Opinion: We need to talk about the ‘hottie’ thing

Just say no.

Normally, I try to restrict my opinion columns on this website to developments in film or television, or at least blend them with news stories. But if there’s one word that annoys me more than any, including ‘fail’, ‘win’, ‘sleeps’ and ‘internets’, it’s ‘hottie’.

Twitter’s more or less ablaze in geek circles at the moment for Caprica’s Alessandra Torresani being crowned the ‘Ultimate Sci-Fi Hottie Of 2010’. Similar competitions, you may recall, adorn the covers of lads’ mags the world over, celebrating women not for their talent or accomplishments, but because of their collection of genes.

It’s not just the EW thing that’s annoyed me to the point of speaking about it though, it’s been a building trend for a while, as science fiction becomes more mainstream and the sci-fi press begins chasing page impressions as opposed to decent stories or insightful commentary. Certain outlets, which I’ll refrain from naming here, seem to have rebranded wholesale from respectable news wires to do with all things genre into sites that specialise in titillating images and naughty stories.

It’s their business, of course. If websites want to do that, they can, it’s their own corner of cyberspace. My problem isn’t with their specific changes of direction or the mild hypocrisy that comes about when they criticise clearly satirical videos about carnal relations with science fiction authors, but in the image of the genre it presents to the wider world.

Without meaning to sound too self-righteous (which I undoubtedly will, now I’ve said that), the last thing that science fiction needs is a propagation of our negative stereotypes and stigma in the wider world. You know the one that I’m talking about; the popular image that just because you can distinguish between a GM Daewoo and a dilithium matrix chamber, you’re most likely some sort of itinerant, socially awkward cave dweller, one that subsides on junk food and spends the vast majority of your time ogling people in that bloody metal bikini.

Science fiction is a genre of ideas, one that has influenced and continues to influence the wider world. It incisively blends politics with humanism, science with the supernatural and many other forms of thought, and gives expression to them through imagination and creativity. I don’t know about you, but in my frame of reference from conventions, friends, event goers or the absurdly kind people I’ve met within the science fiction fan community, I’ve never been in a wider group of people that more completely embraces tolerance, equality and respect for one another. Internet trolls aside.

This growing sense of perversion and mindless pandering that I’ve witnessed recently through plaudits such as ‘Ultimate Sci-Fi Hottie’ is unsettling to me, as a life long fan of science fiction. It runs contrary to my own personal opinions of objectification, and particularly, respect. It’s entirely possible that I’m being too highly strung about this, but I don’t believe that I am. It’s embarrassing and vaguely upsetting when I check my RSS feeds every morning and can’t go five minutes without seeing a headline that refers to ‘sexy pictures’ or ‘Comic-Con hotties’, or something of an equally unpleasant phrasing. Objectification from both sides doesn’t get off either, how many times recently have you seen films marketed based on the abs of their supporting male actors, or columns defending said advertising? It’s an intellectual low point, at the very least. Incidentally, EW is also running a similar contest for the men of sci-fi.

The image that we put out to the wider world is crucial for maintaining interest and investment in science fiction. One that I personally don’t think we need is being material, narcissistic and shallow.