Saturday, January 24, 2009

Column: If the bikini fits ...

On the season eight premiere of “American Idol,” a woman auditioned wearing nothing but a bikini. And I know what you’re thinking: How could it possibly have taken eight seasons for someone to think of auditioning for “American Idol” in nothing but a bikini? Whatever happened to American ingenuity?

It was a tasteful bikini, of course, if your definition of “tasteful” entails having to superimpose an “American Idol” logo over the woman’s rear end to make it acceptable for broadcast on national television. And she got picked to go on to the next round despite trash talking judge Kara DioGuardi, which got Paula Abdul so upset that she started to gesticulate wildly and speak in tongues, just like in seasons 1-7.

Bikini Lady also walked up to host Ryan Seacrest and kissed him full on the lips, leaving him with a bemused look on his face that seemed to say, “I wonder if this type of thing will keep happening when I take over for Larry King?”

But it doesn’t really matter whether she wins the competition, since she’s already gotten the real prize: hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube. Because these days anybody can get on TV — reality show producers have taken to knocking people unconscious, and when they wake up their wives have been swapped and they’re standing on one leg on a pole in Fiji — but you have to be really popular to get thousands of people to watch you on the Internet in an effort to avoid doing actual work. (And we wonder why we’re in a recession.)

But the “American Idol” incident isn’t the only bikini in the news this week. In Australia, reports that a Navy commander is under fire for suggesting that woman sailors could boost recruitment by wearing bikinis. And I know what you’re thinking: Australia has a Navy? Well, it is an island after all, and they have to defend themselves from attack by New Zealand, specifically by Orcs.

In his defense, he was simply responding to the question, “If female sailors all had to be hot and wear bikinis, would that help recruitment?” He responded, “It would certainly get the right demographic,” but apparently the proper answer should have been to whack the interviewer with a boomerang. (That’s legal in Australia — it’s in their constitution, right next to the picture of Nicole Kidman.)

But the message is clear: There is immense power to be found in the bikini. It’s ironic, since when the bikini was invented in 1947, it was considered a second-class alternative for people who couldn’t afford an entire bathing suit. But since then it’s become clear that the only thing more persuasive than women in their underwear is women who might as well be in their underwear, plus, they’re out in public where they might, at any moment, start playing volleyball.

(Incidentally, Madison Avenue realized this when they created the Swedish Bikini Team, which, contrary to popular belief, was made up of actresses and models and was not actually a bikini-clad commando unit. Which I realize may come as bad news, for both beer drinkers and Sweden’s national security.)

These latest examples are surely the sign of a trend — can it be long before Hillary is wearing a bikini to her diplomatic sessions with Vladimir Putin? Or at least sending an emissary in one, like whoever happens to be on the cover of this month’s SELF magazine? Russia would surrender immediately, possibly to the Australian Navy.

Of course, there is a potential problem with this strategy: Namely, what if at some point men stop viewing women as sex objects? Or at least realize that just because a woman is wearing a bikini doesn’t mean she’ll let your hairy body anywhere near her person.

Unless, of course, you happen to be Ryan Seacrest. Sorry, Simon.

Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at To receive At Large by e-mail, write to, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

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