We’ve seen a great deal of male pin-up tit-ilation over the last decade or so, in which men in traditionally masculine occupations get their clothes off and their tarty on as they occupy the traditionally ‘feminine’ and ‘passive’ position of the glammed-up calendar girl.
Not that I’m complaining. When it comes to male objectification too much is never enough.
Now French farmers are the latest traditionally blokey profession to get the full glamour model calendar boy treatment, in this instance from French fashion photographer Fred Goudon in his Le Calendrier des Agriculteurs 2017
So we see the ‘agriculteurs‘ lovingly lensed while going about their daily, honest toil in field and farmyard, keeping La France fed – while their overalls keep slipping off them in the hot Gallic sun, leaving them casually nearly naked. Save for their full body make-up.
If this calendar is to be believed, the French peasantry are definitely no longer revolting – but nor are they eating any cake. Nor in fact any carbs at all after 6pm.
It’s easy to make fun – so I shall, with captions – but while the French farmers collected here do look rather more spornosexual than pastoral, at least they’re not lumbosexuals.
All these nicely-presented years on from the birth of the metrosexual – he turned 22 this month – and my prediction that he represented the future of masculinity, out and proud male vanity shows no sign of getting bored with itself, or running out of cash to splash. ‘Male grooming’ is still booming: it’s a fine-smelling, thoroughly-moisturised market estimated to top £14.8bn globally this year.
But now that almost every post-pubescent male shares his bathroom with a buff puff there is a danger that the market could become as saturated as men’s skin. In order to continue growing, and create demands for new products, male grooming increasingly has to boldly go where no ad has gone before. Groping male consumers intimately in the quest for new frontiers of needs.
And this TV commercial currently airing in the UK is very bold, as Julian and Sandy would say. It features a man playing with his balls on prime time.
‘Only a few decades ago if you wore underarm spray you were not considered to be a REAL MAN,’ says the strangely robotic (butch?) voiceover, as we watch a young, worked out, fashion-bearded male performing his most personal ablutions in his mirrored privy. ‘A few decades’ looks like a millenia.
The Scottish-American text-to-speech app goes on to tell us that talcum powder ‘around your damp bits’ was acceptable back then, but ‘black suave underpants put paid to that messy solution’.
Yes, those black suave underpants that I’m probably to blame for.
He continues (I had to replay this bit several times to understand what was being said): ‘Lots has evolved since then, but men are still just as badly-designed downstairs.’
Are we? Speak for yourself, dear!
But before we can ponder that statement, or assess whether sweaty knackers are really such a major social problem, we’re slapped in the face with a irresistible question:
‘Surely modern man deserves the choice of being comfortable all day?’
Well, who can argue with choice, comfort and deservingness? And besides, the model is nodding in agreement at this point. Or maybe ecstasy – he’s clearly handling himself now. While admiring his reflection in the mirror.
‘Welcome to Below the Belt grooming and fresh and dry balls!’
Thanks! I think.
Then the corny kiss-off line which is, it has to be said, the dogs bollocks:
‘Your balls are safe in our hands!’
The effect is to make the ad – sorry, testimonial – a WTF? moment. Is this is a spoof? Is this product real? Or is there some double entendre here that I’ve somehow missed? Surely they can’t be being this direct on the tellybox?
And then you find yourself wondering well, why shouldn’t balls be mentioned in telly ads, without coyness or evasion? Even if yours aren’t ‘badly-designed’? Men’s balls exist! They have needs! They have feelings! (Which can, as any man will tell you, be hurt very, very easily.) And they need to breath! It’s about time they stopped having to hide and came out.
The sweaty nads ad is perhaps not quite as clever or funny – or even as ‘ballsy’ – as this ‘I’d f*ck me’ US Phillips manscaping ad from a few years back which took male vanity to its logical, self-loving conclusion, but it’s up there. Or down there. Certainly we’ve come a long way since this anxious 1968 UK commercial that sought to tell us that spray-on deodorant wasn’t girly or gay at all because manly, pub-going, bird-chasing, working class England footie heroes used it (and it was kept in the locker-room first aid cabinet because it was purely medicinal and not at all cosmetic).
Post-Beckham, all professional footballers have monogrammed Luis Vuitton washbags filled with the latest, most expensive male cosmetics issued along with their football strip.
Some of course will worry that the Below the Belt ad is just more horrifying evidence that metrosexuality has gone Too Far. That men are being emasculated by their ‘girly’ vanity. That along with ‘extreme’ manscaping trends such as increasing numbers of men apparently shaving their legs, and the arrival of ‘scrotal lifts‘ consumerism now has men by the balls.
And perhaps it’s true that consumerism is trying to create new male neuroses merely to sell more products, in much the same way that it has done with women for decades. That’s a kind of equality, I suppose.
Others might argue that it merely comes down to more freedom, that as the ad says, ‘surely modern man deserves the choice’. You don’t have to Immac your legs or baste your bollocks if you don’t want to. Pants may have got tighter but masculinity is much less restrictive than it used to be, and as a result men are less inhibited than they used to be – and more likely to do things that might seem a bit silly.
Besides, isn’t it a good thing that men are being encouraged to ‘examine’ their testicles daily – especially during Movember? Not all bollocks are created equal – some balls really are sweatier than others. And maybe testicle antiperspirant gel is a potential solution to that terrible modern scourge of ‘manspreading’.
As for me, my main concern is simply this: does Below the Belt come in different flavours?
While everyone else in the 80s wanted to look like they’d walked off the set of Blade Runner or Top Gun, Peter York looked and sounded like he’d stepped out of Dangerous Liaisons. Whenever the co-author of Style Wars and The Sloane Ranger Handbook popped up on telly, as he often did back then, talking about trends or ads in a dapper Saville Row suit, his hair looked like it should be powdered and bowed, and his upper-lip beauty-spotted.
In BBC Four’s recent TV doc The Hipster Handbook – which I was asked to contribute to but was unfortunately unavailable – York seems relatively unaffected by the vulgarities of time, sartorially or even much physically, given that he’s now in his 70s. That imperious ‘high’ hair is still there, if greyed. Though who knows? Maybe it really is a wig now.
His almost drag queen hauteur is still also present and incorrect, enabling him to be wonderfully rude and direct – but entirely politely. I have no idea about York’s sexuality, but in an odd way his persona reminds me slightly of Quentin Crisp (or rather, Hurtian Crisp).
When he visits Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NYC, the birthplace – though perhaps we should call it curationplace – of hipsterism he explains in clipped tones to a local complimenting him on his ‘fashionable’ Olde Worlde overcoat: ‘It’s the national dress of my country’.
York was an anachronism in the 1980s but also strangely, sharply (post)modern. Now that we’re living in a ‘post-postmodern’ world he looks like a time-traveller. Dr Who as market researcher. In Williamsburg he discovers that a decade or so on from their arrival, hipsters and even beards are now thin on the ground, having moved on to pastures more affordable – and are not much missed. Asked to define a hipster a young, clean-shaven man dismisses them as: ‘creatives about to turn into yuppies.’
York also travels to Shoreditch, London where hipsters are, as in most other ‘cool’ enclaves of large cities in the Western world, apparently still very much ‘a thing’ – after all these years of peak hipsterdom and regular pronouncements of its death. It’s full of young creatives being uniquely individual and amazingly authentic in their identical plaid shirts, compulsory facial-hair and passion for really-like-difficult-to-source coffee beans and expensive frosted cereals.
York like any good dandy, aspires to be as artificial as possible. Culture is nature’s enemy and vice versa. Hipsters however, perhaps because they usually have no idea about nature at all – and seem only to have the same ‘ironic’ idea about culture for that matter – are obsessed with authenticity.
‘It’s SO not me’ drawls York.
Paradoxically, the clean-shaven, sharply-dressed old man of slightly camp artifice seemed much more substantial than the young, earnestly ironic men in their ill-fitting beards and table-cloth shirts. Then again, I imagine Mr York is very substantial financially (according to Wikipedia, in addition to his best-selling books he works as a management consultant).
And yes, the doc was entirely focused on the male hipster: the only women interviewed were social commentators, academics or sales staff in hipster clothes shops. To the point where it sometimes looked like a documentary about a bear cub commune. But most people are only interested in the male hipster – and as York points out, most women can’t grow the hipster hallmark: a beard.
York’s mere presence offered a kind of mocking critique of our hairy young creatives – even without the impish glitter he had in his eyes when listening to them as they droned on about the ‘tradition’ and ‘craft’ behind the expensive bottled beer they like to drink and make.
The money shot came when he visited a barbershop in East London, now specialising in ‘facial-hair management’, observing a handsome man-bunned twenty-something chap reclining in a retro barber’s chair getting his bushy brunette beard ‘managed’.
‘Would you like it rounder at the bottom – a lumberjackfinish?’ asked the bearded, inked, young barber solicitously.
At the climax of the ‘management’, the barber rubbed beard conditioner into the customer’s pride and joy.
Regardless of what the actual, existing sexuality of these two young men is it’s difficult to see how this scene could be any gayer. In fact, if it had been properly gay, with your actual gay sex – cocks agogo – it would somehow have been considerably less gay.
And what’s more, it was gay threesome – with York as the older voyeur/punter (in a double-breasted blazer).
‘What does “lumberjack” mean?’ asked York, with a heroically straight face. The barber patiently explained that it’s a ‘wild’, ‘rugged’ look. He mentioned the ‘lumbersexual’. But pronounced it ‘lumbosexual’. Which is, actually, the way it should be pronounced.
The barber, who I think may not have been so much a true believer as just someone trying to make a living, made the salient point that a lot of his customers ‘work in media, architects, or web design, that type of thing’, who ‘spend a lot of time in front of a PC screen so don’t have that feeling of being in touch with their, like, masculine side’.
Amidst all this plaidery and lumbering York’s voiceover tells us that the shelves in the barber shop are positively groaning with beautifully-packaged product: ‘This is not a lumberjack’s cabin – this could be Mayfair’.
He suggests that hipsters’ laborious obsession with ‘masculine authenticity’ produces a look as constructed as what he terms ‘the metrosexual look that went before it’. He also admits that he can’t quite get the ‘beardy thing’ and that it strikes him as ‘a bit steampunk, a bit homosexual – a bit Clone Zone, a bit Tom Selleck in Magnum PI’.
This is probably where I would have popped up saying something unkind. Though I’m not entirely sure that I would have been needed.
All the same, I’ve listed seven unkind thoughts on hipsterism below:
1. Everyone hates hipsters – including and especially hipsters.
They’re far too special and unique and knowing to be captured in a word. Let alone that word. Hipsters want to be the curators never the curated. Which is why everyone delights in pinning the ‘H’ word on them as they try to wriggle away. It’s Kryptonite to their eclectic superpowers. Or garlic to a vampire.
2. Hipsterism is a cult with no credo.
As that that big beardy Karl Marx put it: ‘Hipsterism is the sigh of the badly-dressed, a longing for authenticity in an inauthentic, online world. It is the OxyContin of the creative classes.’
3. Hipsters think they’re totally worth it.
And so should you. Hence ‘artisan’ is hipsterspeak for: ‘double the price coz expensively-educated kids got their hands dirty – and wrote something amazing on a chalkboard’.
4. Hipsterism is not locally-sourced.
It’s a thoroughly American cultural franchise. Hence hipsters in London or Brighton or Barcelona or Berlin or Rome laboriously replicate the obsessions of American hipsters – such as ‘gourmet burgers’, ‘craft ales’ and ‘real coffee’ – that were a reaction to the Budweiser blandness of American consumerism. Regardless of the fact that in Europe we already have amazing ‘real beer’ and ‘real coffee’ outlets. Called ‘Germany’ and ‘Italy’.
5. Hipster masculinity is also not locally-sourced.
It is imported, assembled and accessorised – curated – largely from officially ironic but rather anxious-looking retro ‘authentic’ American signifiers such as ‘the trucker cap’, or ‘the lumberjack’. Signifiers which are fairly meaningless in the UK – except perhaps as a Monty Python sketch.
6. Hipsterism is the anti-sexual wing of metrosexuality.
Maybe it depends on how aroused you are by gingham, but hipsterism sometimes looks like a form of male self-love that seems to be oddly self-loathing. Flannel shirts as hair shirts. Hipsters generally have big beards and big data allowances instead of bodies. (This is perhaps why some hipsters like to make ‘gender flip’ memes mocking the objectification of women which depend on the notion that men aren’t and can’t be objectified.)
7. The hipster beard is not a beard.
It’s far too heavily overdetermined to be mere face fur. There’s something magical and quasi-sexual about it. At least for hipsters. For all their famous love of irony, most don’t seem terribly ironic about the hairy thing on their chin that they treat like a prized, pampered pet.
The plain, unvarnished, but nicely-conditioned truth is that the hipster beard is a fetish – in the classic Freudian sense of a penis-substitute. This is why they have to be so BIG, and why they can’t leave them alone.
You’re stuck behind a MG Rover that is going a little slower than you would like. It’s driven by someone with white hair, glasses, and perhaps a hat and driving gloves. They are taking their time at junctions and traffic lights while peering over the steering wheel like that ‘Kilroy Was Here’ Second World War graffiti that they are probably old enough to have drawn themselves.
Suddenly the idea of bringing in compulsory re-testing of drivers who are over 70 becomes very appealing. Anything that thins out those doddery drivers from our roads must be a good thing, no? Especially now they’re getting so crowded.
Every few years, usually after some gruesome collision reportedly caused by an older driver, sections of the media launch a BAN OLDER DRIVERS NOW! campaign. Polls are conducted in which, unsurprisingly, most people who are not themselves older drivers say that people who are older drivers should have compulsory re-tests when they turn 70, and every three years after.
Earlier this year Prince Philip, aged 94, drove the President of the United States and the First Lady, along with the Queen of England, in his Range Rover. Though admittedly it was only 400 yards and on private – or rather, Royal – land.
Older drivers are certainly becoming more noticeable. As the number of younger drivers is falling, the number of older drivers on our roads is rapidly rising. In 1975 only 15% of over-70s had a licence. By 2010 the figure had risen to nearly 60%. Over the next 20 years the number of male drivers over 70 is predicted to double, while the number of women drivers will treble. By 2030 90% of men over 70 will be behind the wheel. By 2035 there will be c.21M older drivers on our roads.
This seems like a terrifying statistic. Until you realise that despite the tragic stories you’ve read about in the papers – often involving a confused pensioner driving the wrong way down a dual carriageway – older drivers are not necessarily more dangerous drivers just because they’re older.
In actual, statistical fact older drivers are no more likely to be involved in collisions than other drivers.
Research by the RAC Foundation suggests drivers aged 75 and over make up 6% of all licence holders but account for just 4.3% of all deaths and serious injuries. By contrast, drivers aged 16-20 make up just 2.5% of all drivers but 13% of those killed and seriously injured.
Older drivers are less inclined to speed, or take risks – or be distracted by gadgets. Many older drivers avoid driving at night, in the rain or on motorways. Just 7% of over 65s admitted to using a mobile phone while driving, compared to 21% of drivers in general. Only one in 10 over-65s said they had looked for something in the glovebox while moving, compared with twice as many drivers of all ages.
Older drivers are also more likely to have an eye test once a year than the rest of the driving population.
Perhaps most counterintuitively of all, older drivers are half as likely to have memory lapses while driving – the ‘how did I get here’ syndrome – than younger drivers. (Though perhaps older drivers felt less free to admit such lapses than younger ones.)
The RAC did however find that some drivers over the age of 70 struggle at high-speed junctions, high-speed roundabouts and slip roads – locations where drivers are required to look around quickly and make quick decisions. Another study by Swansea University, published in September this year, confirmed these findings.
The Swansea University study also found that older women are more likely to have small accidents when doing tight manoeuvres. Older people are also more likely to be involved in accidents involving other older drivers, suggesting they make similar errors.
Forcing older drivers to get re-tested has been tried in Australia and Denmark without improving results.
Educating older drivers about new risks they may face and encouraging them to refresh old skills and developing new ones, rather than singling them out and subjecting them alone to compulsory re-tests, is generally accepted as the best way forwards. Though perhaps as the road safety charity Brake have suggested, a compulsory eyesight test when reapplying for your licence – regardless of age – would be sensible.
The older you get the more your independence and social life tends to depend on your car, if you have one. It’s something you can rely on when everything else is failing. Men in their 70s make more trips as drivers than do men in their late teens and 20s.
Of course, this may mean that some older drivers refuse to voluntarily give up their licence – even when they really should.
But it also means that younger licence holders should be less keen to deprive older drivers of theirs simply because they’re older – and show some consideration to more mature road users slowing them down.
Particularly since one day that crumbly old bastard dawdling in front will be them.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has a website for older drivers to help them assess how their driving is changing, where to find a local driving assessment or refresher training – as well as how to take the decision to stop driving.
Mark Simpson sits at the feet of ‘The Bona of Verona’
Pietro Boselli, the ‘world’s sexiest maths teacher’ as he has been breathlessly dubbed by the press, is living, geometrically consistent proof that spornosexuals don’t have to be dumb. And also that for all their self-sexualisation, spornos can be romantico. Angelic, even.
Though if angels look like this who needs Hell?
Hailing from Verona, Italy, with his cherubic facial features, those bucolic, rosy cheeks that belies his 27 years, and that smiley submissiveness, Boselli puts me in mind somewhat of Antinous, the beautiful young male lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. After Antinous’ early death aged 20 years in 130 AD, a grieving Hadrian made him a deity, and his image was reproduced in countless statues and worshipped in both the Latin West and the Greek East.
Nowadays we can’t be waiting around until someone dies to turn them into a god. While smartphones and social media mean we don’t have to turn them into marble statues to reproduce – and worship – their image. The divine Boselli is of course all over YouTube and Instagram.
But beneath that angelic face he has that devilish body, which is rather more buff than most depictions of Antinous. The boyish face and the smoothly mannish body are slightly reminiscent perhaps of the young Marky Mark in Mr Klein’s underpants, sans the bad-boy rapismo. Boselli is a very good boy on the streets – but, we like to think, a very naughty one between the sheets. The bona from Verona.
As a reminder that we’re talking about second generation male tartiness here, Boselli was just four years old when Wahlberg was grabbing himself on the side of buses.
Boselli is not a maths teacher any more, but rather a full-time fitness model. And like any pro sporno he has his own YouTube channel, where we can dissect his beautiful body. Either to try and copy it, or perhaps to somehow penetrate its secrets.
In truth, he was never really a maths teacher in the way that perhaps most people probably understand or remember a maths teacher, though it is a great marketing moniker. While studying for his mechanical engineering PhD at London University he taught undergraduate mathematics to some lucky engineering students for a while. One of whom, according to Wikipedia, ‘took note of his physique and stumbled on his modelling career’.
Stumbled. Hmmm. I suppose you could ‘stumble’ while hyperventilating and rushing to Google someone’s name + ‘NAKED’.
Boselli was in fact a model long before he became an engineer: he landed the Armani Junior campaign in 1995 – aged just seven – and carried it for four years. But there is no question that he is a highly intelligent and highly educated young man. That he is not ‘just’ a pretty face attached to some pretty pecs.
However, the ‘world’s sexiest maths teacher’ moniker ensured he became even more famous than he would have done if he had just been a pretty face.
It’s interesting how we – by which I mean ‘I’ – still seem to have this difficulty reconciling beauty with intelligence, regardless of whether the ‘object’ of our desire is male or female. Perhaps it’s a form of Freud’s observation that men frequently separate affection and desire, tending to debase those they desire.
Pietro is confusing-intoxicating phenomenon to behold just because of his near-androgyny – as Susan Sontag said all truly beautiful things are a mixture of masculine and feminine – but because we don’t know whether to put him on a pedestal or in a sling.
The Ancients saw beauty and virtue as being related: Antinous was likely intelligent and well-educated and Hadrian would have expected nothing less. But Christian dualism put paid to that. Crudely, in the Christian worldview the body is the world, thus corruption and sin, and belongs to the devil – while our minds/souls are non-material, eternal and belong to God.
And bodies that provoke lust – such as Boselli’s – are doubly damned.
Boselli’s TED talk earlier this year played on the cultural contradiction he represents, and was titled: ‘How I survived as professor on the runway and model in the classroom‘. And truth be told, he does look like a model on the runway talking like a professor. There seemed to be a lot of telephoto lens action from the audience, who may not have been entirely focused on his message.
His adorable accent and equally adorable nervousness do definitely add to his many other distractions.
As far as I can remember (my mind did wander) he was talking about the mind/body dualism of our culture and why it should be disregarded. It’s a message he seems to touch on again in this, the first of his new YouTube ‘Workout Philosophy’ talks. Cartesian dualism be damned!
That said, most people watching the video above will probably see, in their mind’s eye, the video below. Even when he keeps his t-shirt on it looks like it is taking itself off.
Premier Inn appear to have launched a builder-themed gay night. Or a Top Gun-themed builder night. Either way, I’m checking in.
This hilarious, very smart new TV ad ‘Scaffolders’ for the budget UK hotel chain is currently airing nationally – not just in Manchester’s gay village. It masterfully deploys the famous Kenny Loggins ‘Highway To the Danger Zone’ MOR track from the classic 1986 Tom Cruise fighter ace movie, along with some of the iconic/camp styles, shots and heavy filters to synthesise an entirely convincing Top Gun-ness. In a provincial Premier Inn. With scaffolders standing in for the flyboys, and JCB’s standing in for the F-15s.
Though the opening scene, in which a naked ‘Maverick’ rubs his pumped chest and possibly erect nipples in ecstasy while enjoying a ‘power shower’, would probably have been too slutty even for Top Gun, the movie that gave a catapult launch to the process of shameless sexualisation of the male body, climaxing in today’s spornosexuality.
The famous homoeroticism of that flyboy movie (our changing attitude to which I analysed on its 30th birthday earlier this year) is also referenced. For a moment you – or was it just me? – think the hairy ‘daddy’ builder waking up in the ‘kingsize Hypnos bed’ has spent the night with the young sporno scaffie taking that sensual shower.
Top Gun‘s ‘gayness’ is now an officially cherished part of our culture. ‘Whatever your story’. Or sexuality.
It’s a nice touch as well that the other builders are of various, more realistic shapes and sizes – but the sporno scaffie is definitely the star of this ‘movie’. Which is probably about right. After all, scaffolders are often the most agile, gymnastic even, of builders and are very much at the showbiz end of the ‘trade’. The scaffold they’re ‘erecting’ is also something of a stage, and whether to get some rays or to get looks – or both – scaffies often seem keen to strip down to their shorts, boots and hard-hats the moment the weather gets above freezing. Though I’m sure there must be some scaffolders who dislike the way the public perves on them….
‘Gay’ builders seem to be all the rage on UK TV at the moment. The price comparison website Moneysupermarket recently launched ‘Epic Squads’, featuring bearish male builders and half-cross-dressed businessmen with big booties in a ‘gender flip’ twerktastic dance-off.
Moneysupermarket’s previous ad, ‘Dave’s Epic Strut‘ featuring a lone male middle-aged twerker in a jacket and tie and denim skirt and heels shaking his money maker at baffled passers-by was the most complained about ad of 2015. The Advertising Standards Authority failed to uphold these complaints – the cleverness of the ad is that it is quite ‘shocking’ and very memorable in an age of instant amnesia and e-distraction. But is funny rather than actually offensive. As well as, perhaps accidentally, managing to say something about changing gender roles, male versatility and the rise of the sexualised male body/booty.
Either way they seem to have aimed to up the stakes here. As Bob the Builder might have said: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – just shake it harder, honey.