by Nathaniel Paull | 5/20/02 5:00am

Complying with popular culture's media demands for carnal indulgence over content, People Magazine recently announced the 50 Most Beautiful People for this year, once again proving that for most people, articles with even allusions to sex really are more interesting than discussions of the major players during international crises.

For the 19th year in a row I wasn't listed. Chagrinned? Yes, but I'll get over it. I don't know who the hell gives them the authority to make that kind of announcement anyways. I've received plenty of solicitations to vote in the last few weeks, and quite a few colorful fliers asking about the status of my soul with respect to God and the Son (the Campus Crusade cares about me, apparently), but not one ballot from any global pageant committee. Not that I want one. That's pretty arrogant if you ask me, completely aside from ignoring countless proverbs: "One man's trash is another man's treasure," and all that.

I'll concede I saw plenty of treasure on the cover of the magazine, although I refused to thumb through it on principle. I saw a lot of trash too, though. Interestingly, it appears beauty is no longer skin deep, but rather has been raised several millimeters off the epidermis with enough toner and blush and mascara and lipstick and highlighter and moisturizer to paint a mural.

Something else struck me as I glanced at the cover. I know Hollywood and modeling industries have a penchant for facial symmetry and anorexia, but I still find it hard to believe that out of the six billion people on Earth, all of the 50 most beautiful happen to show up at the Oscars each year. There must be a few diamonds in the rough who couldn't fake tears well enough to cut it at the annual self-congratulation ceremony.

Although I watch them in snippets (I care about Best Picture and Best Actress/Actor, but I don't need to see Nicole Kidman's assistant makeup artist-in-training cry, thank you), the Oscars truly are ridiculous. All the inflated big-shots show up at their cockiest, each trying to push the edge of the fashion envelope just a little closer to the edge. Someone should set it on fire and beat it back from whence it came.

Come to think of it, I really don't know who's in charge of fashion these days, as anyone who knows me can probably tell you. I do know that those people don't have much feeling left in their extremities, or at least they don't move around much. I like tight denim on the opposite sex as much as the next man, but I can't understand how women can wear it and make it look both sexy and comfortable. Perhaps it is further proof that they are the tougher, if not stronger, sex. Or maybe they're just easier to dupe. I'd sooner wear a poison ivy G-string than spend a day shackled in pants that double as casts.

And what's up with the platform shoes with soles nine inches thick? They aren't helping anyone really look taller -- nobody's fooled. They just make it that much easier to spot shorter people from a distance without a frame of reference.

Designers really are getting out of control, and the Oscars are the pinnacle of this degenerate evolution to the absurd. In a few years no one will bat an eye when Whoopi steps up to the plate with clamshells on her breasts, a marmot over her crotch and some poor peacock's hindquarters epoxied to the small of her back. I don't know when emus were declared sexually desirable, but I think it's time someone drew the line. I don't think I saw one dress at the last Oscars that I thought was really attractive.

Getting back to my impetus, People Magazine is doing nothing to help, although I suppose its constant stream of doctored faces is more a reflection of the populace it feeds than fuel on the fire itself. The common lace of today's pop-culture doily is pretty well summed-up by that one article: it's phony, shallow and artificial. That's what's really asinine -- not that people care about beauty or who is beautiful or looking nice in clothes. That, fundamentally, is biology. But if you are a contender for one of the most beautiful people on Earth today, you're only as good as your agent and your makeup artist. And your costume designer. And your hair-dresser (or is it stylist?). That, and your ability to fake tears.

And that's just sad.