On social media, many Americans confessed to unexpected feelings of lust as they watched Comey declare in his opening remarks that the administration’s defamatory statements about the FBI were “lies”; that the organization is “honest” and “independent” of partisanship, and that it was the “honor of my life to be part of the FBI family.”
And as he went on to answer questions from committee members--confidently and candidly, with intermittent flashes of humor--shy murmurings about his unlikely sex appeal on Twitter evolved into brazen chatter. By the end of his public testimony, James Comey was not just hot; he was eminently fuckable.
There was also something raw and appealing about his ability to be vulnerable without losing his composure.
“Maybe if I were stronger, I would have,” Comey replied when Senator Dianne Feinstein pressed him as to why someone as “big” and “strong” as him (he is 6’8”, after all) didn’t stand up to President Trump when he asked that he drop the Russia investigation.
“I remember saying, ‘I agree he is a good guy,’ as a way of saying, I’m not agreeing with what you asked me to do,” Comey continued. “Again, maybe other people would be stronger in that circumstance.”
He was resolute, too, but not without a sense of humor (“Lordy, I hope there are tapes”). And it was hard not to be charmed by his admission that he wished he hadn’t broken a date with his wife to have a dinner date with Trump (“In retrospect, I love spending time with my wife and wish I would have been there that night,” he said with a smile).
And so the 56-year-old, fired FBI director became a very unlikely sex symbol. Sure, he has a somewhat peaked complexion and under-eye bags that look like half-inflated tubular balloons. But he's handsome, and as with all sex symbols--both the unlikely ones and the obvious ones--he embodies certain qualities in society that we all lust after: integrity, emotional complexity, and quiet but certain confidence.
That combined with his imposing physical stature gives him the same alluring masculinity as sex symbols like Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice (particularly Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice).
In Italy on Friday, my Daily Beast colleague Barbie Latza Nadeau reports that there was "a ten-minute segment on Italian prime time TV about whether Comey would be a good lover because of the “length of his digits.”
Power and status are often crucial qualities in the making of a male sex symbol, from Darcy to John F. Kennedy. Marilyn Monroe, herself a sex symbol, was presumably attracted to Kennedy’s good looks and charm as much as she was to his power as president--and a wildly popular one at that.
Indeed, there’s a long tradition of left-wing politicians being sexually fetishized by fellow liberals-- and not just the conventionally attractive ones like Justin Trudeau. Former French president François Hollande, a stout, balding man with squinty eyes, somehow managed to seduce uncommonly beautiful women like Valérie Trierweiler and Julie Gayet.
While Barack Obama was objectively handsome, the women and men who lusted after him did so because of his poise and perceived intrinsic morality, as well as how good he looked in a pair of swimming shorts or a suit. Michelle Obama understood it perfectly: asked how she felt about her husband’s sex-symbol status in 2013, she replied, “He’s a stylish man who is healthy and he’s smart and he’s passionate and he’s inspiring. And who wouldn’t fall in love with that, you know?”
Who indeed. Sex symbols in history--most famously, Casanova and Mata Hari--haven't always combined sexual allure and moral upstandingness, and that has been part of their dangerous allure. Sometimes--Marilyn Monroe and Brad Pitt--they can just be playful repositories of collective lust. They can have decency and hotness on their side, both at once--George Clooney--and today they can own and market their sex-symbol status, like Emily Ratajkowski.
And then there are the unlikely sex symbols like Comey, who may not be standard-issue good-looking, but whose charisma and acclaimed public behavior makes you look at him afresh.
After all, Comey most definitely wasn't seen as a sex symbol when he helped torpedo Hillary Clinton's election chances just a few days before the election. The public winds of approval--the perception of heroism or doing good or speaking truth to power--must be blowing in the right direction for a moment to erupt as it did on Thursday, when suddenly all the feels were for Comey.
In both his written testimony and his public remarks in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, Comey stressed that he was not swayed by partisanship.
At this particular moment in time, when the political divide in our country is growing rather than shrinking, it’s easy to understand why people would be so quick to project their desires—even for just one starring day—on to Comey.
Seeing him in a position of power, with the future of our imperiled democracy depending in part on his testimony, was enough for many of those watching his testimony to crown him a sex symbol. It may not last long, but as with many things that are unexpected this moment of collective Comey-lust is one to savor.