In "North by Northwest" and other movies, Grant--for all his good looks--represented the triumph of the sexual meritocracy--a sex appeal won by experience and savoir-faire, not delts and pecs and other such things that any kid can have. He was not alone in this. Gary Cooper in "High Noon" wins Grace Kelly by strength of character, not muscles. He was about 50, and Kelly was a mere 23.
The phrase "for all his good looks" is doing a lot of work in this paragraph. But that aside, when Cohen says that Grant represented a "sexual meritocracy," he means this in the way that South Carolina planters talked about "their rights." That is "rights" and "merit" for half the world, and invisibility for the rest. There was nothing "meritocratic" about Cary Grant and Grace Kelly for black women, and scarcely anything more for white women.
Even as dude, I find the nostalgia here disconcerting. Cohen writes as though "savoir-faire" can be picked at Macy's and slathered on like so much Drakkar Noir. While I can imagine pumping protein shakes, swearing off pancakes and hitting the gym twice a day, I can't, on my best day, in deepest winter, ever imagine myself as cool as Denzel Washington. And this is as it should be. No one gets its all.
What Cohen is alluding to is not so much a reality where all men have all access, as the dream of nerds who think their weakness should qualify as kindness. What Cohen pines for is that Happy Valley where some lithe blonde goddess awaits every bespectacled dweeb and self-styled "nice guy," around every corner.
Dreams, too, have power--and the power lives, for the Dream of sexual omnipotence for "nice guys" is as potent as ever. Forget Cary Grant, George Clooney, and Denzel Washington. The is an age where Adam Sandler can get it. And wherever a Virginia Madsen falls for a Paul Giamatti, the dream lives on. Wherever a pathetic Jim Carrey can bag a Kate Winslet, the dream lives on. Wherever Seth Rogen conceives with Katherine Heigl, the dream lives on. Where Maria Bello goes for William H. Macy, the dream lives on. And wherever smoking-hot Naturi Naughton and whack-ass Jared Harris tread, hope is alive.
Fear not, Richard Cohen. The world is still your oyster.
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