Tag Archives: Agent Carter

Smokin’ Hot vs. Beautiful: What’s the Difference?

You might think these terms are interchangeable, or that they mean the same thing, but listen to the nuances:

  1. That girl is beautiful.
  2. That girl is smokin’ hot.

Do you see it now?

In western English, predominantly in the states, the second sentence above indicates a more attractive girl than the first sentence describes. In fact, the second sentence would usually be ended with an exclamation mark to emphasize the level of attractiveness, but I didn’t want to sway your judgment.

Beauty is based on a purely subjective scale – let’s not kid ourselves. With this example of two words that seem synonymous, yet have subtle differences, how does the ranking on that subjective scale work? More importantly, what are the effects of that ranking?

Splitting Hairs and Defining the Difference

We possess an endless stream of adjectives that describe the concept of beauty. Check out these examples:

  • Beautiful
  • Pretty
  • Attractive
  • Handsome
  • Lovely
  • Hot
  • Gorgeous
  • Charming
  • Stunning
  • Ravishing
  • Smokin’ hot

Grammatically, these words act as synonyms to one another, but given the rules of society, we attribute different levels of beauty or attractiveness to each of these terms. Sticking with just the two terms in the title of this post, what are the differences between smokin’ hot and beautiful?

Believe it or not, it comes down to general beauty versus specific beauty.

The term beautiful, along with several other of the above adjective examples, represents a general description of attractiveness. It lacks specificity. Thus, a wider range of items or individuals can be assigned to the term beautiful, because they meet the most general requirements of attractiveness.

For contrast, smokin hot wolf reactionlet’s look at the term smokin’ hot. The adjective, “hot” is being modified by the adverb, “smokin’.” In simple terms, it implies that a person’s attractiveness level is beyond just hot, and has reached such levels of beauty that it must be emphasized with an additional word.
The specificity of smokin’ hot is not used to describe just anyone. Unlike the general terms beautiful, pretty, or attractive, to be considered smokin’ hot requires that someone exceed the typical social construct of beauty. More often than not, this term is based solely on superficial appearances, and lends itself to completely objectify the female, male, or other subject in question.

Unintended Results of the Attractiveness Scale

I don’t want to talk about the psychological damages of not being considered beautiful, or the fact that the social construct of beauty often represents an unattainable standard.

What I want to talk about here pertains to the experiences of attractive women.

I myself know that I am beautiful. I do not say this to brag or to fish for compliments. I know where I am on the scale, I know how far I am from the American social construct of smokin’ hot, and I’m comfortable with that.

In my life, I have been fortunate enough to know several women who certainly rank within the smokin’ hot category. A few of them were even my fellow classmates during my undergrad and graduate studies. As I was thinking about writing this blog, I looked back at the shared experiences I had with these women, and I noticed some disturbing factors.

With one of the women I knew, I remember admiring her beauty from afar, because she was/is amazingly gorgeous, but I also remember she almost always sat against the wall or in the back, and she didn’t contribute much in class during our undergraduate studies. In fact, it wasn’t until graduate studies that I realized her level of brilliance. One of my professors had us make posts on an online messaging platform, and we had to reply to several of our classmates. As it was a small class, you got to see everyone’s internal thoughts rather quickly. Her interpretation of Renaissance literature blew my mind away! I had NO idea she had this level of skill or intelligence, because I got stuck on the gorgeous façade of her body.

From then on I made an effort to try and engage her to talk in class. I noticed others do the same. Granted, we were in a smaller class, and many of us had known each other for years within the major, and perhaps that made her feel more comfortable as well. When I started hanging out with her and some of the other grad students socially, she talked about her life and her experiences.

bitch facePeople hit on her constantly since she was a teenager, seeing her for nothing more than a trophy or a conquest. She tried dismissing them politely at first, but they didn’t stop, and often made her feel unsafe. She had to develop what she called the “bitch face” as a way to tell people to back off! Most of her life she had been seen but not heard, because her level of attractiveness was so high that people never expected anything out of her. She could have taken the easy road and let people do things for her, buy things for her, but that’s not who she was. Yes, physically she was and remains breathtakingly attractive, but she refuses to let her brilliant mind stay idle.
I had two other grad students in my class in similar situations. Both phenomenally gorgeous, and both also had to create facades that pushed people away. The bitch face defense seems a common tool among smokin’ hot women who are also blessed with brains.

As I thought about my female friends and how they dealt with this stigma of beauty, I thought about myself and what I have done.

Yes, I’m beautiful, but I never felt like people expected me to just sit there, say nothing, and be pretty. My level of beauty has always been pleasing enough that people enjoy my presence, but part of that enjoyment exchange has given me the access to be outspoken, to say my ideas without fear, and to have lengthy discussions with all manner of individuals. I’m sure that I get objectified for my level of attractiveness, but because I never had to contend with such dismissive behavior from onlookers, as my smokin’ hot friends have had to do, I learned early on how to assert my dominance in a conversation. My degree of beauty may have opened the door to these conversations, but I have always felt that people continued listening to me more for my mind than for my looks.

Brilliant Minds in Beautiful Bodies

agent-carter-9999Going beyond myself and my own experiences, I see similar examples in television today. The show Agent Carter,  for example, has the lead female character as both beautiful and brilliant. Physically, the actress playing Peggy Carter, Hayley Atwell, is quite good-looking, but she is not considered by societal standards to be smokin’ hot.

I think this was a deliberate choice by the writers and directors.

By choosing a beautiful but not smokin’ hot actress to play Carter, it confirms the fact that if a woman is too beautiful she will NOT be listened to. Instead, she would be treated like how everyone treated the characters played by Marilyn Monroe, for instance – they patted the hot bombshell on the head and let her giggle her way through everything. They expected nothing more of her than for her beauty to please them.

In this season of Agent Carter – and by the way ***SPOILER ALERT*** – the show goes one step further to underscore this aspect of the attractiveness scale.

Peggy’s main adversary right now, Whitney Frost (Wynn Everett), is a woman with such genius level intelligence that her brilliance is off the charts, as described in the show. Frost’s back story shows that she possessed a technological aptitude from a young age, but it also shows her having one of the great flaws of true genius, which is a lack of social skills. Frost’s mother, a single woman who has nothing except her looks to get her through life, consistently chastises her daughter for not being nice to the man who is taking care of them, a man who treats Frost’s mother as a kept woman/prostitute. As Frost grows up, her mother’s relationship with this man deteriorates, and when he finally leaves, Frost’s mother blames her daughter in part for not being nicer to him. The mother then takes the teenage Frost into the bathroom to show her her reflection and to tell her that no one in life will ever take her seriously for her brains, because she’s a woman.

(Remember, this is supposed to be early 1920s/1930s mentality).

From this impressionable age, Frost learns that she has to hide not only her intelligence, but her animosity towards those who see her only for her beauty. Instead of developing the bitch face, though, as 21st century women do, Frost does the exact opposite. She creates something akin to what I call the helpless doll face as a way to play on the desires of her onlookers, only to use those desires against them.

Frost uses people by letting them believe they are using her. She uses that leverage to get in a position of power. Frost becomes a famous movie actress married to a wealthy scientist/businessman. Through her power over her pushover husband, she can use her helpless doll face to manipulate him into practically anything, allowing her to assert her brilliance from the sidelines as she gets her husband’s company to lead their research down the scientific avenues of her choosing.


Of course, as she gets inflicted with zero matter, and becomes more physically powerful, she no longer needs her husband, and gets rid of him after he betrays her. Yet even with this immense power she now wields, the secret society of men she aligns herself with still mostly refuse to see her brilliance. All they can see is how the zero matter has scarred her once stunning face. To be honest, she still looks amazingly beautiful, even with the weird zero matter lines on her face, but the men’s reactions of absolute disgust to her visage further underscore the concept and trappings of the smokin’ hot label. These men have attributed everything she has, her worth, to her high level of beauty. In their eyes, without that beauty she loses everything, hence their reactions. They cannot see her as anything other than an object of beauty, despite her brilliance.

Due to the era and the social constructs, Frost chose to go with the whims of society and used their label of smokin’ hot against them. Manipulating people and navigating through the system allowed her to move far, even while being forced to the sidelines. In playing the game within a society that does not possess the same level of female mobility, compared to modern day society, though, Frost seals her own fate. By allowing society to label her as smokin’ hot, she will remain in the objectfied position, either as something wondrous for them to look at, or as a monster for them to try and control.


Sleeper Agents: Truth, Lies, & Tropes

BRIDGET REGANIf you’ve been watching ABC’s Marvel’s Agent Carter, you have no doubt seen this character in the last few episodes. Dottie Underwood appeared in the show as just another girl from the Midwest coming to the big city. At first it seemed that her character would be nothing more than a fellow tenant at The Griffith, a women-only apartment complex that does not allow men above the first floor. It became pretty clear, however, that Dottie Underwood was not who she seemed.

As a hitman comes to take revenge on Carter, Dottie comes out of her room, which happens to be adjacent to Carter’s room. She sees that the strange man has a gun, so she does the following:

That’s right! That sweet persona is nothing but a cover! Dottie Underwood is a Russian sleeper agent.

Sleeper Agents in Fiction

Ever since the Red Scare of the Cold War, the idea of a Russian sleeper agent has been the go-to trope for bad guys. As Maki points out in his article, “Jason Bou(Rn)e He Aint,”  the sleeper agent makes such a good archetype for a villain, because it capitalizes on our fears of betrayal. In a society where people deal with so many strangers throughout the day, the idea that those people we hold closest to us could be deceiving us frightens us to the core. That’s what makes for such great plot twists and drama. You never expect that the sweet and boring people around you could also be highly-trained secret agent assassins.

Dottie Underwood is definitely not the first, nor will she be the last, sleeper agent for Marvel. Black Widow also has a past as a deep cover Russian agent. Depending on which origin story you read, though, her character goes back and forth between being a sleeper agent, double agent, and so forth. In the recent version of Black Widow on The Avengers and connecting movies, where Black Widow is played by the vivacious and talented Scarlet Johansson, the character acts like a mercenary, but she does seem to have loyalty to Fury, Hawkeye, and Captain America.

Outside of the world of comics, other movies and television shows have taken advantage of the sleeper agent trope. In the FX show The Americans, which is set in the 1980s, two Russian spies live under false identities within the suburbs of Washington D.C. in order to infiltrate the American government. In 2010, Philip Noyce directed the film Salt, which included the actress Angelina Jolie portraying a Russian sleeper agent.


Truth and Lies about Sleeper Agents

Some people wonder that if the sleeper agent trope is used in fiction, do sleeper agents actually exist?

Yes – but the reality of sleeper agents is nowhere near as interesting as the fictitious stories.

As recently as 2010, a network of Russian spies was uncovered operating in the United States. Anna Chapman, noted as the “Russian Spy Babe” by the media at the time, was one of the spies in this network. If you want to know the back story of all the spies in the network, check out Wired’s article, “Who’s who in the Russian spy ring.”

So what exactly did these scary Russian spies do? Did they find major secrets? Assassinate heads of state?

Like I said, nothing that interesting.

Most of them came to the states and lived here for 10 years before they were caught. A major part of being a sleeper agent is maintaining one’s cover, which means living a regular life so no one suspects you of doing anything else. As they developed their regular lives, part of their mission, as far as the FBI could figure out, was to network with Americans who had power or influence over policy-making individuals or entities. In other words, these deep cover agents were setting themselves up to be connected to people who could make things happen. Whether they could have manipulated these people, or if they did, is not entirely clear.

Two of these spies within this network did allegedly try to recruit their son, but not in the way that Carter’s Dottie Underwood was recruited. No – the Russian spies did not send their son off to some creepy camp for kids to be brainwashed and trained to kill their bunk-mates. Instead of that extreme measure, the parents relied on good old-fashioned propaganda. These parents pushed the idea of patriotism to mother Russia onto their impressionable son, and he believed the propaganda wholeheartedly, and supposedly agreed to become a sleeper agent.

Propaganda and patriotism tend to work very well for recruiting young people. After all, these youngsters are in the midst of trying to prove themselves and develop their identities. It’s one of the reasons that military forces in most developed countries tend to recruit high school students.

Young adults in the age group of 14-18 are highly impressionable, they want to feel like they belong, and they want to make a difference. Propaganda stories about nobility, honor, duty, etc., are just what these teens want to hear, and they will dedicate themselves wholeheartedly to “the cause.”

The people caught in the Russian network of spies were one type of sleeper agent. They can also be identified as deep cover agents. In the world of espionage, Dr. John Prados, an intelligence historian and a senior fellow at the National Security Archive in D.C., reveals that deep cover agents who are in fact sleeper agents stay inactive for years as they develop and maintain their cover identities. They might be passively putting themselves into better positions as they develop their cover IDs, but the main goal of a deep cover agent is to infiltrate, and you can only do so if no one suspects you of being a spy.

In an interview conducted by Gwynne Watkins about the FX show The Americans, Watkins asks Dr. Prados to explain whether he would categorize the show’s main characters as deep cover sleeper agents. Dr. Prados argues that the main characters were at one point sleeper agents establishing their cover IDs, but in the show they have been activated, since they are engaging in active intelligence gathering.

The other common type of sleeper agent, and a major trope as well, is the concept of the brainwashed victim being turned into a secret agent. In The Manchurian Candidate, for example, the main character is brainwashed into following instructions upon being given some sort of code word that puts the main character in an altered state of mind. Although the methods used to brainwash the main character were hyped up for the speed of the plot and for the sake of fiction, the idea of conditioning a person into becoming a spy may not be so unheard-of after all.

contrlcjpbAnnalee Newitz reported in her article, “The story of the real-life Salt, a supermodel brainwashed into becoming a CIA spy,” about how during the 1940s the CIA used hypnotism and experimental medication on Candy Jones, a supermodel and writer, to force her into developing a split personality. When given the right activation code, (i.e., hypnotic suggestion), Jones’s conditioned alternate personality, Arlene, would take over and do whatever tasks needed to be done. Newitz points out that all the information in her article, including some of the depictions of the depraved extremes that Arlene’s handler pushed her into doing, have yet to be confirmed by any government agency, and that all of these claims are based on the reports by Jones herself. According to this article, which gives far more details about Jones’s life and her involvement with the CIA, most of the information recovered about her past and her forced split personality was discovered through regressive hypnosis treatments performed on her by her husband.

The Reality of Sleeper Agents

Yes, sleeper agents have been proven to exist. From a completely strategic point of view, it’s a lot easier to get information and to influence other countries with counter intelligence if you have undercover agents put in place to infiltrate different groups from within. But the entire aspect of building cover identities and maintaining those identities is anything but glamorous. As Dr. Prados points out,

“Let’s just say [that nearly everything that happens in most spy shows is] contrived. In general, spying is boring.”

Deep cover agents spend so much time trying “to remain anonymous,” per Dr. Prados, that unless they are activated, these sleeper agents are simply not out there beating people up or killing anyone, because it would risk their cover.

Then why do we see sleeper agents like Dottie Underwood ninja-bouncing off the walls and breaking people’s necks? Because it looks awesome! Sure, you could argue that if her cover ID was designed to get her close to Carter, then taking out anyone who would kill Carter would be a reasonable risk.

That string of logic aside, though, you have to remember that at the end of the day, Dottie Underwood is a work of fiction. Her story is meant to excite viewers and to create further tension between the main characters. The bulk of her undercover life, like her going to Brooklyn or her waiting around at The Griffith, is never really showed much onscreen, because the life of an undercover sleeper agent is, for the most part, as humdrum as any other persons’ life.