Man-Knockers on the London Underground

A funny thing happened to Mark Simpson on the way to the ‘Being a Man’ forum

I almost fell off the plat­form when I saw this body­build­ing sup­ple­ments poster bust­ing out all over the London Underground recently - around the same time as all that indig­nant hul­laba­loo sur­round­ing The Sun’s infam­ous now-you-don’t-see-them-any-more-now-you-do-again lady busts.

There they were, depil­ated man-knockers (and pixelated knack­ers) nakedly objec­ti­fied in the rush hour for all to see: men and women, chil­dren and adults, wide-eyed tour­ists and jaded loc­als. No need to buy a copy of a declin­ing tabloid news­pa­per, open it and turn to page three to ‘exploit’ this model’s tits and abs. Just look up from your smart­phone. Shameless male top­less and bottomless-ness plastered all over the walls for every­one to ‘gaze’ at while wait­ing for the next obscenely over­crowded Elephant & Castle train, per­haps car­ry­ing Laura Mulvey.

Even worse, the poster encour­aged other young men to objec­tify them­selves (‘reveal your­self’), and spend their hard-earned cash buy­ing sup­ple­ments that they hope will help to make them more desir­able, more sale­able, more shag­gable — bustier. Men are the new glam­our models.

The web­site for the sup­ple­ment com­pany includes ‘cover model’ as one of the poten­tial ‘goals’ that their sporno­sexual cus­tom­ers might be inter­ested in:

…lean muscle has become an industry recog­nised term that is now syn­onym­ous with a cover model look. To achieve a cover model body, the key con­sid­er­a­tion is to increase muscle whilst keep­ing body fat to an abso­lute minimum’.

And lib­eral use of Photoshop.

Funnily enough, I was on my way to appear on a panel at the Southbank Centre talk­ing about ‘Being a Man’ when I was con­fron­ted with these man-knockers. On the panel I was respond­ing to a present­a­tion by the artist and TV presenter Grayson Perry. Who is a bit of man knocker him­self — in a more ‘crit­ical’ sense.

Perry’s present­a­tion (along the lines of this piece for the New Statesman) was acerbic, enter­tain­ing and not without insight, but some­times seemed at least thirty years out of date. And I know this because I myself am only twenty years out of date.

My main issue with it was not that it prob­lem­at­ised and patho­lo­gised mas­culin­ity and ‘toxic’ testoster­one and the Sauronic ‘male gaze’ — which it did in spades — but that it reified, pos­sibly fet­ish­ised mas­culin­ity as some­thing unchan­ging, some­thing mono­lithic. Sometimes the biggest crit­ics of mas­culin­ity are its biggest believ­ers — includ­ing cross-dressing fem­in­ist men.

Of course, I tend to notice far too much what some don’t care to see at all — and I began my com­ments by warn­ing the audi­ence that I like men. A LOT. But I was sur­prised how little Mr Perry seemed to under­stand me when talk­ing about the eager self-objectification young men today go in for and the break­down of what I call the het­ero­sexual divi­sion of labour, of look­ing and of loving.

I won­der if he uses the tube? Or even his eyes?

***

The recently-released movie ver­sion of Fifty Shades of Grey has been attacked by some fem­in­ists for set­ting back ‘the cause of woman­hood’ (because it fea­tures female sub­missive­ness and male mas­ter­ful­ness) and for glor­i­fy­ing ‘abuse’ (des­pite being very con­sen­sual). Notwithstanding it is writ­ten by a woman, dir­ec­ted by a woman (Sam Taylor-Johnson), green-lighted by a woman — and of course enorm­ously pop­u­lar with women. Likewise, the rehab­il­it­a­tion of female mas­ochism in the last dec­ade or so seems to have been for­got­ten and replaced by sus­pi­cion of women who like their sex sub­missive and spanky.

I haven’t seen the movie, I’m still recov­er­ing from going to see the last ‘event’ ‘chick flick’, so can’t com­ment on whether or not the women involved in mak­ing it and the mil­lions going to see are suf­fer­ing from ‘false con­scious­ness’. And obvi­ously I don’t know much about woman­hood anyway.

But I have watched the offi­cial trailer. Repeatedly. The mas­ter­ful Mr Grey (Jamie Dornan) is a standard-issue sporno­sexual who prob­ably has a Bulk Powders Gold Card. In the 2.23 min trailer there are 7 top­less shots of his sculp­ted torso, includ­ing a mir­ror shot which gives you a sim­ul­tan­eous, spitroast­ing front and rear view of it, vs 1.5 of Ms Steele (Dakota Johnson), sans nipples in her case. Oh, and one side shot of her panties — with Dornan’s pretty face in front of them.

My favour­ite shot though shows him play­ing his grand piano shirt­less, in a scene that looks a bit Behind the Candelabras - but with Liberace as the toy-boy. I sup­pose that the grand piano rep­res­ents Ms Steele sub­mit­ting to the skill­ful fin­gers of Mr Grey. But it looks like a very camp — sorry, I mean mas­ter­ful — form of masturbation.

 

Invasion of the Driverless Cars

Mark Simpson on the head­less horse­men of the com­ing ‘carpocalypse’

Look out! They’re com­ing! And they’re driv­ing really, really carefully!

This year driver­less cars will arrive in the UK. As part of Government-sanctioned tri­als, the ghost cars will be quietly and sin­isterly creep­ing around selec­ted parts of Greenwich, Bristol, Coventry and Milton Keynes. Though some would argue that Milton Keynes was conquered by robots years ago.

The UK Government also recently announced that a driv­ing licence would not be neces­sary to use a driver­less car and expressed its inten­tion to make Britain a world centre for driver­less cars.

This may ulti­mately res­ult in much safer roads, less con­ges­tion, faster travel times and cheaper insur­ance, as well as a life-changing boon to dis­abled and eld­erly people. But it will be the begin­ning of the end of the world as we’ve known it for most of the last cen­tury. Albeit in a very bor­ing fashion.

Yes, for the time being the only com­mer­cially avail­able self-driving vehicles are harm­less open-air shuttles for ped­es­trian zones that oper­ate at an under­whelm­ing max­imum speed of just 12.5 mph. But don’t be fooled.

Proper car man­u­fac­tur­ers are plan­ning to change all that. Nissan aims to launch driver­less mod­els by 2020. Tesla claims that their cars will be 90 per cent cap­able of autonom­ous driv­ing this year. And Google believes that its Level 4 autonom­ous cars – that is, totally self-driving – will be avail­able to the pub­lic within the next 3 to 5 years. One of their zom­bie cars already passed the Nevada state driv­ing test in 2012. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers believes that by 2040, 75 per cent of all vehicles will be autonomous.

Worse, the dast­ardly road robots are here already, or at least their fifth colum­nists in the form of all those ‘driver’s aids’ fit­ted in pro­duc­tion cars today. Self-parking and emer­gency brak­ing are com­mon, while adapt­ive cruise con­trol is avail­able on a wide range of pro­duc­tion cars – using cam­eras, lasers and radar, it can con­trol your dis­tance from the vehicle in front as well as, on some mod­els, stay­ing in lane.

Some cars such as the latest Nissan Qashqai can now even ‘read’ speed limit signs – just in case you don’t have a passive-aggressive part­ner to do that for you.

But per­haps the most dan­ger­ous fifth colum­nists for the driver­less cars inva­sion are the humans who enthuse about them. They paint a pic­ture of a safe, stress free, lux­uri­ous future in which we’re all Lady Penelope, driven around by our robot Parker, who never ever makes any mis­takes – and doesn’t see what’s going on in the back.

Or else they think they they’re going to be David Hasselhoff in Knight Rider, with his trusty, rather tasty KITT. Or Tom Cruise in Minority Report in his sexy autonom­ous Lexus. In real­ity, driver­less cars will be much more like the chirpy, crappy robot taxis in Total Recall. But without the joy­stick over­ride that Arnold was able to grab hav­ing uprooted and ejec­ted the annoy­ing robot driver.

Once humans are unplugged from the busi­ness of driv­ing cars and become instead glor­i­fied lug­gage, the auto­mobile will stop being an exten­sion of the human body/spirit/ego. Instead of some strange, techno body-art, this wheeled thing that humans have had a tor­rid, Freudian love-affair with for over a cen­tury will become a long dis­tance auto­matic pick-up machine, shut­tling people around like stock in an espe­cially gigantic Amazon ware­house. While they update their Twitter status with pic­tures of the view of the strange ‘Real World’ glimpsed from the car win­dow – and buy more stuff online.

One man’s uto­pia is another’s ‘car­po­ca­lypse’. Cars will van­ish from the sides of our streets and car shar­ing will become usual rather than excep­tional. Über + driver­less cars = the end of mass car own­er­ship. Taxi drivers, chauf­feurs, lorry drivers and much of the ancil­lary motor­ing busi­ness of car deal­ers, gar­ages and spare parts will be scrapped. Essex will become depopulated.

With fewer cars and greater effi­ciency, con­sump­tion of fuel is likely to fall dra­mat­ic­ally, and along with it gov­ern­ment rev­enue. People await­ing organ trans­plants might have to wait longer, since traffic col­li­sions are the main source of human spare parts.

There will be no going back. There’s no reverse gear on car auto­ma­tion. Once sur­rendered to robot cars, human agency is gone forever. I don’t mean that in a Stephen Hawking AI Skynet takeover sense – though that as well – but that even­tu­ally most driver­less cars, like Google’s already, won’t have steer­ing wheels or pedals.

They would only get in the way, and be a reminder to the pas­sen­gers of their obsol­es­cence. Most of all, it would be frankly crazy to allow people who haven’t actu­ally driven any­thing for years except their fin­ger over their smart­phone – or Grand Theft Auto – to take con­trol of a vehicle in an emer­gency.

We don’t need to wait until all or even most of cars on the roads are driver­less. Once there are sig­ni­fic­ant num­bers of them on the road they will change the way human-operated cars drive – mak­ing them drive more like machines. Which is very bad news when humans do it. Studies have shown that human drivers shar­ing roads with autonom­ous cars copy the autonom­ous cars’ driv­ing styles and leave less space between the vehicle in front. But are not able to stop nearly as quickly.

As the num­ber of driver­less cars on our roads rise, insur­ance premi­ums for human oper­ated cars are likely to rap­idly become pro­hib­it­ive, espe­cially when com­pared to goody-goody autonom­ous ones that never nod off, smoke, eat, drink, do their hair, use their mobiles or look for a Genesis CD while driving.

Perhaps the scar­i­est devel­op­ment is the way autonom­ous cars could have ‘eth­ics set­tings’ to deal with the ‘trol­ley bus dilemma’ – do I kill that child or my pas­sen­ger? Split second decisions which were usu­ally a secret between you and your god will have to be legis­lated and coded.

We will have made machines not just our unpaid and unloved chauf­feurs but also our judges and executioners.

Originally appeared on Hitachi CVSL blog

Swing it Around Like You’re in a TV Commercial’

Mark Simpson on how Lynx grew up. And kissed a boy.

 “Swing it around like you’re in a TV commercial.”

I like this spunky new hair gel ‘Now can be amaz­ing’ ad from Lynx, cur­rently air­ing in Australia. Especially since it’s the per­fect anti­dote to the ball-shrivelling dreary para­noia of ads like this.

In fact, it’s prob­ably my favour­ite ad since Philips/Norelco ‘I’d F*ck Me’ where a young man play­fully chats him­self up in front of the bath­room mir­ror. Like the Philips ad this one isn’t afraid of its own shadow, and instead of mak­ing apo­lo­gies just embraces and cel­eb­rates male beauty and van­ity — and the spirit mak­ing the most of it while you have it.

More than this, it’s an ad which encour­ages young men to be any­thing that they want to be — to be ‘amaz­ing’. In much the same way that young women have been encour­aged for some time.

Hence the ‘Kiss the hot­test girl — or the hot­test boy’ moment. This is not, as has been pro­claimed by gay blogs, a ‘gay kiss’ so much as a bi-curious one, since it’s the same guy kiss­ing the girl and then the boy. Which is in keep­ing with what we might term the James Dean ethic of the ad — don’t go through life with ‘one hand tied behind your back’. Especially if it’s your best hand.

This is par­tic­u­larly impress­ive com­ing from Lynx (known as Axe in the US), a brand which is not usu­ally asso­ci­ated with pro­gress­ive advert­ising and in fact often asso­ci­ated instead with a hys­ter­ical het­ero­sexu­al­ity: ‘I only smell nice coz it attracts women and that proves I’m not gay, OK?’. (Though there have been sort-of excep­tions, such as this Axe ad star­ring Ben Affleck back in 2007.)

But then, I told Lynx all about their hys­ter­ical het­ero­sexu­al­ity and how dated it was in a world in which young men take male van­ity and self care for gran­ted — and aspire to be everything - when they con­tac­ted me last sum­mer ask­ing for my input into their re-branding. I’d com­pletely for­got­ten about this con­sulta­tion when I saw the ad, and just thought it was cool. I don’t know for sure whether my cri­tique made it into the brief for this ad, but it seems quite pos­sible I may have been admir­ing my own reflection.

Though being hon­est, I’m not entirely sure he’s really made the most of his hair with that bird’s nest look.…

Objectify Yourself — Why Straight Young Men Crave Gay Adulation

attitude6I’ve penned an essay in the February edi­tion of Out magazine — with a David Gandy cover — about why straight young men won’t leave me alone:

The way straight young men chase and hustle gay atten­tion today rep­res­ents a major, mil­len­nial shift in atti­tudes. Part of the reason that men offer­ing them­selves as sex objects were frowned upon in the past was that they could be objec­ti­fied by any­one — includ­ing people with pen­ises. They were queered by the pen­et­rat­ing queer gaze.

Now they beg and plead for it. They instinct­ively know that male objec­ti­fic­a­tion is about enjoy­ing and cel­eb­rat­ing male passiv­ity, even — and espe­cially — if you’re straight. So get­ting the gays proves not only your hot­ness, and cool­ness, but also your meta­phys­ical ver­sat­il­ity. It proves that you are a proper, fully fledged, all-singing, all-dancing sex object.

Read the essay here.

GandyCoverx1000

Confessions of a Front Seat Driver

HyacinthBy Mark Simpson

Some people are more pro­act­ive pas­sen­gers than oth­ers. Hyacinth Bucket in the clas­sic sit-com Keeping Up Appearances takes what we might call a ‘hands on’ approach to being driven.

Mind the sheep, dear!’

They’re in the FIELD!’

Richard, I don’t appre­ci­ate your tone.’

Minding the sheep.’

We all laugh at the snob­bish battle axe’s incess­ant and insist­ent back­seat driv­ing. Not least because it is meant to be hor­ribly sym­bolic of her mar­riage to Richard. He may sit in the driver’s seat, but it’s def­in­itely his pas­sen­ger who does the driv­ing. In a nice big hat.

Every driver hates a back­seat driver. Until you’re a pas­sen­ger your­self. According to a 2011 sur­vey, 92% of motor­ists admit to being back­seat drivers themselves.

This how­ever didn’t stop 51% of them get­ting angry behind the wheel as a res­ult of advice from pas­sen­gers, or the same num­ber claim­ing it was the biggest dis­trac­tion for drivers. While 14% even claimed they were involved in an acci­dent or near miss as a res­ult of being told to blow their horn in a more refined way, dear, or some such.

The offi­cial advice from car safety experts is not to dis­tract or frus­trate the driver with back­seat driv­ing. They say it could be dan­ger­ous – both to your safety and to your rela­tion­ships: part­ners are ranked by motor­ists as the worst back seat drivers. I sup­pose no one likes being cri­ti­cised by their part­ner, par­tic­u­larly if being mar­ried to them has made you won­der if weeks in trac­tion in the General Hospital might be a nice break.

But what pre­cisely is a back seat driver though? Well, accord­ing to Wikipedia, it is ‘a pas­sen­ger who is not con­trolling the vehicle but who excess­ively com­ments on the driver’s actions and decisions in an attempt to con­trol the vehicle.’

Which con­firms what I have always known: I’m not a back­seat driver.

You see, I never excess­ively com­ment. There are so many things I could say, but I stoic­ally bite my lip instead. Granted, there are still plenty of things that I do say, but they are always kept to the abso­lute min­imum — and always thought­fully designed to impart only the most per­tin­ent pearls of my pre­cious driv­ing wis­dom to the per­son for­tu­nate enough to find them­selves at the wheel in my presence.

Besides, I don’t sit in the back. I prefer to sit up front, where I can see much more clearly what mis­takes the driver is mak­ing, such as driv­ing too close to the vehicle in front – and then too far away – and what haz­ards he or she has failed to anti­cip­ate, such as the decept­ively harm­less pen­sioner stood at the bus stop, lean­ing on a walk­ing stick, who could sud­denly and with no warn­ing what­so­ever sprint into the road. (And by the way, it needs to be men­tioned that sheep in fields can jump hedges.)

Sitting up front also means you can more eas­ily com­mu­nic­ate with the driver, some­times using non-verbal sig­nals, such as sharp intakes of breath, grabbing arm-rests or anxiously check­ing and re-checking the seat belt. Even though I’m not actu­ally Catholic, I usu­ally carry Rosary beads with me as I find count­ing them loudly and cross­ing myself can be quite salutary.

And of course, if all else fails, there’s always stamp­ing on an ima­gin­ary brake pedal with a look of wide-eyed abject ter­ror on your sheet-white face.

I also do my best to help the driver by lean­ing for­wards at junc­tions and shout­ing ‘YOURE ALL RIGHT THIS SIDE!’. Or ‘YOU CAN GET A BUS THROUGH THERE MATE!’ When I’m not fid­dling with the ste­reo and the air-con con­trols. I invari­ably find that people haven’t set these at their optimum levels – and are tuned in to the wrong radio sta­tions. I don’t expect any thanks for these little con­sid­er­a­tions. Which is just as well as none ever comes.

OK, so per­haps I’m just ever so slightly con­trolling. But hon­estly, have you seen the way other people drive? It’s not my fault that I’m a bet­ter driver than them and it would be just plain dis­hon­est of me to pre­tend oth­er­wise. Not to men­tion selfish – how are they going to get bet­ter if I don’t tell them they should use the gears to brake more?

You wouldn’t believe how down­right ungrate­ful and rude people can be some­times. Unfortunately, not all drivers are as open to advice as Hyacinth’s hus­band. I’ve been yelled at just for sug­gest­ing that their screen wash isn’t as effect­ive as the brand I use. And that their wiper blades need replacing.

But when that hap­pens I just tell them that they shouldn’t talk to pas­sen­gers and con­cen­trate on the road instead. And adjust my hat.