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 Salon.com 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 diamante 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