Metrodaddy v. Ubermummy

Originally appeared in 3AM Magazine (December, 2005)

Mark Simpson, the man who has been blamed/credited for coin­ing the word ‘met­ro­sexual’, inter­views him­self about the ‘death’ of the met­ro­sexual, and why ‘Über­Mummy’ hates his MetroKid’s post-feminist independence.

What do you make of the reports in some quar­ters that your baby is ‘dead?’

Rumors of his death have been greatly exag­ger­ated. Mostly by the mar­ket­ing woman and cor­por­ate machine who kid­napped him two years ago, who has I believe another book to sell.

Someone should call social ser­vices about that woman.

I blame myself. I should have fought harder for cus­tody of the met­ro­sexual. But I wor­ried about him see­ing my piles of dirty Y-fronts. And I had no place to put his shoe col­lec­tion. He wouldn’t have under­stood how MetroDaddy could live like that.

OK, so the world may be – finally! – grow­ing a little bored with the word ‘met­ro­sexual,’ which appar­ently I coined back in 1994 but which no one took much notice of until I returned to the sub­ject again for in 2002, prompt­ing the last three years of met­ro­sex­mania — a media and mar­ket­ing global gang-bang that makes the rape of Berlin by the Red Army seem like a pre-teen pajama party.

Despite the res­ult­ing, ahem, slack­ness of the word itself, the met­ro­sexu­al­iz­a­tion of men con­tin­ues apace. Masculinity is more medi­ated, more com­mod­it­ized, more exhib­i­tion­istic, more self-conscious, and tartier than ever.

I had a new fridge delivered yes­ter­day and the two macks car­ry­ing it were works of art. I felt like a des­per­ate house­wife – one who spends way less time on her appear­ance than they do.

Right.  Things have gone so far and so fey that even a ret­ro­sexual these days is fre­quently merely a met­ro­sexual with shaped chest hair – or sport­ing one of those neatly-trimmed Gay Ritchie-type beards that merely emphas­izes an exquis­ite boyishness.

Yeah. Lots of gays have been wear­ing those scratchy beards for years now. It’s a great way of put­ting the chicks off: ‘No, I can’t date you – it would ruin your complexion.’

David Beckham, the man I once dubbed the ‘über-metrosexual’ (sound famil­iar?), may be some­what out of fash­ion at the moment in the UK, but largely that’s just because he’s been upstaged. Despite their gar­gan­tuan salar­ies, the entire Chelsea FC squad, led by Fabulous Frankie Lampard, seems to be moon­light­ing as male strippers.

Even rugby, once the sport of hairy beer mon­sters, has gone rav­ing metro with those gym-built-bodies, those oh-so-tight Gaultier-esque strips to show them off, and don’t get me star­ted on Gavin Henson’s hil­ari­ous hair­dos. Ditto cricket: the Ashes were won back from Australia this year by the gal­lant efforts of an England all-rounder hero who likes to wear a diamanté ear-stud, a bash­ful come-hither grin and impeccably-cropped hair. Next to Ian Botham, he looks like a com­plete poof.

With all these preen­ing her­oes, a whole gen­er­a­tion of boys has been met­ro­sexu­al­ized. A recent sur­vey of 2000 teen males in the UK found that, on aver­age, boys admit­ted to look­ing in the mir­ror ten times a day. 96% of these young nar­ciss­ists used deodor­ant, 90% used hair-styling products and 50% mois­tur­izers, while 72% would like a makeover. This new-found male self-consciousness comes at a price, how­ever: 62% “dis­liked” their faces and 25% said they “might have plastic surgery.”

But what about the ‘über­sexual’ that mar­keters want to replace the met­ro­sexual with? Doesn’t he sound nice and shiny and new-fangled?

More like some kind of Nazi mem­or­ab­ilia fet­ish­ist. The ‘über­sexual’ is just a badly repack­aged met­ro­sexual. Any dis­cus­sion in the style pages of the media about what is desir­able and attract­ive in men and what is ‘manly’ and what isn’t, is simply more met­ro­sexu­al­iz­a­tion, even if it doesn’t come, as it has in this case, dir­ectly from mar­keters who have every interest in even more buy­ing and selling of maleness.

We’re all hust­lers now, baby.

Yeah, but not every­one is buy­ing. Contrary to most of the skin-deep cov­er­age of the last two years, met­ro­sexu­al­ity is not about going to spas and wear­ing flip flops, nor is it essen­tially ‘girly’ and ‘fem­in­ine’ – unless you think that nar­ciss­ism and self-centeredness are essen­tially fem­in­ine qual­it­ies. Metrosexuality – do I really have to spell it out? – is medi­ated mas­culin­ity. Mediated mas­culin­ity that has replaced the ‘real’ thing. This is why I described the met­ro­sexual as a col­lector of fantas­ies about the male sold to him by the media. Those fantas­ies can be faux butch ones as well as faux fairy ones. Or both.

You mean like Brad ‘the-abs-that-launched-a-thousand-sit-ups’ Pitt in Troy, where he seemed to play both Achilles and Helen?

Yes, and was felled by Orlando Bloom’s dev­ast­at­ing cheekbones.

Metrosexuality is not some­thing that is ‘replaced’ or ‘killed off’ by even more glossy self-consciousness – from advert­ising execs. If you look at the list of so-called ‘top über­sexu­als’ that mar­keters have come up with, many of them, such as Brad Pitt, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bill Clinton, were on their list of met­ro­sexu­als two years ago. What turned these celebs from met­ro­sexu­als into über­sexu­als in such a short period of time?

In the case of Clinton, maybe it was a quadruple-bypass oper­a­tion. After all, the aver­age age of their ‘uber­sexual’ list was at least 50.

Well, des­per­a­tion had some­thing to do with it. The demand for some­thing ‘new’ but safely empty. To repack­age. Über­sexu­als are met­ro­sexu­als with the addi­tion of – even more – media fad­dish­ness and men­dacity. The met­ro­sexual is dead! Long live the met­ro­sexual! Ironically though, as that super-annuated list showed, the uber­sexual is just so… über-aged.

Why do the media play along with this? Why haven’t they poin­ted out the new money for old-soap-on-a-rope dimension?

Because it sells news­pa­pers, which very few things do these days, and because, largely due to their weak­ness caused by the pro­lif­er­a­tion of media which helped pro­duce the met­ro­sexual him­self, news­pa­pers are now a sub­di­vi­sion of the marketing-PR-repackaging busi­ness. Ironically, the only pub­lic­a­tion I’ve read that had a crit­ical dis­tance on the über­sexual guff was Advertising Age. All the other ‘ser­i­ous’ news­pa­pers with a ‘crit­ical dis­tance’ from Madison Ave just reprin­ted all this über­t­waddle as if it were the find­ings of a NASA Mars probe. Except more prominently.

Didn’t Rush Limbaugh whine about not being on that list of übersexuals?

Yes, but he was prob­ably just excited by the Germanic over­tones of the word ‘über.’ The real­ity is that Limbaugh is just a rather unin­spir­ing ret­ro­sexual. The kind that reminds you why met­ro­sexu­al­ity is so appealing.

The mar­keters’ claim that whereas the met­ro­sexual was ‘just gay enough,’ the über­sexual ‘doesn’t invite spec­u­la­tion about his sexu­al­ity?’ Kinda creepy, no?

This, apart from his decrep­itude, is the only sig­ni­fic­ant dif­fer­ence between the ‘über­sexual’ and the met­ro­sexual: the über­sexual is much more uptight. That’s because he rep­res­ents the marketer’s obses­sion with try­ing to straighten out the met­ro­sexual, to rid him of his seem­ing queer­ness and his nar­ciss­ism – the very things that made him inter­est­ing, and glam­or­ous, and gor­geous in the first place.

They attemp­ted this with the met­ro­sexual when they tried to abduct him from his queer daddy two years ago, insist­ing, over and over, that he was always straight and not so nar­ciss­istic, actu­ally, more of a fam­ily guy, y’know? This earn­est square­ness con­tras­ted strik­ingly with my ambigu­ous, vain­glori­ous defin­i­tion: “He might be offi­cially gay, straight or bisexual, but this is utterly imma­ter­ial because he has clearly taken him­self as his own love-object and pleas­ure as his sexual preference.”

I def­in­itely know sev­eral guys like that. Or at least, I’d like to know sev­eral guys like that.

Marketers, I’m afraid, have small minds; they worry what the neigh­bors will think. They’re cur­tain twitch­ers. In fact, they’re worse than that: they meas­ure cur­tain twitch­ing. They ima­gine the way to per­suade bil­lions of men to buy more product is to keep telling them there’s noth­ing faggy about being… faggy. Which has a kind of truth to it, but it also misses the point that a cer­tain kind of fag­gi­ness is exactly what is appeal­ing to many straight men, and in fact was the whole appeal of the met­ro­sexual in the first place.

Tell me about it. Like Quentin Crisp, I’ve always found obvi­ous­ness a great advert­ising strategy.

Unsurprisingly, the aver­sion ther­apy mar­keters sub­jec­ted the met­ro­sexual to didn’t work – people insisted on being inter­ested in his fab­ulous ambi­gu­ity. So what did they do? In order to met­ro­sexu­al­ize that, mostly age­ing, ‘rump’ of ret­ro­sexual men still hold­ing out, but­tocks clenched, against mois­tur­izer, they tried to do away with the ‘met­ro­fag’ and put in his place the hyper-het, sexu­ally hygienic, ‘über­sexual’. What could be straighter than Donald Trump? Even if he does look like a daggy drag queen. That über­sexual list they came up with reads like the guest list for a baby-boomer straight pride parade.

Hilariously though, its the straight­ness and square­ness of the uber­sexual that guar­an­tees every­one will have for­got­ten about him even more quickly than they’ll for­get about the met­ro­sexual. The über­sexual is just a late 80s ad cam­paign for shav­ing foam. Cue cheesy MOR screecher: ‘GILL-ETTE!! THE B-E-E-EST A MAN CAN GET!!’

Hang on, doesn’t that mar­ket­ing woman say in her book, The Future of Men, the one that gave the world the über­sexual, that MetroDaddy was ‘openly deris­ive and dis­missive of the creature he had dis­covered?’ It’s been par­roted in The New York Times and oth­ers, so it must be true, no?

I’ve admit­ted that I have not been the best dad in the world to the met­ro­sexual, even though I gave birth to him, which is, let’s face it, more than most fath­ers do. Sometimes I’ve been a little harsh on him and his mater­i­al­ism – per­haps out of jeal­ousy of his insuf­fer­ably good looks and all the atten­tion he got.

But for the first dec­ade of his life I gave him more atten­tion and under­stand­ing than any­one else, and ‘openly deris­ive and dis­missive’ ‘from word one’ is simply untrue and deceit­ful. As ‘proof,’ Über­Mummy uses a gag from an essay I wrote eight years after my ori­ginal but cites it as being from the ori­ginal art­icle. It’s just one of sev­eral delib­er­ate mis­rep­res­ent­a­tions of my work in her book, which have been copy and pas­ted by the media from her cor­por­ate press release without any fact-checking.

She even mis­quotes me to try and sug­gest that the met­ro­sexual pro­vokes ‘homo­phobic panic’ in his queer daddy – this from the woman who insisted over and over that the met­ro­sexual was ‘always straight’, and when this failed tried to kill him off and replace him with some­thing even straighter!

It’s like find­ing your­self in a cus­tody battle with a woman who will say any­thing to make sure you’re denied even vis­it­a­tion rights. Which is really con­fus­ing if you can’t remem­ber the last time you slept with a woman.

Like the met­ro­sexual him­self, my feel­ings towards him are com­plex and ambi­val­ent: he’s a product of a medi­ated, con­sumer­ist world but he’s also a response to it. As I’ve poin­ted out before, whether he’s a good thing or a bad thing is impossible to say: he’s mostly the kind of man our age deserves.

But I’ll tell you what: since he’s been sub­jec­ted to a homo­phobic kick­ing by those who have exploited him so shame­lessly over the last couple of years, I’ve been inclined to seen a lot more good in him.

So what do you pre­dict will fol­low met­ro­sexu­al­ity if not über­sexu­al­ity? Untersexuality? Ruralsexuality?

Sorry to be bor­ing, but bar­ring a nuc­lear winter or, worse, a strike by per­sonal fit­ness train­ers, just more met­ro­sexu­al­ity. Male van­ity and medi­ated self-consciousness is a genie that can’t be put back in the Armani bottle. Male sen­su­al­ity and ‘selfish­ness’ is neces­sary to sus­tain a global con­sumer­ist eco­nomy. Men must tint their eye­lashes, oth­er­wise we all starve.

Personally, I’d rather starve than have pale eyelashes.

Feminism has also made all this mas­cu­line self-indulgence indis­pens­able. If men are, as some have put it, being more like ‘women,’ maybe it’s because they can’t rely on women to be ‘women’ for them any more. Or even to stick around.

Metrosexuality is a stab at a cer­tain type of commodity-supported inde­pend­ence on the part of men. Armed with ‘product,’ they’re not quite so depend­ent on a woman’s love, which is often a fickle thing in this day and age, but rather on their self–love, which in men we still tend to see as being sick or queer or laugh­able. In women, of course, we just call it “self-reliance.”

You go for it, gurl! Because you deserve it!

Exactly. The double-standard here is remark­able. Can you ima­gine the furor if a man wrote a book called The Future of Women? One in which women were attacked for dar­ing to appro­pri­ate char­ac­ter­ist­ics tra­di­tion­ally asso­ci­ated with men, to try and get ahead or just sur­vive? Compared to a ret­ro­sexual, the met­ro­sexual, hav­ing imbibed the les­sons of fem­in­ism in utero, doesn’t neces­sar­ily need women to dress him, feed him, tell him what he’s think­ing or feel­ing – or what his future is.

Some women find this a blessed relief. Others, like Über­Mummy, appear to find it just another reason why they want him dead.


Copyright © Mark Simpson 2007


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