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On TV and in movies, how come old guys are always sleeping with 20-year-olds and never settling down?
—YM, Conyers, Alabama

The B!tch Replies:  The oppressive male-dominated society, dude! The great big thumb that keeps good women down, while the Man sits on his phallic throne of subjugation, dictating an impossibly emaciated and youthful feminine ideal! That and all kinds of other stuff I learned during my sophomore year at Northwestern!

The knee-jerk reaction to this question is sexism, of course: Men still run the entertainment industry. Men need to feed their  fantasies of disrobing pliant young things, even if the guys are old enough to be living in an urn.

In the case of soap operas, says All My Children actress Leven Rambin, 16, "women fans have adored their favorite male characters for generations, and they like to see them keep young through the younger women they date."

In movies, meanwhile, the spreads can be disturbing. Some aren't all that wide: In Ghost Rider, Nic Cage, 43, is paired with a boingy  Eva Mendes, who is, if you believe her slavering publicity squad, his junior by a mere decade and change. And it was a 37-year-old Hugh Jackman who put those teddibly caddish moves on Scarlett Johansson, 22, in last year's Scoop.

Then again, let's not forget Anne Heche was 29 when she filmed Six Days, Seven Nights with a 56-year-old Harrison Ford. And in 1997, Helen Hunt, who was 34, got to play the love interest to Jack Nicholson, 60. I'll pause for a second to let you fight your sudden bout of dry heaves.

See any other patterns in there besides older guys and younger women? How about pricier guys and (with the possible exception of Johansson) cheaper women?

"Sure," says veteran TV producer Don Barnhart, "you could pair these guys with a Julia Roberts or a Sandra Bullock, but then your budget just went up to $100 million."

In other words, a producer can usually afford an expensive male lead or a pricey female but not both. Ergo, when a 60-year-old Tom Hanks agrees to star in your adaptation of The Da Vinci Code, you pair him with a 30-year-old French actress most Americans have never heard of. And you us the spare cash on makeup for the albino assassin.

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