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The 'Daddy' of the Metrosexual, the Retrosexual, & spawner of the Spornosexual

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How ‘Big Brother’ is giving boys big tits

(Originally appeared on the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ as ‘Long live the metrosexual!’ )

More evidence that reports of the ‘death’ of my Frankenstein monster with perfect skin, the metrosexual, have been greatly exaggerated.  In Europe and the UK at least, it seems he’s alive and looking very well indeed in his lovely new eyeliner – and busy recruiting your kids.  In the process giving them rather large pectoral muscles.

In ‘Metroboys’, published in the Dutch magazine Marketing Tribune, Norbert Mirani of the SMM Knowledge Centre, a trend research institute for Holland’s largest publisher of men’s magazines, reveals the results of a major survey of over 1000 Dutch males which, he says, show clearly that while faddish ‘new names for new types of men have come and gone the original metrosexual trend is anything but dead’. 

Confirming my own warning in The Times earlier this year, his research shows that, au contraire, it’s fast becoming ‘dead common’ among younger males: ‘Characteristics that indicate metro behaviour such as shopping, fitness and fashion interest score much higher among the under 35s than they do those over 35′.  This in itself is perhaps not so surprising, since everyone knows that men over 35 are married with 2.5 children and the same number of cardigans (or else they’re life-long bachelors with one pair of very worn leather trousers).  More interestingly he claims the figures show that, ‘the younger male will smoothly grow into behaviour we now label as “metro” but which will be simply regarded as normal by future generations’.  In other words: they’re not going to wear cardigans when they get older.

His survey of 1000 Dutch males under 35 found plenty of evidence that metrosexuality’s manicured grip on the hearts and wallets of young males is only likely to increase.  38% already shop simply for ‘new ideas’ or ‘fun’, and 37% expect to shop ‘even more’ in the future.  Which along with the news that 55% expect males to use more day and night moisturiser crèmes and 40% expect more males to use face-masks and 60% expect more use of hair colourings means that the global consumer economy is safe.  Today’s generation of males are unlikely to shirk their duty at the mall and seem keen to spend their money on high ‘added-value’ (i.e. innately fairly worthless, expensively advertised) commodities so long as they make them feel more valuable.  Vanity is increasingly what makes the world go round and men want a pretty piece of it.

Of course some Anglos, particularly Jeremy Clarkson, or anyone who looks like him, might object, saying: ‘Well, that’s just the effete Dutch for you – what do you expect from a nation that puts wacky baccy in cakes?’  Leaving aside the odd fact that effeteness is somehow always the property of some nation other than your own Netherlanders, whatever you might think of their baking and their long-haired policemen, tend to be social and cultural pioneers. 

Perhaps because it’s such a small densely populated country, perhaps because they lost an Empire (to us) long before we did, perhaps because they switched to a service economy before Thatcher shut down our manufacturing industries, or perhaps because they are extremely pragmatic people especially when it comes to the pursuit of pleasure.  Whatever the reason, what happens in Holland will probably happen here, with clogs on – if it hasn’t already. After all, didn’t the ubiquitous not to mention slightly naff High Street store Superdrug launch male eyeliner, alias ‘Guyliner’, in the UK recently?  Aren’t ‘manbags’ practically an epidemic in London and Manchester?

Holland’s liberal attitudes towards homosexuality widely mocked for decades, have become more or less standard in much of Western Europe – even the UK, where until quite recently bugger-baiting was something of a national sport.  And the decline in the stigma of homosexuality was vital for the emergence of metrosexuality – the persecution and pathologisation of men who found the male body desirable was for years an effective way of keeping mainstream male vanity quaking in it’s walk-in closet.  Flipping it around, the rise of metrosexuality means, of course, that it’s now more acceptable to be Dutch….

Arguably our youth are already as Dutch as Edam cheese.  After all, not only have they adopted highly liberal attitudes towards recreational drug use, they’ve already been utterly brainwashed by that fiendish TV show ‘Big Brother’ – a Dutch-made popularity contest which is usually won by a metrosexual.  Or a transsexual.  Or a homosexual.  Though this year the fact that a metrosexual won was of little significance, since almost all the males in the house were raving metro and ended up mainlining eyeliner. 

It’s only to be expected.  A survey of 2,000 teenage males in the UK last year found that, on average, boys admitted to looking in the mirror ten times a day. And 96 per cent of these narcissists used deodorant, 90 per cent hairstyling products, 50 per cent moisturisers and 25 per cent said they “might have plastic surgery?.  (Probably live on ‘Big Brother’ if they had the chance.)

It is the increasingly self-conscious relationship of today’s young males to their bodies, rather than shopping or moisturiser, that really shows how metrosexualised they have become – how self-conscious and commodified the male body has become: A whopping 78% of those Dutch males under 35 expect men will be even more aware of their figure/weight in the coming years, 65% expect more male use of health spa’s and resorts, 45% expect males will buy more fitness gear to use at home, 45% expect more male cosmetic surgery, while 52% expect men make even more use of sunbeds (William of Oranger anyone?) and 45% expect males to make more use of diet products. 

Which is great news for Coke Zero – the recently launched Coca Cola diet brand aimed at young males, promoted in the UK by an expensive and unavoidable TV and cinema ad campaign in which fit, attractive, blond, possibly Dutch (he’s badly dubbed with a mockney accent), young metrosexual male followed down the street by an army of young men who either want to look like him or just get his phone number.

Dutch research also reveals that ‘fitness’ is now the most popular sport that males of all ages take part in.  In other words, participatory sport focused on making you fitter/look more attractive, has become more popular than ‘real’ outdoor competive/team sport, such as football.  Looking ‘sporty’ is far more important now than being sporty.  Looking ‘manly’ far more desirable than being manly.  Big tits are now something that every man wants – for himself.

Even at the cost of your health, or your balls.  According to a report published this week by the UK drugs charity DrugScope one of the most popular recreational drugs amongst young males is now steroids.  Apparently these prescription-only muscle-building drugs that can cause heart and liver problems, along with testicle shrinkage, especially when used incorrectly, have become a much sought after commodity on the drugs black market in major UK cities.  Their usage has grown so much in the past year that they are no longer an exotic habit of cheating athletes and bouncers with necks wider than their heads – according to DrugScope they are now ‘mainstream’.

But not because young men want to be stronger, or faster, but simply because they want to look more desirable.  Steroids are now a metrodrug, used by young straight men in much the same way as many gay men have used them for years: to look ‘hot’.  To be worthy of love.  To be looked at.  And thus to be certain, in today’s world, they exist.  Some don’t even work out when they take them.  According to Druglink, most young males aged 16-25  are using steroids ‘for purely aesthetic reasons – a shortcut to the muscled, toned physique of their sporting heroes.’ 

Or, I might add, ‘Big Brother’ contestants.  The very first winner of UK ‘Big Brother’ was a bodybuilder.  Most shows have starred one flashing his pneumatic tits at every available opportunity.  This year’s winner didn’t have a beefy body, but he did have a beefy love-muscle he wasn’t afraid of flexing.  In Australia, which in some frightening ways is more Dutch than Holland, the winner was an appetising 22-year-old built fitness instructor who spent much of his time stark naked in the mirrored (and, of course, camera-filled) bathroom waving his even more built and appetising penis around. 

A few years ago when introducing the metrosexual to the US, I pointed out that in ‘Spider-Man’ (2002) young Tobey Maguire appears to be injected by steroids and ecstasy by a gay spider, turning a geeky boy whom no one notices into a buffed, exhibitionistic, metrosexual superhero celeb, swinging across the metropolis in his kinky rubber suit.  It seems that gay spider has been very busy.  His metro-web has enmeshed almost everything and everyone under 25.  Though maybe he wasn’t gay after all – just Dutch. 

Whether in sport or Dutch TV popularity contests, or pretty much anywhere you care to look in the West today, the male body is increasingly only as successful as it is desirable.  In a mediated, consumerist, post-feminist, frankly rather decadent world, male vanity, once a ticket to mockery is now not only a ticket to celebrity – it’s a question of survival.

Metroboys, of course, feel this instinctively, in their young, needy bones and swelling pectorals.  Without needing to be told about it by market researchers. 

Or, in fact, me. 

 

© Mark Simpson 2006

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