Born Sexy Yesterday

Born Sexy Yesterday

Tron: Legacy, Disney’s neon infused sequel to the 1982 classic, includes a particularly egregious example of a trope that has bothered me for years. QUORRA: “I’m Quorra!” It’s a gendered convention that will be instantly familiar to science fiction fans. The convention shows up over and over again in speculative media, but it didn’t have a name,
so I gave it one. I call it Born Sexy Yesterday. SAM: “She’s an ISO.” The character of Quorra is
an isomorphic algorithm, or ISO. Basically she’s a sentient computer program
in the shape of a woman. KEVIN: “She’s the miracle, man. Everything I ever worked for. A digital frontier to reshape the human condition.” As the last of the ISOs, Quorra is described this way: KEVIN (voiceover): “Profoundly naive, unimaginably wise” If that sounds vaguely like something someone might say about a child, it’s no accident. Because that’s exactly how Tron: Legacy portrays Quorra, QUORRA: “But, between you and me, Jules Verne is my favorite. Do you know Jules Verne?” SAM: “Sure.” QUORRA: “What’s he like?” She has the mind of a naive yet highly skilled child, but in the body of a mature, sexualized woman. She also serves as our hero’s love interest. ‘Profoundly naive yet unimaginably wise’
captures the essence of this trope. ‘Born yesterday’ is the idiom meaning extremely naive, inexperienced, or ignorant. BILLIE: “He thinks I’m too stupid, huh?” PAUL: “No”
BILLIE: “He’s right. I’m stupid and I like it.” PAUL: “You do?”
BILLIE: “Sure! I’m happy! I got everything I want. Two mink coats.
Everything.” As a media trope, ‘Born Sexy Yesterday’ has both a figurative
and, in many cases, a literal meaning. The 1997 Sci-Fi cult classic The Fifth Element is probably the most quintessential example of Born Sexy Yesterday. MACTILBURGH: “I told you … perfect!” Like Quorra, Leeloo is whimsical and naive, but she’s also deliberately framed in a sexualized way. DAVID: “They really make her…”
CORNELIUS: “Perfect. I know.” The female characters that this trope is built around are defined by their innocence of, and inexperience with, worldly things. MADISON: “Pretty!” Especially when it comes to sex, romance, or basic social interaction. STEVEN: “Would you mind if I kissed you?” CELESTE: “Does it hurt?” Through the use of science fiction conventions, they’re brought into the human world
already fully formed; the mind of a child manifest in a mature female body. She may be an android, a computer program, a mermaid, an alien, a magical being, or otherwise raised in an environment isolated from the rest of human society. Many of these female characters
have one very specific thing in common They’re all deliberately written
to be completely unaware of their own sex appeal. This then provides filmmakers with an excuse to include at least one scene in which she disrobes in front of men, and because she’s so naive,
she doesn’t understand the implications of this action. ALTA: “Good morning. Come on in!” JOHN: “Didn’t bring my bathing suit.” ALTA: “What’s a bathing suit?” JOHN: “Oh, murder.” As you might imagine, there’s quite a bit of overlap here with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope GISELLE: “This is a magical room! Where does the water come from?” ROBERT: “Well, the water comes from the pipes.” GISELLE: “Where do the pipes get it?” Although characters who are Born Sexy Yesterday are often highly skilled at something that men will respect. Frequently, that thing is combat. Now so far, we’ve only focused on the female characters associated with this trope, but it isn’t really about them. ALAN: “That doorway spins.” Like most things in Hollywood, Born Sexy Yesterday is written for men, and ultimately it’s a relationship trope. KORBEN: “5’9″, blue eyes, long legs,
great skin… you know, perfect.” So that means we need to talk about the other side of the equation: the male heroes. Typically, he’s a straight, red-blooded man who has, for a variety of reasons, found himself alone or unsatisfied in love. He finds himself disenfranchised,
or otherwise directionless. He either can’t find, or doesn’t want,
a woman from his own world. A woman who might be his equal
in matters of love and sexuality. He does have one thing going for him, though: he knows all about living life as a normal human being. STEVEN: “It’s too bad you don’t eat food. Might find it could be quite pleasurable” CELESTE: “You get pleasure out of food?” STEVEN: “Here.”
CELESTE: “No, thank you.” STEVEN: “If you want my secrets, you’ll eat my sandwich.” Of course so does every other guy on Earth, which should make him unremarkable. STEVEN: “Chew! Chew!” Except to a woman born yesterday. Because she’s presumably never known another man, he would seem like the smartest, most amazing guy in the entire universe. CELESTE: “This is fun! What is it?” STEVEN: “Ham and cheese on rye with mayo.” And here’s where we start to see how the trope is constructed as a male fantasy. It’s precisely her naivety and her innocence that allows her to see something special in him, something that other less innocent, or more experienced women, cannot. MACHINE: “Systems normal. Estimated resuscitation times: 600 seconds. Commencing countdown.” Now, we don’t have time to go into it here, but Born Sexy Yesterday is
absolutely everywhere in Japanese anime. Now, I should note that Born Sexy Yesterday is not a modern trope. In fact, It’s been a fixture of classic Hollywood science fiction films since the beginning of the genre. GEORGE (voiceover): “This was intriguing I wonder just how far women would permit this to go?” JOHN: “It’s nothing really personal, just a kiss.” ALTA: “Why should people want to kiss each other?” JOHN: “It’s an old custom. All of the really high civilizations go in for it.” ALTA: “But it’s so silly.” JOHN: “But it’s good for you, though. It stimulates the whole system. As a matter of fact you can’t be in tip-top health without it.” ALTA: “Really? I didn’t know that.” JOHN: “I’d be only too happy to show you.” ALTA: “Well, thank you very much, Lieutenant.” JOHN: “No trouble at all.” Forbidden planet in 1956 is one example; The Time Machine in 1960 is another. ALEXANDER: “Well, what’s your name?” GIRL: “Weena.”
ALEXANDER: “Weena? How do you spell it?” GIRL: “Spell?” ALEXANDER: “Spell, write. Can’t you write?” Then there’s the character of Nova from the original Planet of The Apes TAYLOR: “Look at that, I taught you to smile.” who is the protagonist’s love interest,
despite not understanding the concept of the language. The trope usually involves white women but Born Sexy Yesterday is an offshoot of a much older media convention, one in which white adventurers discover indigenous women. Although in this case science fiction replaces colonialism as the mechanism driving that narrative. LEELOO: [unintelligible ancient language] LEELOO: “Boom!”
ZORBEN: “Yeah, big bada boom.” LEELOO: “Bada boom!”
ZORBEN: “Big, boom, big bada boom!” Still sometimes it’s a little of both. Born Sexy Yesterday fetishizes the stark power imbalance between a wiser, more experienced man and a naive, inexperienced woman. It’s the ultimate teacher-student dynamic. KIRK: “It’s the custom of my people to help one another when we’re in trouble.” Star Trek is famous for making frequent use of this trope. Perhaps infamous is a better word because the trope shows up in the original series and then in every other series afterwards. ALIEN: “And this, is this also helping?” KIRK: “You could call it that.” ALIEN: “Please help me once again.” DOCTOR: “Let’s start by doing something different with your hair.” Seven of Nine’s relationship with the Doctor on Star Trek: Voyager is a prominent example. Especially as depicted in the episode Someone to Watch Over. DOCTOR: “Try shaking your head a little bit.” SEVEN: “Is this more appropriate?” Fans of that series will remember that the doctors own social naivety is never framed by the show as something sexy. SEVEN: “How should I choose?”
DOCTOR: “I think you’d look very nice in this one.” SEVEN: “I am uncertain how to wear such a garment. Assist me.” DOCTOR: “I’m sure you’ll manage. I’ll go prepare the holiday. Remember, the idea is to have fun tonight. I’ll expect a full report in the morning.” Although Born Sexy Yesterday was a major part of Seven’s character, at least to begin with, she is ultimately made much more than that. And outside of a handful of rather cringe-worthy episodes Seven’s story is largely one of self-realization and self-discovery which manages to transcend the constraints of the trope. To a large degree this is also true of a character like Sonmi 451 from Cloud Atlas. Like Seven, her romantic relationship is downplayed while her character development is made central. SOMNI: “Knowledge is a mirror.
And for the first time in my life, I was allowed to see who I was and who I might become.” Which brings me to this point: The problem with this trope is not necessarily with the female characters themselves; if these were simply stories involving naive, extraterrestrial women who learned about love and humanity, then that wouldn’t be an issue. Likewise, if the male hero was also inexperienced and our two protagonists could discover love and sex together then that would avoid most of the troubling power dynamic issues. JOHN: “What’s going on?” CAMERON: “You need to understand how it works.” JOHN: “What?” CAMERON: “This chip. This body.” So, for example, Cameron from the Sarah Connor Chronicles TV show fits the trope, but her relationship with the young John Connor
is framed as much more of a mutual exploration. Since Born Sexy Yesterday hinges
on a lopsided power dynamic, it’s almost never portrayed the other way around. It’s extremely rare for a more experienced female character to teach a naive man about sex. SKIP: “I think I’d better go home now, Mary Sue.” MARY SUE: “Why?” SKIP: “I think I might be… ill. Something’s happening to me.” MARY SUE: “That’s supposed to happen.” SKIP: “It is?” MARY SUE: “Yeah, trust me.” JENNY: “What, wait, no, no, no! That’s your dessert. You eat that with a fork.” Perhaps that’s because most grown women don’t find the idea of dating an inexperienced adolescent boy all that appealing. JENNY: No, no, but, uh.
You eat that last. Sandwich first, dessert last.” On the rare occasion when the genders are reversed, male ineptitude then becomes the butt of the joke. EVA: “Hi! This is the woman for the baseball card store, remember me?” ADAM: “Oh, yes, hi! Hello, hot diggity dog! Thanks for calling me on the telephone!” She may even end up falling for him, but she falls for him despite his inexperience, not because of it. ZORBEN: “Oh, so sorry, forgot about the autowash.” Born Sexy Yesterday is about an unbalanced relationship, but it’s also very much connected to masculinity. The subtext of the trope is rooted in a deep-seated male insecurity around sex and sexuality. 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 is 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. In Woody Allen’s 1973 comedy Sleeper, the protagonist is frozen and, when he wakes up in the future, he’s suddenly and very conveniently the only man left on Earth who still remembers how to have sex. That same exact thing happens to Stallone’s character in Demolition Man. HUXLEY: “Oh, my! Are all fluid transfer activities like this?” SPARTAN: “Better.”
HUXLEY: “Better?” So born sexy yesterday is a science-fiction trope
that’s designed specifically so male heroes get to automatically be the most extraordinary man in a woman’s life. Again, because they’re basically
the only man to have ever been in her life. As such the trope rests on some troubling patriarchal ideas about female purity and virginity By definition characters Born Sexy Yesterday have no past lovers and no previous sexual experiences. She is framed as pure and innocent,
sexually and romantically, unchanged and uncorrupted
by the attention of other men. The male hero therefore avoids even the possibility of being compared, of being judged, of not measuring up. At the end of the day, this is a male fantasy
about escaping the humiliation of rejection. Since he’s the first and only man in this woman’s life,
he gets to be the best by default. Which means he doesn’t even have to try to be a better partner, a better boyfriend, or a better lover. PEABODY: “That’s what we call a kiss.” Of course the reality is that life experience is a plus and not a minus in relationships. And we need more media to reflect that. We need media where men
enthusiastically embrace women who are their equals. Equals in everything, including in matters of love and sex. So to all you would-be science fiction writers out there. I’ll leave you with this:
innocence is not sexy. Knowledge and experience, on the other hand, now that, that’s extremely sexy. If you’d like to see more videos related to media and manhood, just hop on over to my Patreon page and help fund the Pop Culture Detective Agency.

100 thoughts on “Born Sexy Yesterday

  1. I've been asked hundreds of times about whether or not I think Diana’s origin story in the new Wonder Woman movie fits into the Born Sexy Yesterday trope. Here are my thoughts on that:

  2. Stumbled upon this a week before seeing Alita: Battle Angel. Could not get through the movie. This trope is one of those things where, once you see it, you can never unsee it.

  3. This whole video made me think about how relevant this troupe is also in anime and in the real world (ie— men in relationships with woman new to the country and can barely communicate with one another in the same language fluently)

  4. I subbed after the first video I’d seen from you 15 mins ago. Great decision. I’m really enjoying your content. I look forward to the next. Great analysis on these different thoughts. I love content that challenges me to think outside of what I already think I know. Well done!

  5. This makes me kind of want to see a subversion, you start out with this, then fast forward a year or two, and basically as soon as the woman gets a handle on the world and meets any other men, she ditches the weird, manipulative slob who wooed her for someone who is willing to respect her and help her freely discover the world as an equal.

  6. This tropes can be so disturbing. Your reasoning of why it appeals to so many writers is frankly the most optimistic approach. The much more disturbing possibility is that they're simply pedophiles, trying to get their creepy fetishes past the radar. At the risk of sounding racist, Japan in particular has a problem with pedophilia, and so it's no big surprise that this trope is rampant in anime.

    Anyway, I can't thank you enough for giving (positive) attention to "Star Trek: Voyager," and in particular its best character. I was pleasantly surprised to see this video recognize that Seven's character is largely the exception to most of the unfortunate tropes it trodes near.

    There's an obscure (but delightfully weird) scifi series from the '90s called "Lexx," that features this trope in later seasons. The show's female lead, Zev, is a subversion; though naive about the universe, she clearly knows exactly what she can do with her sex appeal, and uses it to her full advantage. However, in later seasons we meet Bunny, another sexy female character who, unlike Zev, seems completely clueless, to the point of coming off as mentally disabled. Obviously that makes Bunny a pretty uncomfortable character to watch. I was already thinking of doing a video about Bunny v. Zev, but if you beat me to it that's fine by me.

  7. This is how you can get the virgin AND the whore, the innocent AND the wise at the same time.
    It's not even a movie trope, it's already a fairytale trope.

    Some more Movies with the "cute inexperiencedness": Amélie, La La Land, Nell, 13 going on 30, Avatar, Shakespeare in Love, Breakfast at Tiffany's, My Fair Lady, Cabaret, all Marilyn Monroe roles, and to some extend Frances Ha.

  8. Thank you for addressing Enchanted! It's always bothered me so much that the guy falls in love with someone who's basically a child in a woman's body.

  9. " the female characters that this trope is built around are defined by their innocence of, and inexperience with, worldly things. especially when it comes to sex, romance, or basic social interaction."
    that's kinda me tho

  10. 7:38–8:12 Man does old cinema have some uncomfortable moments. The dialogue felt like a man trying to sexually assault a little girl as slyly as possible

  11. A very interesting video. I agree on its points. The patriarchy being asserted in the trope is always the eye roll moment for me. I would love to have media have men who embrace their equals in everything.

  12. There is another weird trope somewhat similar to this one that is very prevalent in Japanese media. I'm talking of course about the adult woman in a child's body. Usually this character is highly intelligent or highly experienced, such as a scientist, magician, or vampire/other supernatural entity. While most depictions (in my experience) of the first two examples are typically innocent and played off as a cute gag, the depictions of, young in appearance, vampires and succubi are often used to justify sexually explicit conduct, dress, and speech. While Japan is no stranger to sexualizing young female characters, they are not generally active participants (Oh no wind blew my skirt, oh no I somehow fell crotch first on nii-sans face), unlike the ancient child characters that often flirt or attempt to seduce the protagonist. As one example, the Fairy Queen in Zelda: Wind waker says she is giving you power because she "likes you" and goes on to say "I must tell you… You are just my type, tee hee hee". Anyways there are many examples, but I think it would make for an interesting video if you haven't already made one about it.

  13. This is brilliant; I love the writing for your narration. It's wonderfully organized and easy to follow. Thank you for creating this video…this is a trope that I hope will soon die out.

  14. Thanks for this 🙂 As a younger child I walked in on the movie Forbidden Planet and as I watched it I became appalled. I think that people don't realize what a powerful impact a lot of tropes have on kids. While someone is growing up it's crucial to teach them good relationship habits.

  15. Despite all of the trope I do like Quorra and Seven, because they have (and in Seven's case realized) the potential to be better, smarter, etc than anyone else in the cast. Had Tron Legacy gotten a sequel or continued in some form Quorra has the potential to be arguably the best living creature on the planet. Maybe that's negated by her being one of a species with that potential, and only elevated by that species being wiped out before the movie

  16. just like WAY TOO MANY things in media, this is literally just to make men feel better about themselves. Pretty much every woman in mainstream films is there just to make men feel better about themselves.

  17. eww thats gross! Weena was a little girl in the time machine story. -_- glad i never saw the movie version. I heard it recited on vinyl.

  18. Have you ever seen supernatural this had me think of jack the nephilim born fully grown but with the exception of inherent evil despite literally being born moments ago despite his god like power is practically helpless as a toddler not understanding clothing or food or shelter its not the same theme but a different type of born yesterday or more not a toxic sexualization but of the fear of inherenting evil or sin its quite disturbing to my self as i believe in moral tabula rosa for all people its an obscure trope but is relevant if you would like to explore it

  19. Nice video.
    You're strange to my eyes because you use the words of the Left in the right way to say something that's actually true!

  20. Nothing says sexy like a man basically taking advantage of a fucking child in a woman's body…

    gettin some strong Fogle vibes from this trope.

  21. I just listened to your video and though I knew this existed; I just never realized how rampant it was.
    The only woman character that I felt crushes this troupe is Ripley in the movie Aliens. She wakes up almost 100 years into the future, but becomes equally (if not more) proficient than the men around her. Even her back and forth with Hicks creates the kind of chemistry you should want between possible love intrests. Yes he teaches her, but not in the in stereotypical: Let me show you how awesome I am.
    It seems natural and genuine — if she can't fight she just a liability.
    Anyway, love the video.

  22. God this trope has always made me actively uncomfortable thank you for putting it a name to it. Helps to put the pieces together about how creepy and manipulative this trope is.

  23. I guess this includes Weird Science, The Fifth Element, Ex Machina, Little Mermaid, Splash, Lady in the Water, Aquaman, etc.

  24. Think about this. If, in one of these born sexy yesterday situations, the hero was portrayed as a villain instead of the typical hero, would people still like it? If it was more obvious that the woman is being taken advantage of would people like it even more because of the now blatantly obvious power imbalance? Or would it be gross? What do you think?

  25. Although I disagree with your conclusion (categorizing the sexy/unsexy is reductionist) but the amount of research you made on this horrible topic is admirable.

  26. you were so much more aware of this than anyone I've ever spoken to. It makes me so sad because this vid made me realize how many people, even most women I know, wouldn't see or accept how horrible this trope is. I can already hear them disputing it and talking about how mad feminism is these days. I can't believe a trope that can almost be said to mirror a pedophilic appeal is still so common and accepted. Like you said in the vid, it isn't as if this trope can't exist, it can obviously be used well as a plot point without being creepy, but that's just so rarely the case.

  27. Born Sexy Yesterday women are the way they are because if she had more knowledge, she'd be able to see that the male character really aint shit, like he really aint all that (and especially in anime, they're honestly the most ordinary and boring guys ever).

  28. I'm new to your videos, so am just now getting to learn these tropes and plots. I was just wondering what trope Pretty Woman falls under?

  29. It amazes me when I try to explain this to men and they're like "Ugh, it's just a movie! Get over it". But when men are portrayed as total idiots or womanizing douches in movies they get annoyed… like "Hmph, NOT ALL MEN!".

  30. YES you referenced Chobits, my problematic fave. I haven't watched/read this in years so I don't know how I'll like it now. But even back then I found the relationship between the leads off, like the male lead acts more like the girl's father than her boyfriend and that's kinda weird.

  31. Really appreciated this analysis. Find this dynamic in movies anything from tiresome to problematic, to just gross. Thanks for giving it a name. Interesting how the Born Sexy Yesterday trope seems to be set up against the Average Joe trope. Average Joe seems as if it can often be the (clumsy?) attempt of the writer/director to make their protagonist more relate-able to the presumed target audience of average dudes. But within this romantic pairing dynamic (several good examples used from Fifth Element to Splash), it doesn't seem so benign. Why should guys be so obsessed romantically or sexually with inexperienced, infantalized women? And when they are, why should they get a pass, whether on screen or in real life? Do any other dudes out there have male friends who talk or think or act like this in real life? There is a good chance that your buddy has developed this attitude in part because he believes that it is how all men think, and that is only enforced when his own buddies never confront or contradict him. Many men do indeed prefer a partner with a similar amount of experience, and there's no reason for men to be insecure around women who are smarter: Michelle and Barack, for example. And what about more subversive films like David Cronenberg's Videodrome and eXistenZ, as stories about a man who is attracted to a woman who turns out to be smarter and/or more experienced than the audience is first led to believe? Does this trope also make women feel that they should suppress their own sexuality or intelligence in order to get a guy to like them?

  32. You've sort of analyzed this so fucking well…..changes the way I look at these films. Fact is though that this trope is always going to be popping up. Thanks for this!

  33. There’s currently a convo on Twitter comparing Alita Battle Angel to Captain Marvel, and how prolific hyper-criticism of the latter on YouTube and throughout geek culture compares to the praise heaped on the former by the same people. I think this trope is intrinsic to that debate. Your thoughts?

  34. goddd the fifth element is one of my favorite movies but the fact that it features this trope so strongly is always such a downer

  35. This was a great video. I only have one complaint, and I'm sure its already been mentioned, but you know, white male, TL;DR. Rocky Horror Picture Show! lol

  36. I like the inclusion of Outlaw Star in this video, since that also includes the mentioned rare trope of an experienced woman teaching a male character in the ways of love.

  37. Ha, when I watched Planet of the Apes as a little boy I thought our protagonist is a bad man( I saw it as a child, some scenes were extremely terrifying for me of course, I have never seen the scene when he runs into his taxidermied ex-crewmates, I closed my eyes). I remember I disliked that his companion can't speak, or that she is childish. I felt like he is treating her as a dog, and he is taking advantage of her primitive brain. I thought the monkeys are right to assume mankind is vile and pitiful. I felt this is some kind of contrast. But I also felt discomfort because she was depicted as gorgeous, but acted as an animal. I haven't seen Planet of the Apes since ages, and when you showed the footage from the film, it immediately clicked: as an adult I only see the trope you are mentioning. I can only see this obsolete cinematic view, and false representation. As a child I assumed more where there is nothing.

  38. I was trying to figure out a subversion of this trope and I could only think of was the Deep Space 9 season 7 Chrysalis. Thanks for the great content.

  39. These movies also perpetuate the idea that once a girl is no longer a virgin, she is unpure and tarnished and longer worthy of the man who took her virginity, so he dumps her.

  40. Tron Legacy avoids this trope slightly because Quorra and Sam do not get together. But Quorra is definitely an example of that kind of character.

  41. The Time Machine (1960) is an excellent choice for explaining this trope, especially because in the book Weena looks like a young child, so her actions and naivety match her physical form, and the Time Traveller essentially views her as such, but also as a sort of pet he doesn't quite understand. They took all that into the film, but made her a beautiful young woman so the fantasy factor can come into play, and…it's just all quite disturbing in general…

  42. This actually helps explain the gross feeling I get when something similar occurs in fantasy (the likes of Bruce Campbell vs. The Army of Darkness or the various incarnations of Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court). Future Man gets hot, medieval babe and learns you don't have to be the best if you're the only.

  43. This trope just, yet again, appeals to the fantasy of men being superior to women and knowing more them in almost everything

  44. Am I the only one who found the scene in the forbidden planet very very creepy, with the man manipulating the woman into kissing him? I mean, he basically made her kiss him by making her think it was healthy, and not telling her that it was a form of romantic intercourse.

  45. I realized a lot of times when I see this trope occurring I think that the man will become a father figure! But right when I see the way he reacts to the woman I’m like “ahhh geez.”

  46. I am surprised that you didn't go back to Pygmalion creating his own idealised woman.
    The fact that for most of history, men have tended to be the older and more powerful partner in a relationship has a lot to do with the prevalence of this trope.
    Now that women are producing and directing a lot more movies than in the past, it will be interesting to see how the tropes change.

  47. I sometimes wonder if our media derives from prehistoric attitudes or vice versa. Don’t forget Pocahontas for kids too :///

  48. Just watched Ex Machina for the first time, and I was pleasantly surprised by how it utilises and then subverts this trope. …and popped onto this video immediately after because I couldn't remember whether you brought it up or not!

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