Metrosexuality & the Selfie

Metrodaddy Mark Simpson was recently email inter­viewed by Beverly Parungao for a Sydney Morning Herald piece titled ‘Are Men Becoming Too Metrosexual?’ . Below are his unapo­lo­getic, uncir­cum­cised replies.

Narcissus in the age of the selfie

BP: What is driv­ing the met­ro­sexual movement?

MS: Self-love – and a cer­tain amount of self-loathing – is cer­tainly a power­ful dynamo.

But ulti­mately what we’re see­ing here is noth­ing less than a revolu­tion in mas­culin­ity in par­tic­u­lar and gender rela­tion­ships in general.

Metrosexuality isn’t about flip flops, facials or man­scara, or about men becom­ing ‘girly’ or ‘gay’ – it’s about men becom­ing everything. Everything that they want to be.

Why are men today more con­cerned with their appearance?

Because they’re worth it. As advert­ising has told women for dec­ades. Men make up c. 50% of the mar­ket­place and need to pull their weight in the shop­ping mall if con­sumer­ism is to sur­vive. They cer­tainly seem to have upped their game rather a lot in the last dec­ade or so.…

We’re also liv­ing in a cul­ture in which women have enthu­si­ast­ic­ally taken on pre­vi­ously ‘male’ pre­serves – from drink­ing pints to join­ing the world of work to actu­ally hav­ing orgasms. Men, espe­cially younger men who’ve grown up with all this as the norm, have worked out that they too can now appro­pri­ate products, prac­tises and pleas­ures once deemed ‘gay’ or ‘girly’ and there­fore out of bounds. The much greater accept­ance of gay people has also reduced the stigma asso­ci­ated with men step­ping out of their stereotype.

Most of all, we’re liv­ing in a visual, looking-glass cul­ture of selfies, Facebook, Twitter, real­ity TV and Men’s Health cov­ers. Metrosexuality rep­res­ents men’s adapt­a­tion to this new world order – men can’t just ‘act’ any more they have ‘appear’ too, to be looked at. To be noticed. To be a brand. To be wanted. Male van­ity isn’t empty and indul­gent – it’s a sur­vival strategy.

In our shiny, highly reflect­ive 21st Century the sexual divi­sion of look­ing has thor­oughly broken down, and men now ache to ‘objec­tify’ themselves.

Even and espe­cially sports­men who used to be the embod­i­ment of ‘blokes’ and ‘reg­u­lar guys’ who were sup­posed to be only con­cerned, ‘at the end of the day’, with ‘the team’ and ‘doing their job’, have become glossy, inked, pneu­matic sporno stars.

You might be for­given for think­ing a lad only plays foot­ball or rugby these days as a way of star­ring in those saucy ads for Armani under­wear and those tarty rugby and row­ing calendars.

Manscaping is one the rise, but so too is male cos­metic sur­gery (in Australia and America). Do you view this as trend as part of the met­ro­sexual movement?

Absolutely. The male body, once the last fron­tier of con­sumer­ism, has been totally com­mod­i­fied. Masculinity has been thor­oughly aes­thet­i­cized. I would add to the trend for cos­metic sur­gery and man­scap­ing man-bits the way that men uses tat­toos to shade and emphas­ise their worked-out muscles. The male body has become a liv­ing work of art.

Ironically the total ubi­quity of beards at the moment is proof of that. No longer a sec­ond­ary sexual char­ac­ter­istic or badge of bloke­dom they’re just another sweet male access­ory. Another way today’s chaps ask you to adore them.

Should women be con­cerned that the met­ro­sexual male is now mainstream?

They should cer­tainly get used to it!

Many women I know wel­come the fact that men nowadays are not only bet­ter turned out, more worked-out, sen­sual creatures who are rather bet­ter in bed as a res­ult – but also the fact they’re more inde­pend­ent. Self-maintaining. They might spend forever in the bath­room but they are much more likely to be able to oper­ate a cooker or wash­ing machine and even buy their own under­wear. Which is an advant­age in a job mar­ket where women might be work­ing while their part­ner is not – and where men might be stay­ing at home look­ing after the kids.

Though for some women, per­haps with more tra­di­tional ideas about sex roles and the ‘com­ple­ment­ar­ity’ of the sexes, adjust­ing to the new met­ro­sexual order could be dif­fi­cult. But then, a lot of chau­vin­istic men had trouble adjust­ing to the changes brought about by women’s lib.

In their quest to be desired have men become too sexy, too fem­in­ised and there­fore less desir­able to women?

You should prob­ably ask women about that.… Though women aren’t always com­pletely truth­ful in their answer to that ques­tion. Quite a few assert that they find a man who spends longer than them in the bath­room – which prob­ably means just as long as them – a total turn off. But then they go com­pletely bana­nas over a guy who clearly spends hours in the bath­room and every even­ing in the gym. Trust me, men have noticed this discrepancy!

The only hope for het­ero­sexu­al­ity is double ensuite bathrooms.

Mark Simpson’s Metrosexy: A 21st Century Self-Love Story is avail­able from Amazon in Kindle form and also in physical/fondle form.

Selfie Narcissus image taken from here


Dan Osborne, the won­der­fully, shame­lessly tarty star of The Only Way is Essex and now beau­ti­fully brazen under­wear model for Bang Lads, pho­to­graphed deli­ciously by Darren Black.

Dan shows us the girth of his Xmas cracker. Or what we’ll be doing after it goes ‘bang’.
Dan, who is clearly a very shy lad, shows us his obliques, his biceps, his tatts and his elbows.

 Write-up by the DM on the shoot here.

Sexy and I Show It: Parading Cadets (& Olympic Divers)

Last year metrodaddy declared the LMFAO dance hit ‘Sexy and I Know It’ an anthem  for the Jersey Shore/Geordie Shore/The Only Way is Essex/The Hunks/Men’s Health Magazine gen­er­a­tion of met­ro­sexy young men and the meta­phor­ical (and not so meta­phor­ical) spangly Speedos they’re flaunt­ing them­selves in.

But I have to say I was a tad ambi­val­ent about the heav­ily ironic hip­ster promo video.

Fortunately, it’s been remade by non-hipsters. In shape non-hipsters. Cadets from the USAF Academy, no less. Now, in case any­one objects that this is con­duct unbe­com­ing future officers (and appar­ently some kill­joys have) per­haps we should remem­ber that one of the lesser known mean­ings of ‘cadet’ is ‘pimp’. Though here of course they’re pimp­ing their own bod­ies. Like the rest of today’s young men.

Not to be out­done, US Navy cadets have also taken up the chal­lenge (see below). Which do you think is sex­ier? And which one knows it most? Air Force or Navy? Or neither? So far I haven’t been able to loc­ate an Army or USMC ver­sion — but some­thing tells me it won’t be long.

Tip: Roger Clarke and  Towelroad



UK Olympic diver Tom Daley and his chums have recor­ded their own Speedo-tastic ver­sion (I espe­cially like Tom’s Carmen Miranda moment):

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.

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.…

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.



David Beckham’s ‘End Result’ — Can You Handle It?

Better order some indus­trial strength lip balm and prac­tise sup­press­ing the gag reflex.

Shameless sporno star and über-metrosexual David Beckham is ram­ming his eye-popping lunch­box down our col­lect­ive throats again. This time with a media ‘offens­ive’ for his own line of men’s undies – and strangely shape­less vests – from Swedish-owned high street fash­ion chain H&M.

I always want to chal­lenge myself and this was such a reward­ing exper­i­ence for me. I’m very happy with the end res­ult and I hope H&M’s male cus­tom­ers will be as excited as I am.”.

It’s true, you do look very pleased to see us again, David dear. But I worry that my ‘end res­ult’ might not look quite so excited/exciting in your pants.

But Beck’s own palp­able, prom­in­ent excite­ment is entirely under­stand­able. He saw the humong­ous wads of cash Mr Armani was covered in when he brazenly pimped Beck’s designer cotton-clad tackle to the world a few years back. Becks was paid very hand­somely for his ser­vices him­self of course, but seems to have decided he can make even more filthy lucre by design­ing his packet him­self and flog­ging it to the global punter (H&M is the second largest retailer in the world).

Last year he explained:

I have had the idea of doing a body­wear col­lec­tion for some time now. The push to do some­thing of my own really came as a res­ult of my col­lab­or­a­tion with Armani. They told me that their gross turnover in 2007 was around €16 mil­lion, and after the cam­paign in 2008 it went up to €31 mil­lion, in 2008. It proved to me that there is a real mar­ket for good-looking, well-made men’s bodywear.”

Whether or not his fin­ished pants and vests are that kind of body­wear I’ll let you be the judge of. Bear in mind they are a lot more afford­able than Mr Armani’s. I think proud-father-of-four Goldenballs is here going for ‘volume’. Metrosexy dad­wear. Hence the emphasis he puts on comfort.

And as we’ve seen again and again in the last few years, there is def­in­itely a real mar­ket for good-looking, well-made, fam­ous, well-packaged men’s bod­ies. Advertisers, real­ity TV and Hollywood have prac­tic­ally had our eye out with them.

Regardless of his advan­cing years (he’s a fright­en­ingly well-preserved, carb-free 37 this May) and con­sequently fad­ing foot­ball career, Becks will always be fondly iden­ti­fied with that met­ro­sexual revolu­tion and will very likely get his money shot yet again.

He and his endow­ments, nat­ural and Photo-shopped, always seems to wangle a way to attract the eye. Whatever you may think of his vests.


Still Ill: Narcissism is Sick Again

Terrible news! Call off the Xmas Party at Men’s Health magazine! Cancel the male strip­pers and the buck­ets of (low-fat) blancmange!

Self-love isn’t going to be rehab­il­it­ated after all. At least not by the shrinks. Professionally speak­ing, it will remain the love the dare not speak its name — even as the cul­ture screams noth­ing else.

According to this piece by Jennifer Allen in The Sunday Telegraph, in the face of strong cri­ti­cism, the American Psychiatric Association has back­tracked on its plan to remove Narcissistic Personality Disorder from the new edi­tion of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Allen sug­gests the reason they tried to de-list nar­ciss­ism in the first place was not down to any recog­ni­tion of how ‘nor­mal’ nar­ciss­ism has become in the world out­side the con­sult­ing room, but because of the American psy­chi­at­ric trend to bio­lo­gise men­tal ill­ness (‘Baby, I was born this way’) and pre­scribe drugs instead of the ‘inter­min­able’ talk­ing cure.

Allen isn’t impressed though by the APA’s backtracking:

I find the volte-face dis­may­ing, not because I’m for pre­scrib­ing drugs and against talk­ing cures. You don’t need to be a psy­chi­at­rist to see that nar­ciss­ism has shif­ted from a patho­lo­gical con­di­tion to a norm, if not a means of survival.

Narcissism appears as a neces­sity in a soci­ety of the spec­tacle, which runs from Andy Warhol’s “15 minutes of fame” pre­dic­tion through real­ity tele­vi­sion and self-promotion to YouTube hits.

Well, quite. But then, I would agree as I’ve been say­ing this for years, darling.

Perhaps, being some­what cyn­ical, the objec­tion to de-listing NPD was driven pre­cisely by the ubi­quity of nar­ciss­ism. It’s cer­tainly a growth market.

I don’t doubt that NPD, or some­thing akin to it exists, and can be an extremely unpleas­ant exper­i­ence both for the suf­ferer and those they come into con­tact with – here in the UK we’re only just get­ting over Tony Blair. But even before the advent of Big Brother, Facebook, iPhones and Immac for Men the symp­toms of NPD were vague and com­mon enough fail­ings to be applied to almost any­one who had any­thing about them.

Or, to quote Gore Vidal, any­one bet­ter look­ing than you. According to the DSM ‘nar­ciss­ists also tend to be phys­ic­ally attract­ive on first impres­sion, giv­ing them advant­ages when first meet­ing people’.

Here’s the full list of NPD sins provided by the DSM:

  • Has a gran­di­ose sense of self-importance
  • Is pre­oc­cu­pied with fantas­ies of unlim­ited suc­cess, power, bril­liance, beauty, or ideal love
  • Believes that he or she is “spe­cial” and unique and can only be under­stood by, or should asso­ci­ate with, other spe­cial or high-status people (or institutions)
  • Requires excess­ive admiration
  • Has a sense of enti­tle­ment, i.e., unreas­on­able expect­a­tions of espe­cially favor­able treat­ment or auto­matic com­pli­ance with his or her expectations
  • Is inter­per­son­ally exploit­at­ive, i.e., takes advant­age of oth­ers to achieve his or her own ends
  • Lacks empathy: is unwill­ing to recog­nize or identify with the feel­ings and needs of others
  • Is often envi­ous of oth­ers or believes oth­ers are envi­ous of him or her
  • Shows arrog­ant, haughty beha­vi­ors or attitudes

If you thought that just five of these symp­toms might apply to you, then you may have NPD. If you found that they all apply to you then you’re prob­ably in prison serving a very long stretch indeed or have your own TV cook­ery show and super­mar­ket endorse­ment deal.

Though I sup­pose a psy­chi­at­rist would prob­ably say that someone with NPD would likely not be able to recog­nise those traits in them­selves. At any rate, that’s what I’m telling myself.

So if you found that none of these traits applied to you then you’re prob­ably Jesus Christ. Or Barbara Streisand.

The MetroseXY Movement

Hip hop has its own Andrej Pejic. The rap­per DPhill Spanglish Man is rebelling against the rap-ismo dress code with some­thing he dubs the ‘XY Movement’ which accord­ing to this report, ‘encour­ages men to get in touch with their fem­in­ine sides by don­ning lip­stick and other items, like floral print tights, typ­ic­ally worn by women.’

A lot of people feel like a lot of col­ors or tight clothes is homo­sexual. I feel like it’s more of an expres­sion of me,” said Philips, adding, “The only obstacles are in your mind, that’s the way I feel. I had to break down those bar­ri­ers in my mind to where I was just con­fid­ent enough to do it.”

And Philips’s girl­friend, Joy Nguyn, is just as con­fid­ent, even though she hears neg­at­ive com­ments all the time.

I get mostly neg­at­ive com­ments, ‘Oh, he gay… That’s not cute. Guys shouldn’t wear lip­stick or tights,’ but I really don’t care,” she said, adding, “It’s fine. I wear lip­stick. He wears lip­stick. We share lipstick.”

Or as Pejic put it:

It’s not like, ‘Okay, today I want to look like a man, or today I want to look like a woman,’ ” he says. “I want to look like me. It just so hap­pens that some of the things I like are feminine.”

Tip: Paul

Details Magazine Reviews ‘Male Impersonators’ and ‘Metrosexy’

Look around. Everywhere you turn, the male form is being ideal­ized, com­mod­i­fied, fet­ish­ized. On TV screens (the ripped vam­pires of True Blood), in Hollywood (Ryan Gosling’s toned torso lift­ing Crazy, Stupid, Love to the top of the box office), and on bill­boards (tower­ing images of chiseled men in briefs), laptops, and smart­phones (the append­ages of Weiner and Favre). Now look in the mir­ror. (And we know you do.) We’ve all become body-conscious to the core (not to men­tion con­scious of our core). Working out more, eat­ing bet­ter, dress­ing in slim­mer clothes, get­ting the hedges trimmed (and maybe even a nip or a tuck). Because, in the end, we all want to look as good as David Beckham does in briefs. Have we entered a grand age of self-improvement? Or is it nar­ciss­ism? Or homo­eroti­cism? It’s all those things, and more

(There’s a slideshow here)

Tip: Fraser

Anders Breivik: Metro-Psycho

When I first saw the images of Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Breivik, the ones he had so help­fully included in his press pack that accom­pan­ied his ‘mani­festo’, two thoughts imme­di­ately popped into my net-addled head:

a) They look pho­toshopped. Especially the soft-focus glam­our one in the Lacoste jumper with the col­lar turned up

b) The ‘action man’ dressy-uppy pho­tos look like they’ve been pulled from a gay fet­ish dat­ing web­site. Look at all my sexy accessories!

When I com­pared them with the pic­tures of the inanely grin­ning, bor­ingly bovine bald­ing 31-year-old male being driven away in hand­cuffs in the back of a police car I con­grat­u­lated myself that I hadn’t arranged to meet him.

Deluded as he is, Breivik seems very aware of the dis­con­nect between the ‘Justiciar Knight’ image he wants to present to the world – which may appear laugh­able to oth­ers, but clearly turns him on like the Blackpool Illuminations – and the more hum-drum real­ity. According to The Daily Telegraph:

A nar­ciss­ist and a fan­tas­ist, Breivik, 32, refuses to have his prison ‘mug­shot’ taken to ensure that the care­fully stage-managed pho­to­graphs he took of him­self – in full Masonic regalia or clutch­ing his rifle – are not replaced by more hum­bling images.

Given his yen to stage-manage everything, even from behind bars, it’s per­haps not so sur­pris­ing that cos­tum­ing seems to be a con­tinu­ing pre­oc­cu­pa­tion of his:

Having been refused per­mis­sion to wear a com­bat uni­form, he has deman­ded to wear a red Lacoste sweater for his pub­lic out­ings to court or to the police sta­tion. He will not wear any­thing else.

Well, if you know your sig­na­ture col­our and you have a brand that you feel at home in, why change?

I have no desire to read Breivik’s mani­festo. It’s over 1,500 pages long. It’s demen­ted. Worse, it’s badly spelled. Plus there’s the small mat­ter of his mur­der­ing scores of people, most of them chil­dren, to make me and you do just that. To make us take his delu­sions of grandeur and pur­pose ser­i­ously. So for­give me if I don’t feel like curl­ing up with him.

There isn’t a ‘mys­tery’ to Breivik that needs to be unlocked, except per­haps by men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als. And even then, it cer­tainly wouldn’t be in his ram­bling, rant­ing cut-and-pasted scrap­book of (mostly American) right-wing nut-jobbery.

But plenty of people seem to take a dif­fer­ent view. Legions of journ­al­ists and com­ment­at­ors and soci­olo­gists are read­ing the mani­festo avidly, search­ing for clues. Explanations. Keys to unlock the ‘enigma’ that is Breivik and make sense of his sense­less slaughter. Perhaps it’s the media’s job to try and find mean­ing where there isn’t any, but even in seek­ing to refute or ridicule his argu­ments – or hold him up as an example of what hap­pens when right wing extrem­ism or miso­gyny is allowed to flour­ish as many lib­eral papers have done – I think they are in danger of flat­ter­ing him.

There are no ‘les­sons’ to be learned from the pathetic creature that is Breivik, no mat­ter how much he might want us to think so and no mat­ter how tempt­ing it is to pander to that. He’s crim­in­ally insane. End of.

And yet. Maybe I’m in danger of being a big fat hypo­crite here, but it’s increas­ingly dif­fi­cult for me to ignore some of the stuff in his mani­festo that keeps being dis­cussed. From a nice middle-class Norwegian back­ground, the per­petu­ally single (and “100% hetero”) chap laments that mod­ern men spend so much time wor­ry­ing about their clothes and their colognes.

He also bemoaned met­ro­sexu­als, see­ing them as part of the ‘fem­in­isa­tion’ of the cul­ture in gen­eral and men in par­tic­u­lar which was leav­ing Europe (wide) open to Islamification:

…men are not men any­more, but metro sexual [sic] and emo­tional beings that are there to serve the pur­pose as a never-criticising soul mate to the new age fem­in­ist woman goddess.

Other reports tell us that he was an avid gym-goer, took ster­oids and vis­ited tan­ning salons. There are also claims that he had plastic sur­gery in his early twen­ties on his nose and chin. And then we have those care­fully staged, pos­sibly pho­toshopped images and his refusal now to have his mug­shot taken or wear any­thing in pub­lic he con­siders unflattering.

Breivik was clearly in patho­lo­gical denial about all sorts of things – his own met­ro­sexu­al­ity was per­haps the least of them. But he went to and con­tin­ues to go to a great deal of trouble to present him­self to the world, how­ever camply, how­ever grot­esquely, as a ‘real man’, a Christian war­rior, while using and dis­play­ing many of the char­ac­ter­ist­ics of his hated ‘pass­ive’, ‘weak’, ‘fem­in­ine’ met­ro­sexu­al­ity to do that.

And in this, alas, he isn’t so unusual – just rather more extreme. There are a lot of met­ros in denial. Not all of them are out and proud. Quite a few are self-loathing as well as self-loving and diss ‘girlie-men’ met­ros in the hope that this will prove they’re not ‘that way’ them­selves. A bit like how it works, in other words, with your actual homosexuality.

Much of Breivik’s polit­ics was gleaned from right wing US web­sites, where chaps are always whin­ing about not being able to find a ‘real man’ these days (in much the same way gay bears do), and where ‘met­ro­sexual’ is used as the worst kind of insult. A fag who isn’t actu­ally a fag. Worse than a fag, in fact. A het­ero­sexual who allows him­self to be pen­et­rated by the weak­ness and effem­in­acy of gay men – spread­ing the dis­gust­ing dis­ease of unmanliness.

So, in a sense Breivik’s anti-metro tirades are just copy­ing and past­ing again. Likewise his camply con­flic­ted per­sonal present­a­tion seems to European eyes very American.

You don’t need to read A European Declaration of Independence to know that this ‘Christian war­rior’ mass-murderer clearly desires to be desired. The mani­festo, those glam­our shots and prob­ably even the awful crimes are one enorm­ous, mega-creepy per­sonal ad. Not so much met­ro­sexual as metro-psycho.

The worst of it is that to some extent Anders Breivik has achieved what appears to be his main goal. Not start­ing a war against the Islamic inva­sion of Europe and ‘cul­tural Marxism’. Nor get­ting people to read his bloody manifesto.

He’s become a celebrity.

Tip — Bat020

 UPDATE 17/04/12

It seems Breivik tired of the red Lacoste jumper and decided to go for some­thing more formal, but still designer (with very pad­ded shoulders) for his court appear­ance this week. And a fash­ion beard that accen­tu­ates his ‘heroic’ jaw-line. Quite the dash­ing ‘Christian warrior’.

From his metic­u­lously craf­ted appear­ance, his rehearsed clenched fist salute, to the tears on view­ing his own pro­pa­ganda film, to to his lack of response to the tapes of the final moments of the people he slaughtered to get this gig in front of the word’s media, it’s obvi­ous that Breivik is thor­oughly enjoy­ing the atten­tion and won’t let the small mat­ter of all those dead bod­ies spoil his week.

UPDATE 24/08/12

Breivik was ori­gin­ally dia­gnosed as a para­noid schizo­phrenic and thus not respons­ible for his actions — i.e. crim­in­ally insane. This caused an out­cry in Norway and, highly unusu­ally, two more forensic psy­cho­lo­gists were called in. This time a much more pop­u­lar dia­gnosis was delivered: they declared that because of the way he metic­u­lously planned his attacks he couldn’t be crazy.

Today the Oslo dis­trict court where he has been on trial for mass murder went with the second dia­gnosis, declared him leg­ally ‘sane’ and sen­tenced him to 21 years in prison — though he is unlikely to ever be released.

Everyone seems happy with this ver­dict. The sur­viv­ors. The fam­il­ies. Norway. The media. Breivik is per­haps the hap­pi­est. Unless he was play­ing an Oscar win­ning Br’er Rabbit, the thing he appeared to fear most was being ruled insane and thrown in a spe­cially built psy­chi­at­ric unit indef­in­itely. In his mind he is now a ‘polit­ical pris­oner’ not a highly dan­ger­ous mentalist.

I can’t say I blame Norway for per­haps mov­ing the goal­posts to make sure he was found crim­in­ally respons­ible. But in a sense, his ‘Christian war­rior’ delu­sions have been endorsed. 

The Earring Wars are Over

Last Saturday’s The London Times Magazine ran an extract from ‘The Man in the Gray Flannel Skirt’, a mem­oir by Jon-Jon Goulian ‘the New York Review of Books first cross-dressing staffer’. I haven’t read it yet, but the extract inclined me to do so very soon.

Here’s Goulian on the semantics of ear­rings in the 1980s — a semantics which I also recall as hav­ing a very def­in­ite and decis­ive import when I was at school in the UK back then which you ignored at your peril, but which now seems as daft as Crystal and Alexis mud-wrestling:

In 1984, in La Jolla, California, as was true in most places in this coun­try, a huge amount of sig­ni­fic­ance was attached to which ear an ear­ring appeared in. If it was in the left ear, that meant you had a lib­eral con­science, and that you wanted people to know it. It was essen­tially like hav­ing a bumper sticker on the back of your VW bus that said NO NUKES. It was a ges­ture. Nothing more. So no one took it seriously.

An ear­ring in the right ear, on the other hand, meant that you were gay, and that you wanted people to know it. That, people took more ser­i­ously. An ear­ring in the right ear could get a bag of Tater Tots thrown at your head, which I saw hap­pen to a gay kid at La Jolla High School. In La Jolla, Tater Tots. Other places, bats and bullets.

Earrings in both the right ear and the left ear were unclear. They meant that you were a) gay; or b) that you were not only gay but also a bud­ding trans­vest­ite; or c) that you were not gay but only a bud­ding trans­vest­ite; or d) that you were not gay and not a bud­ding trans­vest­ite but, just weird and con­fused and in need of some sort of counselling.

When my mother set eyes on me, the same thought ran through her mind as would have run through the mind of any middle-class woman who grew up in Park Slope, Brooklyn, in the Fifties – ‘Oh, my God! I don’t under­stand! Is he a or b or c or d? Or all the above? This is not a fair test! I don’t under­stand the question!’

His poor mother.

Nowadays, the mono­sexual semantics of ear­rings on boys has broken down. The ear­ring war is over. It ended, like most things have in this new cen­tury, not in white doves and petals and ear­rings being beaten into plow­shares but incoherence.

Or as someone on this thread put it, in answer to a quaint ques­tion about which side was ‘gay’:

Um. Are you stuck in the 80s? It doesn’t mean any­thing any more.’

Which is per­haps bad news if you wanted like Jon-Jon seems to have back in the day, to make a state­ment that ‘people took ser­i­ously’. But then, it’s not just ear­rings that have suffered that fate.


Scrape Me With a Strigil! The Grooming Guru interviews Mark Simpson

The Grooming Guru, alias Lee Kynaston, inter­views Simpson about how Top Gun made a gen­er­a­tion of young men ‘gay’ and why the Romans knew a thing or two about exfo­li­ation. A snippet:

GG: Many com­ment­at­ors com­plain that men are ‘becom­ing more like women’ with their grooming/beauty regimes. What would you say to this?

MS: I think it’s more a case of men no longer tying one hand behind their backs when it comes to the increas­ingly import­ant busi­ness – both in private and pub­lic life – of look­ing good. Happily mar­ried Lord Sugar, for example, some­times seems to dis­play a weak­ness for an attract­ive, nicely turned-out male can­did­ate. And of course, more and more bosses are female.

Instead of men becom­ing ‘more like women’ what we’re see­ing is men being less inhib­ited in their beha­viour by wor­ries about what’s ‘mas­cu­line’ and ‘fem­in­ine’, ‘gay’ and ‘straight’. In much the same way that women have been since the fem­in­ist revolu­tion of the 1970s. Likewise, ‘male beauty’ is no longer a com­pletely ver­boten con­jug­a­tion that has to always be euphemised with ‘male grooming’.

Read Kynaston’s inter­view in full here.

Interview with Mark Simpson in Portuguese National ‘Publico’

English ver­sion of inter­view with Simpson about his new book met­ro­sexy by Bruno Horta (Publico, June 16, 2011)

Why did you decide to col­lect these texts in a single volume?

I wanted to bring together my essays that doc­u­ment and ana­lyse the pro­found revolu­tion in mas­culin­ity that met­ro­sexu­al­ity rep­res­ents. But which has been mostly trivi­al­ized by the media as being lit­er­ally skin-deep – Oooh! men hav­ing facials!! Oooh! Manbags!! That kind of thing. Metrosexuality isn’t about men becom­ing ‘girlie’ or ‘gay’. It’s about men becom­ing everything. To themselves.

It’s told-you-so van­ity on my part, but I also thought it was neces­sary to bring these pieces together into one col­lec­tion so that if someone wants to find out the real story of what has happened to men and to sexu­al­ity in the early 21st Century they can. Even if it’s just his­tor­i­ans of the future try­ing to work out why civil­iz­a­tion collapsed.

The kind of texts you write and the tone you use (ironic and camp) is not com­mon in Portugal but as far as I know is com­mon in English lan­guage authors. Could you com­ment? Is the tone of your writ­ings auto­bi­o­graph­ical or is just a rhet­or­ical mechanism?

Are you call­ing me camp, Bruno? I try my best to be enter­tain­ing when I write, as I’m extremely dull in per­son. Also, I think when it comes to sub­jects like sex, sexu­al­ity and gender a sense of humour is abso­lutely neces­sary. If someone can write about these sub­jects straight-faced then they prob­ably don’t know what they’re talk­ing about.

Did you real­ize you were cre­at­ing a world­wide concept when you first wrote about “met­ro­sexual” men in 1994? How proud do you feel about hav­ing seen before oth­ers a social tendency?

The news­pa­per art­icle in which I appar­ently coined that term was writ­ten to pub­li­cise my first book Male Impersonators: Men Performing Masculinity. I used met­ro­sexu­al­ity as a kind of short­hand for what I was talk­ing about in the book – about the way that an increas­ingly medi­ated world was chan­ging mas­culin­ity and how it was becom­ing much more nar­ciss­istic and exhib­i­tion­istic – and ‘objec­ti­fied’ in that feminist-speak.

In other words, mas­culin­ity was no longer always het­ero­sexual never homo­sexual, always act­ive never pass­ive, always desir­ing never desired, always look­ing never looked at.

The enforced asso­ci­ation of mas­culin­ity with cap­ital H het­ero­sexu­al­ity was break­ing down even in the early 90s – you only had to look around the cul­ture to see it. And I’ve always been some­thing of a voyeur. The desire of men to be desired wasn’t some­thing I was going to ignore.

Though, of course, people don’t always want to see things that are hap­pen­ing around them. Which is prob­ably why it took another dec­ade for the concept to catch on.

And yes, see­ing some things before oth­ers want to does give me a cer­tain mis­chiev­ous, per­verse pleas­ure, but it isn’t neces­sar­ily some­thing you’ll be thanked for. Look what happened to Cassandra.…

You say in the 1994 text that “met­ro­sexu­als are the cre­ation of capitalism’s vora­cious appet­ite for new mar­kets.” Do you think sexu­al­ity is nowadays more an eco­nomic issue than a ‘nat­ural’ or ‘primary’ behaviour?

Not really sure that sexu­al­ity has been a ‘nat­ural’ beha­viour since humans became social anim­als with elab­or­ate rules and codes, lan­guages – and reli­gions. It’s cer­tainly been even less ‘nat­ural’ since the indus­trial revolu­tion. What’s clear though is that the productive/reproductive impetus of early cap­it­al­ism has been replaced by sensual/consumerist imper­at­ives, even and espe­cially for men.

You see this even in China, where after a period of rapid pro­duct­ive growth con­sumer­ism is now rampant and encour­aged by the Party as the next step in China’s eco­nomic devel­op­ment – and hyper-metro beha­viour has been observed amongst a lot of Chinese young men (the so-called ‘herb­i­vore’ phe­nomenon). Plus of course, pop­u­la­tion growth is not some­thing China exactly needs.

It’s fairly clear that men have always had a capa­city for sen­su­al­ity and van­ity – and a desire to be desired – but for most of his­tory it has been rather closeted. Especially since the Victorian era. Men were meant to be war­ri­ors or labour­ers or empire build­ers. They weren’t meant to be beau­ti­ful. The sexual divi­sion of look­ing that the Victorians codi­fied decreed that women were beauty and men were action.

But now that men have been encour­aged to get in touch with their van­ity and sen­su­al­ity it seems there’s no stop­ping it.…

Is the concept of “sporno” a proof that our Western cul­ture is being con­struc­ted around por­no­graphy and sex? Camille Paglia wrote some months ago that American middle-class soci­ety is desexu­al­ized: men act like chil­dren until 50 and women are so thin­ner that men hardly fell attrac­ted for their bod­ies. What should we conclude?

America is a conun­drum. Sporno doesn’t really exist in the US, except via impor­ted Armani advert­ising cam­paigns (which don’t fea­ture US sports­men). Sporno is a European phe­nomenon. The Protestant com­pon­ent of American cul­ture is still very strong today and America still makes a quasi reli­gious fet­ish out the notion of the Real Man.

The US is the only coun­try that had a back­lash against met­ro­sexu­al­ity in the mid-Noughties. In many ways the ‘menais­sance’ as it was called was men-dacious and hypo­crit­ical – often it was just a more uptight ver­sion of met­ro­sexu­al­ity that was being sold. And in fact the US as a hugely con­sumer­ist coun­try has con­tin­ued of course down the met­ro­sexual path – it can hardly do any­thing else.  But it’s still in ter­rible denial.

Sporno rep­res­ents an intens­i­fic­a­tion of met­ro­sexu­al­ity – from a soft core to more hard-core gay porn sens­ib­il­ity.  It’s too out-and-proud in its met­ro­sexu­al­ity, ram­ming it’s designer-clad packet – or ass – down your throat. America’s not really ready for that. America is, as every­one knows, one of the ‘gay­est’ coun­tries in the world but it’s the last to know it.

Why do we see rugby and foot­ball play­ers act­ing as “sporno” stars but rugby and foot­ball are still homo­phobic areas?

I’m not so sure that rugby is that homo­phobic – partly because it’s all about male-male phys­ical con­tact.  And it does have one or two out players/ex-players. Football is a dif­fer­ent mat­ter how­ever. Pretty much the whole point of fol­low­ing foot­ball is to prove you’re not gay, my son….

To some extent the fash­ion houses deploy­ing foot­ballers in their spor­no­graphic advert­ising cam­paigns are exploit­ing the homo­pho­bia of the sport – the images are espe­cially strik­ing in their ‘gay­ness’ and their ‘passiv­ity’ because they use men who live by ‘activ­ity’ in a sport renowned for its homophobia.

In fact, David Beckham’s media career has also been based to some degree on exploit­ing the homo­pho­bia of foot­ball. If foot­ball wasn’t homo­phobic the notion of a foot­baller who ‘loves my gay fans’ and wears sarongs and his wife’s knick­ers wouldn’t be so newsworthy.

But of course sporno – and Beckham and Ronaldo – also change expect­a­tions and chal­lenge pre­ju­dices. There is a time-lag between the pan­sexu­al­ity proffered by sporno images used to sell cloth­ing to young foot­ball fans and atti­tudes on the ter­races and in the chan­ging rooms. But this will change. Things have already changed enorm­ously in just a few years.

What is really, strik­ingly, shock­ingly appar­ent in these spor­no­graphic images is the lust young sport­ing her­oes have to be… sluts. This appar­ently insa­ti­able appet­ite for tarti­ness and slut­ti­ness of men is some­thing that met­ro­sexu­al­ity has unleashed and isn’t going back in the closet any time soon.

How do you see the way gay men, or more accur­ately gay act­iv­ism, behave today: they demand gay mar­riage, they want to adopt chil­dren and they claim fam­ily val­ues? What’s hap­pen­ing? Has the “het­ero­sex­ist” soci­ety just con­tam­in­ated the pre­vi­ously sub­vers­ive gay culture?

A lot of gays seem to have decided that they want respect­ab­il­ity. Of course they call it ‘equal­ity’. But per­haps they have an equal right to be respect­able if they really want to be.

Just as straights appear to be going ‘gay’, given the chance, in the form of met­ro­sexu­al­ity and recre­ational, kinky sex, gays seem to be going ‘straight’. It’s the inev­it­able res­ult of the break­down of the divi­sion between ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ and the cros­sover between the two.  Sexuality no longer dic­tates lifestyle.

And it’s not so sur­pris­ing that it turns out that a lot of gays have made a fet­ish out of ‘nor­mal­ity’ and respect­ab­il­ity – because it was denied them for so long.  I expect though that many will tire of it rather more quickly than a lot of het­ero­sexu­als have.

What’s your opin­ion about the appar­ently main-streaming of the trans­gender cul­ture (last week Daniel Craig in drag; the Spanish magazine Candy, the recent suc­cess of the model Andrej Pejic)? Is trans the new sexual/aesthetic model? Are we going “tran­sexy”, as you call it?

I think it’s becom­ing pretty appar­ent that in an increas­ingly intensely medi­ated cul­ture everything is becom­ing hyper-real – espe­cially gender.  The increas­ing use of cos­metic sur­gery by both men and women, espe­cially celebrit­ies, is bring­ing about a kind of efface­ment of sexual dif­fer­ence. Not neces­sar­ily because men and women are becom­ing andro­gyn­ous, although that is hap­pen­ing too, but because even the attempts to emphas­ize ‘mas­cu­line’ and ‘fem­in­ine’ with cos­metic sur­gery, designer tatts and beards, ster­oids etc. etc. tend to pro­duce an ‘over-exposure’ which res­ults in a kind of ‘tran­sexy’ appear­ance. Sexiness has effaced sex.

Gender has become so arti­fi­cial and so over-stated that we’re all Pammy-trannies now. Male-to-male and female-to-female transsexuals.

Who do you con­sider to be the most inter­est­ing, sexy, defi­ant and myth­o­lo­gical pub­lic per­son of nowadays? Why?

That’s a tall order. I’m not sure I can think of any­one that really fits that descrip­tion. But Tom Hardy was the best thing by far about ‘Inception’ and there is some­thing quite inspir­ing about this pouty-faced yet rug­gedly hand­some Hollywood star’s open own­er­ship both of his bi-curious past and his ambi-sexual per­sona. He looks like a good advert for met­ro­sex­i­ness: ‘Don’t be afraid to dream a little big­ger, darling.’

I think that’s an excel­lent motto for nego­ti­at­ing the met­ro­sexy world we’re now liv­ing in.

met­ro­sexy is avail­able for your instant pleas­ure on Amazon Kindle

Sporno Gallery

I’ve added an eye-popping gal­lery of sporno to the met­ro­sexy Facebook page here. (It’s a lot easier on FB than on WordPress.)

Alas, due to the lim­it­a­tions of the format there are no illus­tra­tions in the e-book — aside from David Williams lyr­ical shower scene on the cover. Metrosexy is 70,000 words long but doesn’t say nearly as much as the but­tocks below.…

Muscle: Hollywood’s Biggest Special Effect

By Mark Simpson

(Independent on Sunday 31 March, 2002)

Guys! Do you worry that your body isn’t suf­fi­ciently lean and mus­cu­lar? Do you fre­quently com­pare your muscles with other men’s? If you see a man who is clearly more mus­cu­lar than you, do you think about it and feel envi­ous for some time afterwards?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these ques­tions it used to mean that you should send a postal order to Mr Charles Atlas to ask for advice. Nowadays, if the myriad art­icles about the latest ‘dis­ease’ to afflict men are to believed, it means you might need to see a ther­ap­ist to talk you out of going to the gym so much because you may be suf­fer­ing from ‘big­orexia’ – the delu­sion that you’re not beefy enough.

On the other hand, it might just mean that you go to the movies.

We expect as a mat­ter of course that our male leads these days will have per­fect pec­tor­als, bounteous biceps and cor­rug­ated steel stom­achs that speak of thou­sands of hours of sweat, tears and neur­otic diet­ing. ‘Brad Pitt’ is now Esperanto for ‘six pack’. What, after all, is the point of being a film star if you can’t hire the most sad­istic per­sonal fit­ness instructor in town and feast on egg white omelettes and rice cakes? More per­tin­ently, why should we puny punters pay good money to gaze up at men on the big screen who aren’t them­selves big­ger than life, but sport waist­lines that speak of no life at all?

It wasn’t always thus. In fact, until the Eighties muscles were usu­ally so few and far between on the screen that the oiled man in swim­ming trunks bash­ing the big gong at the begin­ning of Rank films was as much meat as you were likely to get at the movies. It was of course an oiled Austrian action hero and former Mr Universe who changed all that, banging a gong for body­build­ing in ‘Conan the Barbarian’ (1982) and ‘Terminator’ (1984) intro­du­cing us to the spec­tac­u­lar male body and chan­ging forever the way we see the male physique.

True, all those steroid-pumped chests look excess­ive now, ‘tit­ter­some’ even, and screen muscles have ten­ded to come in a more man­age­able, more cov­et­table size for some years, but a male Hollywood star who doesn’t work out is as unthink­able now as an American who doesn’t floss.

And Arnie, like the cyborg he played in his most fam­ous movie – or a per­sonal fit­ness trainer from hell – keeps com­ing back. He refuses to acknow­ledge that he’s mor­tal, or, which is much more hub­ristic, out of fash­ion. Next week sees the open­ing of his new action-hero movie ‘Collateral Damage’, in which he plays a fire­man seek­ing to avenge the murder of his wife and son by ter­ror­ists. Next month he begins film­ing ‘Terminator 3′, quickly fol­lowed by ‘Total Recall 2′ and ‘True Lies 2′ Single-handedly, and Promethian-like, fifty-five year-old Arnie, who had major heart sur­gery five years ago, seems to be try­ing to haul the Eighties back. (Not least because his polit­ical ambi­tions seem to prom­ise ‘Reagan 2′.)

Meanwhile, his former arch-rival and Sylvester Stallone is cur­rently try­ing to get fund­ing for yet more sequels to his Rocky and Rambo films (6 and 4, respect­ively if you’re still count­ing). Also fifty-five years old, Sly hasn’t had a hit movie for a dec­ade. Post September 11th he hopes America is ready again for a muscle-bound, if slightly wrinkly hero and that Hollywood will buy the idea of Rambo para­chut­ing into Afghanistan in a thong and put­ting the fear of god into Bin Laden and Al Quaeda. So far his attempts to get fund­ing have been unsuc­cess­ful, but if the Austrian Asshole suc­ceeds in mak­ing a comeback from the knack­ers yard, who will be able to stop the Italian Stallion?

Of course, Arnie and Sly weren’t the first muscle­men to make it in movies – just the first to suc­ceed in mak­ing it really ‘big’ business.

Back in the 1930s there was Johnny Weissmuller, Olympic swim­mer turned jungle vine swinger in a loin­cloth. His mus­cu­lar tarti­ness in the Tarzan movies was made accept­able by the fact that his physique was prac­tical in ori­gin (swim­ming, vine climb­ing and wrest­ling alligators). He was also an ‘ape-man’. As a (white) noble sav­age, who hardly spoke except to ulu­late loud enough to make the tree tops quiver, or shout ‘Ungawa!’ at a startled passing ele­phant or chim­pan­zee, he was spared many of the enforced decen­cies of 1930s Western civil­isa­tion. Interestingly, like Arnie he was ori­gin­ally Austrian: ‘Weissmuller’ is German for ‘white miller’; while ‘Schwarzenegger’ means ‘black plough’. Modern body­build­ing owes everything to Aryan farming.

By the 1940s and 50s Sword and Sandal epics, the pre-cursor of the action movie, star­ring people like Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, and B-movie body-builder-turned-actor Steve Reeves legit­im­ised the dis­play of more naked, shapely male flesh (hence the line in ‘Airplane’ when the per­vey pilot asks the lad being shown the flight-deck: ‘Son, do you like watch­ing gla­di­ator movies?’). Russell Crowe of course was to revive this genre in 2000 in ‘Gladiator’ and went out of his way in inter­views to claim that his brawny physique had been formed not in the gym but in ‘prac­tising sword fights’ — in a leather skirt. (Some cyn­ics might say that he failed to gain the Oscar for ‘A Beautiful Mind’ because by then he seemed to have lost his beau­ti­ful body).

In the Fifties and Sixties, Rock Hudson, epi­tom­ised the ‘All-American’ clean-cut hunk. A Tarzan of the sub­urbs, if you will. He had a body, but was not sexual. His mas­culin­ity was pleas­ingly super­fi­cial and unthreat­en­ing. (And now we know that there was never any chance that he might do Doris Day at all).

But it was that other fifties phe­nomenon Marlon Brando who inaug­ur­ated a new era — the male as brazen sex object. His tight-T-shirted, sweaty mus­cu­lar­ity was openly erotic; his bru­tish, built but sen­sual Stanley Kowalski was the street­car named Desire (‘Stell-la!’). Clift and Dean were faces, but Marlon was a face on a pout­ing body. There was some­thing andro­gyne yet virile about the Wild One’s most phys­ical roles. Perhaps as a kind of revenge on the industry, Marlon fam­ously developed an eat­ing dis­order (some­thing usu­ally asso­ci­ated with women) and later became notori­ous for his ‘work outs’ with gal­lon tubs of ice cream. In an odd way, Brando’s weight-problem is a kind of ‘big­orexia’, and prob­ably even harder work than stay­ing trim in the way that, say, Clint Eastwood has (and hav­ing sex in ‘In the Line of Fire’ with his tight white T-shirt at 70).

In the Fifties-come-around-again Eighties, Tom ‘Risky Business’ Cruise some­how man­aged com­bine Brando’s erotic nar­ciss­ism with Hudson’s clean-cut ster­il­ity, this time in a pair of Y-fronts. Later, in ‘Taps’ he played an intense right-wing recruit with an obsess­ive interest in body­build­ing and shower­ing. In ‘Top Gun’, the defin­it­ive Eighties movie, he legit­im­ised the new male nar­ciss­ism as some­thing pat­ri­otic and Reaganite. Most of Tom’s oeuvre since then has stuck to the same theme of boy­ish vul­ner­ab­il­ity mixed with determ­in­a­tion; passiv­ity and mas­culin­ity; sen­su­al­ity and respect­ab­il­ity — and the iden­tity prob­lems that this cre­ates (e.g. ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ and ‘Vanilla Sky’). By the same token, his muscles, with the excep­tion of those seen in ‘Taps’ — and his pre­pos­ter­ous fore­arms in ‘Mission Impossible’ — have never been huge, but they have always been very def­in­itely there if needed. Or desired.

The Eighties ‘roided’ body­builder action her­oes such as Arnie, Sly, Mel, Bruce ‘Die-Hard’ Willis (who for most of the Eighties seemed to be wear­ing Brando’s unwashed vest from ‘Streetcar’) and the ‘Muscles From Brussels’, Jean Claude Van Damme were less happy to be sex objects. True, these were film stars whose claim to fame res­ted largely on their will­ing­ness to dis­play their bod­ies, but there was also slightly des­per­ate dis­avowal of any passiv­ity – hence the emphasis on being action her­oes. Arnie and Sly were offer­ing their spec­tac­u­lar bod­ies for our excite­ment. Like the explo­sions and the stunts, their bod­ies were spe­cial effects — in a pre CGI era they were per­haps the most import­ant spe­cial effects of all.

Since then the main­stream­ing of body­build­ing, the increas­ing soph­ist­ic­a­tion of CGI and the recon­cili­ation of a new gen­er­a­tion of young men to their orna­mental role has left their Eighties action her­oes’ antics look­ing rather embar­rass­ing. Today’s male stars work out, but the com­pens­a­tion of hys­ter­ic­ally massive mus­cu­lature, hard-on vas­cu­lar­ity and single-handedly wip­ing out entire armies isn’t needed. Aesthetics have become more import­ant than arm-aments. Arnie may have suc­ceeded in get­ting Hollywood down the gym, but it is (early) Marlon and Tom who have inher­ited the World. Keanu Reeves, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Ethan Hawke, and all those close-ups on hunky-but-pretty Josh Hartnett’s long-lashed Nordic eyes in the war movies ‘Pearl Harbor’ (2001) and ‘Black Hawk Down’ (2002) prove this. Even Will Smith in ‘Ali’ (2002) doesn’t really look ter­ribly heavyweight.

And former WWF wrest­ler Dwayne Douglas Johnson ‘The Rock’ who made his debut in ‘The Mummy Returns’ may be hailed by Vanity Fair as ‘the next Segal, Stallone and Schwarzenegger rolled into one’ (a queasy image), but seems extra­vag­antly orna­mental, with his plucked eye­brows, lip gloss, make-up and dec­or­at­ive tattoos.

However, that’s not to say that the new rela­tion­ship to the male body is any less patho­lo­gical. When for example we see Brad smoking or eat­ing a ham­burger in ‘Ocean’s Eleven’, we can’t help but won­der how much it cost in CGI. (Reportedly he and his wife don’t keep any food in the house and have all their meals cal­orie coun­ted and delivered to their door). It’s dif­fi­cult to ima­gine any of today’s gen­er­a­tion of male stars find­ing any­thing they’d actu­ally swal­low – and keep down – on the menu at Planet Hollywood.

Meanwhile Arnie and Co., the ‘bigox­eric’ her­oes of yesteryear’s big screen, seem unlikely to bring back the out­sized Eighties not just because no one really needs them or can find a use for them, but because they are look­ing their age – older actu­ally, in Hollywood terms. The ster­oids Arnie began using at the age of 14 to pro­duce those ‘spe­cial effects’ can hasten the age­ing pro­cess and may well have con­trib­uted to other ‘col­lat­eral dam­age’, such as his heart prob­lems (they have also become main­stream – 7% of High School boys in the US admit­ted to tak­ing them). Having been con­vinced by Arnie to put so much faith in work­ing out and get­ting beefy, the world does not want to be reminded that it can’t keep you young forever and in fact can have the oppos­ite effect.

Yes, in ‘Collateral Damage’ Arnie’s Panzer body is still there, trundling around beneath his pill-box head, but it is faintly embar­rass­ing now – so much so that every­one in the movie pre­tends not to notice it. He plays a fire­man, which is nice and use­ful and human-scale. But we know, post September 11, that most American fire­men, beefy and worked-out as many of them are, do not look like age­ing male mas­seurs. As one of the char­ac­ters com­plains, almost sur­really, when Arnie turns up unex­pec­tedly: ‘You order cheese pizza and you get German sausage’.

Copyright Mark Simpson 2010

This essay is col­lec­ted in Metrosexy: A 21st Century Self-Love Story