The 'Hot Convict' & Fetishizing 'Exotic' Men

Cristen Conger

Jeremy Meeks

Last week, the Stockton, Calif. police department's Facebook page has its best week ever thanks to a now-viral mugshot belonging to Jeremy Meeks, better known to the public as the Hot Convict, Hot Felon, Hot Mugshot Guy, and various other Hot Criminal iterations. And I'll be honest: when I saw Meeks' now-viral photo, I got the hubbub. His face looks runway-ready. The mugshot, in fact, has incited such a fluster he has a Facebook fan page with 194,383 likes and counting.

Nonetheless, something didn't sit well with me as I saw headline after salivating headline in my Twitter feed. Actually, make that a few somethings, including:

  • The undeniably problematic Internet meme-ification of a person entangled in the undeniably problematic criminal justice system for the public's social media delight complete with a trending Twitter #feloncrushfriday (just, ick.). As Caitlin Dewey at the Washington Post summed up aptly: "What's so disgusting? It's not that women find Meeks attractive, which is, as many a Facebook defender has commented, really beyond either parties' control. (Although the gender of the lusters/lustee is probably worth noting - no one made this kind of outcry over "Attractive Convict" Meagan Simmons in 2013.) People are disgusted by the casual, thoughtless flattening of Meeks's story, the divorce of the photo from its relevant context, the rote dehumanization of the shift from man to meme."
  • And speaking of the undeniably problematic criminal justice system, The Coquette at Nerve makes a good point (with some salty language, FYI) about the knee-jerk labeling of him as a Hot Convict/Criminal/Felon, etc: "What's even worse is that since he is already a convicted felon, we find it that much easier to ignore his presumption of innocence and manipulate his image for our mere amusement."
  • Oh, and the WTF men's rights activist-y responses about how this is proof-positive that women (as we are a monolith, you know) only like bad boys.

But the most bothersome bee in my bonnet was one I haven't seen discussed yet. To me, the Meeksmania echoes similar refrains Caroline and I discussed in our recent Stuff Mom Never Told You episode "Exotic Beauty" all about the fetishization of non-white beauty. In it, we focused largely on Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong'o repeatedly being referred to -- and fawned over -- as an "exotic" beauty and how it taps into broader racial microaggressions and othering of women of color in particular. And although Meeks' is a guy and his most common descriptor is "hot," there seems to be a related kind of exoticizing happening.

Women (including many white women and women of color alike, granted) deluging the Facebook post of his mugshot with comments about how they'd like to get locked up with that bad boy reminded me of ad described in a post over at Black Girl Dangerous depicting a white woman in bed with a black man (whose back is to the camera for an added dehumanizing touch) with wretched tagline, "Take a walk on the wild side." As blogger Aaminah Khan goes on to explain, "Black men are hulking, threatening, thuggish; white men are charming, sexy heartthrobs with hearts of gold." And here is brown-skinned, blue-eyed Jeremy Meeks, riding that fetishized line between the hulking and the hot.

The fetishization of black men in advertising.
Courtesy: Racialicious

And though Jeremy Meeks and Lupita Nyong'o's worlds couldn't be farther apart in many ways, the borderline ecstatic reaction to Meeks also brought to mind a conversation over at Buzzfeed regarding Hollywood's response to Nyongo's much-deserved Oscar win. In it, Eugene Lee Yang wondered, "Is her beauty worshiped because she's black, or because she's somehow transcended our superficial idea of what black is?" A similar question could be posed about Meeks. Just because he isn't walking red carpets and his fame likely will fizzle out almost as quickly as it sparked, it doesn't make the gratuitous, almost ravenous, fetishization of the so-called Hot Convict any less racist and indicative of a culture that blindly commodifies non-white beauty so long as it doesn't remind us too closely threatening, hulking "superficial idea of what black is."

No wonder Meeks' wife and mother to their son isn't delighted that the world finds her husband so extraordinarily tantalizing. "She's furious," a friend of hers told US magazine. "Her man is in there and people are taking it as a joke, thinking it's funny talking about his looks, saying all kinds of crazy things."

Crazy, indeed.

Related Stuff Mom Never Told You: Exotic Beauty