Tom Cruise is reportedly working on a script for a sequel to Top Gun. In case he’s mislaid his well-thumbed original copy of Male Impersonators: Men Performing Masculinity, the book that outed the flaming queerness of the original movie, he needn’t worry.
Tom can now download it in an instant as a Kindle eBook, in a ‘2011 Director’s Cut Edition’.
In fact, Top Gun and Tom Cruise’s swishingly sexually ambiguous career only make up one of the chapters (and one of the weaker ones at that, it seems to me now). Published in 1994 Male Impersonators examined the way men were represented in popular culture as a whole – movies, ads, mags, music and comedy – filtered through, of course, my trademark ‘bent’. Showing how ‘unmanly’ passions such as homoerotics, male narcissism and masochism were not excluded but rather exploited, albeit semi-secretly, in voyeuristic virility.
Essentially, Male Impersonators is an X-ray of what late-Twentieth Century mediated culture was doing to masculinity. Elbow deep.
Unlike most ‘Director’s Cuts’ I have actually cut instead of adding stuff. Chiefly, I’ve axed the long introduction I didn’t want to write in the first place and that probably no one read anyway.
WARNING: Commissioned by an academic publisher, Male Impersonators, my first book, is often heavily referenced and freighted with theory. This was the last time I wrote that kind of book.
It was also the high summer of my love-affair with Freud. So there’s rather a lot of what Gore Vidal sniffingly dubbed ‘the Jewish dentist’ in this work. My heart still belongs to Siggy and his theory of universal bi-responsiveness, of course. But I’m no longer, as they say, ‘in love’.
Written in 1993, a lot of MI is naturally very dated now. It really was a different century. ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ had just been enacted in the US, while even properly closeted homosexuality was still a dismissal offense in the UK Armed Forces. The age of consent for two civilian males was 21 (lowered haltingly, reluctantly, to 18 in the same year as MI was published). Section 28, the 1980s law introduced by Margaret Thatcher that outlawed the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ by local authorities was still in force, along with all the grim panoply of ‘gross-indecency’ and ‘importuning’ anti-homo legislation of the Nineteenth Century.
The HAART therapy cavalry was yet to arrive and Aids was still perceived as a (gay) death sentence in the West, and had ‘executed’ a number of friends of mine: including one of the dedicatees, Imanol Iriondo (who died just after MI was published).
So it’s only understandable that I should have been a little more preoccupied with ‘homophobia’ back then than I am these days. Particularly the hypocritical way it was often used to keep homoerotics pure. I was a lot gayer then.
That said, some of MI stands up surprisingly well, I think. Often, my feeling as I went through it was: WHY did I write that? Quickly colliding with HOW did I write that? MI was written in the space of three months, when I was still in my 20s. Ah, the energy of youth.…
For all its datedness, there is something timeless about the book The ‘male objectification’ it analysed has become so dominant and everyday that even New York Magazine (and then Details) notices it.
And MI did after all give birth to that attention-seeking, damnably pretty creature that was to own the 21st Century: the metrosexual. Though I never use that word in MI. Instead I talk about male narcissism (and masochism). A lot. It wasn’t until I wrote an essay for UK newspaper The Independent in late 1994 to publicise MI that I used the ‘m’ word – which turned out to be its first appearance in print.
I deployed ‘metrosexual’ as journalistic shorthand for the freighted theory of MI. Reading MI you may decide that the shorthand said rather more than the longhand. If Male Impersonators was the theory of metrosexuality, Metrosexy, my recent collection of metro journalism, documents the way metrosexuality went on to conquer the culture over the next decade or so – and also the half-hearted, men-dacious backlash against it in the late Noughties.
Sometimes I have to pinch myself today. Watching the pretty boys hugging and crying on X-Factor and American Idol, or the straight muscle Marys flaunting their depilated pecs and abs on Jersey/Geordie Shore, or the orange rugby players spinning around topless in glittery tight pants on Strictly Come Dancing — or Tom Hardy doing much the same thing in Warrior - it’s as if I’ve died and gone to a hellish kind of heaven.
Men Performing Masculinity
The book that changed the way the world looks at men.
Why is bodybuilding a form of transsexualism? What do football and anal sex have in common? Why is Top Gun such a flamingly ‘gay’ movie? Why is male vanity such a hot commodity? And why oh why do Marky Mark’s pants keep falling down?
In his influential first book Male Impersonators, first published in 1994, Mark Simpson argues for the vital centrality of homoeroticism and narcissism in any understanding of the fraught phenomenon of modern masculinity. A highly penetrating, ticklish but always serious examination of what happens to men when they become ‘objectified’.
From porn to shaving adverts, rock and roll to war movies, drag to lads’ nights out, Male Impersonators offers wit and reader-friendly theory in equal measure in a review of the greatest show on Earth – the performance of masculinity.
On male strippers…‘
‘The myth of male stripping mesmerises precisely because it contradicts itself with every discarded item… No matter how freakish his genital attributes, no matter how craftily engorged and arranged with rings and elastic bands, no matter how frantically it is waved and waggled, the stripper’s penis, once naked, never lives up to the promise of the phallus: the climactic finale of the strip is… an anti-climax.’
‘The world does not need a ‘gay Elvis’, for the original, with his black leather suit, pomaded pompadour, come-fuck-me eyes and radiant narcissism, was quite queer enough.’
On porn stars…
‘Visually, Jeff Stryker resembles nothing so much as an illustration of the human nervous system in a medical textbook where the size of each region and appendage represented is related to the number of nerve endings. Thus Jeff on-screen is remembered as a huge face, a vast pair of hands (all the better to grab and slap ass with) and grotesquely outsized genitalia.’
Praise For Male Impersonators
‘Simpson pulls the pants off popular culture and wittily winks at the Freudian symbols lurking beneath.’ (FOUR STARS OUT OF FOUR) – The Modern Review
‘This set of high-spirited essays displays more insight into the masculine mystique than has the decade of earnest men’s studies that preceded it. Simpson has an unerring eye for the inner logic and pretences of a wide range of masculine enterprises and symbols. THIS IS QUEER THEORY WITHOUT THE JARGON AND IS A MUST FOR ANYONE INTERESTED IN THINGS MALE. GENERAL AND ACADEMIC READERS AT ALL LEVELS ‘– Choices
‘What is happening when men and their sexualities become the focus of the camera’s gaze? Mark Simpson’s brilliant, witty, up-to-the-minute analysis shatters complacencies, old and new.’ – Alan Sinfield, University of Sussex
‘Mark Simpson detects and dissects the myths of machismo and its attendant media circus with refreshing gusto and wit.’ – John Ashbery
‘It’s not only women who don’t have the phallus – men don’t have it either – just the inadequate penis! This book cheered me up with the reminder that when it gets down to it, both sexes are just great pretenders.’ – Lorraine Gamman
‘Like me this book plays with men. Provocative, irreverent, acerbic and witty, it offers one gigantic intellectual orgasm after another.’ – Margi Clarke
‘A brilliantly-positioned array of firecrackers, elephant traps and banana skins designed to trick conventional maleness into showing it’s true hand, or some extremity.… SIMPSON CAPERS LIKE ROBIN GOODFELLOW, STRIPPING OFF THE FIG LEAVES WITH EXUBERANCE.’ – The Observer
‘CLEVER, ENGAGING, INCISIVE.’ – The Guardian
‘EMINENTLY READABLE.’ – My Prime
‘Mark Simpson’s Male Impersonators could do for male sexuality what Camilla Paglia did for women, finding latent homo subtexts to Marky Mark, Clint Eastwood and Tom Cruise’s baseball bat.’ - Melody Maker
‘Male Impersonators quickly reveals itself to be different and, arguably more insightful than many previous ‘Masculinity books’. Male Impersonators makes a timely and exemplary addition to cult stud’s ‘Return to Freud’. It has an excellent readability factor compared to many others freighted with dull writing.’ – Perversions
‘A DEFT AND PERSUASIVE DISCUSSION ON THE SUBJECT.’
– Stage and Television Today
‘These smashingly provocative essays by the spunky Brit writer Mark Simpson detonate myths, stereotypes and icons, gay as well as straight. The psycho-social line separating homo and hetero maleness, he fulsomely shows, is much fuzzier than Robert Bly and Pat Buchanan find it to be.’
- Lambda Book Report
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