Interview with Mark Simpson in Portuguese National ‘Publico’

English version of interview with Simpson about his new book metrosexy by Bruno Horta (Publico, June 16, 2011)

Why did you decide to collect these texts in a single volume?

I wanted to bring together my essays that document and analyse the profound revolution in masculinity that metrosexuality represents. But which has been mostly trivialized by the media as being literally skin-deep – Oooh! men having facials!! Oooh! Manbags!! That kind of thing. Metrosexuality isn’t about men becoming ‘girlie’ or ‘gay’. It’s about men becoming everything. To themselves.

It’s told-you-so vanity on my part, but I also thought it was necessary to bring these pieces together into one collection so that if someone wants to find out the real story of what has happened to men and to sexuality in the early 21st Century they can. Even if it’s just historians of the future trying to work out why civilization collapsed.

The kind of texts you write and the tone you use (ironic and camp) is not common in Portugal but as far as I know is common in English language authors. Could you comment? Is the tone of your writings autobiographical or is just a rhetorical mechanism?

Are you calling me camp, Bruno? I try my best to be entertaining when I write, as I’m extremely dull in person. Also, I think when it comes to subjects like sex, sexuality and gender a sense of humour is absolutely necessary. If someone can write about these subjects straight-faced then they probably don’t know what they’re talking about.

Did you realize you were creating a worldwide concept when you first wrote about “metrosexual” men in 1994? How proud do you feel about having seen before others a social tendency?

The newspaper article in which I apparently coined that term was written to publicise my first book Male Impersonators: Men Performing Masculinity. I used metrosexuality as a kind of shorthand for what I was talking about in the book – about the way that an increasingly mediated world was changing masculinity and how it was becoming much more narcissistic and exhibitionistic – and ‘objectified’ in that feminist-speak.

In other words, masculinity was no longer always heterosexual never homosexual, always active never passive, always desiring never desired, always looking never looked at.

The enforced association of masculinity with capital H heterosexuality was breaking down even in the early 90s – you only had to look around the culture to see it. And I’ve always been something of a voyeur. The desire of men to be desired wasn’t something I was going to ignore.

Though, of course, people don’t always want to see things that are happening around them. Which is probably why it took another decade for the concept to catch on.

And yes, seeing some things before others want to does give me a certain mischievous, perverse pleasure, but it isn’t necessarily something you’ll be thanked for. Look what happened to Cassandra….

You say in the 1994 text that “metrosexuals are the creation of capitalism’s voracious appetite for new markets.” Do you think sexuality is nowadays more an economic issue than a ‘natural’ or ‘primary’ behaviour?

Not really sure that sexuality has been a ‘natural’ behaviour since humans became social animals with elaborate rules and codes, languages – and religions. It’s certainly been even less ‘natural’ since the industrial revolution. What’s clear though is that the productive/reproductive impetus of early capitalism has been replaced by sensual/consumerist imperatives, even and especially for men.

You see this even in China, where after a period of rapid productive growth consumerism is now rampant and encouraged by the Party as the next step in China’s economic development – and hyper-metro behaviour has been observed amongst a lot of Chinese young men (the so-called ‘herbivore’ phenomenon). Plus of course, population growth is not something China exactly needs.

It’s fairly clear that men have always had a capacity for sensuality and vanity – and a desire to be desired – but for most of history it has been rather closeted. Especially since the Victorian era. Men were meant to be warriors or labourers or empire builders. They weren’t meant to be beautiful. The sexual division of looking that the Victorians codified decreed that women were beauty and men were action.

But now that men have been encouraged to get in touch with their vanity and sensuality it seems there’s no stopping it….

Is the concept of “sporno” a proof that our Western culture is being constructed around pornography and sex? Camille Paglia wrote some months ago that American middle-class society is desexualized: men act like children until 50 and women are so thinner that men hardly fell attracted for their bodies. What should we conclude?

America is a conundrum. Sporno doesn’t really exist in the US, except via imported Armani advertising campaigns (which don’t feature US sportsmen). Sporno is a European phenomenon. The Protestant component of American culture is still very strong today and America still makes a quasi religious fetish out the notion of the Real Man.

The US is the only country that had a backlash against metrosexuality in the mid-Noughties. In many ways the ‘menaissance’ as it was called was men-dacious and hypocritical – often it was just a more uptight version of metrosexuality that was being sold. And in fact the US as a hugely consumerist country has continued of course down the metrosexual path – it can hardly do anything else.  But it’s still in terrible denial.

Sporno represents an intensification of metrosexuality – from a soft core to more hard-core gay porn sensibility.  It’s too out-and-proud in its metrosexuality, ramming it’s designer-clad packet – or ass – down your throat. America’s not really ready for that. America is, as everyone knows, one of the ‘gayest’ countries in the world but it’s the last to know it.

Why do we see rugby and football players acting as “sporno” stars but rugby and football are still homophobic areas?

I’m not so sure that rugby is that homophobic – partly because it’s all about male-male physical contact.  And it does have one or two out players/ex-players. Football is a different matter however. Pretty much the whole point of following football is to prove you’re not gay, my son….

To some extent the fashion houses deploying footballers in their spornographic advertising campaigns are exploiting the homophobia of the sport – the images are especially striking in their ‘gayness’ and their ‘passivity’ because they use men who live by ‘activity’ in a sport renowned for its homophobia.

In fact, David Beckham’s media career has also been based to some degree on exploiting the homophobia of football. If football wasn’t homophobic the notion of a footballer who ‘loves my gay fans’ and wears sarongs and his wife’s knickers wouldn’t be so newsworthy.

But of course sporno – and Beckham and Ronaldo – also change expectations and challenge prejudices. There is a time-lag between the pansexuality proffered by sporno images used to sell clothing to young football fans and attitudes on the terraces and in the changing rooms. But this will change. Things have already changed enormously in just a few years.

What is really, strikingly, shockingly apparent in these spornographic images is the lust young sporting heroes have to be… sluts. This apparently insatiable appetite for tartiness and sluttiness of men is something that metrosexuality has unleashed and isn’t going back in the closet any time soon.

How do you see the way gay men, or more accurately gay activism, behave today: they demand gay marriage, they want to adopt children and they claim family values? What’s happening? Has the “heterosexist” society just contaminated the previously subversive gay culture?

A lot of gays seem to have decided that they want respectability. Of course they call it ‘equality’. But perhaps they have an equal right to be respectable if they really want to be.

Just as straights appear to be going ‘gay’, given the chance, in the form of metrosexuality and recreational, kinky sex, gays seem to be going ‘straight’. It’s the inevitable result of the breakdown of the division between ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ and the crossover between the two.  Sexuality no longer dictates lifestyle.

And it’s not so surprising that it turns out that a lot of gays have made a fetish out of ‘normality’ and respectability – because it was denied them for so long.  I expect though that many will tire of it rather more quickly than a lot of heterosexuals have.

What’s your opinion about the apparently main-streaming of the transgender culture (last week Daniel Craig in drag; the Spanish magazine Candy, the recent success of the model Andrej Pejic)? Is trans the new sexual/aesthetic model? Are we going “transexy”, as you call it?

I think it’s becoming pretty apparent that in an increasingly intensely mediated culture everything is becoming hyper-real – especially gender.  The increasing use of cosmetic surgery by both men and women, especially celebrities, is bringing about a kind of effacement of sexual difference. Not necessarily because men and women are becoming androgynous, although that is happening too, but because even the attempts to emphasize ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ with cosmetic surgery, designer tatts and beards, steroids etc. etc. tend to produce an ‘over-exposure’ which results in a kind of ‘transexy’ appearance. Sexiness has effaced sex.

Gender has become so artificial and so over-stated that we’re all Pammy-trannies now. Male-to-male and female-to-female transsexuals.

Who do you consider to be the most interesting, sexy, defiant and mythological public person of nowadays? Why?

That’s a tall order. I’m not sure I can think of anyone that really fits that description. But Tom Hardy was the best thing by far about ‘Inception’ and there is something quite inspiring about this pouty-faced yet ruggedly handsome Hollywood star’s open ownership both of his bi-curious past and his ambi-sexual persona. He looks like a good advert for metrosexiness: ‘Don’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.’

I think that’s an excellent motto for negotiating the metrosexy world we’re now living in.

metrosexy is available for your instant pleasure on Amazon Kindle

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