ByAshley Samour, writer at
Lover of Post, VFX, and the use of parenthesis. Follow me @ashleysamour
Ashley Samour

Self proclaimed "Pop Culture Detective" Jonathan McIntosh is a pop-culture video essayist. On his Patreon and YouTube page he dedicates his time to exploring media trends through a critical lens, with a special emphasis on intersections of politics, sexism and masculinity in entertainment.

Recently, McIntosh coined a new phrase explaining the ideal female character that is extremely intelligent yet strikingly naive. Entering the new (man's) world in which they abruptly find themselves lost and confused, we explore their unsuspicious and gullible nature. They exude child-like wonder, yet are also designed to appeal to the heterosexual man. This is both a disturbing and intriguing notion, especially when exploring why this premise works so well for many beloved sci-fi films such as The Fifth Element (which just celebrated its 20th anniversary). According to McIntosh, "'Profoundly naive, yet unimaginably wise' captures the essence of this trope."

McIntosh explains:

“The crux of the trope is a fixation on male superiority — a fixation with holding power over an innocent girl. But in order to make that socially acceptable, science fiction has employed to put the mind of that girl into a sexualized, adult woman’s body. It's a fantasy based on fear — fear of women who are men's equal in sexual experience and romantic history, and fear of losing the intellectual upper-hand to women."

The opposite situation is also available, however, not as appealing. Men who exhibit the same traits in film, like those in Big, Blast from the Past and Pleasantville are more often used to mock the characteristics of the oblivious male and creates a joke about the lack of self-awareness. McIntosh admits:

“Perhaps that’s because most grown women don’t find the idea of dating an inexperienced adolescent boy all that appealing.”

If the woman does acquire feelings for the man (like in Big), the woman falls in love with the inexperienced male despite his naivety, not because of it. Born Sexy Yesterday romanticizes a severe upper-hand in power between an older, experienced man and a younger, innocent woman. Adding insult to injury, more often than not these characters who are born sexy yesterday showcase a skill or talent that men specifically are known to ultimately respect. Often, they're proficient fighters or dabble in weaponry.

Through the use of science-fiction conventions, they’re brought into the human world already fully formed and matured, yet mentally inferior, thus creating a troubling power dynamic. This premise supports a patriarchal idea about female subservience, purity and innocence; leaving the male avoiding any sense of rejection by mere default. He does not have to try to be a better person or attempt to gain and/or give respect.

Watch Pop Detective's full video below:

"Born Sexy Yesterday" Film/TV Examples:

  • Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid, 1948
  • Born Yesterday, 1950
  • Forbidden Planet, 1956
  • The Time Machine, 1960
  • Planet of the Apes, 1968
  • Star Trek - The Original Series, 1968
  • Sleeper, 1973
  • The Mighty Peking Man, 1977
  • Splash, 1984
  • Sheena, 1984
  • My Stepmother Is An Alien, 1988
  • Demolition Man, 1993
  • Stargate, 1994
  • The Fifth Element, 1997
  • Star Trek: Voyager, 1999
  • The New World, 2005
  • Enchanted, 2007
  • Tron: Legacy, 2010
  • Cloud Atlas, 2012

Jonathan McIntosh explores other slightly disturbing film and pop-culture allegories such as: toxic masculinity, military recruitment and science fiction, and the predatory romance in Harrison Ford movies. You can view these videos and more over at his YouTube channel.


Do you believe in this sci-fi trope?


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