pinterest as a way of expressing ourselves on social media. For some of us, our Pins are no more than a virtual shopping list it's true, but for most, they are far more. What we Pin defines us as surely as what we choose to post on Facebook but less obviously so. We show, rather than tell. We hide behind a veil of stuff we like, rather than blatantly "like" it with a thumbs up. In doing so we are asking our followers to think a little bit more about what we are saying instead of just, well, saying it. We ask our followers to participate and we have an authentic, if silent, conversation with them. It's not the end of reality TV or anything but it's a little sexier to show who you want to be, rather than tell.
Then of course there is the new, virtually sexless version of "90210," set in post-war London and cast with lords and ladies clad and covered like no one in prime time in recent years. There is sex in Downton of course. But it takes place in loaded glances across the table and lowered lashes in the drawing room private. It feels authentic because we get to imagine it, and we can't get enough of it.
Nor can we get enough of Twitter, a short-form communication that by its very brevity leaves something to the imagination. We could be saying the same thing by this time next year about Vine, the video sharing platform offering media so brief it is barely a whisper, a hint of what could be to come, an authentic glimpse in time that sparks action, reaction.
None of this on its own adds up to a sea change of course. There has been no watershed moment when America collectively turned its back on The Real Housewives and their fake breasts. But like everything else, sexy goes in cycles and -- to paraphrase Jennifer Lawrence's character in this year's sexiest albeit sexless movie -- "If it's me, reading the signs ...." I think they are going to get a lot less explicit soon.
And that's good, sexy news for everyone who is heartily sick of what has passed for media lately, which I imagine is a lot of us. We have fought through the inferno of the false, the fake intimacy, the fake true confessions but we have taken from it valuable lessons about real intimacy that the media can now use to present news in a way that feels like it matters and entertainment that makes us want to think, not just watch. We can present real, important stuff -- be it fiction or news -- in ways that attract the rubberneck in us all but hold on to the real person, with real interests, underneath.
That's the kind of media that lasts, the kind that has impact, takes action, even -- gasp -- pays for access. It's sexy but it's also, dare I say, smart.