That’s not fair really. Getting good student evaluations on your teaching is not all a matter of kissing butt. Students also like good looking teachers. The guys especially like good looking women teachers, and the girls like good looking male teachers. I have always considered myself good looking enough. I mean I don’t have two noses or big warts growing out of my forehead or something. On the website, rateyourprofessor.com, I am not considered “hot.” They put a little picture of a chili pepper by your name (indicating if you are hot). But I don’t have a chili pepper so I am not.
Even if I ever had the potential to be hot, I am not sure I ever was even when younger. I didn’t start teaching till I was in my 30s, so that might have put me out of the hotness range. Also I used to sport this big old beard; so unless a person was attracted to shaggy somewhat ill-kempt types, I doubt if I fell into the hot category except maybe with a few alienated, intellectual types with strong nurturing instincts.
Somewhat recently, as I remember, I asked my students what “hot” exactly meant. What actors I wondered were hot. Mostly the women spoke up and they mentioned names of guys I didn’t know. A lot of students watched that show called OC, about Orange County, and I think they thought some of the guys on that show were hot. I don’t know. I asked if De Caprio was hot; yea maybe they said, but he was sort of old hat.
So I asked when you say somebody is hot do you mean they are, if they are a man, handsome. They looked a little befuddled. Then somebody said, hot meant cute, and yeah, yeah, others said in chorus, that was it. OK. Cute. One of my least favorite things. I am not a fan of cute. I get tired of it really quickly. For me cute is sort of the high fructose corn syrup of appearance. It’s a really quick, very, very sweet high and then it goes away fast and isn’t all that good for you.
So what was a handsome man, I asked, or a beautiful woman, or were there such things any more. Or only cute, high fructose corn syrup people? Well, maybe, they said, handsome was still there. But it applied, if at all, mostly to old people. So old people could be handsome but not cute? More or less, they indicated. So who would be a handsome actor, I asked, but they didn’t know any, so I let it drop.
But I wondered what this love of cuteness might say about my students. Were I to attempt a phenomenology of cuteness, it might run something like this. Part of the appeal of cuteness is its very lack of substance, its transience, one might say. De Caprio, formerly cute, is now old hat. Cute is new, and being hot too it cools rather quickly. Part of the appeal of cuteness is its very faddishness, its come and then gone quality. Biologically it’s true too. Cuteness is brief; the face and the body can sustain it for only a very limited amount of time. Over 25 I would argue cuteness is biologically impossible. So at the heart, cute is cute because one doesn’t have to work hard to get it and one doesn’t expect to get much out of it either. It’s a buzz.