Winsome, Losesome, Mansome

It’s always tricky as a writer talking to a researcher for a TV or film documentary. On the one hand you want your ideas to be taken seriously and the historical record to be as accurate as possible. And of course we all like attention. Especially from a visual medium we probably don’t belong in.

On the other hand, you don’t want to give everything away for nowt.

But you can hardly blame researchers for trying. For every ‘expert’ who appears on-screen in a doc, probably a dozen or more had their brains picked.

I don’t recall much of what I gabbled down the phone when I was contacted a couple of years ago by a female associate of the indie documentary maker Morgan Spurlock about a documentary she was helping him develop about the ‘male-grooming industry’. But I do remember that after speaking to her for about an hour I politely wound up the call – after getting that familiar brain-pick feeling. Or maybe I was just embarrassed at how talkative I’d been.

And that was the last I heard from Spurlock & Co. Which didn’t surprise me as I live in the UK, and it’s an American doc (with an Indie budget). True, I’m credited/blamed not just for coining the ‘metrosexual’ back in 1994 but also introducing him to the US ten years ago this Summer, kicking off the national nervous breakdown America had over masculinity in the Noughties and from which it is yet to fully recover. (Sorry ‘bout that, guys!)

But if there’s one thing the USA has no need to import from Blighty it’s talking big heads. They produce even more of those themselves than they do male beauty products.

Last April Mansome as it is now officially dubbed, emerged glistening and groomed at the TriBeCa film festival. With the publicity poseur: ‘In the age of manscaping, metrosexuals, and grooming products galore – what does it mean to be a man?’ And of course they found plenty of States-side experts, plus several celebs, such as Paul Rudd, Judd Apatow and John Waters to answer that question – along with Jason Bateman and Will Arnett, both executive producers of the doc and unashamed pedicurists.

I haven’t seen Mansome myself yet (an enquiry to the distributor’s press office some weeks ago has yet to produce a response), but going by the trailers, the advance reviews – and the title – I have a hunch that even if I’d lived within eyebrow-plucking distance of Spurlock and had been interviewed on camera for days I still wouldn’t have made the final nip and tuck of Mansome.

That ‘ironic’ music in the trailer, reminiscent of Desperate Housewives, seems to be there as a reassurance that none of this is to be taken seriously. That – relax dudes! – Mansome won’t goose you with any pointy ideas or insights. After all, even an indie film costs actual money to make and you have to get bums – waxed or just clenched – on seats to have a hope of getting any of it back. Mansome is selling itself as light entertainment not heavy enquiry. Or as Jessica Bennett at the Daily Beast put it in her review: ‘pseudo-documentary’.

So probably the last thing poor Spurlock would have wanted was the English and queer Metrodaddy insisting that metrosexuality is not only male vanity swishing triumphantly out of the closet, but tarty male passivity flaunting itself everywhere too. How men’s now flagrant-fragrant desire to be desired means that modern masculinity is quite literally asking for it.

But I wonder a bit how many bums, male or female, clenched or otherwise Mansome will actually lure into the multiplex. Arnett and Bateman are very droll in their towelling dressing gowns, but really, in 2012 who genuinely finds the notion of Hollywood actors visiting spas or shaving their backs remarkable? Or terribly snigger some? Even in America?

What’s more, the trailers, the credits and the hairlines suggest the masculinity being spotlighted here is mostly middle-aged. (It takes one to know one.)

One reviewer complained Mansome is ‘cute’ but has ‘nothing to say’. I doubt anyone would have bothered to make that complaint if we were talking Mikey Sorrentino’s abs. Or Channing Tatum’s buttocks. Or Justin Bieber’s dimples (Bieber, by the way, was born the very same year as the metrosexual). I certainly wouldn’t.

In the UK many if not most of the younger generation of males have taken metrosexuality as a given and literally fashioned their own bodies into a desirable, marketable product – and facial hair into less of a secondary sexual characteristic, or fetish of manhood, than just another sweet male accessory. Rather than try to define ‘what makes a man’ most would rather visit the gym or the tanning salon. Again.

Or show Metrodaddy their depilated pubes, balls and pierced John-Thomases in the pub. While their girlfriends look on, rolling their eyes. (No, really, this happens to me ALL the time. It’s just one of the many crosses I have to bear….)

Despite all this carping I’m still keen to see Mansome. America – or maybe just America of a certain age – does still need to talk this stuff through, honestly and openly. Especially after the mendacious ‘menaissance’ anti-metro backlash of the late Noughties that shut down the (admittedly rather skin-deep) conversation by shouting: ‘MAN-UP!!’.

Or the retreat into a slightly creepy if meticulously observed hipster waxwork version of Madison Avenue in the 1960s.

And there are some encouraging signs that Mansome might have something to say after all. Executive producer Bateman was quoted saying something rather refreshing in the WSJ the other day, cutting through much of the marketing froth around ‘male grooming’ – i.e. male beauty:

‘What this film confirmed for me was that men are not allergic to the mirror at all, We want to be as pretty as females. Body-hair removal, skin care—men basically do the same things, but are more secretive about them.’

Mind you, in the same article Spurlock himself was quoted as blaming Adam’s vanity on Eve again – in a very familiar and fruitless attempt to straighten out male narcissism:

“Men do crazy things for women, to get them and to keep them,” he said. “If all women were like, I want to have sex with a big, hairy Neanderthal, next thing you know one of the most popular products would be stuff that grows hair on your back and forearms.”

Not so sure about that, darling. (Though I do know a few bears who are already hot for hairy backs.)

And then there’s the manly strap-on euphemism chosen as the title for his doc. The Wiki page for Mansome includes this helpful paragraph about it:

‘Mansome’ is a relatively new word in pop culture. It is defined by UrbanDictionary.com as ‘an adjective that describes a man who is both manly and handsome.’ Mansome, the documentary, attempts to clarify exactly what makes a man “mansome”.

Obviously this is intended as a clever, ironic deconstruction of the way the ‘man’ word is too often stuck on a ‘girly’ product so that unadventurous fellows don’t think their nads are going to fall off if they buy it.

After all, ‘handsome’ is a traditional, acceptable ‘manly’ euphemism for ‘masculine beauty’. Or ‘attractive male’. One that a chap can use to describe another chap without calling into question one’s own whopping manhood.

So, needlessly strapping ‘man’ on an already essentially ‘male’ word would be something you would only ever do to point up the ridiculously camp and self-defeating nature of all these ‘man’ words, wouldn’t it?

I mean, effectively calling your documentary about male beauty Handsome (No Homo) is something you could only be doing to satirise the juvenile homophobia of American culture.

Isn’t it?

 Mansome goes on general release in the US later this month.

Mark Simpson’s Metrosexy: a 21st Century Self-Love Story is available now.

 

Postscript

I’d forgotten about this hilarious clip of Dean Martin Orson Welles gossiping under hairdryers at a ‘male hairdressing salon’. It puts Bateman and Arnett to shame. And it aired c. forty years ago.

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17 thoughts on “Winsome, Losesome, Mansome

  1. Neither did or does he. Even if he were, he wouldn’t be afraid to be metro now, as per your link to the Scottish metro renaissance.

    God, what a load of tiresome crap this whole ‘debate’ is, eh? How many men are really ‘manly’ men these days anyway? We live in a post-industrial world; it’s not like factory workers, and other occupations that would have built up the body through physical work, are much needed these days.

    I hate men who worry about their ‘masculinity.’ Who gives a fuck about such trite tripe? Did they ever kill an animal to eat? Did they ever kill a man in battle? Did they ever wrestle an elk? Nope. Then they should quite simply shut up and use some more moisturizer. It’s the worst and most spurious ‘argument’ ever.

    We don’t live in caveman days anymore. hence caveman (and, just in passing, there is no more pathetic and risible word to me than- spit – ‘mancave’ which sounds like a gay codeword for an anus) days, thus caveman physical attributes and skills are not necessary. Basic logic, for fucksake. And as I said earlier, American men never grow up anyway, so worrying about being ‘men’, Howie Long or not, is a totally moot point.

  2. Thanks for telling me about Howie Long, whom I wasted precious seconds of my life reading about on Toolazyafucktodoanyotherresearchapedia.con (sorry, com) before starting weeping and flicking to geek girl porn to karmically readjust and not feel so gay-site-mention-trust violated.

    I am sitting eating fried chicken and macaroni and eating chips (I still can’t call them fucking ‘French’ or ‘Freedom’ fries) and drinking Beck’s whilst reading the Washington Post in a confused attempt to correct Scotland’s embarrassing slide into nonheterometrofuddgepackyjobbiejabberpoofiness; ask Mark, he knows I’m not joking. I fear I may already be too late though, recently-acquired knowledge of Catholic football players or not. Thanks for trying to enlighten me anyway…

  3. But Graham, I beg to differ – we have Howie Long. I love Howie Long. That’s a man. I had the idea to do “Supersize Me” years before Spurlock – but he had the resources, and the frame. At 100 lbs base weight, it probably would have killed me. Which come to think of it, might of made better viewing – heck I’m still alive, who wants to make a snuff film? I kid, I think.

    I know I enjoyed reading Mark’s review much more than I would actually seeing this pseudo-documentary, now if they had gone for mockumentary, I might tune in.

    On a bright note, it looks like “hipster” has “jumped the shark.”

    I do believe this a project merely to draw attention to Morgan’s ridiculous facial hair, which makes him more Metrosexual than he’d probably care to admit.

  4. This took literally three minutes.

    Emasculated modern male
    On a downslide desolate
    Will nature make a woman of me yet?
    When in this charming ad
    This manly plan
    Why pamper facial complexities
    When the skin runs smooth
    With a moisturizer squeeze?

    I would come out tonight
    But I haven’t got a bear to bare
    This man says it’s gruesome
    That someone so mansome should care

    A jumped up media whore
    Who brought metro to the place
    He said men like product
    He knows so much about these things
    He knows so much about these rings

    I would come out tonight
    But I haven’t got gel for my hair
    This bland crap is gruesome
    That being a man is such a scare

  5. Calm yerself, Mark, fir fucksake ser! I just watched the trailer for that film. It looks AWFUL, and Morgan Spurlock looks like a member of the Village People with his moustache. I have no desire to see a bunch of ‘men’ old enough to know better snigger like schoolboys about being a ‘real man.’ I’d rather shoot myself. You’re better off not appearing in this film. Trust me.

  6. This comment thread is, like, so totally testosterone-fuelled and no-homo that I think I’m getting hard.

  7. Graham, a new career awaits… That’s awesome dude. No really!

    “a buncha like good dude shit like probably about
    chicks and not being queer and beer and shit”

    Perfect–you got it! Thanks for that. :0)

  8. And one for Paul (erase this if you want, Mark):

    THE DUD ABIDES

    Like dude! Heard about what’s like new and awesome dude?
    I heard about this new like awesome writer dude, dude
    who writes like awesome dude shit, dude, for like dudes like us dude,
    a buncha awesome shit we’ll like all like rude, nude, crude, lewd, dude!
    Broetry poetry for bros, bro, yo!
    He writes about like a buncha awesome shit like chicks, football, baseball, got balls,
    buncha awesome shit dudes like us are like into, dude, like no dud shit,
    no dead shit, no dad shit, no bad shit, no mad shit, no sad shit,
    a buncha like good dude shit like probably about
    chicks and not being queer and beer and shit
    He drinks like a buncha Guinness dude
    cos he’s like a fighting Irish dude, dude
    well not a really fighting dude but you know what I mean dude
    He’s a real awesome like man dude not no fanboy man dude
    even though like he reads at like Comic-Con man
    Dude we need to like check out his awesome slick lit about chicks and shit
    we so need to like do it dude be rude like not to
    cos we like need like some awesome dude like us to like
    talk the talk and walk the walk talk
    like crude and rude for us like dudes
    to like show us and like tell us
    dud dudes how to be like awesome dudes, dude,
    and he can like do it, dude!
    Broetry for bros, bro, yo!
    Let’s go ho oh yeah awesome!
    I like it dude and the dud dudes have
    like left
    the building
    alright?
    Awesome!

  9. “Handsome (No Homo)” indeed…

    And thanks Graham for providing a momentary respite from what I, being as it happens raised in one of those many fine midwestern bastions of immaculate manfulness (Indiana) know too painfully to be true…

    But “broetry”? For real?! And one does strive so hard to keep one’s spirits up…

  10. I’m bit haggard to engage in the conversation heretofore, but wanted to express my happiness that someone made a documentary with regards to metrosexy. I’m disappointed that he got the jump on you, although I hope he gave you due credit for the notion’s origins. I think that there is a great deal going on psychologically and sociologically with the “trend” than immediately meets the eye.The wealth of conceptual depth therein upbraids me more everyday, even in the American midwest. I’m speaking of the connections with feminism and with the neo-closetedness related to assimilation and the asexual marriage phenomenon. I’ll address that issue later. Right now I’m anxious to plant notice of this film and your article in the posts of FB friends who are crazed about the latest male scent competition and manscaping(whether one can trim his own toenails or must have a pedicure now).

    Of course chances are that they have reached a height of neuroticism leaving them in tizzies barring any intellectual activity- what happens when potential drag queens try to dignify manliness in a queenly fashion.

    You may be interested to hear that a minister is sueing for the right to use the word gay in it’s current application, as well as the rainbow symbol, so that he can be ‘gay’ again and enjoy rainbows without feeling sinful. God

  11. The Scots will do what they want in the metro stakes, and will batter the living shit out of anybody who insults them about it, so it’s all quite logical really.

    “You use…use…MOISTURISER ya poof? You turnin intae a Jessie or somethin, cocksmoker?”

    “Fuckin Jessie THIS ya prick!” (Headbutt) “Damn! Noo ah’ve got tae apply mair moisturiser tae ma foreheid!Wanker!”

    (Actual documentary documented dialogue from the mean-but-softskinned streets of Glasgow – nothing like using vapid tiresome stereotypes to make a point)

    Maybe I should start a cult over here as a Manly Scottish Man, making tearyeye Braveheart analogies and imploring American menchildren not to succumb to the dreaded selflover fey gay ways of my own country back in (boospit) Yoorope…and laughing all the way to the Yankwankspankbank as I do so, posting the results here upon occasion.

  12. Now *that’s* what I call poetry. Unbroetry. A cracking riff. Wonder how it would have gone down in the edit suite?

    It’s true: I know nothing about American masculinity and have never watched the Superbowl. I rely on you, Graham to send me your reports from the heart of the MidWest. Until of course they track you down.

    Funnily enough, I thought of you today – it seems that in your absence your homeland has finally succumbed:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/retailandconsumer/9250985/Scots-lead-Britains-male-beauty-boom.html

  13. Mark, surely you yourself know that there is NO SUCH THING as a ‘man’ in America. Males here do not grow up up past the age of around 15. They spend the rest of their ‘lives’ wandering round in jeans and baseball caps indulging in lowgrade misogynistic conversation, drinking crap beer and doing barbecues and discussing football stats and deriding anything perceived, however faintly, to be ‘gay’ which, in their tiny minds and worlds, basically encompasses anything I did not mention earler in the sentence.

    Bratty Yank manchildren dudes cling to these faux-manly token totems like kids do to their fave teddbyear, dude! I told you recentlyish about the intolerable concept of ‘broetry,’ the worst portmanteu moniker well, EVER, which some hipster Yank wank invented to beerspill wordwaster crap about liquor and chicks and football cos, dude, like, poetry doesn’t have to be a whole bunch of non-awesome gay and European and thoughtful shit and shit, dude! You ever watch the Superbowl, Mark? A nonstop brankiller screamstream of ads with bland blond women jiggling their tits and waving pissweak beercans, people being beaten and killed, funny animals…the sadvertisers there known their decorticated target audience, that’s for sure.

    Ironically funny to have people like John Waters (openly gay for decades) and the nauseating boychild Judd Apatow (whose horrifingly bad sub-adolescent post-Kevin-Smith scatfilms are works of cinematic genius to American manchildren) commenting. Better off they never had you in it. What would you know about worthless nonexistent American ‘manliness’ and ‘masculinity’ anyway, you goddam (spithiss) innerleckchewal Yooropean? You guys just think you’re better than everybody else! THIS is the greatest country in the world! 🙂

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