Objectify Yourself

Mark Simpson on the (self) sexu­al­isa­tion of today’s male body & why straight young men crave gay adulation

(Originally appeared in Out Magazine, February 2015)

Male self-objectification is, as they like to say on social media, a “thing.”

There’s been a rash lately of so-called “gender flip” memes, in which people pre­tend to be impressed by male hip­sters pre­tend­ing to sub­vert sex­ism by iron­ic­ally adopt­ing the clichéd poses of sexu­al­ized women. Although some­times funny and instruct­ive, espe­cially when it involves lick­ing sledge­ham­mers, the anti-sexism of many of these gender flip memes depends on a (hetero)sexist assump­tion that men just aren’t meant to be objec­ti­fied — so it’s hil­ari­ous when they are.

Rather than, say, that the men adopt­ing these cheese­cake poses usu­ally just aren’t very attractive.

It also relies on jam­ming your eyes shut in order not to notice how men who aren’t meme-generating hip­sters prefer to stake their claim to our atten­tion not on faux fem­in­ism but rather on sweat-soaked gym ses­sions, pricey sup­ple­ments, plunging neck­lines, and gen­eral shame­less­ness. And as with sex itself, there’s noth­ing ironic about it. It’s a very ser­i­ous, very prof­it­able business.

At the mul­ti­plex, Chris Evans keeps blind­ing us with his all-American oiled bazookas. Channing Tatum and his bun chums keep whip­ping their pecs and asses out and — who knows? — may even finally deliver the man goods in this year’s sequel, Magic Mike XXL. Meanwhile, Guardians of the Galaxy recently wowed the world by prov­ing that even pre­vi­ously pudgy Chris Pratt (of Parks and Recreation fame) can be a Men’s Health cover girl. And Chris Hemsworth was named “Sexiest Man Alive” by People magazine on account of his long lashes, big guns, and huge hammer.

There’s even an MTV Movie Award for “Best Shirtless Performance,” which in 2014 went to Zac Efron for That Awkward Moment — but only after he stripped again, onstage at the cere­mony, without being awk­ward about it at all.

True, Hollywood too often still feels the need to jus­tify big-screen male slut­ti­ness with CGI hero­ics, a kind of mus­cu­lar Christianity in span­dex — insist­ing, in effect, that this is virile activ­ity, not gay/girly passiv­ity. And as if to keep that slut­ti­ness fur­ther in check, it often lim­its the nude or top­less male scenes to one per 100-minute movie.

Perhaps because it caters more to women, TV is a rel­at­ively unbuttoned medium when it comes to the male body. Even TV super­her­oes such as Stephen Amell’s Arrow are often costume-optional. Maybe because their male char­ac­ters are already damned, gothic shows like True Blood, Teen Wolf, and The Vampire Diaries are pos­it­ively pulsing with appet­iz­ing boy flesh. It’s enough to make any­one grow fangs. And the young, buff men of real­ity TV — the Jersey Shorettes — are every­where, wear­ing very little, and doing even less. Except demand­ing we look at them.

Dan Osborne gif

The “struc­ture” of struc­tured real­ity TV is usu­ally unveiled male V-shapes. In the U.K., a volup­tu­ously endowed, cheeky, straight(ish) guy in The Only Way Is Essex(the U.K. Jersey Shore equi­val­ent) called Dan Osborne became a national hero in 2014 after wear­ing glit­tery Speedos on prime time on another real­ity show,Splash! — even upsta­ging his mentor, the per­fectly formed Olympic diver Tom Daley.

The 23-year-old Osborne, like a lot of today’s self-objectifying straight men, loves The Gays. Really loves them. Last year he appeared in the U.K. gay magazine Attitude, very gen­er­ously offer­ing read­ers his shapely bubble butt across a double-page spread, with the strap­line “Sex is fun. Be safe and enjoy it.” He told Attitude, “I’ve had a few bum pinches, and I don’t mind that at all. Maybe it’s because a guy knows how hard it is to train, so they appre­ci­ate it more.”

Underwear model and wounded Marine vet Minsky embraces the gaze
Underwear model and wounded Marine vet Minsky embraces the gaze
Here in the States, pumped under­wear model Alex Minsky — the indelibly inked U.S. Marine Corps vet and amputee — is very happy to mer­ci­lessly tit­il­late his many appre­ci­at­ive gay fans with naked naugh­ti­ness. And even a major film star like James Franco can’t seem to leave them alone, post­ing all those semi-naked selfies on his Instagram feed.

The way straight young men chase and hustle gay atten­tion today rep­res­ents a major, mil­len­nial shift in atti­tudes. Part of the reason that men offer­ing them­selves as sex objects were frowned upon in the past was that they could be objec­ti­fied by any­one — includ­ing people with pen­ises. They were queered by the pen­et­rat­ing queer gaze.

Now they beg and plead for it. They instinct­ively know that male objec­ti­fic­a­tion is about enjoy­ing and cel­eb­rat­ing male passiv­ity, even — and espe­cially — if you’re straight. So get­ting the gays proves not only your hot­ness, and cool­ness, but also your meta­phys­ical ver­sat­il­ity. It proves that you are a proper, fully fledged, all-singing, all-dancing sex object.

Blame the met­ro­sexual, who was born two dec­ades ago, out­ing male van­ity and the mas­cu­line need to be noticed. In just a gen­er­a­tion, the male desire to be desired, or “objec­ti­fied,” to use that ugly word — which the met­ro­sexual exem­pli­fied — has become main­stream: It’s regarded as a right by today’s selfie-admiring young men, regard­less of sexual ori­ent­a­tion. In a visual world, men want to be wanted too — oth­er­wise, they might dis­ap­pear. They also need to look a lot at other men in order to bet­ter under­stand how to stand out.

Second-generation met­ro­sexu­al­ity is very obvi­ously more body-centered and hard­core — or sporno­sexual. Young men today want to be wanted, not for their ward­robes, but for their bod­ies. Bodies they spend a great deal of time, effort, and money fash­ion­ing into hot com­mod­it­ies down at the gym, tan­ning salon, and designer tat­too par­lor — and then upload­ing to the online mar­ket­place of social media for “likes,” “shares,” and cut­throat com­par­is­ons with their pals.

It shouldn’t be so sur­pris­ing. Today’s young men are grow­ing up with a dif­fer­ent idea of “nor­mal,” in which European and Australian pro­fes­sional rugby play­ers are happy to strip down and oil up. The highly homo­erotic, highly pro­voc­at­ive Dieux du Stade cal­en­dars of rugby play­ers in the buff became only slightly less homo­erotic when adap­ted by Dolce and Gabbana in their mega­bucks advert­ising cam­paigns star­ring the Italian World Cup soc­cer team. David Beckham and then Cristiano Ronaldo offered sim­ilar favors for Armani, fol­lowed by lithe Spanish ten­nis ace Rafael Nadal, who is cur­rently filling out the Italian designer packet. And former Australian rugby league player Nick Youngquest is now the body and face — in that order — of Paco Rabanne.

Gays are no longer a des­pised or mar­gin­al­ized niche — they’re lever­age. If you get the gays pant­ing, you even­tu­ally get every­one else.

David Gandy, pos­sibly the world’s only male super­model who isn’t a pro­fes­sional ath­lete, has a darkly hand­some, model-perfect face. But his sen­sual, ath­letic, beau­ti­ful body is his call­ing card. So it is entirely apt that he was “made” by Mr. & Mr. D&G, who cast him in their fam­ous 2007 “Light Blue” cam­paign, in a boat off Capri, wear­ing scan­dal­ously abbre­vi­ated D&G swim trunks, glisten­ing in the sun and lying back, hands behind his head, await­ing our atten­tion. He was accom­pan­ied by a foxy lady (Marija Vujovic), but he was the unques­tioned object of the camera’s gaze.

Seven years on, it’s still his trade­mark. In a clip for Gandy’s recent Autograph under­wear cam­paign, the cam­era, in extreme close-up, licks down his naked torso towards his naked, shaved groin — then fades out just in time.

It’s clear to any­one who wants to notice that in the sporno­sexual 21st cen­tury, the male body has been rad­ic­ally redesigned. With the help of some “objec­ti­fy­ing” blue­prints from Tom of Finland, it is no longer simply an instru­mental thing for extract­ing coal, build­ing ships, mak­ing babies, fight­ing wars, and tak­ing the trash out. Instead it has become a much more sen­sual, play­ful thing for giv­ing and espe­cially receiv­ing pleasure.

Or as the young men of the Warwick University row­ing team put it in a pro­mo­tional quote for the 2015 ver­sion of their now fam­ous nude char­ity cal­en­dar, ded­ic­ated to fight­ing homo­pho­bia in sports and rammed with arty ass shots: “Regardless of gender or sexu­al­ity, we are invit­ing you into that moment with us.”

GandyCoverx1000

The Animals: Love Letters Between Christopher Isherwood & Don Bachardy

Isherwood

Reviewed by Mark Simpson in The Independent (20/9/13)

Contrary to what the pop songs tell you, the lan­guage of love is not uni­ver­sal. It really isn’t the same the world over or even on the same street. Everyone’s love affair is utterly unin­tel­li­gible to every­one else. It’s per­haps the whole point of hav­ing one.

Which can make read­ing other people’s love let­ters a baff­ling if not slightly point­less exper­i­ence. Katherine Bucknell’s The Animals (Chatto & Windus), a col­lec­tion of let­ters between the fam­ous British-born nov­el­ist Christopher Isherwood and his lover the American por­trait artist Don Bachardy, who lived together openly as a gay couple in Hollywood at a time when most were closeted, isn’t point­less. But love does speak in animal tongues. Cloying Beatrix Potter animal tongues.

Bachardy, who was just eight­een when a 48 year old Isherwood met him on a Santa Monica Beach in 1952, is ‘Kitty’, ‘Fluffcat’, ‘The Fur’, ‘Catkin’, ‘Sweetpaws’, ‘Dearest Darling Puss’, ‘Sweetcat’, ‘Snowpuss’, ‘Angel Lovecat’, ‘Velvetpaws’, ‘Sacred Pinkness’, ‘Sweet Longed-For Flufftail’, ‘Pink Paws’, ‘Beloved Fluffpuss’, ‘Whitewhiskers’, and ‘Claws’ (the lat­ter epi­thet being per­haps the most sali­ent to this reader of Bachardy’s waspish missives).

Isherwood for his part is ‘Horse’, ‘Drub’, ‘Drubbin’, ‘Rubbin’, ‘Dobbin’, ‘Old Pony’, ‘Dear Treasured Love-Dub’, ‘Slickmuzzle’, ‘Naggin’, ‘Drudgin’, ‘Drubchen’, and ‘Dearnag’. If this seems an unfair dis­tri­bu­tion of gushy epi­thets this is because it was meant to be. As Bachardy wrote in a let­ter dated 6 Feb 1961:

The horse Kitty loves has always been an old grey mare, so sweet and dear and never one of those greedy and faith­less white stal­lions. And besides grey is more becom­ing to Kitty’s white fur. Two white anim­als would never do.’

The lan­guage of love may be unique to each couple, but one rule of sexual syn­tax every­one under­stands: there’s only room for one prima donna in one relationship.

Like many gay rela­tion­ships, Bachardy and Isherwood’s was open though, per­haps under­stand­ably given the large age dif­fer­ence, more so on Bachardy’s side. ‘Dobbin’ often encour­ages ‘Kitty’ to enjoy strange sau­cers of cream, but is always anxious that Kitty return to his ‘bas­ket’ and the primacy of their rela­tion­ship not be threatened: ‘Dobbin is only happy if Kitty finds con­sol­a­tion – ONLY NOT TOO MUCH!’ Many of the let­ters res­ul­ted from sep­ar­a­tion caused by Bachardy’s pro­longed dal­li­ances with oth­ers abroad, such as the London theatre dir­ector Anthony Page.

Isherwood – who had a pro­nounced fear of the dark and hated being alone at night – attempts to explain and jus­tify their campy, furry arche­types in a let­ter dated March 11, 1963:

I often feel that the Animals are far more than just a nurs­ery joke or a cute­ness. They exist. They are like Jung’s myths. They express a kind of free­dom and truth which we oth­er­wise wouldn’t have.’

The irony for the reader is that this is stated in a let­ter, writ­ten imme­di­ately after a face-to-face row, which dis­penses with the Kitty-Dobbin shtick and stands out as per­haps the most dir­ect, heart­felt and unmannered let­ter in the col­lec­tion – and one that sug­gests that much of the time, like many couples, they are not so free or true after all. As Isherwood writes:

Oh – I am so saddened and depressed when I get a glimpse, as I do so clearly this morn­ing, of the poker game we play so much of the time, watch­ing each other’s faces and listen­ing to each other’s voices for clues. I was so happy the other day when you said that about Dobbin hav­ing been a jailer and now being a con­vict.… Masochism? Oh, Mary – what do I care what it’s called.’

In her excel­lent intro­duc­tion Bucknell does a skil­ful and brave job of try­ing to inter­pret the lov­ers’ talk for the reader. Apparently Bachardy reminded Isherwood of his younger self – and indeed there was a remark­ably strong, pos­sibly slightly dis­turb­ing phys­ical sim­il­ar­ity. The let­ters end in 1970, and Isherwood died in 1986, sur­vived by Bachardy.

But thanks to The Animals Isherwood’s devo­tion lives on. As a typ­ical sign-off from Dobbin put it:

Love from a devoted old horse who is wait­ing day and night with his saddle on, ready for his Kitty’s commands.’

Living Doll: Marc Jacobs Talks to Mark Simpson

Marc Jacobs talks to Mark Simpson about his Brazilian (ex) porn star boy­friend, fore­skins, gay fash­ion miso­gyny, turn­ing 50 and being turned into a stuffed toy.

MJ Pierre et Gilles

(Origin­ally appeared in the Winter 2012 edi­tion of Man About Town Magazine)

Marc Jacobs is many things. So many things that it would make a lesser Mary giddy.

He’s a fash­ion label. Three, in fact: The Marc Jacobs Collection, Marc by Marc Jacobs, and Little Marc. He’s a range of fra­grances. He’s a retail store, with 239 out­lets in 60 dif­fer­ent coun­tries. He’s the cre­at­ive dir­ector of Louis Vuitton in Paris. He’s a three times win­ner of the Womenswear Designer of the Year Award and a four times win­ner of Accessory Designer of the Year.

He’s also a relaxed, 49-year-old American from New York City whose pretty much life-long open­ness about his sexu­al­ity – along with his sus­tained suc­cess – has made him a poster-boy for gay pride, ranked 14th in American gay magazine Out’s 2012 ’Power List’.

Furthermore, Marc Jacobs is, per­haps most import­antly in our super­fi­cial age, a bona fide global celebrity. Snaps of him social­ising with friends and boy­friends appear in news­pa­pers, mags and on gos­sip sites around the world: even the pages of even the UK’s notori­ously gay unfriendly Daily Mail. Instantly recog­nis­able, Marc Jacobs the man and the brand is a famil­iar part of our visual culture.

In keep­ing with that cul­ture Marc Jacobs is also, nowadays, a body. A few years back, with the help of ruth­less diets and reli­giously reg­u­lar gym routines – and, no doubt, some of the hunki­est per­sonal fit­ness train­ers in town – he trans­formed him­self from a chubby, nerdy, pal­lid chap graz­ing on junk food into almost fat-free, pumped, tanned, tat­tooed beefcake.

And now – dwarf­ing all his other achieve­ments – he’s also a stuffed toy.

Mark Simpson: Word is you’ve been turned into a ‘Muscle Man Marc’ doll.

Marc Jacobs: I have. By the makers of South Park.

It’s every gay man’s dream. How did that come about?

Well, I have quite a few tat­toos and two of them are of toys that belong to the Cartman char­ac­ter in South Park. And I guess I’ve been pho­to­graphed so many times with those tat­toos that it came to the atten­tion of Matt [Stone] and Trey [Parker] who cre­ated the series, so as a sort of homage they made me into a doll, a toy in Cartman’s room. And of course I found that to be the greatest hon­our I’ve ever received! I have such great respect for them and I think the show is so clever, so well-observed.

As is your doll. It’s a very fetch­ing toy.

Thank you!

But do you ever worry that people might be stick­ing pins in those dolls? People can be very jeal­ous. I know I am.

[Laughs] Y’know, I some­times read com­ments by people online to things and think, well, I don’t know these people and they don’t know me and so every­body has a right to their opin­ion and if it makes them feel bet­ter about me by put­ting me down, then fine.

Did you find, when you trans­formed your­self a few years back, that there was hiss­ing as well as applause?

Yeah, like with everything y’know, some people said we like the old, sort of geeky Marc. But I got tons of let­ters from people say­ing that I encour­aged them to go on diets and encour­aged them to go to the gym. I star­ted it for health reasons—I have ulcer­at­ive colitis and my nutri­tion­ist encour­aged me to change my diet. I star­ted going to the gym and star­ted to feel bet­ter and look better—and any­thing that makes me feel bet­ter I want more of! Lots of people wrote to me to say that my story gave them hope that they could change as well. That it was never too late to change one’s diet or one’s life­style or pick up a habit that’s nour­ish­ing and positive.

What’s your cur­rent body fat per­cent­age? Trending up or down? It was an eye-popping four per cent last time I read about it.

It’s prob­ably about eight per cent at the moment. I missed a few weeks at the gym because of pre­par­ing the [Louis Vuitton] show for Paris Fashion Week. When I go back to New York it will go down again, prob­ably to about five per cent very soon.

That’s a great relief!

Yeah—I’m sure people all over the world will be thrilled to know that!

There should prob­ably be a web­site where we can check up on your BF per­cent­age in real time.

Oh God, I hope there’s never any such thing!

Oh, it will come, it will come. I hear there’s one bad habit you’ve not been able to ditch: smoking.

Yeah, that’s true, unfortunately.

If smoking made you fat do you think you’d stop tomorrow?

I don’t know… I don’t know. I mean, I tried to quit smoking before. I’ve had peri­ods of success—the longest was seven months. I really do enjoy smoking and as bad as I know it is for me I just can’t seem to stay quit.

Everyone should have at least one vice.

Well, I guess…

Though you seem to have a weak­ness for tat­toos also. Any recent ones?

I had the ‘Muscle Man Marc’ doll tat­tooed on my right fore­arm a few months ago. That was the last one.

What’s the cur­rent tally?

I think we’re up to 34.

Some people like to agon­ise over their choice of tattoos.

That’s not some­thing I agon­ise over. I mean, I can agon­ise over whether we use black and white or red and white or both in a col­lec­tion, but I cer­tainly don’t agon­ise over my tat­too choices. They’re very spontaneous.

Is the doll ana­tom­ic­ally correct?

Well, it’s in pants.

And the pants don’t come off?

No. So I guess the answer’s no.

Ah, but since the pants don’t come off we’ll never know for sure. Do you remem­ber Billy the gay doll?

Yeah, I do.

Did you ever have one?

No, I didn’t.

He was very ana­tom­ic­ally cor­rect. Or incorrect.

Yes, I remember!

What would you say was your favour­ite part of the male body?

Lips. I love a full pair of lips.

They’re an oft-overlooked male attribute.

I don’t over­look them!

Are you a pas­sion­ate snog­ger, Mr Jacobs?

Yeah, that’s what gets the rest of me going!

Still dat­ing Harry Louis, the humpy Brazilian porn star you were snapped with on the beach in Rio recently?

Oh yeah! He’s my boyfriend.

Harry looks to have been blessed in the lip depart­mentand every­where else.

Oh yeah! In all the right places—and it all works very well! He’s also a really lovely per­son. He’s noth­ing to com­plain about on any level, inside and out. He’s a total sweet­heart. He’s a very sexy, hunky man.

I believe you. I can hear you get­ting turned on talk­ing about him. Did you see him ‘in action’ before you met?

No. I met him through a friend of mine. I’d actu­ally never seen him before.

And how did you feel about your boy­friend work­ing as a porn star?

Oh, I thought he was very good at it! [Laughs] He’s given it up now though. It’s very dis­ap­point­ing for some of his fans, but I’m very happy about it. He told me that he wanted to give it up and have a mono­gam­ous rela­tion­ship. So he’s been busy explor­ing what he wants to do with his life and has been work­ing at a club called The Roof Gardens in London. He loves to cook and has been think­ing about open­ing up a small café or res­taur­ant. He’s also very good at cook­ing, by the way.

He has lips like those and is great in the kit­chen as well?

Yeah!

Where did I put those pins?? Oh here they are: you once said “I always find beauty in things that are odd and imper­fectthey are much more inter­est­ing.” Mr Louis doesn’t look ter­ribly imper­fect from where I’m panting.

That quote was in regard to fashion—me talk­ing about things that inspire me to make clothes. And Harry, or Eddie as I call him, has his imper­fec­tions. I wouldn’t say they were physical—he has this quirky char­ac­ter, and what people see on the screen isn’t who he really is. It’s a persona.

People have trouble under­stand­ing that porn isn’t real life. I cer­tainly do.

I’d say I hit the jack­pot with Eddie. But I’ve also had skinny boy­friends. Shorter boy­friends. Darker skinned boy­friends. Lighter skinned boy­friends and boy­friends of all shapes and sizes—I don’t really have a type. Eddie is pretty much phys­ic­ally per­fect and sexy but he has his own quirky per­son­al­ity and is super sweet and not at all what people per­ceive him to be on screen.

As an American dat­ing a Brazilian, what’s best? Cut or uncut?

Um, I don’t really have a preference…

Speaking as an uncut Brit, Americans tend to either run for the hills shriek­ing or are maybe a bit too inter­ested in that flap of skin.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love it! But I just don’t have a par­tic­u­lar preference.

Okay. So you’ve got your­self a porn star body…

… I wouldn’t say that!

Well, I would. And you’ve got your­self an ex-porn star boy­friend. So… when is the Marc Jacobs sex tape com­ing out?

Well if there is one, it’ll just be for me—it will not be for pub­lic consumption!

How old fash­ioned! Am I right in think­ing that your mother’s soft porn magazines turned you on to the male form?

Yeah, it was Playgirl and Viva. I found them in her room. I saw the naked men in them and thought ‘Wow! That looks good!’

What was the look back then?

Hairy chests, mous­taches, that kind of thing.

And big hair?

Well, blow-dried.

The camp coun­sel­lor you’ve men­tioned in the past you had your first crush on. Did he look like a Viva model?

Probably. A younger version.

So he was the first time you kind of trans­ferred what you were feel­ing for the Viva mod­els to an actual guy?

Yeah!

And noth­ing came of that?

No. I was quite young. I was nine.

Oh! Yes, that is quite young. How old were you when you did do some­thing about it?

Thirteen, I think.

That’s still quite young. You must have had an adven­tur­ous spirit from an early age.

Oh, I did!

How did it go?

It was pretty awk­ward. It was with a friend who was stay­ing over. But it was a first exper­i­ence, I guess.

Would you say that things have changed a lot for gay people since you were a kid?

I think so. We can get mar­ried now.

Why are there so many gay men at the top of the fash­ion business?

I don’t know. There are plenty of straight men in fash­ion as well. There are also plenty of straight women in fash­ion. I wouldn’t really single gay men out. The people I admire most in fash­ion are straight women. Coco Chanel, Vivienne Westwood, Miuccia Prada, Elsa Schiaparelli. I con­sider them to be the most import­ant design­ers in the his­tory of fashion—the most invent­ive and cre­at­ive, and they’re all women. So there you go.

What about the ‘miso­gyn­ist’ brush that some people like to tar all gay design­ers with?

I don’t think we get accused of that so much with what we do. First of all there’s no real vul­gar­ity and there isn’t that kind of miso­gyn­ous approach. We don’t bind women or objec­tify them sexu­ally. I don’t think the style of the clothes we make would put me in that cat­egory. More appro­pri­ate per­haps in other cases…

You’re not going to name any names?

No.

Damn! What’s your secret to sur­viv­ing the queer curse of Paris fash­ion houses? Galliano and McQueen have come and gone at Dior and Givenchy, but you remain in com­mand at Louis Vuitton, where you’ve been since 1997.

I think I’m just very pas­sion­ate about mak­ing clothes and I guess if there is a secret it’s hav­ing a very good team of people who also share that pas­sion and nat­ural curi­os­ity for tak­ing on some­thing new each sea­son, which keeps it sort of fresh and sur­pris­ing and chal­len­ging for us. As long as the will is there and you work with a group of cre­at­ive and able people then you can con­tinue to pro­duce sea­son after season.

Is being a fash­ion designer a lonely busi­ness? It can look that way some­times, to us civilians.

No, I don’t feel that it is, not for me. Every day I spend a lot of time with people I admire and respect and actu­ally really like—and hope­fully like me as well. Both for Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton. So I’m not alone. I also have a great group of friends whom I’m inspired by, although I don’t get to see nearly as much of them as I’d like to. So I wouldn’t say my life is very lonely.

What do you think of the pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates’ present­a­tion? Any style tips for them?

I’m just going to say that I’m going to vote for Barack Obama. I think he did a great job as President and I’d love to see him serve again. That’s all I’ll say.

C’mon! I’m try­ing to get you to be shal­low here!

I know people make a big deal about what they look like, but to me it really doesn’t mat­ter. The qual­it­ies I look for in a President or a First Lady are an abil­ity to run the coun­try and be intel­li­gent and hon­est. I really don’t give a toss about what they wear!

I how­ever did give a toss or two over what you and Eddie were wear­ing to the beach in those Rio snapsSpeedos. The much-maligned anatomically-correct Ozzie beach­wear looked spiff­ing on both of you.

I only get the chance to go to the beach once, maybe twice, a year and I love to catch the sun, so wear­ing knee-length board-shorts seems coun­ter­pro­duct­ive. I like to lie on the beach and tan wear­ing as little as pos­sible. I like to be as close to naked as I can be.

And God bless you for that. Do you have any plans for your half-century this April?

Currently I’m plan­ning to go to Rio and spend a nice time with Eddie. I’m not hav­ing a big party or any­thing like that. I don’t like cel­eb­rat­ing birth­days. I know every­one says 50 is a big deal but it’s just another year as far as I’m con­cerned, and I don’t want to make a fuss of it.

Either way, in or out of Speedos, we can be sure you won’t be look­ing 50 in April.

God, I hope not!

This inter­view was given at the end of last year. Here’s what Marc looked at hit­ting 50 and the beach last week with Harry in Rio.

 Special thanks to Philip Utz

David Bowie’s Bisensuality

The DNA test res­ults are in. And I can exclus­ively reveal that the metrosexual’s real daddy is… David Robert Jones.

Whatever the truth of Bowie’s own sexu­al­ity, his early 70s intru­sion into the liv­ing rooms of sub­urban England was the most power­ful and pro­voc­at­ive sexual lib­er­a­tion parade ever seen in the UK. He was later to beat a retreat from his andro­gyny and bisexu­al­ity in the Reaganite ’80s, per­haps in the hope that America would no longer cen­sor him. But the glam­or­ous seeds he sowed back then have borne strange and won­der­ful bis­en­sual fruit – enjoyed by every­one, regard­less of gender or orientation.’

Read the art­icle by Mark Simpson in full at High50

David Bowie reading

The Anti-Christ Has All The Best Tunes

The P2P revolu­tion is like Gutenberg plus Protestantism plus Punk all rolled into one highly com­pressed file, by Mark Simpson

Sean Fanning

 (Independent on Sunday, August 2001)

Perhaps the best thing about digital music is that it doesn’t only make listen­ing to music more con­veni­ent and less irk­some: it actu­ally does part of the tire­some job of listen­ing for you.

ISO-MPEG Audio-Layer-3 — mer­ci­fully shortened to MP3 — is the digital file format for music exchanged on the Internet and very pos­sibly the acronym of doom for the record industry. It is a form of extreme algorithmic com­pres­sion of sound files that uses “psy­choacous­tic” mod­els that account for what listen­ers actu­ally notice when they hear music or other sounds. “Unnecessary” data is stripped away to make the file as small as pos­sible to facil­it­ate easier stor­age or upload­ing and down­load­ing. In other words, MP3 anti­cip­ates and inter­prets mu­sic for the listener before she or he actu­ally hears it.

Of course, this job used to be per­formed by record com­pan­ies, with their A&R men and mar­ket­ing depart­ments. But, like so many before them, they appear to have been auto­mated out of a job—dis­pensed with by algorithms, the Internet, and a bunch of geeky kids in their bed­rooms. A whole class of inter­me­di­ar­ies and author­it­ies have been liquidated.

The Internet has often been com­pared to Gutenberg in its im­portance. However, after read­ing John Alderman’s detailed account of the online music revolu­tion, Sonic Boom: Napster, P2p and the Battle for The Future Of Music, John Alderman, I have a hunch it’s more like Gutenberg plus Protestantism plus Punk—all at once, in a highly ‘com­pressed’ form.

Thanks to the per­sonal com­puter and the Internet, every man is now at home with his god—downloading The Sex Pistols’ EMI. The cor­rupt, uncool suits and cas­socks who used to inter­cede have been swept aside and the Word can be enjoyed dir­ectly and free from dis­tor­tion, com­pressed by pure, clean math­em­at­ics, not dogma. The free ex­change of information—which is all that digital music amounts to in cyberspace—is the credo of what one might call the Nettist Movement: the true believ­ers in the web and everything it represents.

To many Nettists, any­one who attempts to stand in the way of this Reformation Superhighway is the Papist Antichrist, or the fas­cist re­gime. And of course this means any­one who doesn’t share their holy zeal—anyone who is non-Nettist. Record com­pan­ies are about as non-Nettist as you can get. After all, they have most to lose from the free exchange of digital music. All their fright­fully expens­ive CD print­ing presses, dis­tri­bu­tion deals and back cata­logues melt at the press of a but­ton in someone’s bed­room. If indul­gences no longer have to be bought but can be plucked from the air instead, then where is the tem­poral wealth and power of the record busi­ness to come from?

For the record com­pan­ies, the lead­ers of the MP3 revolu­tion are seen as heretics who have to be made examples of; burnt at the legal stake so that oth­ers may not be temp­ted to stray. Against the cries for info free­dom, their law­yers invoke the Mystery of copy­right. Digitising music, just as print­ing the Bible in German did, puts it within the grasp—and control—of the laity. And like the lead­ers of the Counter-Reformation, they see them­selves as act­ing in the interests of the people they burn.

You think I exag­ger­ate? You think I take this Reformation, Counter-Reformation meta­phor too far? Well, just listen to Edgar Bronfman Jr., heir to the mighty if not exactly holy Roman Seagram Empire, quoted here by Alderman: “I am war­ring against the cul­ture of the Internet, threat­en­ing to depop­u­late Silicon Valley as I move a Roman legion or two of Wall Street law­yers to lit­ig­ate. I have done so… not to at­tack the Internet and its cul­ture but for its bene­fit and to pro­tect it”.

Is Shawn Fanning, the boy who at nine­teen foun­ded Napster, the fam­ous MP3 file-sharing “peer-2-peer” online ser­vice, a Luther for our times? And is Napster his Wittenberg Theses, nailed to the door of the music industry? For a while, in our accel­er­ated cul­ture, it looked that way. Twelve months after the launch of Napster in June 1999, there were over 200,000 souls pray­ing in his church nightly. By the end of 2000 there were over 50 mil­lion registered users and Fanning was a very fam­ous young man indeed; his crim­in­ally young, beatific face shin­ing out from the cover of magazines.

But Fanning was no ideo­logue or evan­gel­ical; merely an American boy who saw a need which he believed his soft­ware could fill. From his time spent chat­ting on the Net, he knew that people were eager to trade music files, but find­ing good music was the prob­lem. He joined with two online pals, only slightly older than him­self, to solve this with smart code. To­gether they wrote the Napster pro­gram, which allowed users to share files by plug­ging their com­puters, in effect, into a giant, global network.

Because Napster hos­ted no music itself (the files were stored on user’s com­puters and traded), it was hoped by Fanning et al that they would be free from any taint of blas­phemy and heresy in the form of copy­right viol­a­tions. They were very wrong. In the open­ing blast of what was to prove a mer­ci­less bar­rage, the fear­some Recording Industry Associa­tion of America filed a copy­right law­suit against Napster in Decem­ber 1999, just six months after it had launched.

And who could blame them? For the record industry Napster was a dis­aster of, well, bib­lical pro­por­tions. Practically a whole gen­eration of col­lege kids who didn’t even have to pay for the col­lege com­puters or the Internet con­nec­tions they down­loaded the MP3 files with, stopped buy­ing CDs. Not only was Napster free, Napster was easier than going to a record store and it was even easier than order­ing CDs online. Emusic.com, an e-tailer of digital music, was reduced to giv­ing away MP3 play­ers (worth $150) to any­one who bought just $25 worth of music.

A year and a half on, under the epic weight of vari­ous law­suits and in­junctions brought by the record industry and Lars Ulrich of Metallica, who fam­ously dis­covered that three unfin­ished ver­sions of a song he had been work­ing on had been traded on Napster (along with his entire back cata­logue), the Church of Shawn Fanning is not what it was. Napster got into bed with record giant Bertlesmann— one of the few record com­pan­ies to respond to the MP3 revolu­tion with any­thing other than pub­lic burnings—in an attempt to turn Napster into a legal, main­stream, subscription-only ser­vice which, cru­cially, paid roy­al­ties to performers.

The issue of intel­lec­tual copy­right and reward­ing artists is a thorny one and not so easy to dis­miss as “record com­pany greed.” Ulrich is cer­tainly not the only pro­fes­sional rock and roll rebel to take indig­nant offence at the “crimin­al­ity” of online file trad­ing. Ultimately though, the feel­ings of artists or even record com­pan­ies may not count for very much. In a sense, file trad­ing is what the Internet was designed for—and it was also designed to sur­vive some­thing even more destruct­ive than a music com­pany law­yer: nuc­lear war.

There is per­haps a tad too much jar­gon in Sonic Boom for the IT agnostic, and the nar­ra­tion doesn’t always quite match the raci­ness of the title or the import of the revolu­tion it docu­ments, but it’s a valu­able, insight­ful book for any­one inter­ested in where our cul­ture is headed.

The Nettist Movement itself con­tin­ues its onward march undaun­ted. Napster and Fanning may have recan­ted, but most of his 50 mil­lion dis­ciples that Bertlesmann hoped to con­vert into more ortho­dox cus­tom­ers have left and are now pray­ing at lesser known online P2P sites. And there are always new, more con­vin­cing Luthers. Programmer Ian Clarke, for instance. He believes vehe­mently that inform­a­tion should be free. But he isn’t going to try too hard to con­vince you with words; he’s won the argu­ment already with code by design­ing a sys­tem called Freenet which allows users to post and retrieve files with com­plete anonym­ity. Unlike Napster, there is no cent­ral server—this is a church which really has no walls and whose con­greg­a­tion is invisible.

Clarke likes to tell report­ers that he couldn’t take Freenet down if someone put a gun to his head. Which is all very well, but Alderman doesn’t tell us what Clarke would do if Edgar Bronfman Jr. sent a Roman legion of Wall Street law­yers after him.

Copyright Mark Simpson 2001

How to Spot a Sodomite

Mark Simpson reviews some fam­ous Victorian bum holes in Neil McKenna’s Fanny & Stella (the Independent)

I had never seen any­thing like it before… I do not in my prac­tise ever remem­ber to have seen such an appear­ance of the anus, as those of the pris­on­ers presen­ted.” So test­i­fied Dr Paul in shocked tones at the trial of Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton, two young, cross-dressing clerks charged with sod­omy in 1870 — a crime that then car­ried a pen­alty of a lifetime’s penal servitude.

Park and Boulton had been arres­ted in the Strand Theatre dressed as their coquet­tish, las­ci­vi­ous alter egos Fanny and Stella. The trial of “The Funny He-She Ladies” as the press dubbed them, was the sen­sa­tion of the age. Largely for­got­ten until now, Neil McKenna’s highly read­able recount­ing brings it roar­ing back to life.

According to the med­ical author­it­ies of the day the signs of sod­omy were eas­ily detect­able. A wear­ing away of the rugae around the anus, mak­ing it resemble the female labia. Elongation of the penis, caused by the “trac­tion” of sod­omy. And dila­tion. Dilation was the big­gie. The way one tested for it was by the inser­tion of a pro­fes­sional fin­ger. Repeatedly. If the sphinc­ter failed to show enough res­ist­ance to the learned finger-fucking then you were deal­ing with a sodomite.

The appalled police doc­tor was as we’ve seen con­vinced he had fingered major sod­om­ites. Six more doc­tors lined up to inspect the upraised rectums of Park and Boulton and insert their digits, repeatedly. After two fetid hours, five declared there were no signs of sod­omy to be found on or in either arres­ted anus.

In fact, both Park and Boulton were guilty as pro­ver­bial sin. Their bot­toms had been rogered sense­less by half of London — though, unlike the good doc­tors, their part­ners usu­ally paid. From respect­able middle-class back­grounds they enjoyed work­ing as brazen, hoot­ing cross-dressing pros­ti­tutes in the even­ing, as you do. The single dis­sent­ing doc­tor had a few years earlier treated Park repeatedly for a syph­il­itic sore in his anus.

But because the med­ical prob­ing had pro­duced the oppos­ite med­ical opin­ion to the one hoped for, and because sod­omy was such a ser­i­ous offence (car­ry­ing a pen­alty of life with hard labour) the Attorney-General had to with­draw all charges of actual sod­omy. Instead Boulton and Park were charged with the vaguer but still ser­i­ous catch-all of “con­spir­acy to soli­cit, induce, pro­cure and endeav­our to per­suade per­sons unknown to com­mit buggery”.

Seventeen dresses and gowns; quant­it­ies of skirts and pet­ti­coats; bod­ices and blouses; cloaks and shawls; ladies’ unmen­tion­ables, all a bit whiffy and worse for (work­ing) wear, were paraded through the court as evid­ence. Although cross-dressing was not in itself a crime, and was actu­ally a pop­u­lar form of bur­lesque enter­tain­ment at the time in which both Fanny and Stella had enjoyed some suc­cess, the Victorian state was keen to make the case — presen­ted by Attorney General Sir Robert Collier him­self — that their cross-dressing was part and par­cel of their abom­in­able sod­omy and the “con­fu­sion” of the nat­ural and godly gender order it rep­res­en­ted. The male anus dressed as a vagina. This approach also back­fired, spectacularly.

Digby Seymour for the defence asked the court, “Would young men engaged in the exchange of wicked and accursed embraces put on the dresses of women and go to theatres and pub­lic places for the pur­pose of excit­ing each other to the com­mis­sion of this out­rageous crime?” In other words, the very obvi­ous­ness and shame­less­ness of Stella and Fanny’s (deli­ciously out­rageous) beha­viour was presen­ted as proof that they could not pos­sibly be guilty. Which, in a strange, 20th-century gay pride sense, was sort of true.

But the defence’s ace in the, er, hole was a final, irres­ist­ible appeal to pat­ri­ot­ism. “I trust that you will pro­nounce by your ver­dict,” intoned Digby Seymour, “that London is not cursed with the sins of Sodom, or Westminster tain­ted with the vices of Gomorrah.”

The jury did its duty and the “fool­ish” young men, as their defence termed them, were acquit­ted — hav­ing fooled most of their cus­tom­ers, the doc­tors, the courts and the imper­i­ous Victorian state.

Sex Terror’ Now Available on Kindle — Sweet Dreams.

Sex-Terror-cover-web

SEX TERROR

Erotic Misadventures in Pop Culture

Mark Simpson

This book will change the way you think about sex. It may even put you off it altogether.

NOW AVAILABLE ON KINDLE 

Amazon.com * Amazon.co.uk * Amazon.de * Amazon.fr * Amazon.es * Amazon.it Amazon.co.jp * Amazon.com.br * Amazon.ca * Amazon.in * Amazon.com.au

 In his full-frontal follow-up to his widely acclaimed It’s a Queer World, Mark Simpson dis­penses with the mon­key busi­ness of sexu­al­ity and gets to grips with the organ grinder itself: SEX.

Subjecting our saucy new god to his sac­ri­le­gious satire, Simpson sins against every con­tem­por­ary com­mand­ment about doing the nasty: It must be hot. It must be fre­quent. It must wake the neigh­bours. And it must be Who You Are.

Simpson argues that we all put far too much faith in sex these days, and that in actual fact sex is messy, con­fus­ing, frus­trat­ing, and ulti­mately disappointing.

Especially if you’re hav­ing it with him.

Along the way he gets worked up with Alexis Arquette over Stephen Baldwin’s bubble-butt, gets intim­ate with Dana International, Aiden Shaw and Bruce LaBruce, and – very gingerly – con­fronts Henry Rollins with those ‘gay’ rumours.

 

Praise for Sex Terror:

MARVELLOUS… open Simpson’s book at any point, as many times as you want, and you’ll find the sort of gem-like sen­tences that Zadie Smith would give her white teeth for.”

- Suzi Feay, Independent on Sunday

A chain­saw cock of wit… blis­ter­ingly, endear­ingly hon­est… insight­ful and valu­able.  VERY FUNNY INDEED.”

- Dermod Moore, The Hot Press

Setting com­mon sexual sense on its ear, Simpson’s Swiftian pro­pos­als strike at an emo­tion dear to us: sexual desire. His anarchic mis­sion is to free sex from ser­mon­iz­ing, con­ven­tion, ego­ism, and cul­tural bias. But unlike Foucault, his decon­struct­ing weapon is built of rib­ald humour and pot­shots at pre­ten­sion. Simpson’s essays pro­duce ran­cour and HILARIOUS LAUGHTER, DISBELIEF AND DELIGHT. Some call him won­der­ful, and some call him out­rageous, but I call him A TRUE ORIGINAL and YOU SHOULDN’T MISS THIS BOOK.”

– Bruce Benderson, author of Pretending to Say No and User

BRILLIANT… With sur­gical pre­ci­sion Mark Simpson peels away the lay­ers of mod­ern mas­cu­line cul­ture, leav­ing few iconic fig­ures un-scarred. This book is cer­tain to pro­voke and likely to offend; we would expect noth­ing less from one of the most import­ant voyeurs of con­tem­por­ary life.”

– Bob Mould, Musician and Songwriter

When the cul­ture of sex breathes its final breath, Mark Simpson will be there to deliver the eulogy with great zeal. And what a GLORIOUSLY SARDONIC AND INSIGHTFUL farewell it will be!”

– Glenn Belverio, Dutch magazine

“One of those books that bounces up and down on your knee yelling ‘read me, read me…. Brutal hon­esty and razor wit  — a per­fect feast. QUOTABLE GENIUS.”

- RainbowNetwork.com

BLOODY GOOD…  every out­rageous insight is just that – an insight into the mod­ern  con­di­tion that often makes you laugh out loud and, if you are not entirely bey­ond hope, think. Simply some of the best writ­ing on mod­ern cul­ture around.”

- Brian Dempsey, Gay Scotland

One of England’s MOST ELOQUENT AND SARDONIC commentators.”

– Bay Windows

Mark Simpson won’t be every reader’s cup of tea, but those who enjoy a biter blend of DARK HUMOUR AND KEEN SOCIAL OBSERVATION will want to drink deeply.”

– Washington Blade

…never fails to amuse, bemuse, stun and stir… a writer at his peak, a SHAMELESS SUMPTUOUS SERVING OF SOCIAL SATIRE you’ll be digest­ing long after you put the book down”

– All Man Magazine

 

DOWNLOAD FROM

Amazon.com 

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Amazon.es

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Amazon.com.au

ABOUT MARK SIMPSON

English author and journ­al­ist Mark Simpson is credited/blamed for coin­ing the word ‘met­ro­sexual‘. Simpson is the author of sev­eral books includ­ing: Saint MorrisseyMale Impersonators, and Metrosexy.

 

Sex Terror cover image taken by Michele Martinoli.