One of Aesop’s more flawed fables is that of the Fox and the Leopard. In it, the haughty Leopard tries to convince the Fox that he is clearly the more beautiful creature considering the luxuriousness of his mane and the magnificent embellishment of spots within it. The Fox in turn tells the Leopard that the cunningness, wiliness and guile within his spirit are more magnificent than any embellishment any animal could simply display within their fur, thus his inner beauty (as well as all creatures’ inner beauty) carries more resonance than any physical attribute ever could. The Leopard subsequently sulks away in defeat. The flaw, of course, is that while inner beauty is much more valuable than physical beauty, bragging about either attribute… kind of makes you a dick. If anything what I get from the fable is the idea of humility; of not being a Fox when you meet a Leopard. But a defense mechanism is a defense mechanism, and sometimes all a guy has… is his dick.
Being a Fox of a certain amount of girth, poverty and intellect I can tell you that I have run into my fair share of Leopards living in Los Angeles. From business associates, friends, roommates, and lovers alike, there is no denying the power that a muscular frame or smooth skin or straight teeth or mesmerizing eyes can have while negotiating even the slightest of decisions. I have always likened myself to being an anarchist in the eternal rat race this city sells as extravagant normality; thinning things that are naturally thick, whitening things that are naturally dark, all in the name of portraying yourself as an avatar that doesn’t exist in nature. But as mighty and as just as my fight has been to side step the whole preoccupation of beauty and its prejudices, I have to admit that my inner yearning to sit at the cool kid’s table has reared its ugly head on more occasions than I would care to mention. I have agreed to do things, offer assistance, enter into business agreements that in hindsight I clearly would not have made if the other party naturally looked like Michael Jackson post-surgery or maybe Biz Markie’s less attractive older brother. I scoff at men who make decisions based on the attractiveness of the women in the vicinity of the deal when all along I do the same thing, just with men.
I recall this when I encounter the support certain factions receive when they take clear and distinct platforms of insensitivity, derision and callousness. From lowly bloggers who proclaim that the utter annihilation of the overweight, the HIV+ and Christians would bring about a more just world to mega super pop stars who release albums filled with references to spilling and swallowing semen while their spouses compare their dominance in the relationship to that of concussion inducing domestic violence, I wonder how easily audiences would accept their actions if they were to originate from bodies that were short and/or pudgy and/or acne ridden and/or scarred?
I pondered this while watching an episode of the old sitcom "Taxi" where the main antagonist of the show, Louie De Palma, was played by the stoutly Danny Devito. The threats that piped out from his five foot tall, five foot wide body rivaled the intensity and heft of any villain imaginable, which only added to the comedy and complexity of his character and the show itself. But this was 1978. This was pre-Ronald Reagan and the curious metamorphosis of the “Me” generation prioritizing conservative political and cultural pursuits, highlighting money, youth and beauty (over the “Now” generation’s pillars of service, culture and civil justice). And by 1982, Reagan had his foot firmly planted in the White House, Taxi was cancelled and a slew of shows began to infiltrate the airwaves whose villains were just as De Palma evil, but in much prettier shapes. From Joan Collin’s turn as Alexis Carrington on Dynasty to Jane Wyman’s turn as Angela Channing on Falcon Crest, American audiences swooned at the juxtaposition of malevolence played through the pretty. That legacy continues on today in reality shows where the physically appealing Omarosa Manigault of “The Apprentice” fame was voted as one of the nastiest villains of all time by TV Guide. And while no one could deny the absolute beauty of former Ms. USA Kenya Moore, you would be equally as hard pressed to deny her less than amiable demeanor on “The Real Housewives of Atlanta”.
And all of these pretty villains maintain healthy fan bases. While there is a curious deliciousness to creatively delivered malevolence, I can’t help but wonder how palatable these actions would be if they were carried out by people who didn’t just so happen to coincide with societal beauty norms? The proposition that the beautiful receive preferential treatment is not a novel idea, what I ponder is… when does that glow where off? You have to question the boundaries of this beauty bubble when Rolling Stone puts the Boston Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on its cover and would that decision have stayed the same if he did not have the milky skin and tousled locks of an older Jonas Brother? Would that decision have stayed the same if the Boston Bomber was perhaps Gabourey Sidibe? And was bald, African American Bear Christopher Dorner even on the table of discussions of “let’s-be-provocative-and-put-a-killer-on-our-cover”?
When I recall my experiences here in Los Angeles and take an honest look at the numerous Leopards I have welcomed into my home, welcomed into my bed and collaborated with professionally I am a little in awe at the sheer and consummate stupidity I displayed by equating their beauty with emotional depth or intelligence. When I look back and I superimpose the image of their hideous doppelgänger in their place, the exact same people just in completely different and offensive bodies with unpleasant facial features complete with acne, sags and wrinkles, I realize how different my choices would have been and how my own vanity came into play wanting to associate with people I thought were as beautiful as I was.
The conceit was that no one that beautiful could ever be too far from having likable and pleasant characteristics complete with a certain level of emotional maturity and easy-going spirit. But the record has definitely shown that there is no rhyme and reason to the connection humans have between their inner beauty and outer beauty. There really is no way to tell a person’s heart by simply looking at their sparkling green/hazel eyes or their smooth muscular arms or their voluptuous behind. I can tell you from experience that I have interacted with some of the finest Leopards that God could have ever created and plopped in my life path; that I have sat lotus position at their feet, basking in the marvel of a beauty that clearly could only have come from the work of deities with heavenly intentions. I have worked with them, I have lived with them, I have dated them and I can tell you from first-hand experience that on more than one occasion I have looked into their deep sensual eyes and slid that glance over a body that seems to have been chiseled from marble and diamond and I have thought to myself, “My God, this is one crazy ass motherfucker.” And it was not the pleadings of a Fox with low self-esteem trying to compensate my own lack of physical beauty, it was a complete objective view of the person standing before me and realizing that, I have made a horrible mistake. “I have confused your outside with your inside which would be a conundrum in itself since you are in all actuality hollow so if your outside were actually your inside, well that make you… nothing.”
And sometimes it does. As I happily trudge through the jungle of life with my Fox learnings I have definitely come to appreciate the beauty of the Leopards but am wise enough to know that those pretty spots have nothing to do with their heart or their spirit. And for me it makes those spots, a little moldier, a little stale. I come upon those lowly bloggers who unload piles of cynicism, derision and misinformation and I know the viewing public is simply fascinated by those beefy arms and pectoral muscles bursting out of their chest clamoring for air and attention because their audience is growing. But I know where that beauty bubble ends. I know that if those same intentions where expressed by someone who looked like Shemp Howard they would have been barbequed at the stake by now. I know that they are a crazy ass motherfucker. I know that they are nothing. What I don’t know, is when the rest of the forest is going to stop catering to those Leopards. What I don’t know is if those spots will ever go any deeper than the fur.