Man-Knockers on the London Underground

A funny thing happened to Mark Simpson on the way to the ‘Being a Man’ forum

I almost fell off the plat­form when I saw this body­build­ing sup­ple­ments poster bust­ing out all over the London Underground recently - around the same time as all that indig­nant hul­laba­loo sur­round­ing The Sun’s infam­ous now-you-don’t-see-them-any-more-now-you-do-again lady busts.

There they were, depil­ated man-knockers (and pixelated knack­ers) nakedly objec­ti­fied in the rush hour for all to see: men and women, chil­dren and adults, wide-eyed tour­ists and jaded loc­als. No need to buy a copy of a declin­ing tabloid news­pa­per, open it and turn to page three to ‘exploit’ this model’s tits and abs. Just look up from your smart­phone. Shameless male top­less and bottomless-ness plastered all over the walls for every­one to ‘gaze’ at while wait­ing for the next obscenely over­crowded Elephant & Castle train, per­haps car­ry­ing Laura Mulvey.

Even worse, the poster encour­aged other young men to objec­tify them­selves (‘reveal your­self’), and spend their hard-earned cash buy­ing sup­ple­ments that they hope will help to make them more desir­able, more sale­able, more shag­gable — bustier. Men are the new glam­our models.

The web­site for the sup­ple­ment com­pany includes ‘cover model’ as one of the poten­tial ‘goals’ that their sporno­sexual cus­tom­ers might be inter­ested in:

…lean muscle has become an industry recog­nised term that is now syn­onym­ous with a cover model look. To achieve a cover model body, the key con­sid­er­a­tion is to increase muscle whilst keep­ing body fat to an abso­lute minimum’.

And lib­eral use of Photoshop.

Funnily enough, I was on my way to appear on a panel at the Southbank Centre talk­ing about ‘Being a Man’ when I was con­fron­ted with these man-knockers. On the panel I was respond­ing to a present­a­tion by the artist and TV presenter Grayson Perry. Who is a bit of man knocker him­self — in a more ‘crit­ical’ sense.

Perry’s present­a­tion (along the lines of this piece for the New Statesman) was acerbic, enter­tain­ing and not without insight, but some­times seemed at least thirty years out of date. And I know this because I myself am only twenty years out of date.

My main issue with it was not that it prob­lem­at­ised and patho­lo­gised mas­culin­ity and ‘toxic’ testoster­one and the Sauronic ‘male gaze’ — which it did in spades — but that it reified, pos­sibly fet­ish­ised mas­culin­ity as some­thing unchan­ging, some­thing mono­lithic. Sometimes the biggest crit­ics of mas­culin­ity are its biggest believ­ers — includ­ing cross-dressing fem­in­ist men.

Of course, I tend to notice far too much what some don’t care to see at all — and I began my com­ments by warn­ing the audi­ence that I like men. A LOT. But I was sur­prised how little Mr Perry seemed to under­stand me when talk­ing about the eager self-objectification young men today go in for and the break­down of what I call the het­ero­sexual divi­sion of labour, of look­ing and of loving.

I won­der if he uses the tube? Or even his eyes?


The recently-released movie ver­sion of Fifty Shades of Grey has been attacked by some fem­in­ists for set­ting back ‘the cause of woman­hood’ (because it fea­tures female sub­missive­ness and male mas­ter­ful­ness) and for glor­i­fy­ing ‘abuse’ (des­pite being very con­sen­sual). Notwithstanding it is writ­ten by a woman, dir­ec­ted by a woman (Sam Taylor-Johnson), green-lighted by a woman — and of course enorm­ously pop­u­lar with women. Likewise, the rehab­il­it­a­tion of female mas­ochism in the last dec­ade or so seems to have been for­got­ten and replaced by sus­pi­cion of women who like their sex sub­missive and spanky.

I haven’t seen the movie, I’m still recov­er­ing from going to see the last ‘event’ ‘chick flick’, so can’t com­ment on whether or not the women involved in mak­ing it and the mil­lions going to see are suf­fer­ing from ‘false con­scious­ness’. And obvi­ously I don’t know much about woman­hood anyway.

But I have watched the offi­cial trailer. Repeatedly. The mas­ter­ful Mr Grey (Jamie Dornan) is a standard-issue sporno­sexual who prob­ably has a Bulk Powders Gold Card. In the 2.23 min trailer there are 7 top­less shots of his sculp­ted torso, includ­ing a mir­ror shot which gives you a sim­ul­tan­eous, spitroast­ing front and rear view of it, vs 1.5 of Ms Steele (Dakota Johnson), sans nipples in her case. Oh, and one side shot of her panties — with Dornan’s pretty face in front of them.

My favour­ite shot though shows him play­ing his grand piano shirt­less, in a scene that looks a bit Behind the Candelabras - but with Liberace as the toy-boy. I sup­pose that the grand piano rep­res­ents Ms Steele sub­mit­ting to the skill­ful fin­gers of Mr Grey. But it looks like a very camp — sorry, I mean mas­ter­ful — form of masturbation.


Swing it Around Like You’re in a TV Commercial’

Mark Simpson on how Lynx grew up. And kissed a boy.

 “Swing it around like you’re in a TV commercial.”

I like this spunky new hair gel ‘Now can be amaz­ing’ ad from Lynx, cur­rently air­ing in Australia. Especially since it’s the per­fect anti­dote to the ball-shrivelling dreary para­noia of ads like this.

In fact, it’s prob­ably my favour­ite ad since Philips/Norelco ‘I’d F*ck Me’ where a young man play­fully chats him­self up in front of the bath­room mir­ror. Like the Philips ad this one isn’t afraid of its own shadow, and instead of mak­ing apo­lo­gies just embraces and cel­eb­rates male beauty and van­ity — and the spirit mak­ing the most of it while you have it.

More than this, it’s an ad which encour­ages young men to be any­thing that they want to be — to be ‘amaz­ing’. In much the same way that young women have been encour­aged for some time.

Hence the ‘Kiss the hot­test girl — or the hot­test boy’ moment. This is not, as has been pro­claimed by gay blogs, a ‘gay kiss’ so much as a bi-curious one, since it’s the same guy kiss­ing the girl and then the boy. Which is in keep­ing with what we might term the James Dean ethic of the ad — don’t go through life with ‘one hand tied behind your back’. Especially if it’s your best hand.

This is par­tic­u­larly impress­ive com­ing from Lynx (known as Axe in the US), a brand which is not usu­ally asso­ci­ated with pro­gress­ive advert­ising and in fact often asso­ci­ated instead with a hys­ter­ical het­ero­sexu­al­ity: ‘I only smell nice coz it attracts women and that proves I’m not gay, OK?’. (Though there have been sort-of excep­tions, such as this Axe ad star­ring Ben Affleck back in 2007.)

But then, I told Lynx all about their hys­ter­ical het­ero­sexu­al­ity and how dated it was in a world in which young men take male van­ity and self care for gran­ted — and aspire to be everything - when they con­tac­ted me last sum­mer ask­ing for my input into their re-branding. I’d com­pletely for­got­ten about this con­sulta­tion when I saw the ad, and just thought it was cool. I don’t know for sure whether my cri­tique made it into the brief for this ad, but it seems quite pos­sible I may have been admir­ing my own reflection.

Though being hon­est, I’m not entirely sure he’s really made the most of his hair with that bird’s nest look.…

Stripping Down the Male Body

Disability char­ity Scope have been air­ing a cheeky ad this sum­mer designed to encour­age people to donate clothes. It’s a funny trib­ute to the iconic Levis ‘Laundrette’ ad of 1985 and fea­tures a very studly 24-year-old model and per­sonal fit­ness trainer Jack Eyers in the Nick Kamen role. And boy, does he fill it.

Instead of strip­ping off to wash his clothes, Eyers denudes him­self to donate to the cause. As he gets down to his white box­ers we sud­denly get a close-up on his hi-tech pros­thetic leg, which has remained hid­den until now. In terms of the way the ad is shot and struc­tured his pros­thesis is basic­ally his penis. It becomes another way of ‘strip­ping down’ and ‘reveal­ing’ the male body. Of sig­nalling both tough­ness and vul­ner­ab­il­ity, passiv­ity and activ­ity, loss and pos­ses­sion at the same time.

Jack Eyers kink

And Eyers isn’t shy about it. His pros­thesis is, as he says in an inter­est­ing inter­view with the Telegraph’s Theo Merz here, some­thing he likes to show off rather than hide because it looks ‘pretty cool’. It also doesn’t neces­sar­ily harm his employ­ment pro­spects in an industry wak­ing up to both the eye-catching poten­tial and, para­dox­ic­ally, the ‘nor­mal­ness’ of dis­ab­il­ity. (You might also want to check out Theo Merz’s exped­i­tion to Newcastle in search of the sporno­sexual here - in which he dis­cov­ers the man some Telegraph read­ers would like to pre­tend doesn’t exist is ter­ri­fy­ingly, ab-tauteningly real.)

Alex Minksy

Even less shy is US Marine vet turned under­wear model Alex Minsky, who has been gar­ner­ing a lot of well-deserved atten­tion for his saucy shoots — and most par­tic­u­larly for the way, with his body art, sculp­ted muscles, styled facial and head hair, he has totally aes­thet­i­cised him­self, pros­thesis and all. He’s also a model who clearly isn’t afraid to become a form of per­form­ance art. Splendidly kinky per­form­ance art. (Some naked selfies were leaked earlier this year — which only served to, err, enhance his reputation.)

Alex Minsky pressup

Perhaps part of the appeal of the buff, sexu­al­ised chap with pros­thetic limb(s) is not just the ‘inspir­a­tional story’, but also the fantasy of total con­trol over the body — even after some­thing as trau­mat­ising as ampu­ta­tion. And of course the hi-tech, fas­cin­at­ing pros­thesis that seems to bring ‘bionic’ powers blends with the cyborg nature of sporno­sexu­al­ity itself — a bod­ily mer­ging with tech­no­logy, in which the body is ‘machine tooled’ into some­thing more excit­ing by nutri­tional and med­ical sci­ence, Technogym decline presses and Nair for Men. (Though for most this mer­ging is done by upload­ing smart­phone selfies to Facebook.)

Alex-Minsky-9 alex-minsky-modello-senza-gamba-6

I ana­lysed the ‘Laundrette’ ad in Male Impersonators as a ‘sem­inal’ moment in the objec­ti­fic­a­tion of the male body — its ‘looked-at-ness’. Kamen’s strip in the liv­ing rooms of the UK in the mid-1980s (along with sev­eral other ads in that cam­paign, which increas­ingly sought to sub­sti­tute the product for the model’s unshow­able penis) really did mark a moment at which we woke up to the male body as a fully-fledged object of desire. Everyone in the laundrette, male and female, is hav­ing a really good look. And it’s worth men­tion­ing he’s doing his own wash­ing — no ‘little woman’ in his life to do it for him.

Like Top Gun, which was released the fol­low­ing year, ‘Laundrette’ pack­ages this new male nar­ciss­ism as ‘tra­di­tional’ and ‘retro’, when the real 1950s it is notion­ally loc­ated in con­fined this kind of fare to under­ground gay mags like AMG — cer­tainly not prime-time TV.

Thirty years on we’re all still hav­ing a really good look. So much so that we require much more visual stim­u­la­tion. Our gaze is more demand­ing, more pen­et­rat­ing. Back then Kamen’s body was pantingly-described as ‘hunky’, but now his slim, svelte body looks not rather coy in com­par­ison to today’s ripped, pumped, inked and sexed-up spornos, with or without gleam­ing, well-oiled pros­thetic limbs.

Not to men­tion almost a dif­fer­ent species.


Dan Osborne, the won­der­fully, shame­lessly tarty star of The Only Way is Essex and now beau­ti­fully brazen under­wear model for Bang Lads, pho­to­graphed deli­ciously by Darren Black.

Dan shows us the girth of his Xmas cracker. Or what we’ll be doing after it goes ‘bang’.
Dan, who is clearly a very shy lad, shows us his obliques, his biceps, his tatts and his elbows.

 Write-up by the DM on the shoot here.

Ten Iconic Car Ads

Ten unfor­get­table car ads from the past four dec­ades that tran­scen­ded both cars and advert­ising and came to sym­bol­ise an age


by Mark Simpson

Fiat Strada – ‘Hand Built by Robots’ (1979)

A fact­ory full of robots assembles cars to the strain of Rossini’s Figaro – with nary a soul to be seen.

Today this legendary ad dir­ec­ted by Hugh Hudson seems like slightly dull doc­u­ment­ary, but in 1979 it was thrill­ing Sci-Fi. The grace­ful move­ment of the cars and robots set to clas­sical music seems inspired by the weight­less scene in Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey (1968). It was also proph­etic – prof­fer­ing a vis­ion of a world without a work­ing class; a world where fickle people are replaced by much more reli­able, much cleverer, much shi­nier, much more obed­i­ent things.

Famously sat­ir­ised by Not The Nine O’Clock News in a sketch that con­tras­ted the British real­ity of over-manned car man­u­fac­tur­ing in the 1970s: ‘Built By Roberts’.

Renault 25 – ‘One of Your Better Decisions’ (1984)

After drop­ping Jasper and his violin off at a leafy prep school a couple dis­cuss their plans to take over the world on the drive back to their coun­try pile, while fid­dling with plastic but­tons on the Renault’s dashboard.

An ad that every­one loved to hate (that woman’s voice; that man’s arrog­ance) but it summed up the go-getting Thatcherite entre­pren­eur­i­al­ism of the early 80s – ‘I’m start­ing my own busi­ness’. It also plays, briefly, with the idea of divorce, which by the 1980s was becom­ing a major theme in people’s lives.

Despite (Margaret) Thatcherism, it’s a ris­ibly sex­ist ad. Rather than dis­cuss life-decisions that ‘con­cern the house, the kids’ – and his car – ‘David’ presents ‘Joanne’ with a fait accom­pli, which she just gushes over: ‘David, that’s fant­astic.’ Essentially she’s the posh ver­sion of the woman in this 1974 Ford Cortina ad:

VW Golf Mk2 – ‘Changes’ (1987)

A Princess Di lookalike (Paula Hamilton) storms out of a mews house, shoves her wed­ding ring through the let­ter­box, hurls her pearls and fur coat – but stops before drop­ping her car keys down the drain. She keeps the car – which turns out to be a Golf. ‘If only everything in life was as reli­able as a Volkswagen’

Directed by David Bailey this is per­haps the defin­it­ive 1980s ad, cap­tur­ing the unabashed mater­i­al­ism and shoulder-padded glam­our of the age – but also the ‘changes’ that Alan Price is singing about (the song was writ­ten for a friend of his going through a divorce). Allied to that, car advert­ising is now recog­nising women’s increas­ing inde­pend­ence – one of the main reas­ons for the rising divorce rates – and appeal­ing to them as drivers rather than passengers.

Like many iconic ads it also proved proph­etic: it wasn’t until some years later that news of Princess Di’s troubled mar­riage reached the public.

Peugeot 405 – ‘Take My Breath Away’ (1988)

A car drives through a field of burn­ing and – unac­count­ably – explod­ing sugar cane, while a Rolexed hand coolly changes gears, all to the power bal­lad strains of Berlin’s ‘Take My Breath Away’.

Today this ‘high concept’ ad looks like a guilt-tripping pub­lic inform­a­tion film about the evils of global warm­ing, but in the 80s it sym­bol­ised per­fectly the after­burner ambi­tion of that fab­ulously psychotic ‘Top Gun’ dec­ade – par­tic­u­larly that of the British advert­ising industry itself, which was a kind of Soho Hollywood, man­u­fac­tur­ing glossy, glam­or­ous 45 second dreams that set Brits aflame with con­sumer lust.

Renault Clio – ‘Papa? Nicole?’ (1991–8)

A haute bour­geois father and his young, svelte daugh­ter sneak and nip around the South of France in their respect­ive Clios, both con­duct­ing ‘secret’, very French, very styl­ish affairs.

Probably the most pop­u­lar UK car advert­ise­ment ever made, run­ning in vari­ous instal­ments for most of the 90s, saw ‘Nicole’ recog­nised by more Britons than the then Prime Minister John Major. It caught the grow­ing yen of the British middle classes for a piece of the Dordogne (or Tuscan) dream. The 1990s were the dec­ade when we learned to ‘stop being so English’ (as the IKEA ad had it) – and become much more con­tin­ental in our aspir­a­tions and mores.

The tra­di­tional chau­vin­ism of car ads is now reced­ing into the dis­tance: Nicole is a single young woman shown driv­ing rather fast down nar­row wind­ing streets – to sow her wild oats.

Audi A4 – ‘Not My Style’ (1994)

A vul­gar squash-playing, loud­mouth yup­pie ste­reo­type test-drives a clev­erly pho­to­graphed car the viewer assumes is a BMW – before he gets out, reveal­ing it’s actu­ally an Audi, and announces: ‘It’s not my style, know what I mean?’.

This ad exploits the early 90s back­lash against/guilt over the vul­gar excesses of 80s mater­i­al­ism, but clev­erly, and some­what hypo­crit­ic­ally, man­ages to asso­ci­ate the Audi brand with the excite­ment of BMW – while mak­ing it clear that Audi drivers are a much bet­ter class of cus­tomer than the people who drive BMWs. Even the dis­dain­ful Audi dealer looks like he’s deal­ing art rather than cars.

The final off-screen mobile phone call, ‘Gabby, tell Charles I’m on me way’, has become a time­less clas­sic end-line.

Peugeot  – ‘Search For the Hero’ (1995)

A long mont­age of heroic, occa­sion­ally arty thoughts, appar­ently those of a square-jawed exec driv­ing the Peugeot, all to the uplift­ing strains of M-People’s ‘Search For the Hero’.

By the mid 1990s the back­lash against the pre­vi­ous decade’s selfish­ness had pro­duced a yen for vaguely eth­ical, uplift­ing and ‘pro­gress­ive’ car advert­ising – before envir­on­mental issues had become the defin­ing middle-class con­cern. This search for a vaguely eth­ical hero was answered just a couple of years later with the elec­tion of the square-jawed exec Tony Blair. And we know how that turned out.

Honda Accord – ‘The Cog’ (2003)

A Heath-Robinson style con­cat­en­a­tion install­a­tion made entirely of Honda Accord parts, filmed in two con­tinu­ous 60 second takes.

Perhaps the most fam­ous and mem­or­able UK car ad of the 21st Century, ‘The Cog’ got around the prob­lem of increas­ing frag­ment­a­tion of media and audi­ences by becom­ing an ‘how did they do that?’ event – and also by employ­ing ‘vir­al­ity’. In the UK the 120 second ver­sion was first aired dur­ing a com­mer­cial break in ITV’s cov­er­age of 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix and garnered acres of edit­or­ial. In most other mar­kets the cost of such a lengthy TV seg­ment proved pro­hib­it­ively expens­ive and instead the ad was viewed online – quickly going viral.

The Cog’, which appears to have ‘bor­rowed’ heav­ily from the 1987 art film The Way Things Go, cap­tured the grow­ing interest in mod­ern art install­a­tions in the UK: the Tate Modern, Bankside had opened just three years before, prov­ing a ‘run­away’ success.

Skoda Fabia – ‘Cake’ (2007)

An army of work­ers in white hats and over­alls assemble a Hansel and Gretel car entirely out of mar­zipan, sponge and jelly, lub­ric­ated with Golden Syrup.

Another kind of TV art install­a­tion, but a much tastier one, this ad for Fabia cars was snapped up by the British pub­lic, bring­ing as it did together two of their greatest loves: cars and cake. Targeting couples over 35 in gen­eral – and per­haps Jo Brand in par­tic­u­lar – it no doubt benefited from the rise and rise of cook­ing and bak­ing TV shows/food porn in the Noughties.

The ad sug­gests a kind of ‘artisan’ car, lov­ingly assembled by swarms of happy, highly-skilled work­ers – the oppos­ite prom­ise of ‘hand made by robots’, two dec­ades earlier.

Toyota GT86 – ‘The Real Deal’ (2012)

“Can you feel it? Can you feel the thrill of being alive?’ asks a pixel man driv­ing around a driver-assist, vir­tual world. ‘Neither can I. There is no ‘real’ in this town.” He then dis­cov­ers a Toyota GT86, escapes unreal­ity at high speed, pur­sued by heli­copters, crash­ing through the CGI bar­rier into ‘the real’.

The digital, sterile, pos­sibly sex­less future proph­es­ised by ‘Hand built by Robots’ has come true. Much too true for some. This ad for a sports car exploits that Top Gear–ish frus­tra­tion, but like many iconic ads it wants it both ways. On the one hand the irres­ist­ible red-blooded real­ity of this car will save you from the anaemic Uncanny Valley of mod­ern, online life – on the other, it’s sug­gest­ing that it might be almost as excit­ing and fast as the cars that you drive on your Xbox.

Appropriately enough, the ad was banned by the ASA.


Copyright Mark Simpson 2013

 Special thanks to Simon Mason

This art­icle ori­gin­ally appeared on LeasePlan