Nightmare Balls

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

Mirror Men on Canvas — and in Crocs

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.

 pallavi singh work 1 1024x731 Mirror Men on Canvas   and in Crocs

 pallavi singh work2 731x1024 Mirror Men on Canvas   and in Crocs

 

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”.

pallavi singh work 3 1024x731 Mirror Men on Canvas   and in Crocs

All images Copy­right Pallavi Singh, 2012

It’s Not a Journey: The Endless Trend of Male Vanity

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.

brad pitt Troy 02 300x297 Its Not a Journey: The Endless Trend of Male Vanity

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.

Brad Pitt Thelma and Louise 1 300x279 Its Not a Journey: The Endless Trend of Male Vanity

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.

 

Tip: Lee Kynaston

Get Your Filthy Hands Off Me!’ Gorgeous George’s Glamorous Legacy

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.

gorgeous george book cover Get Your Filthy Hands Off Me! Gorgeous Georges Glamorous Legacy

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.

gorgeous george Get Your Filthy Hands Off Me! Gorgeous Georges Glamorous Legacy

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.

GG Mirror Get Your Filthy Hands Off Me! Gorgeous Georges Glamorous Legacy

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.’

gorgeous george 03 234x300 Get Your Filthy Hands Off Me! Gorgeous Georges Glamorous Legacy

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.

 

 

Charlie Brooker’s Anxious Anus

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).

Charlie Brooker 199x300 Charlie Brookers Anxious Anus

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’).

Geordie Shore James 300x209 Charlie Brookers Anxious Anus

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.

Tip: Bat020

Winsome, Losesome, Mansome

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.

Isn’t it?

 Mansome goes on gen­eral release in the US later this month.

Mark Simpson’s Metrosexy: a 21st Century Self-Love Story is avail­able now.

 

Postscript

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.

David Beckham’s Total Package — And his Fascinating Foot

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.

Beckham Shop window David Beckhams Total Package   And his Fascinating Foot

 

Becks Bag David Beckhams Total Package   And his Fascinating Foot

Carelessly dis­posed shop­ping bags pose a real men­ace to defence­less celebrities.

 

Tip: DAKrolak & Mark Rangel

 

Ciao Bello! Mark Simpson interviewed by Italian mag ‘Studio’

Michelangelo  s David  s Ass by HuntressArria 691x1024 Ciao Bello! Mark Simpson interviewed by Italian mag Studio

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”?

Mark Simpson: 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.

DG Shower Gang Bang Ciao Bello! Mark Simpson interviewed by Italian mag Studio

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? 

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.…

Silvio Berlusconi Smile Ciao Bello! Mark Simpson interviewed by Italian mag Studio

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.’

Mikey Sorrentino meets Michaelangelos David 200x300 Ciao Bello! Mark Simpson interviewed by Italian mag Studio

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.…

aaron schock mens health Ciao Bello! Mark Simpson interviewed by Italian mag Studio

Mark Simpson’s Metrosexy is avail­able for down­load from Amazon.

METROSEXY cover small Ciao Bello! Mark Simpson interviewed by Italian mag Studio

 

 

Gayest Fashion Feature Evah?

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

Let me Hear Your Body Talk

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.

TheSituation5 G 202x300 Let me Hear Your Body Talk

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.

550w geordie shore jay 199x300 Let me Hear Your Body Talk

Geordie Shore’s Jay knows what you want

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.

Geordie Guys x 300x200 Let me Hear Your Body Talk

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.

Mark Wright 214x300 Let me Hear Your Body Talk

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.