There he was, staring at me with those dead, stuffed-animal eyes from the cover of every magazine at the supermarket that didn't have a pretty, undernourished girl on the cover, from every channel on TV that wasn't busy trying to show me reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond, from bus benches and newspaper pages, from the mountains to the prairies to the oceans white with foam: Ashton freaking Kutcher. Oh, how I loathe him. Now, there's nothing odd in and of itself about disliking the star of such fare as That '70s Show and Dude, Where's My Car? Such persons are to be despised as a matter of course, and to do otherwise is no doubt evidence of some potentially dangerous psychological disorder. But my feelings for Kutcher were not simply the reflexive distaste typically earned by his ilk; no, mine was an actual hate, seeing his detestably pretty face made my fists clench and my spleen twist up like a balloon animal. But why? Why does Kutcher inspire my loathing where most of his Hollywood, himbo compatriots inspire a vague disdain at most?
Certainly, the fact that he is younger, better-looking and wealthier than I shall ever be does play a part; it's no fun to see the ladies swooning over a guy whose talent and intelligence could by all evidence fit in an aspirin bottle without taking out the aspirin (or the cotton). But it's not like the sight of Freddie Prinze Jr. makes me double over with barely suppressed rage. Besides, while I wouldn't weep if Ashton's face suffered an untimely run-in with a belt sander, in some ways, it's kind of nice to see the ladies—and our Savage Love advice columnist—swooning over a guy who is obviously and inarguably not ugly; after watching women go ga-ga for Russell Crowe, Benicio Del Toro, Vin Diesel and other surly guys who look like they're made of mashed potatoes, it's reassuring to know America's women are not, in fact, suffering from an epidemic of early-onset glaucoma. I respect women less for thinking a lunk like Kutcher is hot, but I suppose I can't begrudge them their lust when I'm working on my seventh scrapbook of Jennifer Connelly photos. (I have her covered through Dark City, and my source in Tokyo says he has a lead on a cache of Rocketeer pics.) I wouldn't bother to cross the street to spit on the shoes of most wealthy young stars, yet I'm working on a loogie right now just in case Kutcher crosses my path. And why?
Well, I'm tempted to simply cross my arms and churlishly pronounce that I don't like what he stands for, but it's no simple matter to figure out what Kutcher does stand for. The man is simply a void. It is my custom to watch TV in the tub (I'm practicing in the event that I ever become an eccentric millionaire), and recently, I was midway through a prolonged sitz when The Simpsons ended, and I got stuck with the opening 20 minutes of That '70s Show. Flipping channels would have been a soggy and potentially electrifying ordeal, so I had little option but to sit back and take in the horror of Kutcher in action. My lord. He calls to mind something Family Ties director Gary David Goldberg once said about the casting of Michael J. Fox, back when Fox was just some anonymous Canadian little person: Goldberg said that Fox could take a script page with two laughs and give you five. Kutcher does not give you five; he gives you exactly two, and he wouldn't give you any without the laugh track. As meager as That '70s Show's scripts are (I've recently subjected myself to a few more episodes for the purposes of this article), Kutcher's talent is not up to them. He plays stupid convincingly (assuming he is in fact "playing"), but it's hardly the beguiling stupid of a young Suzanne Somers or even a Keanu Reeves. No, Kutcher's is the true witlessness of some third- or fourth-billed horny dork in a Porky's movie, and yet through some ghastly quirk of fate, he has been elevated to leading-man status. And given the heartbreaking success of Just Married, odds are we're stuck with him.
Sometimes I think I've stumbled into an alternate universe, and at this moment, there is a Greg Stacy in a backward ballcap and a Hard Rock Café T-shirt, wandering around an America where people like Kutcher pump the gas and Steve Buscemi is a national treasure. I hope that other me has a better time in that universe than I've had in this one.