Once again, I’m very grateful that American feminists have scientifically proven (by looking at dusty back issues of Rolling Stone magazine) that men aren’t ‘really’ objectified, only women are.
Because it means that this eye-popping ad for toilet cleaner featuring a tarty boy band suspended beneath the rim of a toilet in cages, imploring ‘baby’ to pull the chain and flush them — slowly washing away their clothes — doesn’t really exist, and none of us need have nightmares about it.
And I don’t need to analyse it.
Tip: David S
The Delhi-based artist Pallavi Singh has been meditating on metrosexuality in the Indian subcontinental context again and has very kindly sent me these rather wonderful new paintings and given me permission to post them here.
I think my personal favourite is ‘Rise of Mirror Man’ — I particularly like how his Crocs match his suspenders.
Here’s Ms Singh’s accompanying write-up:
In my recent work “Here comes the Mirror Man” and “Rise of Mirror Man”, I have tried to present the growing confidence and comfort of my character towards metrosexuality, his desire to be adored and his acceptance of his metrosexual needs while remaining unconcerned with labels of homosexuality and cross dressing.
In the painting “Mirror Mirror on the wall”, I have tried to compare the regional 18th–19th century Dandy phenomena with global Metrosexual phenomena of today i.e. the distinction between “to be admired” and “to be adored”.
All images Copyright Pallavi Singh, 2012
Tip: Benjamin D
The next time someone tries to convince me that Pitt is ‘a really great actor, actually’ I’ll just throw my eyes around the room in a casually-but-profoundly dramatic fashion before fixing them on the Fight Club fanboy — and it always is a Fight Club fanboy — and saying: “THERE you ARE!”
I don’t mean to be bitchy, but… Ab Pitt seems to have all the neuroses of a Marilyn Monroe about being thought a dumb blond, but little or none of the talent. It’s not the fact this Big Movie Star has done an ad like this at all, or even the bathetic horror of the script – par to the course in perfume ads – it’s the way he delivers this stinky stuff like it was a Shakespearean soliloquy. We’re laughing at it because we know it will hurt.
Though of course, we’re just jealous. I certainly am. Brad is being so earnest and romantico not because he’s addressing you or me or Angelina Jolie, but his reportedly $7M cheque for the 30 second spot – which I suspect the director has taped to the camera.
At the height of her fame method-actress Marilyn was paid only $100,000 plus 10% of profits for the feature-length classic movie: Some Like It Hot. And I rather doubt she received a fee at all for her own posthumous Chanel No.5 ad.
The real significance of Brad’s ad of course is that Pitt is the first man to advertise the woman’s fragrance Chanel No.5 – which hitherto has been plugged only by leading examples of the ‘fairer sex’. Leading man Brad has stepped into a role previously occupied by leading ladies.
This though is very familiar territory though for Brad. Often described as ‘the most beautiful man in the world’ – i.e. the most objectified – he did after all play both Achilles and Helen in the movie Troy. He has the abs that launched a thousand sit-ups. And this former model’s own movie career was launched by playing a toyboy picked up and ravished by an older Geena Davis in Thelma and Louise (1991), a movie which itself famously reversed the gender roles of the buddy road movie.
Clinching the matter, his hairstyles are discussed almost as much as any actress’ – or even David Beckham’s.
Pitt also played, you may remember, the highly, er, aesthetic leader of a bogus revolt against metrosexuality and consumerism in Fight Club.
Oh, and by the way. Pitt is 48 years old. Which makes him even older than me. But in the Chanel ad, even with his gray beard and (electronically altered?) gravelly voice, Dorian Pitt seems no older than about 27 — the same age he was when we first met him in Thelma & Louise. In fact, he looks like a 27-year-old with a stick-on beard pretending to be 48.
As he puts it himself:
“It’s not a journey. Every journey ends. But we go on.”
A survey released just before Brad’s Bad Marilyn moment appears to confirm the continuing, endless trend for men appropriating previously feminine preserves that has been going on since at least the 1990s, and which Pitt, whether he wants to or not, has often exemplified – and encouraged. “The world turns and we turn with it.”
The fashion and beauty spending poll (commissioned by online casino RoxyPalace.com) asked 1000 UK men and women how much they spent on clothes and cosmetic products. The findings showed, they said, that ‘men are fast catching up with women’.
- Women average £2,462 p.a.; men £1,786 (£50 less a month than women).
- Men and women in London are the most extravagant, and also the closest to one another in expenditure, with women spending c. £2,700 a year; men £2,350, £29 per month less than women.
- Unsurprisingly, other metropolitan areas such as Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle and Liverpool also showed above-average rates of spending.
- A man who took part in the survey says: ‘I can remember my dad’s cosmetic shelf consisted of a bar of soap and a bottle of Old Spice but I have a cabinet full of products.’
- A woman says: ‘I have been shopping with my boyfriend before and on occasions he has been known to spend more than me on hair products. I don’t think men spending more money on clothes and cosmetics is a bad thing. It’s always attractive for someone to take pride on their appearance.’
Again, nothing very new here (and the quotes do sound a tad hackneyed). Just, further evidence that despite the recession the ‘trend’ of metrosexuality has hardened into an epoch — that nevertheless some are still in terrible denial about.
A spokesperson for RoxyPalace.com concluded:
‘It’s becoming increasingly acceptable for men to use cosmetic treatments. Even macho film stars are advertising skin cream, and whilst it would be difficult to imagine a world where guys spent more money on looking good than women do, but who knows where the age of metrosexuality will lead us?’
I imagine when he mentioned ‘macho film stars’ he had in mind Gerard Butler as the bearded face of L’Oreal, not Brad Pitt. But in regard to his last poser, it’s not entirely impossible that for younger people living in metropolitan areas, that world may have already been delivered by metrosexuality. Or very nearly.
These days, working out is often at least as important a way of ‘looking good’ for males as fashionable clothes and cosmetics — but isn’t covered in the survey. In fact, many men invest more heavily in their bodies than in their wardrobe — which tends to be rather skimpy.… And generally it seems men are more into working on their bodies to ‘look good’ than women are.
So if you were to factor in average spends on gym membership, fitness equipment, and particularly sports supplements such as creatine and protein drinks (a booming market), the gap between men and women’s average spend on ‘vanity’ might shrink again. Currently the gap between male and female spending on ‘looking good’ is reportedly only £29/month in London. That’s less than most monthly gym memberships.
£29 also happens to be about the price of a yearly subscription to the best-selling men’s magazine, Men’s Health. The November UK issue of which carries the results of another survey, this one studying MH readers’ favourite subject: themselves.
One of the questions asked readers who had their ideal body. The answers were:
- Tom Hardy 42%.
- Cristiano Ronaldo 32%.
- David Beckham 26%.
Somewhere David Beckham is crying into his low-carb lunch. Interesting to note though that Brad Pitt doesn’t make the list at all, when once he would probably have dominated it – after all, Men’s Health has built a global empire out of modern man’s yen to have abs — and thus be worthy of love. And abs didn’t exist, remember, until Brad Pitt invented them in the 1990s.
Perhaps though Brad is relieved to be out of the running. Or maybe he’s relieved and heartbroken.
Tom Hardy, the Brit Brando with the voluptuous pecs and the pouty lips, seems to have won the hearts of Men’s Health readers. I don’t blame them. And I suspect Tom’ doesn’t either. Probably they were seduced by his body in Warrior and his motto in Inception: “Don’t be afraid to dream a little bigger darling”. Actually, in a better world that would be the motto of Men’s Health magazine.
Interesting that a third would want a body like Ronaldo’s – despite Ronaldo’s official designation in the UK as Most Hated Footballer. It rather confirms my suspicion that us Brits are just jealous of him.
It does seem a little odd though that there are only three men in the whole world whose bodies Men’s Health readers want/aspire to – and nearly half of them want just one body in particular. (There’s no indication of whether they were given a multiple choice or just came up with the names themselves.)
Other findings include:
- 37% of MH readers spend 4–6 hours in the gym a week — while 30% spend more than six hours there.
- 46% want to improve their abs. 42% their upper body, and 12% lower body.
Chicken legs, in other words, are de rigeur with MH readers.
Rather than watch the Olympics, and all that noble, serious sporting uplift, I’ve been reading a book about a carny, corny, shameless 1940s-50s American wrestler: Gorgeous George: The Outrageous Bad-Boy Wrestler Who Created American Pop Culture, by John Capouya.
My American chum Chris Supermarky recommended it to me, thinking it would be of interest. He wasn’t wrong. It was nothing less than a revelation. It was like finding the Rosetta Stone of metrosexuality. Or at least, post-war male glamorousness.
George Wagner was a baby-faced brunette, pint-sized, somewhat unremarkable 1940s US wrestler who decided he needed a gimmick to get noticed. And boy, did he find one. By turning himself into Gorgeous George, a vain, primping, preening peacock who peroxided his hair, had it meticulously tonsured, fussily held in place by gold-painted ‘Georgie’ pins, and wearing flamboyant robes that were outrageous creations of lace and silk and chiffon in mauves and pale pinks, he succeeded in inventing perhaps the most persistent and successful gimmick of the post-war world: The glamorous, decadent, ‘effeminate’ male star.
Before Beckham. Before Boy George. Before Bowie. Before Jagger. Before Elvis. Before Liberace. Before Little Richard. Before James Brown there was Gorgeous George.
Under the shrewd guidance of his Svengali wife Betty (there’s no evidence, aside from his gorgeousness, that George was anything other than heterosexual), who made many of his most daring robes herself, The ‘Human Orchid’ as he liked to be known, had deduced that the best way to get ‘heat’ from a wrestling audience – and thus bookings – was to transgress 1940s gender norms. Wildly. And cheat. Equally wildly. Not for nothing was his favourite slogan: ‘Win if you can. Lose if you must. But always cheat.’
The Sensation of the Nation’s pantomime performance of sissyness was a kind of cheating in itself: in 1940s and early 50s America men, particularly the blue-collar kind that Wagner wrestled for, were not allowed to enjoy chiffon and affectation. George was bending the rules and gender.
To help milk his act, and multiply his crimes, Wagner would hold his pre-match press conferences in local beauty parlours while having his hair marcelled and employed a tail-coated valet (a device later appropriated by GG fan James Brown) who would snobbishly spray the ring with cologne before George would deign to grace it with his aristocratic presence. When the referee tried to search George before the match as required by wrestling rules he would recoil offended, shouting ‘GET YOUR FILTHY HANDS OFF ME!!’
Such were the passions aroused by George’s gorgeousness that his incendiary appearance often led to fights and sometimes mini-riots when incensed members of the public would storm the ring in an indignant fury and try to take him on themselves. The director John Waters recalls watching GG on TV as a kid, spellbound by this apparition of queeniness — while his offended parents yelled insults at the lacey freak. GG was someone that America loved to hate but ended up just loving.
Although largely forgotten today, GG was about as famous as you could get back then: a by-word for fame itself — even making an appearance in a Bugs Bunny Warner Bros cartoon (as ‘Ravishing Ronald’), and one of the first proper stars of the new medium of television. Wrestling had been taken up by the early networks as a cheaply-staged way of interesting the masses in this new-fangled gadget. The small screen turned out to have been made for GG’s big glam head.
Many claimed to have been influenced by GG (including Bob Dylan of all people) but perhaps his most famous disciple was a young, relatively downbeat Mohammed Ali, who decided to adopt GG’s vainglorious, provocative persona – to devastating effect:
‘I made up my mind after [meeting] Gorgeous George to make people angry at me.… I saw fifteen thousand people comin’ to see this man get beat. And his talking did it. I said this is a gooood idea!’
And so Ali became the mouthy black boxer who bragged about being the ‘prettiest thing you’ve ever seen’ – ‘The Greatest’. Ali really was gorgeous. Facially and bodily. Wagner on the other hand… slightly less so. I’m not suggesting of course for one moment that GG was ugly – but at 5′ 9″, with a Roman nose and a bit of a pot belly his gorgeousness was perhaps more aspirational than Ali’s. Particularly in the latter part of his career George’s appearance puts me in mind of Freud’s famous phrase: ‘His majesty the baby.’
There was a dark side to all this glamorousness. Wagner reportedly began to believe his own publicity and insisted his own children refer to him as ‘Gorgeous George’, or ‘GG’. He was also, even by the standards of the time and his profession, a hardened drinker. After both his marriages failed he took to drinking even more. And as TV fell out of love with wrestling, and the years – and the boozing – took their toll, he of course drank even more.
By the late 50s early 60s Gorgeous George was reduced to novelty fights in which he was billed as forfeiting his lovely locks if he lost. And of course, he did — submitting to the indignity of being clippered seated on a stool in the centre of the ring, like a latter day Samson. A great box-office success the first time, this ritual humiliation became less and less so the more he repeated it. Even seeing Gorgeous George finally getting what had been coming to him all these years wasn’t enough of a draw second or third time around.
When the final bell rang in 1963 and George Wagner died of liver disease and heart failure, aged 48, all the large wedges of cash that had passed through his hands during his stunningly successful career had vanished without trace: he was penniless. But family and friends made sure he was given a glamorous send off.
The Human Orchid was dressed in his favourite purple satin robe (the ‘George Washington’), his hair was tonsured and pinned one last time and he was exhibited in a highly polished purple casket — before being ‘planted’ in the ground.
While he may have been largely forgotten, George’s glamorous ‘gimmick’ of course took root in the culture, and lives on.
Yours truly takes part in a round table heated debate on masculinity over at The New York Times.
(You won’t be surprised to discover that unlike most contributors, I’m intensely relaxed about intensely relaxed modern masculinity.)
Middle class metrophobia keeps rearing its ugly, anxious head and leaving a really bad smell in the air. Maybe it’s because some middle class men are happier pretending that they don’t have bodies, just giant self-propelled brains (that are always right), but men’s new-found desire to be desired and the attendant rampant sexualisation of the male body in the media seems to literally scare the shit out of a few of them.
‘The world’s leading liberal voice’ this week ran two curiously metrophobic articles in the space of a few days (while this older blogpost features numerous other examples). Today’s Guardian carries a piece by an Olly Richards pegged to the new stripper movie Magic Mike, ostensibly about male nudity in the movies.
At the top of the piece he announces:
‘We all know the nude male form is essentially ridiculous, built only for floppy comedy.’
Speak for yourself, Mary.
This assertion of the writer’s contempt for the male body — and de facto dismissal of anyone who thinks differently — is the only thing the article has to say. An article on male nudity in the movies has nothing to say about male nudity in movies – because if it did then the author would have to be interested in the male body.
But Olly is a paragon of self-awareness and insight compared to a bizarre rant earlier in the week by the Guardian’s star columnist and TV celeb Charlton Brooker, which also seemed to take it as a given that the sexualised male body is ‘essentially ridiculous’.
Charlton’s column pretends it’s about the hatefulness of reality stars – and let’s face it, they are fair, if embarrassingly easy game. But it’s telling that he has nothing specific to say about the female reality stars in his piece. At all. None of them are mentioned, no female pronouns are used. It’s all about judging the men. For how they look. For plucking their eyebrows. For using product. Fake tan and make-up. For working out. For ‘sexualising’ their bodies.
‘But let’s not judge them by the content of their character. Let’s judge them by the colour of their skin, which is terracotta. Mostly. Apart from the pale ones. The way they look is the second unbelievable thing about them. Not all of them; most of them are sort of normal. But one or two of the men look … well they don’t look real, put it that way. They’ve got sculpted physiques, sculpted hairdos, sculpted eyebrows, and as far as I can tell, no skin pores.’
They’re not real men or normal because Charlton says so. Here’s a picture of him looking normal and real (from his Wiki page).
Charlton (41) saves his most passionate, most fundamental attentions for a contestant called James (21), whom he describes as resembling a ‘vinyl sex doll’. Born and bred in the Home Counties, living and working in London’s medialand, Brooker is also an expert on Newcastle:
‘I’ve been to Newcastle. There’s no way James is from Newcastle. He’s from space. Deep space. My guess would be he’s actually some form of sentient synthetic meat that crudely disguises itself as other life forms, but only to an accuracy of about 23%. He’s awesomely creepy to behold. Seriously, if James popped up on the comms screen of the USS Enterprise, Captain Kirk would shit his own guts out. And that’s the sort of behaviour that can undermine a leader’s authority.’
Yes, I realise it’s faintly ridiculous taking this kind of ‘comic prose’ seriously. And part of the irony here anyway is that Brooker is ridiculing reality TV for its vulgarity while his job description at the Guardian is to be as vulgar as possible about vulgar TV shows and use words like ‘shit’ and ‘cock’ a lot. Pour epater les bourgeois – at the same time as appealing to their snobbery.
But in the wider context of the Guardian’s middle class problem with metrosexuality and the male body, and Brooker’s role in many people’s eyes as right-on liberal superhero, I think it’s worthwhile examining what’s going on here.
James of course doesn’t look like any of the things Brooker says he looks like. Here’s a picture of James (who lives with his mam and who according to the Geordie Shore website ‘isn’t ashamed to call himself a mummy’s boy’).
Now, I know this is very subjective. But I would much rather look at James in HD widescreen in my living room than Charlton. Especially if it comes down to shagging, as Geordie Shore often does. And before you accuse me of being bitchy: which TV celeb was it again who said earlier that we should judge only appearances?
What’s more, James is not at all unusual, let alone ‘non-existent’ as Charlton would like to believe. There are loads of lads like James in the North East. And I know this because I didn’t visit for a book-signing once but because I live here. There are several down my gym. One of them, a really nice, chatty bloke who’s always got a canny smile, was shortlisted for this year’s Big Brother. It could easily have been him that Charlton was railing against for plucking his eyebrows and having plunging necklines. So forgive me if metrodaddy feels a bit maternal.
As with the blue-collar guys turned strippers in Magic Mike, in the post-industrial North East working class lads happily work on their own bodies instead of someone else’s property and, unlike London hipsters, aren’t afraid to flaunt it and make themselves pretty. Especially since they don’t generally have many other routes to celebrity – not being likely to land themselves a place on a C4 panel show being snarky and painstakingly scruffy in a dowdy corduroy jacket.
So why the passionate rage against James for being a very common (these days) mixture of masculine and feminine beauty tricks? Why the desperate need to pretend he doesn’t exist? That he shouldn’t exist? That he should be banished to outer space?
There can only be one answer. The sad, tawdry truth is that Charlton can’t trust himself in a world with James in it. He has to tell himself these wicked lies about James because otherwise he might find himself being turned on by him.
James the ‘sex doll’ is the one, by the way, who famously has a cock the size of a Sky remote.
Here’s a simple test — one that you can apply to almost any instance of liberal metrophobia, however ‘jokey’ or ‘ironic’ it presents itself as being. Would someone like Brooker still rage on and on about James’s ‘unmanly’, ‘creepy’, ‘alien’ appearance and how worthy he was of hatred because of it, if James was gay instead of straight? Would he still describe a gay James as ‘synthetic meat’ and a ‘polished turd’? Or someone who would make Captain Kirk ‘shit his guts out’? (The anxious anality here is all Charlton’s — definitely not Captain Kirk’s, who wasn’t afraid to shape his eyebrows and sideburns, or wear a corset.)
Wouldn’t Charlton the liberal superhero in fact be the first to loudly ridicule himself for his own homophobia and repressed homosexuality? And, drunk once again on his own self-righteousness, call himself a farty old reactionary cock?
In fairness though it can’t be denied that one of the truly awful things about metrosexuality is the way it gives uneducated, shamelessly tarty young men with regional accents a way of getting gigs on TV shows with more viewers than yours.
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.
Mansome goes on general release in the US later this month.
Mark Simpson’s Metrosexy: a 21st Century Self-Love Story is available now.
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.
On The Jonathan Ross Show last night David Beckham was the star guest. He looked great of course. But I kept finding myself staring at Mr Beckham’s foot.
Naturally, it was shod tastefully and expensively — in keeping with his John Hamm hairdo and 60s-style black whistle and flute. But that wasn’t what drew my eye. No, it was the way it was trembling.
The icon of the age had feet of jelly.
Or at least, a foot of jelly. David (I think we can use first names here; in fact, I’m sure he would insist on it) was sitting cross-legged on the sofa, facing Ross’ chins. His face was smiling radiantly, teeth and eyes flashing and laughing. His body language speaking of the casual grace and ease of beauty, celebrity, money. He was doing in other words all the things you’re supposed to do on a chat show sofa.
But his raised foot was shaking. Violently. And in doing so it succeeded in saying much more than the other end. It made me think of the proverbial serenity of swans underscored by that furious paddling you know is going on beneath the water-line.
There are plenty of good reasons to be terrified on a chat show, even one not presented by Jonathan Ross and his unaccountable vanity. But Becks has more reasons than most. He has a lot to lose. If by chance, and much against his better judgement, not to mention media training, he were to actually say something or have, god forbid, an opinion it would cost him millions in corporate fees.
At one point he was talking about, I think (but can’t be sure because even when you try to listen to David it’s very hard to focus), the benefits of his football academies for getting kids away from their Playstations and outdoors. But then caught himself: ‘Not that there’s anything wrong with Playstation, of course,’ he added very hastily. And not that there’s anything wrong with another Sony endorsement deal, either.
Or maybe his foot was trembling because he knew that later Jonathan Ross would pull his pants down and shove his own Aussiebum packaged groin into David’s famous face. (No, this actually happened and was even more disturbing than it sounds.)
In the ad break there was more David. David out of his expensive suit and in his pants, spinning around, selling David, and selling his H&M ‘bodywear’.
In keeping with the trademark passivity of metrosexuality in general and über-metro Becks in particular, the ad features much batting of long eyelashes, and arms held defenceless above the head, as the camera licks its lens up and down and around his legs and torso. Teasingly never quite reaching the package we’ve already seen a zillion times on the side of buses and in shop windows — but instead delivering us his cotton-clad bum, his logo and his million dwollar smile.
I’m here for you. Want me. Take me. Wear me. Stretch me. Soil me. But above all: buy me.
All, curiously, to the strains of The Animals: ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’. Is it meant to be ironic? What after all is to be misunderstood? Don’t the images tell us everything? Even what we don’t want to know. About the total commodification of masculinity.
Perhaps Beck’s foot could have told us, but alas it didn’t appear in the ad and was unavailable for comment.
Tip: DAKrolak & Mark Rangel
Yours truly in today’s Guardian.
English (unedited) version of Q&A with Mark Simpson by Michele Masneri for Italian cultural magazine Studio in which he talks about the Italian roots of sporno, the next stage of metrosexuality – and the Silviosexual
What do you mean by the word “sporno”?
The place where sport and porn get into bed while Mr Armani takes pictures. Beckham and Ronaldo’s bulging packets rammed down our throat on the sides of buses. Dolce & Gabbana hanging around the Italian football team’s locker room. That kind of thing. So once again we mostly have Italia to thank.
Metrosexuality, the male desire to be desired, has become so normal now that it’s pretty much taken for granted. So in order to get noticed you have to go hardcore – and promise the viewing public a gang-bang in the showers. Hence sporno.
Is Italy the most metrosexual country?
In a sense the wave of metrosexuality that swept the globe in the last decade or so was really just the rest of the world catching up with Italia and becoming a little bit more Italian.
Male narcissism is at the heart of metrosexuality – and in Italy unlike in the Anglo world this has never really been properly repressed. Italy, home of Michelangelo, Marcello Mastroianni and Dolce & Gabbana, never seriously pretended that ‘beauty’ was a word that couldn’t sit alongside ‘male’, and pat its well-formed knee.
In Italy, particularly Southern Italy, young men often have an almost swishy but entirely assured way of walking that few Anglos can ever hope to match. And if we try, it just ends up a silly sashay.
Nonetheless, I think full-throated metrosexuality does break down traditional or official ideas about the sexual division of loving and looking even in Italy by undermining machismo and ‘outing’ the queerness of it all. The way that women look at men and men look at other men – and how men get very turned on by all the attention.
Do you know the Fiat-Chrysler CEO, Sergio Marchionne?
Mark Simpson: I’m afraid I had to look him up. Are you sure he’s Italian? He looks like Jeremy Clarkson’s dad. Do you think he has a wardrobe at home with 365 identical shapeless jumpers and shirts?
Hummersexuals are guys who over-emphasise their masculinity with ‘manly’ accessories in a way that makes you wonder what they’re covering up. Retrosexuals are merely pre-metrosexual.
Sergio seems more retrosexual than hummersexual. Partly because Fiat cars aren’t terribly popular with the US military or Hollywood action heroes – too small and ‘faggy’, I expect – but mostly because he reminds me of my old chemistry teacher.
And how about former Prime Minister Berlusconi?
He’s quite something, that Berlusconi! But at least, as he keeps reminding us, he’s not queer. Even if he does look like a drag queen.
I don’t think any of the categories really fit Silvio. He’s far too special. He’s in a category all of his own. Silviosexual.
Mind you, his old chum Tony Blair, our former PM and rock star manqué, shared the same drag queen smile. But ultimately Silvio is a reminder to an Anglo like me of the mysteries of ‘machismo’. How something so camp can imagine itself something so butch.
Perhaps we need to go way back in time to locate Berlusconi’s painted, dyed, stretched, terrifyingly cosmetic look. Back to the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt.…
Is David Beckham still the epitome of the metrosexual?
Yes, albeit the ageing metrosexual. In English we have an expression, ‘mutton dressed as lamb’.… But then there are lots of men his age and older who also don’t want to give up their sex-object status – so they look to him for inspiration. Though he’ll have to offer them something a lot sexier than those daggy H&M pants and vests he came up with recently.
Beckham’s metrosexual crown has of course been usurped by younger, prettier players such as Cristiano Ronaldo – who also famously stole his Armani undies. At the same time you have a new generation of tarty male reality TV stars, such as Mike ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino and his ‘gym tan laundry’ metro mantra from Jersey Shore. And at the movies you have stars like Tom Hardy, with those pouty, Brando-esque lips, muscles and his openly admitted bi-curious past telling us ‘Don’t be a afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.’
Is metrosexy the “next stage” of metrosexuality? The word ‘metrosexual’ was born in the Nineties. What happened to male narcissism since then?
Funnily enough Justin Bieber was born the same year as the metrosexual. They’re both sweet seventeen. In other words, metrosexuality is still waiting for its voice to drop.
That said, men’s narcissism has become much so mainstream and accepted in the last decade or so, to the point where it is often taken for granted, especially by the younger generation who has grown up with it. Hence the word itself is likely to become defunct at some point in the not too distant future. To some extent Metrosexy is about a post metrosexual world.
However, there are still reaction-formations and kinky backlashes against metrosexuality, particularly in the US which, because of a passionately Protestant history and an equally passionate denial about its own screaming gayness, continues to work out her issues. E.g. those hummersexuals.…
Essentially ‘metrosexy’ is the tarty male sensibility that metrosexuals have injected into the culture. Metrosexuality has gone from being a ‘type’ – ‘the metrosexual’ – to be spotted and pointed at, to being a pervasive ‘feeling’. A way of seeing and being seen.
Also, a glance at the newsstand, the billboard, the TV, and the queue at the bus stop tells us that with many young men the desire to be desired and embody male beauty has taken an increasingly physical, sensual form: their lovingly, painstakingly sculpted and shaved muscles and their elaborate, expensive designer tattoos.
Following the cues of sporno, many seem to aspire to be sexual athletes. Hustlers. Porn stars.
What’s the relationship between hipsterism and metrosexuality?
Although most hipsters would probably rather die than admit it, hipsterism is a form of metrosexuality. But a very middle-class and enervated – or ‘ironic’ – one. It’s patently narcissistic, but usually regards the body and ‘sexiness’ as ‘vulgar’. Which it is of course – if you’re lucky.
What’s the “gay bomb”, Abercrombie & Fitch or American Apparel or Apple?
Abercrombie & Fitch were perhaps the detonator – Apple and iPhones were the explosion. iPhones are of course the ultimate vanity product – they’re really MEphones. The app that comes gratis with every smartphone is dumb self-obsession. And they’re also a great way to take a picture of yourself topless in the gym changing room mirrors to upload to Facebook, or perhaps a more ‘discrete’ ‘social network’…
Are the social networks, i.e. Facebook and especially Twitter, a form of a sublimated metrosexuality?
Inasmuch as they’re all about MEEEEEE! yes. They’re where people compete for attention and try to turn themselves into brands and commodities and market themselves, a hallmark of metrosexuality.
In the case of Facebook, often the metrosexuality isn’t even very sublimated. Young men can and do upload hundreds of topless pictures of themselves, apparently auditioning for that Men’s Health cover.
You’ve written that “in some ways Obama is the first US President to be his own First Lady.” Is there any metrosexy candidate in the Republican party?
Not in the current line-up of hopefuls. Though Mitt Romney does look like a mannequin in the window of a particularly boring department store.
Aaron Schock on the other hand, the Republican Congressman who stripped off for Men’s Health magazine positively drips metrosexiness – for a politician. He’ll probably end up President one day. Him or Justin Bieber.…
Mark Simpson’s Metrosexy is available for download from Amazon.
The NY Times wants to convince you that men’s fashion blogging is the new bull-fighting.
In an inadvertently hilarious piece titled ‘Straight Talk — A New Breed of Fashion Bloggers’, it sets out to prove that Tweeting and Tumbling about tie pins all day is really, like, butch.
NOT every fashion blogger is a 15-year-old girl with an unhealthy obsession with Rei Kawakubo. Some are older. And some are men.
Well, that’s a relief. Even thought I don’t know who Rei Kawakubo is.
And not just any guy with an eye for fashion.
You mean, not just another fag? Phew!
There are hyper-masculine dudes who “look at men’s fashion the way other guys look at cars, gadgets or even sports,” said Tyler Thoreson, the editorial director of Park & Bond, a men’s retail site.
“There’s the same attention to detail.”
Don’t stop. I’m getting hard.
In other words, these are macho fashion bloggers, writing for a post-metrosexual world. “It’s translating this sort of very-guy approach to something that’s so traditionally been quasi-effeminate,” Mr. Thoreson added.
Very-guy? Or just very–gay? In the worst possible sense of the word.
The whole piece, especially the ‘hyper masculine dude’ and ‘macho blogger’ with a khaki fetish profiled first, whose ‘Dislikes’ include “Pants that are too tight and too short, men who are getting too pretty, and guys wearing fedoras” is of course incredibly faggy. Much faggier than anything flaming could ever be. He sounds like the kind of queen who comes up with the strictly-enforced ‘real man’ dress-code for leather bars.
This kind of guff isn’t ‘post-metrosexual’ at all. It’s so pre–metrosexual it’s positively pre–Stonewall.
And is it just me, or did the NYT just call straights ‘breeders’ in that headline?
This guy here (if indeed it is a guy) is the only ‘macho’ men’s fashion blogger anyone will ever need. Strangely, he wasn’t included in that piece by the NYT. He probably terrifies the poor poppets. He certainly scares the shit out of me.
Tip: Lee Kynaston
Are men the new women? I’ve always avoided using that line until now. As the (hetero)sexual division of labour and loving and looking continues to fall apart, men are the new everything. Just as women are.
But in the last few months we’ve been told men now take longer getting ready than women, mercifully deleting at a stroke most of the material of stand-ups like John Bishop. We’ve also been told that gents are more likely to take travel irons, hairdryers and straighteners on holiday than ladies. Now there’s new evidence they may be as body-conscious as women too. In fact, according to a widely-reported study of 394 British men published last week, lads are now more concerned with their body image than lasses.
A third said they think about their appearance more than five times a day, 18% were on a high-protein diet to increase muscle mass, and 16% on a calorie-controlled diet to slim down. While a Faustian 15% claimed they would happily trade 2–5 years of their life if they could have their ideal body weight and shape. (Probably because they hoped the years would be sliced off the end of their lives — when they’re old and crumbly and not very likely to go on Big Brother anyway).
Some we’re told were undertaking compulsive exercise, strict diets, using laxatives or making themselves sick in an attempt to lose weight or achieve a more toned physique. And although the survey didn’t cover this, other data suggests a surprisingly large number of men are also taking steroids, growth hormones and other prescription drugs to achieve a more aesthetically pleasing appearance.
Which generally means tits and abs. Men’s main preoccupation, the survey found, was their ‘beer belly’ and lack of muscles, with a whopping 63% saying they thought their arms or chests were not muscular enough. And people never believe me when I tell them that while some women are size queens, all men are.
Clearly a lot of men are gazing avariciously at the flaunted porno pecs and abs of hit TV shows like Jersey/Geordie Shore (Geordie Shore is back for a second season on MTVUK at the end of this month). We already know they’re buying Men’s Health magazine as it became the biggest-selling men’s mag recently. All those tarty, shouty Men’s Health front covers promising BIGGER ARMS! PUMPED PECS! and RIPPED ABS! in a fortnight may be as laughable as they are repetitive, but they’re clearly, lucratively tapping into 21st Century man’s deepest, darkest and beefiest desires.
Men may or may not be the new women, but men’s tits and abs are the new eye candy. Men have become their own High Street Honeys.
They’re also rather bitchy. Apparently 80.7% of the survey respondents talked about their own or others’ appearance in ways that draw attention to weight, lack of hair or slim frame. It also confirms that men of whatever sexual orientation look rather a lot at each other’s bodies, comparing and contrasting, desiring and detracting.
Dr Philippa Diedrichs of the Centre for Appearance Research at UWE in Bristol who led the survey, described this conversation between men about their bodies as ‘body talk’ (which makes me think of both Olivia Newton John beating up the fatties in ‘Physical’, and also that single from the same era by the incredibly camp dance band Imagination.)
‘Body talk reinforces the unrealistic beauty ideal which reinforces leanness and muscularity. This is traditionally seen as an issue for women but our research shows that men are feeling the pressure to conform too.’
Rosi Prescott, chief executive of Central YMCA which commissioned the research also sees this as ‘damaging’:
‘Historically conversation about your body has been perceived as something women do, but it is clear from this research that men are also guilty of commenting on one another’s bodies; and in many cases this is having a damaging effect. Men’s high levels of body talk were symptomatic of a growing obsession with appearance, she added.
Some three in five men (58.6%) said body talk affected them, usually negatively.’
I’m a bit conflicted here. Probably because as an ‘avid fan’ of the worked-out male body I’m part of the problem. On the one hand I welcome this kind of research and the publicity it’s received because it’s both putting the spotlight on both how much men’s behaviour has changed of late, and also undermining sexist assumptions about ‘men’ and ‘women’, which many feminists, like lazy stand-ups, buy into. And it’s always good to draw attention to the Patrick Batemanesque dark side of the metrosexual revolution – and its costs.
On the other hand, I’m not entirely sure that applying the problematising, pathologising and sometimes Puritanical, dare I say ‘Wolfian’ (as in ‘Naomi’), discourse that’s been used on women’s bodies wholesale to men would be something to welcome. Men aren’t the new women, but they might be the new moral panic.
This ‘body talk’ amongst men isn’t necessarily a sign of ‘guilt’ as was suggested. It might be a healthy honesty. And whilst obviously this kind of critique and competition might push some into anxiety and obsession and self-destructive behaviour, or conformity to rather narrow ideals of male beauty, the generalised, compulsory, traditional self-loathing that existed amongst men before ‘body talk’ and (male) body interest became acceptable was in many ways worse. It was also, remember, ‘normal’.
After all, not wanting to talk about their bodies is part of the reason why men historically have been very reluctant to visit their GP and tend to die much earlier on average than women. Until very recently the male body was simply an instrument that was to be used until the mainspring broke. Barely giving men time to rewind their horribly symbolic retirement clock.
And certainly, men didn’t look at one another’s bodies. Unless they were queer.
Not anymore. Men’s ‘body talk’ has become deafening. On the hit ITV reality series The Only Way is Essex Arge, who is a little on the husky side, was always gazing longingly at Mark (above) and asking how he gets his ‘fit body’ and whether he can help him get one too.
A married squaddie mate who is an occasional gym buddy always subjects my body to a close scrutiny in the changing rooms after our workouts, appreciatively commending, say, my deltoid or tricep development, and mercilessly criticising, say, my forearms’ failure to keep up with them. And my belly’s general miserable flabbiness. Part of me dreads the scrutiny, but another welcomes the frank ‘body talk’ too. I’m glad he gets all Olivia Newton John on my ass. If he didn’t, I might have to pay someone to do it.
Mind you, his wise observation about gym culture to me one day sticks in my mind: “It’s all about ‘ow you look isn’t it, Mark? Nobody really cares whether any of this makes you fit or not. You could be rotten underneath but if you look great no one gives a fook.” He’s right. The metrosexy cult of male beauty is all a bit Dorian Ghey.
Which reminds me, apparently a quarter of the respondents in this survey were gay (well, it was sponsored by the Central YMCA). Of course, some people will hastily seize upon that to disqualify its findings. And while it probably is reason to treat them with at least as much caution as those of any other survey, I’m inclined to see the large sample of gay men included as a sign of this survey’s relevance and inclusiveness. After all, it’s gays that are to blame for the cult of male bloody beauty.…
Gays like The Village People. Love it or loathe it, the body-fascist foundations for the metrosexy male culture we’re living in were laid in the early Eighties. And I’m deliriously happy the Central YMCA commissioned this survey as it’s a perfect excuse for me to post (below) my Favourite Music Video of All Time. I suspect it was part of the inspiration for Olivia’s ‘Physical’ video. (And both were almost certainly inspired by this epic.)
Every frame is a joy, but the Busby Berkeley (or is it Leni Riefensthal?) shot of the swimmers diving one after the other into the pool as if they were perfectly-formed poppies scythed down by the camera’s gaze never fails to send me into paroxysms of delight. For me, it’s always fun to stay at the YMCA.
Which is just as well. In the 21st Century we’re all checked in there. Permanently.