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for the New Statesman) was acerbic, entertaining and not without insight, but sometimes seemed at least thirty years out of date. And I know this because I myself am only twenty years out of date.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