Tip: Paul D
Rather than watch the Olympics, and all that noble, serious sporting uplift, I’ve been reading a book about a carny, corny, shameless 1940s-50s American wrestler: Gorgeous George: The Outrageous Bad-Boy Wrestler Who Created American Pop Culture, by John Capouya.
My American chum Chris Supermarky recommended it to me, thinking it would be of interest. He wasn’t wrong. It was nothing less than a revelation. It was like finding the Rosetta Stone of metrosexuality. Or at least, post-war male glamorousness.
George Wagner was a baby-faced brunette, pint-sized, somewhat unremarkable 1940s US wrestler who decided he needed a gimmick to get noticed. And boy, did he find one. By turning himself into Gorgeous George, a vain, primping, preening peacock who peroxided his hair, had it meticulously tonsured, fussily held in place by gold-painted ‘Georgie’ pins, and wearing flamboyant robes that were outrageous creations of lace and silk and chiffon in mauves and pale pinks, he succeeded in inventing perhaps the most persistent and successful gimmick of the post-war world: The glamorous, decadent, ‘effeminate’ male star.
Before Beckham. Before Boy George. Before Bowie. Before Jagger. Before Elvis. Before Liberace. Before Little Richard. Before James Brown there was Gorgeous George.
Under the shrewd guidance of his Svengali wife Betty (there’s no evidence, aside from his gorgeousness, that George was anything other than heterosexual), who made many of his most daring robes herself, The ‘Human Orchid’ as he liked to be known, had deduced that the best way to get ‘heat’ from a wrestling audience – and thus bookings – was to transgress 1940s gender norms. Wildly. And cheat. Equally wildly. Not for nothing was his favourite slogan: ‘Win if you can. Lose if you must. But always cheat.’
The Sensation of the Nation’s pantomime performance of sissyness was a kind of cheating in itself: in 1940s and early 50s America men, particularly the blue-collar kind that Wagner wrestled for, were not allowed to enjoy chiffon and affectation. George was bending the rules and gender.
To help milk his act, and multiply his crimes, Wagner would hold his pre-match press conferences in local beauty parlours while having his hair marcelled and employed a tail-coated valet (a device later appropriated by GG fan James Brown) who would snobbishly spray the ring with cologne before George would deign to grace it with his aristocratic presence. When the referee tried to search George before the match as required by wrestling rules he would recoil offended, shouting ‘GET YOUR FILTHY HANDS OFF ME!!’
Such were the passions aroused by George’s gorgeousness that his incendiary appearance often led to fights and sometimes mini-riots when incensed members of the public would storm the ring in an indignant fury and try to take him on themselves. The director John Waters recalls watching GG on TV as a kid, spellbound by this apparition of queeniness — while his offended parents yelled insults at the lacey freak. GG was someone that America loved to hate but ended up just loving.
Although largely forgotten today, GG was about as famous as you could get back then: a by-word for fame itself — even making an appearance in a Bugs Bunny Warner Bros cartoon (as ‘Ravishing Ronald’), and one of the first proper stars of the new medium of television. Wrestling had been taken up by the early networks as a cheaply-staged way of interesting the masses in this new-fangled gadget. The small screen turned out to have been made for GG’s big glam head.
Many claimed to have been influenced by GG (including Bob Dylan of all people) but perhaps his most famous disciple was a young, relatively downbeat Mohammed Ali, who decided to adopt GG’s vainglorious, provocative persona – to devastating effect:
‘I made up my mind after [meeting] Gorgeous George to make people angry at me.… I saw fifteen thousand people comin’ to see this man get beat. And his talking did it. I said this is a gooood idea!’
And so Ali became the mouthy black boxer who bragged about being the ‘prettiest thing you’ve ever seen’ – ‘The Greatest’. Ali really was gorgeous. Facially and bodily. Wagner on the other hand… slightly less so. I’m not suggesting of course for one moment that GG was ugly – but at 5′ 9″, with a Roman nose and a bit of a pot belly his gorgeousness was perhaps more aspirational than Ali’s. Particularly in the latter part of his career George’s appearance puts me in mind of Freud’s famous phrase: ‘His majesty the baby.’
There was a dark side to all this glamorousness. Wagner reportedly began to believe his own publicity and insisted his own children refer to him as ‘Gorgeous George’, or ‘GG’. He was also, even by the standards of the time and his profession, a hardened drinker. After both his marriages failed he took to drinking even more. And as TV fell out of love with wrestling, and the years – and the boozing – took their toll, he of course drank even more.
By the late 50s early 60s Gorgeous George was reduced to novelty fights in which he was billed as forfeiting his lovely locks if he lost. And of course, he did — submitting to the indignity of being clippered seated on a stool in the centre of the ring, like a latter day Samson. A great box-office success the first time, this ritual humiliation became less and less so the more he repeated it. Even seeing Gorgeous George finally getting what had been coming to him all these years wasn’t enough of a draw second or third time around.
When the final bell rang in 1963 and George Wagner died of liver disease and heart failure, aged 48, all the large wedges of cash that had passed through his hands during his stunningly successful career had vanished without trace: he was penniless. But family and friends made sure he was given a glamorous send off.
The Human Orchid was dressed in his favourite purple satin robe (the ‘George Washington’), his hair was tonsured and pinned one last time and he was exhibited in a highly polished purple casket — before being ‘planted’ in the ground.
While he may have been largely forgotten, George’s glamorous ‘gimmick’ of course took root in the culture, and lives on.
Interesting article on sporno and the London Olympics (with reference to yours truly) by Francois-Luc Doyez in France’s Liberation newspaper.
Are men the new women? I’ve always avoided using that line until now. As the (hetero)sexual division of labour and loving and looking continues to fall apart, men are the new everything. Just as women are.
But in the last few months we’ve been told men now take longer getting ready than women, mercifully deleting at a stroke most of the material of stand-ups like John Bishop. We’ve also been told that gents are more likely to take travel irons, hairdryers and straighteners on holiday than ladies. Now there’s new evidence they may be as body-conscious as women too. In fact, according to a widely-reported study of 394 British men published last week, lads are now more concerned with their body image than lasses.
A third said they think about their appearance more than five times a day, 18% were on a high-protein diet to increase muscle mass, and 16% on a calorie-controlled diet to slim down. While a Faustian 15% claimed they would happily trade 2–5 years of their life if they could have their ideal body weight and shape. (Probably because they hoped the years would be sliced off the end of their lives — when they’re old and crumbly and not very likely to go on Big Brother anyway).
Some we’re told were undertaking compulsive exercise, strict diets, using laxatives or making themselves sick in an attempt to lose weight or achieve a more toned physique. And although the survey didn’t cover this, other data suggests a surprisingly large number of men are also taking steroids, growth hormones and other prescription drugs to achieve a more aesthetically pleasing appearance.
Which generally means tits and abs. Men’s main preoccupation, the survey found, was their ‘beer belly’ and lack of muscles, with a whopping 63% saying they thought their arms or chests were not muscular enough. And people never believe me when I tell them that while some women are size queens, all men are.
Clearly a lot of men are gazing avariciously at the flaunted porno pecs and abs of hit TV shows like Jersey/Geordie Shore (Geordie Shore is back for a second season on MTVUK at the end of this month). We already know they’re buying Men’s Health magazine as it became the biggest-selling men’s mag recently. All those tarty, shouty Men’s Health front covers promising BIGGER ARMS! PUMPED PECS! and RIPPED ABS! in a fortnight may be as laughable as they are repetitive, but they’re clearly, lucratively tapping into 21st Century man’s deepest, darkest and beefiest desires.
Men may or may not be the new women, but men’s tits and abs are the new eye candy. Men have become their own High Street Honeys.
They’re also rather bitchy. Apparently 80.7% of the survey respondents talked about their own or others’ appearance in ways that draw attention to weight, lack of hair or slim frame. It also confirms that men of whatever sexual orientation look rather a lot at each other’s bodies, comparing and contrasting, desiring and detracting.
Dr Philippa Diedrichs of the Centre for Appearance Research at UWE in Bristol who led the survey, described this conversation between men about their bodies as ‘body talk’ (which makes me think of both Olivia Newton John beating up the fatties in ‘Physical’, and also that single from the same era by the incredibly camp dance band Imagination.)
‘Body talk reinforces the unrealistic beauty ideal which reinforces leanness and muscularity. This is traditionally seen as an issue for women but our research shows that men are feeling the pressure to conform too.’
Rosi Prescott, chief executive of Central YMCA which commissioned the research also sees this as ‘damaging’:
‘Historically conversation about your body has been perceived as something women do, but it is clear from this research that men are also guilty of commenting on one another’s bodies; and in many cases this is having a damaging effect. Men’s high levels of body talk were symptomatic of a growing obsession with appearance, she added.
Some three in five men (58.6%) said body talk affected them, usually negatively.’
I’m a bit conflicted here. Probably because as an ‘avid fan’ of the worked-out male body I’m part of the problem. On the one hand I welcome this kind of research and the publicity it’s received because it’s both putting the spotlight on both how much men’s behaviour has changed of late, and also undermining sexist assumptions about ‘men’ and ‘women’, which many feminists, like lazy stand-ups, buy into. And it’s always good to draw attention to the Patrick Batemanesque dark side of the metrosexual revolution – and its costs.
On the other hand, I’m not entirely sure that applying the problematising, pathologising and sometimes Puritanical, dare I say ‘Wolfian’ (as in ‘Naomi’), discourse that’s been used on women’s bodies wholesale to men would be something to welcome. Men aren’t the new women, but they might be the new moral panic.
This ‘body talk’ amongst men isn’t necessarily a sign of ‘guilt’ as was suggested. It might be a healthy honesty. And whilst obviously this kind of critique and competition might push some into anxiety and obsession and self-destructive behaviour, or conformity to rather narrow ideals of male beauty, the generalised, compulsory, traditional self-loathing that existed amongst men before ‘body talk’ and (male) body interest became acceptable was in many ways worse. It was also, remember, ‘normal’.
After all, not wanting to talk about their bodies is part of the reason why men historically have been very reluctant to visit their GP and tend to die much earlier on average than women. Until very recently the male body was simply an instrument that was to be used until the mainspring broke. Barely giving men time to rewind their horribly symbolic retirement clock.
And certainly, men didn’t look at one another’s bodies. Unless they were queer.
Not anymore. Men’s ‘body talk’ has become deafening. On the hit ITV reality series The Only Way is Essex Arge, who is a little on the husky side, was always gazing longingly at Mark (above) and asking how he gets his ‘fit body’ and whether he can help him get one too.
A married squaddie mate who is an occasional gym buddy always subjects my body to a close scrutiny in the changing rooms after our workouts, appreciatively commending, say, my deltoid or tricep development, and mercilessly criticising, say, my forearms’ failure to keep up with them. And my belly’s general miserable flabbiness. Part of me dreads the scrutiny, but another welcomes the frank ‘body talk’ too. I’m glad he gets all Olivia Newton John on my ass. If he didn’t, I might have to pay someone to do it.
Mind you, his wise observation about gym culture to me one day sticks in my mind: “It’s all about ‘ow you look isn’t it, Mark? Nobody really cares whether any of this makes you fit or not. You could be rotten underneath but if you look great no one gives a fook.” He’s right. The metrosexy cult of male beauty is all a bit Dorian Ghey.
Which reminds me, apparently a quarter of the respondents in this survey were gay (well, it was sponsored by the Central YMCA). Of course, some people will hastily seize upon that to disqualify its findings. And while it probably is reason to treat them with at least as much caution as those of any other survey, I’m inclined to see the large sample of gay men included as a sign of this survey’s relevance and inclusiveness. After all, it’s gays that are to blame for the cult of male bloody beauty.…
Gays like The Village People. Love it or loathe it, the body-fascist foundations for the metrosexy male culture we’re living in were laid in the early Eighties. And I’m deliriously happy the Central YMCA commissioned this survey as it’s a perfect excuse for me to post (below) my Favourite Music Video of All Time. I suspect it was part of the inspiration for Olivia’s ‘Physical’ video. (And both were almost certainly inspired by this epic.)
Every frame is a joy, but the Busby Berkeley (or is it Leni Riefensthal?) shot of the swimmers diving one after the other into the pool as if they were perfectly-formed poppies scythed down by the camera’s gaze never fails to send me into paroxysms of delight. For me, it’s always fun to stay at the YMCA.
Which is just as well. In the 21st Century we’re all checked in there. Permanently.
This clip by Irish comedy outfit Dead Cat Bounce called ‘Rugby’ has to be my favourite video of 2011. Even if it strongly suggests that, in Ireland at least, my work here is done and it’s well past time to retire to the touch-lines.
There’s much to admire here: the lightness of touch, the hilarious blend of the accurate and the absurd; the joshing, bantering, boyish affection — both for rugby and manlove. I even like the tune. But I find myself especially mesmerised by the lead singer’s vast, match-winning gob. He could swallow that giant, muddy testicle he’s pretending to lick without it so much as touching the sides.
It seems I’m not the only one who rated this manlove ballad. Originally broadcast on their state TV station RTE, it’s the fifth most popular YouTube clip in Ireland this year. Oh, and you can download the song from iTunes too.
Below the YouTube clip are scores of comments by self-identified straight rugby players and fans, most of whom seem to love it as much as this old homo does:
‘im a rugby player. i play lock.. which makes me the guy who sticks his head between the guys’ thighs. i still think this is fucking hilarious.’
It’s difficult to imagine a similar skit about soccer getting the same good-humoured response. But then, as several rugby fans have pointed out, soccer is for poofs.
Tip: Dermod Moore
Cristiano Ronaldo’s latest fashion foible, painted toe-nails has provoked the usual bitchy, mocking response that is attached to anything Ronaldo in the Anglo media. Despite — or perhaps because of — the way they seem to regard him as a sure-fire way of selling newspapers.
The announcement of the birth of his son by a surrogate mother last week also presented another opportunity to give him a good kicking. Some, like Celia Walden in The Telegraph, really going overboard in the expression of their tainted, twisted love. It almost makes me regret outing the male narcissism of metrosexuality. As one of the commenters on the Telegraph website points out, her husband Piers Morgan is everything she complains about in Ronaldo — but untaltented and unattractive. More generally it goes without saying that Ronaldo’s vanity would be considered normal and healthy and worthy of approbation in say, a much less pretty female journalist.
It’s possible, I suppose, that Ronaldo painted his toenails as a riposte to the ‘Twinkletoes’ school playground nickname (Twinkletoes was a fairy, geddit?) given to him by football fans and the tabloids during his stint at Manchester United. But much more probable he painted his toenails just because he thought it would be fun and might look nice. Which is an outrage.
Really, it’s no wonder that a year after leaving these shores the UK press continue to love-hate him so. This boy from a humble Portuguese family is very rich. He’s famous. He’s fabulously talented. He’s young. He’s absurdly good looking. And he doesn’t owe anyone anything. Worst of all, he knows it and doesn’t bother to hide this knowledge. And he thinks nothing of painting his toenails because he feels like it, rather than because Esquire magazine told him to. Yes, he’s a spoilt child, but then — so are the gods.
Here are a couple of other recently snapped photos which may help explain the jealousy mere mortals feel towards him. (And let me assure you most people working in journalism are very mortal indeed — inwardly and outwardly.)
Tip: Mark W
Now that’s what I call pushing back.
Taking the sporno trend to parts it hasn’t yet reached — and what parts! — while spreading the famous French ‘pro’ tartiness of the Dieux du Stade calendars to these shores, the latest ad campaign for Powerade’s ‘InnerGear’ isotonic sports drink features several UK pro rugger buggers in the buff snapped by the photographer Alan Clarke. Including, most spectacularly, most spherically, England Rugby Union Captain Steve Borthwick (above), keeping his spornographic end up for the Queen. And nicely stuck out.
Or as the gay porn legend Dink Flamingo would say, ‘Arch your back, bitch!’
Once again, it seems that it isn’t just me who is undressing athletes with my eyes and giving them filthy directions. Advertising is doing it too. But unlike me, advertising can actually afford these tarts.
But I’m not bitter. Honestly. I’m sure that Borthwick was rewarded handsomely by his sugar daddy Coca Cola (who own Powerade) for his bare-faced cheek, but nevertheless he also deserves, as Julian Clary would put it, a warm hand on his entrance for his bravery. Apparently his mates have been rogering him — sorry - ribbing him. ‘It is one of the most daring shoots I’ve been involved in,’ he told the ladies and gentlemen of the press, ‘but it has been loads of fun, even it it has given my team mates plenty of ammunition for changing room banter.’
I can’t help thinking though that the shoot would have been even more daring and fun if Borthwick had been portrayed along with his bantering naked team mates in an actual scrum instead of doing a muscular Marcel Marceau. For the purposes of realism, of course.
‘The InnerGear for an athlete — how we train, what we eat and drink — is as important as what we wear,’ says Borthwick, clearly reading here from Coca Cola’s script. ‘And it’s great that this campaign brings it to life’.
‘Gear’ of course is also the street name given to steroids, that hot commodity more and more rugby players these days look as if they’re taking, mandatory drug testing or no. According to various reports, epidemic numbers of young men who aren’t athletes but who, like today’s sportsmen, also want to look like porn stars are downing them like, well, soft drinks.
I’m sure Coca Cola chose the name ‘InnerGear’ for entirely innocent and pure reasons, and that none of their models would ever use banned substances, even if it is quite easy to do so and avoid detection, but if young men think that by drinking an overpriced sugary-salty drink invested with magical, virile properties by advertising they’ll get buff instead of fat, and look as desirable, as shaggable, as these pro athletes, that can surely only help sales.
Below, England International Paul Sackey and Welsh International Shane Williams who also feature in the InnerGear campaign, prove that really fit bubble-butts can fly. Williams, who looks a little like a Welsh statue of Eros with a rugby ball let loose instead of an arrow, also proves that really fit bubble-butts can arch and look over their shoulder at the same time.
It’s true that this public campaign, unlike the DDS calendars (which are for private consumption, after all), avoids frontal nudity, but then Freud thought that in dreams flying had a phallic symbolism.
So with InnerGear’s flying rugby buttocks you really can have both.
Welsh International Shane Williams. Your flexible friend.
Britain’s best-selling newspaper The Sun has been working itself into a confused lather about our metrosexual footballers, again. Like me, it just can’t leave them alone.
In a long, hand-wringing — and graphically illustrated — article spread over the centre pages last Friday headlined ‘Preen Team’ they ask ‘What the hell is going on with our footballers?’
Led by the Premier League’s arch-metrosexual Cristiano Ronaldo, football has this summer gone camper than a row of tents.
This week Ronaldo continued his holiday tour by hanging out in a pair of tight silver shorts in LA — and had the world’s gay men coming over all funny.
Er no, it had The Sun coming over all funny. For much of the summer, The Sun has been stalking Portuguese Ronaldo, the best footballer in the UK and also one of the best looking, who is currently convalescing after an injury (hence the unflattering blue footwear), trying to exploit his current unpopularity — the result of his plans to leave Manchester United for Real Madrid, and his failure to keep them, like his hot oiled bod, under wraps.
Like a jealous, spurned suitor, The Sun (along with most of the Brit tabloids) has been bitching and beating him up over his dark (Portuguese) tan, his shorts, his good looks — and his lack of apology for them. And trying to imply he is girly and, what is the same thing in their book, homo.
And who can blame him for wanting to leave the UK, where the biggest paper behaves like a school-ground bully with sexual identity issues? They’ve even published pictures of him smiling at a mate (who appears to be his brother), telling us that he’s cruising him. And I thought I had bumsex on the brain.
In a familiar trick, they’ve given space to the editor of ‘Britain’s best-selling gay magazine’ to gush about what a ‘gay idol’ Ronaldo is. Otherwise known as guilt by association. At the same time as proving they’re ‘not homophobic’ because they let the king of poofs have his say.
Friday’s article goes one step further and seems to blame Ronaldo for making an entire generation of footballers gay. I know he has nice legs, but I doubt even those pins have that kind of power.
But a perfectly-waxed chest and budgie smuggling shorts are just the tip of the iceberg.
A sun investigation has found the manbag and grooming obsession is rife among our highly-paid stars.
As you may have suspected, it turns out that this ‘investigation’ is just another excuse for lots of pics of young footballers without much on. An excuse even smaller than Ron’s silver shorts.
Though I can’t help but poke fun at The Sun’s hissy list of the metrosexual offences of our footie aces:
Chelsea ace Frank Lampard refused to go anywhere this summer without his salmon pink vest and matching shorts.
(Which we’ve Photoshopped to make look even pinker and gayer, just as we’ve done with Ronaldo’s tan to make him look even darker and even more of a girly dago.)
He has also been lugging around wife Elen Rives’ fuchsia handbag.
I think it suits Fabulous Frankie and he should nick it off her.
Italian World Cup winner Fabio Cannavaro actually SHAVED his mate’s chest and armpits on the deck of their holiday yacht this week in a show of shameless male bonding.
Actually SHAVED his mate’s chest and armpits? No! Well, I never! The shamelessness of it!
And Liverpool and Spain striker Fernando Torres spent most of last month by the pool with an Alice band in his hair while leafing through lifestyle magazines.
You can bet he wasn’t reading The Sun.
Ah, for the days of football when men were men and soap was never scented — or dropped. Right on cue The Sun wheels out 1970s footballer Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris, to whinge about how in his day he got paid ten bob a week, cut his own hair with garden shears, ate gravel, and beat up poofs on sight (or so you’d be forgiven for thinking). Interesting that The Sun didn’t ask retired ‘hardman’ Neil ‘Razor’ Ruddock back to play this role, after he failed to deliver the poof-baiting goods in a recent previous Sun article bemoaning the gayness of today’s football.
How The Sun loves to keep coming back to this theme of metro V retro, pretending of course to be on the side of retrosexuality against, well, homosexuality. Partly this is because it imagines that retrosexuality is synonymous with ‘working class’ — traditionally the majority of this tab’s readership — because The Sun is now edited by expensively educated types who are faking it.
By posing as champions of ‘Chopper’ Harris they present themselves as connected to that stoic proletarian tradition they actually have nothing to do with, and today’s consumerist, sensual, closetted metro Sun is a million fake-tanned miles from.
I suspect readers under the age of 30 that they know they desperately need to attract if they are to have any future at all, let alone continue to sell millions every day, are mostly turned off by this confused and conflicted metrophobic bullying, however jokey it’s presented as being. Especially those from a working class background. Why? Because they will probably see it as directed against them.
When repeatedly adopting this kind of cor, strewth, look at the pooftahs footballers are today! tone, The Sun just sounds like their nightmare fat dad.
Intentionally or not, this time the space given to the editor of Attitude to twitter about fashion and male freedom and footballers showing the way makes that gay mag sound much more in tune with younger Sun readers than The Sun itself.
Tip: Dave Harley
The New Zeeland and South African Rugby teams made the news this week with their nude rugby match on St Kilda beach.
(UPDATE: In fact, the NY Daily News story cited here appears to have got a little overexcited: the players were NOT from the All Blacks and the Boks but local amateur players taking part in a mid-winter naked rugby tradition that has gone on for years — see Uroskin’s comment below and on his blog.)
Held before their official match, and sponsored by ‘Bottom Bus’ (a local tour agency, allegedly), it looks at first glance like a realisation of the spornographic fantasy of those Dieux Du Stade calendars and those ‘Paris: City of Love posters’ with snogging rugby players advertising the Rugby World Cup last year. And perhaps in a way it is.
But the naughty slogans scrawled on their bodies and the general mayhem seems to have more of the trademark, old-style rugger bugger hazing humour. Porn and DDS (and UFC) by contrast, are a very serious business.
This seems more like a genuine, beery, blokey laugh.
Nice arses, though.
This month’s Out magazine includes a feature by yours truly on my visit to Montréal in April to see the biggest, baddest, ballsiest Ultimate Fighting Championship event ever. UFC, for those who aren’t in the know, or unaccountably uninterested in seeing fit, near-naked men grappling and grunting, is the cage-fighting craze that is rapidly becoming the most popular sport with young men in North America.
Out tell me my take has provoked some threats against my pretty face from outraged MMA fans. It seems my crime was enjoying it too much. Other less shall we say clenched followers of this man-mounting sport have however welcomed my interest — even if I breathe too heavily.
Here’s how the piece begins:
Imagine the space shuttle taking off with a really fat customized exhaust pipe or the Visigoths sacking Ancient Rome with kicking bass tubes fitted to their 4-by-4s. Or 20,000 supercharged male orgasms. Simultaneously. And you have some idea what it sounds and feels like in Montréal’s famous Bell Centre tonight for Ultimate Fighting Championship 83, as a spunky young carrot redhead in shorts pins an auburn lad on his back with his heels somewhere around his ears. I think the technical term for this is a “full mount.” Or maybe it’s “ground and pound.”
As the chiseled and blond bad guy with the low-slung shorts (Cam Gigandet) in the recent mixed martial arts (MMA) exploitation flick Never Back Down says leeringly to the doe-eyed brunet boxer good guy (Sean Faris) new to MMA, the good news is that in this sport you can choke, kick, punch, pin, and throttle; “the bad news is that it’s gotta end with you looking like a bitch in front of everybody.” Perhaps it was bad news for him — and for the auburn lad in the ring tonight — but certainly not for the 22,000-strong overwhelmingly young-male audience for the biggest-ever UFC event.
Over 2,500 miles away in Las Vegas, “slapper” Brit boxer Joe Calzaghe is tonight defeating light heavyweight Bernard Hopkins on points. In the long-established world of boxing, there is rumored to be an ancient and secret tradition called the “perk,” or “perquisite” — by which the losing man may be required later to literally give up what he has lost symbolically. In other words, the fucked gets…really fucked.
I don’t know how much truth there is to the “perk,” though the breathless trash talk of modern-day boxers in the run-up to a fight — “I’m gonna make you my bitch/girlfriend/punk” — certainly doesn’t discredit it. But I’m fairly certain that the “perk” doesn’t exist in the “full-contact” brave new world of mixed martial arts, an omnivorous blend of boxing, freestyle wrestling, judo, tae kwon do, kickboxing, karate, jujitsu, and Thai boxing that is rapidly replacing boring old traditional boxing, especially among young men, as the fighting sport. The perk isn’t needed. Because in MMA you get fucked in the “ring” in front of everybody. On pay-per-view TV. The “perk” is the whole, er, perking point, man. And UFC, by far the most successful purveyor of MMA fights for the cable TV voyeur, looks remarkably like gay porn for straight men: Ultimate Fuck-Fighting.
Read the article in full here.
Mark Simpson on the Cold War with Cuddly Toys
(Arena Hommes Plus, Spring 2008)
The titanic Superpower confrontation of the early 1980s between the Soviet Union and the United States saw the deployment of several new and terrifying strategic weapons systems, including Cruise Missiles, Pershings, SS-20s, B1 Bombers, and SDI/Star Wars.
But undoubtedly the most powerful, most feared and most sophisticated of these weapons systems was a smiley cuddly toy called Misha.
Unleashed at the height of the Cold War, at the Moscow Olympics of 1980, boycotted by the US and her allies because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Misha the bear cub, or to give him his full, chilling title, Mikhail Potapych Toptygin, left the West completely defenceless. A triumph of art, marketing, propaganda, and plush toys, Misha appeared on hundreds of different badges, in plastic, porcelain, rubber and wood. He was the most commercially successful and thoroughly exploited Olympic mascot ever. It took Communists to realise the merchandising potential and political power of fluffiness.
To understand the scale of the Soviet triumph that was Misha you have to look at (gingerly, through your fingers) what went before: 1968 Grenoble’s Winter Olympics ‘Schuss’ or ‘skiing sperm’ as it came to be known, Munich 1972’s radioactive Wiener dog, and Montréal 1976’s black beaver Amik, a turd tastefully tied-off with a chocolate-box ribbon.
Misha, who became the smiley, irresistibly furry shape of Brezhnevism, was a labour of love. Famous children’s illustrator Viktor Chizikov took six months to perfect him, drawing over one hundred variations. His big dark wide eyes, trusting smile and irresistible cuddliness inverted the Western view of the USSR and Russia as a scary, slavering, lumbering beast. Misha’s humane, friendly face foretold the arrival five years later of that other cuddly Mikhail, the one with that adorable birthmark on his forehead.
The US, understandably panicked by Red Misha, commissioned their ideological department, better known as Disney, to come up with a response to this strategic threat. Sam, a bald eagle, the national symbol of the US (and also of the USMC, which the previous year had invaded Grenada), wearing a natty stars and stripes (Capitalist?) top hat and bow tie, was rolled out as the official mascot for the 1984 LA Games.
Although better than most mascots, Sam was rather less lovable and much crasser than Misha, and in this Cold War of cuddly toys it was generally agreed that the USSR had won.
The end of the Cold War proper shortly afterwards, and the non-ideological nature of the Games that followed, meant that mascots once again reverted to their pre-Misha harmlessness — and tackiness. 1988 Seoul’s ‘Hodori’ looked like Tony the Tiger with tassels. OK, but not Grrrrreat.
Better than most, 1992 Barcelona’s sniggering surreal dog ‘Cobi’ was unloved at first but won many over in the end.
The Sydney Olympics in 2000 featured a Platypus, an Echidna and a Kookaburra that appeared to be a rejected Aussie kid’s TV line-up (and were in fact rejected by the Australians).
Athens in 2004 deployed Athena and Phevos, gods of wisdom and light, who might have been formidable if they hadn’t been rendered in Playdough by an angry two year old.
The undoubted nadir though was Izzy (from ‘Whatizit?’) in Atlanta 1996. An ‘amorphous abstract fantasy figure’ Izzy was an aesthetic tizzy who only symbolised how the post-ideological world had no place for iconography or, for that matter, humanism. The End of History meant not only dreary Olympics, but a wider culture lacking a sense of importance or purpose. Worst of all, it meant really daggy mascots.
But now, eighteen years on from Moscow, another Communist giant is hosting the Games, determined to exploit them for every last scrap of propaganda. Consequently they threaten to be the most spectacular yet. The Soviet Union may have been consigned to the dustbin of history, but the country it taught how to organise a proper flag-waving parade, the People’s Republic of China, goes from strength to strength, dividend to dividend — and wants the world to know about it. Everything, from the Stadium to the stickers, is going to be a huge, fluttering statement.
The Games might officially hark back to the freedom-loving ideals of Ancient Greece, cradle of democracy, but it takes a good old-fashioned totalitarian state to show us what they really mean: Ideology and iconography plus choreography.
And all these things come together in… fluffy toys. Undoubtedly, China’s ‘Fuwa’ mascots for 2008, impish energetic cartoons based on popular Chinese animals, have been given more thought than all the ones since Misha put together. That there are also five of them, the most ever, is a reminder of China’s populousness, its dynamism, and its new-found Capitalist wiliness: five mascots = five times as many sales opportunities.
And you can be sure these mascots, like everything else theses days, are made in China. (They will also be official: China, the home of cheap knock-offs is cracking down hard on Olympic cloning.)
Apparently Beibei the fish symbolises water, prosperity and swimming. Jinjing the Panda: metal, happiness, weightlifting and judo. HuanHuan the (Red!) Olympic Flame: fire, passion and ball sports. Yingying the Tibetan antelope: earth, health, track and field events. Nini the swallow: wood, good Fortune and gymnastics.
A collision of Chinese astrology, Communist ideology and Sino hegemony, perhaps these mascots — with their ‘superpowers’ — symbolise a little too much. Their names also spell out ‘Beijing welcomes you’. Or is it ‘Welcome to a Chinese 21st Century’? The elemental nature of the Fuwa mascots also looks like an augury of the future: given its recent phenomenal growth China may one day monopolise these resources.
The flame of the fluffy marketing and ideological triumph of the Moscow Olympics has been passed on to Chinese Communism — which, unlike the USSR, is still around today only because it effectively went Misha back in the 1980s, now doing Capitalism and consumerism better than the West. Being very, very careful, of course, not to allow the emergence of a Misha Gorbachov: instead at Tiananmen Square the leadership crushed its own people like they were… toys. Rather than granting its people human rights, China set about making everything the rest of the world wanted — and at a snip.
So I predict the Fuwa, or Chinese Spice Girls, will be a great success with kids and adults around the world, and cause China to open a couple of dozen more power-stations, as well as paying for at least another aircraft carrier.
Especially Jingjing the giant panda — Misha with Chinese characteristics.
Special thanks to Jo-Ann Furniss
Mark Simpson on how steroids got into our bloodstream and changed the shape of masculinity
(Guardian CIF, 6 Dec, 2007)
‘Roids may sound as Eighties as Cher’s black-lace bodice. But they’re baaak, even bigger and bustier than ever.
According to a series of recent reports, steroids, or ‘juice’ or ‘gear’ to the initiated, once an exotic drug of cheating athletes and freaky bodybuilders have entered the mainstream and have become just another lifestyle product for young men: some boys as young as 12 are reportedly taking the drug.
And this despite the frightening possible side-effects meticulously listed in these press reports, including liver, heart and kidney damage, atrophied testicles, erectile dysfunction, depression and raised aggression. (Though, arguably, you could also experience most of these simply by following Arsenal FC.)
The key to this mainstreaming of steroids is vanity. If you want to get into people’s bloodstream these days, promise to make them like what they see in the smoke-glass gym-mirror. According to the surveys, the large majority of young men using the gear are not doing so to be stronger or faster or scarier — all traditionally acceptable ‘masculine’ ambitions — but rather to look more attractive. To look shaggable. Or just make you look.
In other words, young men are taking steroids the way that many gay party boys have taken them for years: to look good on the beach or dance floor or webcam. ‘Muscle Marys’ — as they’re called by envious, less-muscular gays — are apparently no longer a strictly gay phenomenon. Muscle Marys are where masculinity is at, Mary.
It shouldn’t be so surprising. We don’t really need surveys to tell us this. It has, after all, happened right before our eyes. It’s the media that has mainlined steroids into the culture and our kids. Unlike, say, very skinny girls, very muscular boys are very popular. An anti ‘Size Hero’ campaign like that we’ve seen against Size Zero is somewhat unlikely. Steroids are an essential, prescribed even, part of the way that the male body has been farmed and packaged for our consumption since it was laid off at the factory and the shipyard in the 1980s.
A generation of young males have been reared on irresistibly — and frequently chemically — lean and muscular images of the male body in sport, advertising, magazines, movies and telly, even in the cartoons they watch and the computer games or toy dolls (or ‘action figures’) they play with. It seems all that’s left of masculinity in a post industrial, post paternal world, apart from a science-fiction-sized penis, or a right foot good enough to get you into the Premier League, is a hot bod. Men and women — but especially men — will give you kudos for that. So will people casting reality TV series.
Even Action Man (GI Joe in the US) is now a Muscle Mary. Perhaps because he’s only twelve inches tall, Action Man seems to have been hitting the ‘juice’ big time. He’s also got himself a nice deep all-over tan — to better show off his pumped muscles.
Since the 1960s his bicep measurements have more than doubled from a (scaled up) 12″ to 27″ and his chest from 44″ to 55″. His current ‘cut’ physique would be rather difficult to achieve just by eating corned-beef hash rations — especially since, as far as I’m aware, a portable plastic gym isn’t yet one of his basic accessories. In an example of life imitating art, or at least squaddies imitating dolls, steroid abuse by soldiers is increasingly common: US soldiers in Iraq have been caught ordering steroids online, and it was recently alleged that a sizeable proportion of Blackwater mercenaries are on ‘the gear’.
Muscle Marys aren’t just for Xmas — they’re also for High Office. Arnold ‘Commando’ Schwarzenegger, seven times Mr Olympia, who has admitted using industrial quantities of steroids since he was in his teens (though denies he takes them now) is today the walk-on-water Green Governator of California and Republican inspiration to David Cameron — after a successful Hollywood movie career playing an under-dressed heavily-muscled male masseur pretending to be an action hero. Quite an achievement when just walking without painful chafing must have been difficult.
Partly because of Arnie’s 80s ‘special effects’, Muscle Marys are de rigeur in the movies today — even in middle-age. The ageing star of a recent epic blockbuster whose career has largely been built on his six-pack was widely rumoured to have been on so much ‘gear’ trying to look ‘invincible’ that he frequently had to be stretchered off the set at the end of the day, poor love. Meanwhile ‘Comeback Kid’ Sylvester ‘Rocky’ Stallone (aged 60) was caught by Australian customs with several vials of his comeback secret earlier this year.
The ailing James Bond franchise successfully re-launched Bond and made him more attractive to younger viewers by reincarnating him in the pneumatic form of Daniel Craig — Bond became his own big-chested Bond Girl - and last year’s smash hit film ‘300′ featured ‘Spartans’ who looked less like ancient warriors than Muscle Marys at a Toga Party. Or the “juiced-up” professional wrestlers in Speedos that so many boys today have on their bedroom walls.
WWE wrestler Chris Benoit’s recent murder-suicide of his wife and child and intense media speculation about whether it was steroid-related (steroids were found at his house and his post mortem testosterone level was ten times normal) has caused a major scandal in the US. But it has been as obvious for many years that most of these guys were sprinkling more than sugar on their Cocoa Pops (and Benoit was actually relatively scrawny compared to some wrestlers).
That’s, after all, what people were looking at. What they were paying to see. Pro wrestling is showbusiness, and steroids are the business — at least when it comes to making spectacular bodies.
As a result of this and other recent steroid scandals in American football and baseball - including at High School level — a panic has emerged about the use of steroids by US athletes. But this has tended to obscure how mainstream steroids already are in the US and how, as in the UK, they’re principally (ab)used by non-athletes (only 6% of users played sports or considered themselves bodybuilders).
In the UK there have been calls to ban the sale of steroids online, crackdown harder on gyms selling them and educate young people about the dangers. Well, everyone is in favour of education, and no one is in favour of teens using steroids, but it’s unlikely that any of this will seriously reverse the Muscle Mary/Size Hero trend.
Steroids can’t be uninvented — or filtered out from the culture’s bloodstream. They’ve already changed the shape of masculinity. What’s more, unlike most if not all of the expensive supplements advertised in FHM, Men’s Health and Nuts as ‘muscle-builders’ and ‘fat-burners’, they actually work. And I know whereof I speak: I dabbled with the ‘juice’ myself as a callow youth. They certainly did what they said on the tin: I only stopped because they made me even spottier and angrier than I already was.
In an age when what’s authentically masculine is unclear, but what’s hot is as in-yer-face as a nice pair of pecs, injecting synthetic manliness, despite the possible risks to your actual man-bits, is not going out of fashion anytime soon. The only effective way to discourage their use will be to come up with a new generation of muscle-building drugs that work as well as steroids but have fewer side-effects. I’d certainly take them.
Steroids are the metrosexual hormone — they make men saleable and shaggable in an age that doesn’t have much idea what else to do with them.
Copyright Mark Simpson 2007
This essay is collected in Metrosexy: A 21st Century Self-Love Story
Today’s Sun carries an interview with England’s tasty pocket-rocket Ricky Hatton about his upcoming fight in Vegas this Saturday with World welterweight title holder Floyd Mayweather.
‘Pretty Boy’ Mayweather was in the news last week for saying to Ricky: ‘I wish I was in prison with you. I’d make you my bitch.’
‘Having another boxer threatening to do that to me is a first,’ Ricky admitted to the Sun. ‘But’ he said (I’m guessing with a twinkle in his eye), ‘I’d like to think I have got a fantastic bum.’
From where I’m standing, Ricky, it looks like you have. And you can trust me — I’m an expert.
But, given the infuriating bagginess of the boxing shorts you like to wear (which appear to have been made with some of your nan’s spare tasselled curtains), just to confirm how fantastic it is I think a closer inspection — and a road-test — is required.
And there’s no need to worry: we don’t have to go to prison. You could just come back to mine.
PS To those writing in to tell me that Ricky’s ‘no David Beckham’, or that he’s ‘really fat’ most of the time, or that he’s ‘ugly’, please note: I’m not claiming Ricky is of major socio-cultural importance or a ‘sex god’. I just fancy him. Here’s one, sorry, two reasons why.
By Mark Simpson (Guardian CIF, 30/11/07)
In an age of broadband hardcore it’s rather sweet to discover that men are still so easily aroused. At least, that is, football fans and tabloid journalists.
A little innocent hand-holding by Liverpool FC during a team-building training session before their crucial Champions League match with Porto worked the Sun into a frenzy this week. ‘Koppin’ Off’ screamed the Sun headline, next to a picture of Peter Crouch and Steven Gerrard chastely holding hands, with the subtitle ‘So this is what they mean by “training camp”??’
Those logging on with moistening palms to the Sun’s website were treated to a ‘slide show’ of other members of Liverpool FC holding hands with mood-enhancing captions like ‘Chase me, chase me!’ and ‘Ere, is that the fairy across the Mersey?’.
In fact, the Sun was so excited by this non-story it returned to it yesterday, wheeling in early 90s Liverpool ‘hardman’ footballer Neil ‘Razor’ Ruddock to stick it to the nancy boys, by-lining a piece headlined, ‘What’s next… make-up and pink strips?’
At first Ruddock dutifully tries to play the ‘hardman’ role the Sun has cast him in: ‘It certainly wouldn’t have happened in my day, he says. ‘I’d have found it too embarrassing and a bit girly.’
But then he begins to lose the plot: ‘The only time we would have held hands with another player is on the way back from the pub after a few drinks.’
No, no, no! You”re really letting the side down now, hardman! Where’s your… rigidity? The whole point of getting so pissed with the lads is so that you don’t remember what you did on the way home and certainly don’t write about it in a national newspaper.
But Neil can’t help himself: ‘In our day, we did all our team-building in the pub. When a new player joined it was straight down the pub for a few bevies… It did the trick and the new lads soon bedded in.’
Bedded in?? Was that before or after holding your hand on the way back from the pub?
Neil tries to get back ‘on message’, but then he’s off again, giving us far too much information: ‘But it’s no longer a hardman’s game. John Terry and Frank Lampard now shave their body hair off.… It’s a Continental thing… When I was at West Ham Paulo Di Canio shaved off all his hair apart from the stuff on his head.’
I’m sure if he asked them nicely and made it clear how much you preferred your footballers furry they’d let their body hair grow for the ‘Razor’.
He goes on: ‘Players use sunbeds and wax their chests and under-arm hair. What’s next? Make-up? Pink strips?’.
Get up to speed mate. The Sun already told us a few months back that Manchester United have had to rebuild their player’s changing rooms to make their lockers big enough to ‘accommodate their manbags’ filled with ‘more cosmetics than their WAGS’.
Then, finally, he confesses: ‘Mind you, if I was offered £120,000 a week like some of the top stars are on now I would hold Peter Crouch’s hand — or anyone else’s for that matter.’
Yes, which reminds me Neil, how much were you paid to be Pete Burn’s bitch on Wife Swap?
Maybe it’s the fear of another tongue-lashing from real hardman Pete Burns that’s responsible for Ruddock’s endearing failure to deliver the queerbashing goods here and go a bit… limp. Compared the Sun’s first report, and, sadly, many football fans, he seems to go out of his way not to chastise the Liverpool players for their ‘poovery’ — and talks instead rather mildly about how holding hands is ‘a bit girly’. (At least, that is, when you’re sober.)
Or perhaps he was worried someone might find some pics of those dirty great big sloppy snogs he and the lads used to give one another after every goal back in the good old manly days of soccer. Followed, frequently, by what looked very much like a team gang-bang on the ground.
Today’s metrosexual young footballers — perhaps because they look so ‘gay’ — are vestal virgins with one another by comparison. They practically shake hands and exchange business cards.
On the other hand, perhaps they don’t snog each other wildly after a goal these days because unlike Ruddock’s retrosexual generation, they don’t need that special excuse — or have to be dosed with gallons of beer down the pub — to actually show affection towards other men. Many of them probably kiss one another when meeting and bidding farewell, like Becks - ‘It’s a Continental thing’). This after all is a generation of straight lads who send text messages to other lads peppered with kisses at the end. And to be honest, this old pooftah finds that a bit girly himself.
It seems though that holding hands sober, whatever the Sun or Ruddock thought of it, worked a treat. Liverpool won the game against Porto 4–1.
Copyright Mark Simpson 2007
Boxing’s trash talk just got trashier — and highly spornographic. According to huge headlines in Britain’s most popular newspaper the Sun, big black American Welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather has announced that he wants to make England’s white scally Manc boxer Ricky Hatton his ‘Prison Bitch’.
‘He said he wanted to buttf**k me’ complained little Ricky, looking even paler than usual.
Ricky, mate, I have to say I really don’t blame him. And I mean that in a very loving way. (Though I’d have to insist you remove those mickey-mouse earphones first.)
But why wait until they’re sharing a prison cell? Why not do it ‘in the ring’ — like they do in Ultimate Fighting?
Actually, I’ve heard that there is a (semi) secret tradition in boxing of the loser giving it up after a match — apparently, it’s called ‘the perk’. (A term I rather like and plan to use: ‘I’m gonna perk your brains out, bitch’ and ‘I’m gonna give you such a hard perking’.) I’m told it’s not exactly obligatory, but not so rare either. It is, after all, what that film Fight Club was really all about.
So if Ricky loses, we’ll know why.
It’s rumoured that some members of the ‘rugby community’ complained about the white-hot 2007 Dieux du Stade calendar (photographed by the stunningly talented Mariano Vivanco) going ‘too far’ and being ‘too gay’. Which would suggest that some rugby fans are very, very stupid. What on earth do they think the long-established DDS is for if not to go ‘too far’ and be ‘too gay’?
Stade Francais, the French Rugby club who owns the lucrative franchise, supposedly tookfright at these complaints and decided to tone down the 2008 Dieux du Stade Calendar.
Judging by this just-released kinky cover image for the 2008 edition which brings a whole new meaning to the term ‘ball weight’, I’m not convinced they succeeded.
Whoever the spoilsports were who complained about the spornography of the 2007 calendar, it clearly wasn’t the lads of Sheffield Hallam University Rugby team– who as you can see are only too happy to emulate the excessive homoerotics in their latest calendar. (Obviously these are very smart members of the rugby community.)
Nor the fit young chaps of Sandbach RUFC, who were happy to go even further on national television.
I’ll bet it was the same jealous ugly old bastards that got this cancelled.