Wednesday’s front-page New York Post story about Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s son Hunter and his business pursuits in Ukraine presented many liberal-leaning readers who encountered it with a conundrum. The Post claimed it had a smoking gun in the form of emails that proved dirty dealings, which had been recovered from the hard drive of a computer that was never picked up from a Delaware repair shop. But other journalists, pundits, and even big-tech companies were swift to question the reporting’s legitimacy and the ethics behind it, dismissing the article as a transparent ploy to smear Joe Biden’s candidacy in the weeks leading up to the election.
In an ideal world, perhaps that would have been that. Any reasonable, media-literate Democrat would know that the right response to the article would be to ignore it and deprive it of the oxygen it would need to spread, lest it turn into another “but her emails” fiasco. But. Well. The thing is … in addition to all the supposedly-but-not-actually damning emails, the hard drive also contained some photos and at least one video that even the most principled voters would have trouble ignoring.
The Post article described “a raunchy, 12-minute video that appears to show Hunter, who’s admitted struggling with addiction problems, smoking crack while engaged in a sex act with an unidentified woman, as well as numerous other sexually explicit images.” The article didn’t include the whole video, but it did provide what looked like a screenshot of Hunter with a crack pipe in his mouth, as well as several other images that certainly didn’t burnish Hunter’s reputation. In one, he’s sitting in a tub, shirtless, cig in mouth, rough night written on his face, a lone Aveeno bottle in the background serving as a symbol of life’s inescapable mundanity. You know the vibe.
So obviously, no one wanted to give credence to this article, which was transparently ridiculous, and the Post was definitely scare-mongering and addict-blaming by focusing on Hunter’s drug use, plus some slut-shaming thrown in for good measure. We all knew this. But we also didn’t want to deny ourselves the pleasure of simultaneously judging, laughing at, and identifying with those juicy photos. And that brings us to the regrettable but necessary question at hand: Is Hunter Biden hot?
See, from the looks of Twitter, one way that liberals squared their guilt for consuming the photos was by declaring that all they proved was that Hunter could, in a manner of speaking, get it. You can see their point. In one of the photos, he stares straight ahead with the kind of Top Gun intensity that’s hard to achieve when one is wearing a jean jacket over a bare chest. That chest, and the stomach below it, appears tanned and surprisingly taut for a man his age. Each detail that might read as cheesy on someone else only augments the swagger: the shades, the stubble, the chain, the popped collar. The machismo is positively Federline-esque.
Often our reaction to particular celebrity photos plays into an existing narrative: Ben Affleck as a metaphor for the fall of man. Chris Pine’s eternal bae status confirmed by his mask compliance and support of independent bookstores. So with Hunter, in the yikes column we’ve got potentially gross business associations, addiction issues, his recent romantic escapades, and that he is a literal son of privilege. But in the sympathy column we’ve got his father’s recent defense of him against Trump’s needlessly personal attacks at the presidential debate a few weeks ago, the tremendous loss that has always marked his life, and the fact that signs look good for his father winning this thing (knock on wood!).
So it’s not wrong to anoint Hunter hot; I totally see it. But is it worth pointing out that our standards for who we’ll call hot are extremely low and dependent upon preexisting storylines? Remember when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state and wore sunglasses to read her Blackberry that one time and everyone freaked out? Sometimes we really need a win, and right now is one of those times. Being able to respond to the New York Post’s attempt at an October surprise with “Actually, your efforts have backfired, your smoking gun was smoking in a different way, and now Hunter is our hot sleazy king” feels like a big enough win to sustain us for at least a few more weeks.