Objectify Yourself

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

(Originally appeared in Out Magazine, February 2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dan Osborne gif

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GandyCoverx1000

Reset the Gaydar — Tom Daley’s Not Gay

Tom Daley showering

(Originally appeared on Guardian CiF, 11/09/13)

Tom Daley isn’t gay. But the bronze medal­list Olympic diver and presenter of celebrity Speedo show Splash! – recently voted ‘World’s Sexiest Man’ by the read­ers of gay mag Attitude – doesn’t mind if you think he is. Last week­end he told The Mirror:

I think it’s funny when people say I’m gay… I laugh it off,” says Tom… “I’m not. But even if I was, I wouldn’t be ashamed. It wouldn’t bother me in the slight­est what people thought.’

Quite a few gay pals of mine know bet­ter. Not because of any spe­cial ‘inside inform­a­tion’ gleaned from the gay grapev­ine mind, but simply because they ‘can tell’. Because they’ve seen him on telly they seem to know his sexual ori­ent­a­tion bet­ter than Daley does him­self. Maybe it’s because he smiles a lot, takes care over his appear­ance, is well-mannered and loves his mum. Or maybe it’s because he doesn’t have a girl­friend at the moment.

But whatever the reason I sus­pect many of them might be rather less con­vinced – or inter­ested in express­ing an opin­ion at all – if Tom didn’t look hot in a pair of spec­tac­u­larly abbre­vi­ated swim­ming trunks.

This kind of gay insist­ence about Daley’s sexu­al­ity (and other pretty boys in the pub­lic eye, such as the Olympic gym­nast and Strictly star Louis Smith) isn’t mali­cious, in fact it’s meant very affec­tion­ately. But unlike Daley I’m not quite so inclined to laugh it off. In a sense it’s the ‘friendly fire’ ver­sion of the homo­phobic tweets Daley has exper­i­enced, and the bul­ly­ing which made him change schools. Unintentionally it rein­forces straight-and-narrow and increas­ingly obsol­ete ideas about what boys should and shouldn’t be – if they don’t con­form to that then they ‘must’ be gay. Though in the snug­gly sense of ‘one of us’ – rather than the phobic sense of ‘one of them’.

Perhaps, for the sake of argu­ment, des­pite what he actu­ally says Daley ‘really’ is gay, or bisexual. Perhaps he’s cur­rently kid­ding him­self, or us – or both. But so what if he is? He’s nine­teen. People should be pre­pared let Tom be Tom and not pro­ject their own past onto his present.

Although gay people – myself included – often pride them­selves on their ‘gay­dar’, their abil­ity to ‘spot’ another gay per­son, it’s a very impre­cise instru­ment and get­ting more so all the time. Now that the streets are awash with pretty, moussed, mois­tur­ised, gym-toned young men in pas­tel col­ours that look like they’re audi­tion­ing to be in One Direction – and who, like boy band stars don’t mind show­ing phys­ical affec­tion for one another – the poor old gay­dar is get­ting very jammed indeed. Perhaps it’s time to turn it off, or at least dial it down a bit. Particularly since Grindr is a much more accur­ate detec­tion system.

In a world where being gay – or look­ing gay – is no longer such a big deal, a world that gay people worked hard to bring about, per­haps we shouldn’t make such a big deal out whether someone ‘really’ is or isn’t any more. Especially if they’re as gen­er­ous with their fit body as Daley. (Who, by the way, was born the same year as the met­ro­sexual.)

Like many lads today Daley clearly loves to be looked at – and he has way of shower­ing after a dive in front of bil­lions that is, shall we say, very sen­sual. It’s part of the reason he wel­comes the gaze of gays. As he told The Mirror.

I can under­stand why I have a massive gay fol­low­ing – I spend most of my life half naked in trunks on a diving board show­ing off my bare chest.

I often joke I wear more to bed than I do to work.”

Being voted the sex­i­est guy in the world by a gay magazine (Daley’s aes­thetic daddy David Beckham was runner-up) might res­ult in your straight mates ‘gently tak­ing the mick’ as Daley reports, but in this age of rampant male tarti­ness, in which almost every straight male ath­lete that doesn’t look like the back end of a bus has been on the cover of a gay mag in their knick­ers, they’re prob­ably more than a tad jeal­ous too.

 

Update — Tom Daley Comes Out — As Happy

The Perfect Mandate: Obama & Becks (& the Media)

David Beckham, global poster-boy for met­ro­sexu­al­ity, sport­ing an Edwardian beard, had a hot date with Obama at the White House today.

Though he had to bring his team-mates along as LA Galaxy were being hon­oured with a recep­tion after win­ning the Major League Soccer Cup, America’s equi­val­ent of the Premiership.

After list­ing the soc­cer star’s achieve­ments, intro­du­cing him josh­ingly as a “young up-and-comer,” and adding that, “half your team­mates could be your kids”, Obama quipped (almost fluff­ing the line): “It’s a rare man that can be that tough on the field and have his own line of underwear.”

Or as rare as a GQ Commander in Chief?

Contrary to recent reports, Obama is not the first gay President. He’s the first met­ro­sexual President. Or as I wrote in Metrosexy:

A well-dressed mixed-race, poly­glot male who makes the Free World wait on his gym visit every morn­ing. A man whose looks are reg­u­larly praised – par­tic­u­larly by male jour­nal­ists. A man who won the Demo­c­ra­tic nom­i­na­tion in part because he was much pret­tier than his more expe­ri­enced female oppo­nent. His wife Michelle is very attrac­tive too, of course – but in some ways Obama is the first US Pres­i­dent to be his own First Lady.”

Which makes the Beckham and Obama’s hot date quite a his­toric occasion.

I can’t quite decide though whether Obama’s own rampant met­ro­sexu­al­ity makes his bitchy remark to Beckham about his under­wear funny or a bit… pants.

Metrosexual Smoothie

Burger King have come a long way from their ‘man­them’ anti-metro back­lash days of the mid Noughties in which they lit­er­ally sang the praises of fatty food.

Now their ads star the ulti­mate met­ro­sexual smoothie, David Beckham, who is given the kind of soft-focus, mouth-watering treat­ment in this ad that used to be reserved for their ‘man-food’ Whoppers. Beckham is the ‘excit­ing thing’ hap­pen­ing at Burger King.

And he really does have a very appet­ising, seduct­ive smile. Even his ter­rible act­ing is appeal­ing. There is also some­thing charm­ingly sub­missive about the way he pleads for his order. No won­der the female server is transfixed.

Like BK’s new menu, which includes freshly-made low-calorie fruit smooth­ies, chicken strips and ‘snack-wraps’ — or what might once have been called ‘girl-food’ — Beckham is part of a push to rebrand BK, whose sales have been plum­met­ing. Even back in the Noughties, ‘man­them’ was an attempt to make a manly vir­tue out of BK’s accel­er­at­ing obsol­es­cence. Clearly even that approach isn’t work­ing any more.

The ad rams home the rebrand­ing of BK by play­ing up the omni­sexual appeal of the met­ro­sexual pin-up. The middle-aged male man­ager also finds him­self cap­tiv­ated by Becks’ beauty mid­way through say­ing ‘I am sorry David we make them fresh every time with… fruit.’ It’s unclear whether the man­ager is actu­ally a ‘fruit’ him­self or just another straight man who finds him­self strangely drawn by Beckham’s beguil­ing looks. Probably the lat­ter as he seems genu­inely sur­prised by his own response.

Beckham the equal opps nar­ciss­ist isn’t phased of course and replies, with an indul­gent smile: ‘No prob­lem, John’.

The only part that mys­ti­fies me is why any­one, male or female, straight or gay, would fan­tas­ise that the be-jeaned and denim-shirted Becks before them was actu­ally dressed as a 1960s undertaker.

Tip: Natty Soltesz

 

David Beckham’s Total Package — And his Fascinating Foot

On The Jonathan Ross Show last night David Beckham was the star guest. He looked great of course. But I kept find­ing myself star­ing at Mr Beckham’s foot.

Naturally, it was shod taste­fully and expens­ively — in keep­ing with his John Hamm hairdo and 60s-style black whistle and flute. But that wasn’t what drew my eye. No, it was the way it was trem­bling.

The icon of the age had feet of jelly.

Or at least, a foot of jelly. David (I think we can use first names here; in fact, I’m sure he would insist on it) was sit­ting cross-legged on the sofa, facing Ross’ chins. His face was smil­ing radi­antly, teeth and eyes flash­ing and laugh­ing. His body lan­guage speak­ing of the cas­ual grace and ease of beauty, celebrity, money. He was doing in other words all the things you’re sup­posed to do on a chat show sofa.

But his raised foot was shak­ing. Violently. And in doing so it suc­ceeded in  say­ing much more than the other end. It made me think of the pro­ver­bial serenity of swans under­scored by that furi­ous pad­dling you know is going on beneath the water-line.

There are plenty of good reas­ons to be ter­ri­fied on a chat show, even one not presen­ted by Jonathan Ross and his unac­count­able van­ity. But Becks has more reas­ons than most. He has a lot to lose. If by chance, and much against his bet­ter judge­ment, not to men­tion media train­ing, he were to actu­ally say some­thing or have, god for­bid, an opin­ion it would cost him mil­lions in cor­por­ate fees.

At one point he was talk­ing about, I think (but can’t be sure because even when you try to listen to David it’s very hard to focus), the bene­fits of his foot­ball academies for get­ting kids away from their Playstations and out­doors. But then caught him­self: ‘Not that there’s any­thing wrong with Playstation, of course,’ he added very hast­ily. And not that there’s any­thing wrong with another Sony endorse­ment deal, either.

Or maybe his foot was trem­bling because he knew that later Jonathan Ross would pull his pants down and shove his own Aussiebum   pack­aged groin into David’s fam­ous face. (No, this actu­ally happened and was even more dis­turb­ing than it sounds.)

In the ad break there was more David. David out of his expens­ive suit  and in his pants, spin­ning around, selling David, and selling his H&M ‘bodywear’.

In keep­ing with the trade­mark passiv­ity of met­ro­sexu­al­ity in gen­eral and über-metro Becks in par­tic­u­lar, the ad fea­tures much bat­ting of long eye­lashes, and arms held defence­less above the head, as the cam­era licks its lens up and down and around his legs and torso. Teasingly never quite reach­ing the pack­age we’ve already seen a zil­lion times on the side of buses and in shop win­dows — but instead deliv­er­ing us his cotton-clad bum, his logo and his mil­lion dwollar smile.

I’m here for you. Want me. Take me. Wear me. Stretch me. Soil me. But above all: buy me.

All, curi­ously, to the strains of The Animals: ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’. Is it meant to be ironic? What after all is to be misunder­stood? Don’t the images tell us everything? Even what we don’t want to know. About the total com­modi­fic­a­tion of masculinity.

Perhaps Beck’s foot could have told us, but alas it didn’t appear in the ad and was unavail­able for comment.

 

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

 

Tip: DAKrolak & Mark Rangel

 

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.

 

Sporno

Mark Simpson on how sport and porn got into bed — while D&G and Mr Armani took pictures.…

(Out magazine, May 2006; expan­ded for The V&A’s ‘Fashion V Sport’ cata­logue, June 2008. Also col­lec­ted in ‘Metrosexy’)

You might think that it was Italy’s greater ball skills, or stam­ina, or team spirit that won them the 2006 foot­ball World Cup. But you would be wrong.

dg2_web

Clearly, expli­citly, thrill­ingly, what won it for the Italians was not so much their sport­ing spirit as their sporno spirit. In the run-up to the tour­na­ment, some espe­cially fit play­ers from the Italian foot­ball team took time off from their train­ing and did some­thing much more use­ful: they recruited Dolce & Gabbana (or was it the other way around?) to pro­duce a spor­no­graphic fash­ion shoot of them all oiled-up and ready for us. In hind­sight, we can see that the world was already grov­el­ling at their feet from that moment on.

Sporno, the post-metrosexual aes­thetic that sports and advert­ising are using to sell us the male body is, well, irres­ist­ible. Even for a fine French team – who were, let’s face it, a much plainer bunch. First Portugal dev­ast­ate England because Ronaldo is bet­ter look­ing than Becks and far swoon­ier than Rooney, then Italy trounce France because the punters would much rather cel­eb­rate with the sweaty Italian stal­lions in the locker-room. The best men def­in­itely won.

In a spor­no­graphic age it’s no longer enough for the male body to be presen­ted to us by con­sumer­ism as merely attract­ive, or desir­ing to be desired, as it was in the early days of nakedly nar­ciss­istic male met­ro­sexu­al­ity. This mas­cu­line coquettish-ness, pleas­ing as it is, no longer offers an intense enough image. Or pro­vokes enough lust. It’s just not very shock­ing or arous­ing any more. In fact, it’s just too… nor­mal. To get our atten­tion these days the sport­ing male body has to prom­ise us noth­ing less than an immacu­lately groomed, waxed and pumped gang-bang in the showers.

showers

But of course, because this is sporno and not actual por­no­graphy, it remains just that: a prom­ise. Advertising and fash­ion are less inter­ested in mak­ing a fet­ish of the potent male body than its under­wear: com­mod­ity fet­ish­ism is usu­ally the name of the sporno game.

However, the homo­pro­voc­at­ive nature of sporno is much less easy to over­look than it was in early met­ro­sexu­al­ity, which could pre­tend when it wanted to that it was ‘straight’ and some­thing entirely for the ladies. Where met­ro­sexual imagery stole slyly from soft gay porn, sporno blatantly ref­er­ences hard gay porn.

Sometimes you might be for­given for think­ing sport is the new gay porn. Sportsmen are now openly acknow­ledging and flirt­ing with their gay fans, à la David Beckham and fel­low foot­baller and Calvin Klein under­wear model Freddie Ljungberg. Both of these offi­cially het­ero­sexual thor­ough­breds have posed for spreads in gay magazines (Ljungberg appeared on the cover of Attitude in April 2006, Beckham in 2002), albeit sport­ing more clothes than they usu­ally wear when appear­ing on the side of buses.

Beefy England Rugby ace and mar­ried father of two Ben Cohen has expli­citly mar­keted a cal­en­dar of sexy (PG) pics of him­self at gay men, and talks of ‘embra­cing his gay fans’. Some, like Becks and smoothly-muscled Welsh Rugby ace Gavin Henson have even argued over them (Becks recently admit­ted that Henson had stolen a lot of his gay fans and he wanted them back because ‘I miss them.’).

Being found desir­able by gay men, once a source of ridicule by oth­ers and even viol­ent anger from the desired, now seems to mean you are worthy not just of love but also of large amounts of cash. A whole new gen­er­a­tion of young bucks, from twinky soc­cer play­ers such as Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo, who has mod­elled for Pepe, and Chelsea’s Fabulous Frankie ‘Legs’ Lampard, to rougher pro­spects such as Joe Cole and A.C. Milan’s Kakà pos­ing for Samsung and Armani jeans respect­ively, and the naked, pneu­matic rugby ‘pros’ of the legendary Dieux du Stade cal­en­dars, seems to be act­ively pur­su­ing Beckham’s and Ljungberg’s male sex-object, more than slightly tarty, status. The sports­man as erotic symbol.

Being equal oppor­tun­ity flirts, today’s sporno stars want to turn every­one on. Partly because sports­men, like porn stars, are by defin­i­tion show-offs, but more par­tic­u­larly because it means more money, more power, more endorse­ments, more kudos. Sporno exploits the cor­por­ate show­biz dir­ec­tion that sport is mov­ing in, as well as the undif­fer­en­ti­ated nature of desire in a media-saturated, mirrored-ceiling world – and inflates their career port­fo­lio to gar­gan­tuan proportions.

Why is Euro soc­cer star Beckham a house­hold name in the United States, a coun­try that gen­er­ally has less interest in soc­cer than social­ism? Why did his recent move to the US to play for a team most Americans had never hear of pro­voke so much breath­less cov­er­age in the US media? Again, it wasn’t down to his soc­cer skills, but rather his sporno skills. Pictures of him semi-naked in Vanity Fair, or in W magazine, sport­ing skin-tight trousers that nev­er­the­less seem to be some­how pulling them­selves off, or that naked cam­paign for Motorola, in which the mobile phone dangles tan­tal­iz­ingly between his pert nipples, seem to be more ubi­quit­ous, not to men­tion more stir­ring, than images of him actu­ally play­ing football.

And what could be more American? Sporno stars are pushy young hust­lers who are happy to be ogled undressed on Times Square bill­boards or in Vanity Fair – advert­ising a will­ing­ness to put out, or at least get it out, to get ahead. In cam­paigns like Ljungberg’s Calvin Klein unfor­get­table under­wear posters of 2006 or Beckham’s glob­ally gawked Armani briefs ads of 2008, their bod­ies and their bulges, blown up to gigantic pro­por­tions, are rammed down our throats by advert­ising. Most of us don’t appear to be gag­ging, however.

The male body has been well and truly, not to men­tion tastily, com­mod­i­fied. After dec­ades of being fet­ish­ized by gay men, jocks are now fet­ish­iz­ing them­selves. It was prob­ably inev­it­able. Men are tra­di­tion­ally the more visual of the sexes – and by far the greatest con­sumers of porn. So why not cut out the middle-women and pornolize your­self? Because of the fant­ast­ical mas­cu­line potency of sporno mil­lions of boys and men around the world are excitedly buy­ing clothes and under­wear worn or endorsed by their hero. And how could a guy, any guy, not have their head turned by a sporno star? Sporno stars have everything a man could want today: youth, vigour, money, fame, looks, equally beau­ti­ful bosom bud­dies, glam­or­ous part­ners – and the num­bers for top pho­to­graph­ers and stylists.

The people who essen­tially inven­ted sport, the Ancient Greeks, cer­tainly thought the male ath­lete the greatest head-turner. For them, sport was an oppor­tun­ity to wor­ship and admire the beauty of the youth­ful male form, which in turn rep­res­en­ted the free­dom of the human spirit. They thought it nat­ural that men would find the youth­ful ath­letic male form inspir­ing and desir­able, and an essen­tial part of the pleas­ure of sport. Most sports com­pet­i­tions, includ­ing the ori­ginal Olympics, were con­duc­ted naked: clothes spoiled the exper­i­ence, for ath­lete and spec­tator. Much of their mus­cu­lar art was a clas­sical ante­cedent of today’s sporno.

Admittedly though, many Greeks would prob­ably have been scan­dal­ized by the keen­ness of today’s golden young ath­letes to pose for images designed to inflame lust – and cash pur­chases. Plato for one would cer­tainly have been aghast at the neo-classical shame­less­ness of Dieux du Stade (‘Gods of the Stadium’). The phe­nom­en­ally suc­cess­ful, lux­uri­ous cal­en­dars fea­ture the Paris-based Stade Français rugby team and vari­ous well-endowed sport­ing guest stars from around the world re-enacting, you may be for­given for think­ing, the plot of every sports-themed gay porn vid. (Fashion pho­to­graph­ers rather than por­no­graph­ers take the pic­tures: Dolce & Gabbana favour­ite Mariano Vivanco was respons­ible for the par­tic­u­larly strik­ing 2007 images.) Shot in musty locker rooms, the naked, pumped and tweezed ‘gods’, often in full body make-up, clutch stra­tegic­ally placed rugby balls like fat leather erec­tions and gaze long­ingly into the cam­era, or into each other’s eyes.

Such brazen beha­viour has only enhanced the careers of these rug­ger bug­gers. Frédérik Michalak and his hyp­not­ic­ally tat­tooed and geode­smic butt’s star­ring role in an early DVD show­ing the mak­ing of the Dieux du Stade cal­en­dar, has helped land him mod­el­ling con­tracts for Christian Lacroix, a French con­dom line endorse­ment deal, as well as becom­ing the expens­ive face of Biotherm Homme and the sport­ing pack­age for a skimpy under­wear line.

No doubt the Greeks would have been shocked even more by the way that women are openly enjoy­ing these homo­pro­voc­at­ive images too. In fact, the Dieux du Stade cal­en­dars were ori­gin­ally part of a mar­ket­ing plan to update and widen the appeal of French rugby, par­tic­u­larly for women, and have proved massively pop­u­lar: the 2007 cal­en­dar reportedly sold 200,000 cop­ies. But the sporno-graphic eye of Dieux du Stade is quite delib­er­ately, quite flag­rantly un-straight. Partly because some of today’s women are being turned on to the voyeur­istic charms of male-on-male action (in an echo per­haps of their boy­friends’ interest in female-on-female action), partly because it gets atten­tion – ‘whatareth­ose­guys­do­ing!’, and partly because, as we’ve seen, the ador­a­tion of gay men is the key to the suc­cess­ful mar­ket­ing of the male body. But mostly because this all-male exhib­i­tion­ism, whomever it’s dir­ec­ted toward, gay, straight or bi, female or male, is so charm­ingly, sub­missively keen to please. Especially from guys who live through action and the urge to dominate.

Check out the DDS ‘Making Of the 2004 Calendar’ DVD, or the ‘Making of’ DVD from any year really, and see them obed­i­ently adopt­ing the gay porno poses reques­ted of them by the pho­to­grapher, head placed on buddy’s shoulders, or head at buddy’s waist, hands on his per­fectly formed buttocks.

The unin­hib­ited­ness of the rugby play­ers, in part a func­tion of the phys­ical intim­acy of the game itself, ends up being deli­ciously suited to the visual unin­hib­ited­ness of our times. How things – or rather, thighs – have changed. In the United Kingdom rugby tra­di­tion­ally was the sport of hairy beer mon­sters with nowhere else to go on a Saturday. But with pro­fes­sion­al­iz­a­tion, play­ers, par­tic­u­larly the more stream­lined backs, have become younger, fit­ter, and self-consciously sex­ier and their dance-cards are as full as their biceps. Blond, buffed, green-eyed, square-jawed, England International player Josh Lewsey, has been deployed to interest rugby fans in bul­ging lycra. A giant, god-like blow-up ‘bronze’ statue of him in his shorts was erec­ted out­side Twickenham rugby sta­dium in 2006 by his spon­sor Nike. Rugby fans queuing for their tick­ets had the dis­tract­ing pleas­ure of gaz­ing up between Josh’s tower­ing, flared thighs and at his ‘divine’ abs and pecs burst­ing out of a skin-tight Nike top.

Meanwhile the England rugby strip itself has been given some­thing of a Queer Eye makeover. Banished forever are their baggy, shape­less beer-towel rugby shirts, replaced by a form-hugging strip that might well have been designed by Jean Paul Gaultier. Understandably, England’s new sporno kit dazzled the oppos­i­tion: in 2003, the year the team deb­uted it, England won the Rugby World Cup for the first time ever. The latest ver­sion of it, intro­duced for the 2007 World Cup, saw them achieve second place des­pite being writ­ten off before­hand by pundits.

No doubt this aston­ish­ing turn­around was down to their new strip being being even tighter than before and includ­ing a saucy red arrow/swoosh from armpit to the edge of the oppos­ite thigh, reportedly designed to con­fuse oppos­ing play­ers. Too right – they won’t know whether to tackle them or kiss them. A con­fu­sion that seemed to be exploited, albeit unwit­tingly, by the ‘C’est so Paris’ humor­ous advert­ising cam­paign pro­mot­ing the 2007 World Cup, which fea­tured snog­ging scrum­ming rugby play­ers and the jokey tagline ‘Paris: City of Love’ (the only far-fetched aspect of the cam­paign was the unat­tract­ive­ness of the ad’s faux rugby play­ers com­pared to the ‘real’ Dieux du Stade thing).

In the more moneyed world of foot­ball, which has been a much big­ger busi­ness for much longer, the eye-catching potency of a sporno star seems to have dis­or­i­ent­ated even the tough no-nonsense guys who man­age foot­ball clubs – until you look at the bot­tom line. Despite some­what incon­sist­ent per­form­ances on the pitch, David Beckham is the world’s biggest-earning soc­cer player and the best known – because of his off-pitch pout­ing (most recently con­firmed by his 2007 £20 mil­lion Armani under­wear deal). His pur­chase in 2003 by Spain’s Real Madrid made them the most prof­it­able soc­cer club in the world – repla­cing Manchester United: Beckham’s pre­vi­ous club. Beckham is an object of global desire, and his mer­chand­ise moves even faster than his hips – his body is worth more on bill­boards than on the pitch. After mak­ing what was billed as the biggest sports deal in his­tory at £128 mil­lion, American team LA Galaxy is his new sporno stu­dio, and he their Number One box cover star.

There is, how­ever, another way in which British soc­cer play­ers are find­ing them­selves and their ath­letic prowess paraded on the front pages. A slew of kiss-and-tell art­icles have appeared in the tabloids in recent years about the pen­chant our young sports­men have for shar­ing a young female groupie with sev­eral other team mates. Simultaneously. Often video­ing the pro­ceed­ings. Sporting gods in naked, adult video action with other sport­ing gods. No won­der the tabs and the pub­lic got so excited. In recre­at­ing the more than slightly homo­erotic straight ‘gang-bang’ porn that they, like many other young men today are down­load­ing from the Net, foot­ballers are, wit­tingly or not, real­iz­ing the fantasy under­pin­ning sporno itself.

Things reached their logical, if slightly Footballers Wives con­clu­sion – their spor­no­graphic money shot – in 2006 when lurid stor­ies were ‘splashed’ across the tabloids about a ‘secretly shot film’ allegedly show­ing sev­eral glob­ally fam­ous (but unnamed) English soc­cer stars enga­ging in a ‘gay sex orgy’, in which expens­ive lim­ited edi­tion mobile phones were sup­posedly used as ‘sex toys’. Regardless of the fact or fever­ish fantasy of this story, no one seemed to be able to get enough of it. Except per­haps the foot­ballers them­selves – who were not only not mak­ing any money out of this par­tic­u­lar sporno spin-off, but also faced the threat of los­ing earn­ing poten­tial as a res­ult of the scan­dal (British libel laws how­ever quickly came to the res­cue provid­ing at least one player with a large, undis­closed sum). The response of many fans on the ter­race in the form of vicious anti-gay taunts and the con­tin­ued absence of any openly gay pro­fes­sional foot­ballers, sug­gest that cas­ual homo­pho­bia is as rampant in the cul­ture as sporno itself – which is more than slightly ironic.

A gen­er­a­tion of men may be entranced by images of glam­or­ous, sport­ing males who so clearly, achingly, desire to be desired by all and sun­dry, but it seems the expli­citly homo­erotic implic­a­tions of that still give quite a few of them the wil­lies, espe­cially in the highly-strung world of foot­ball.  Though this is per­haps merely a time-lag issue: atti­tudes take longer to change than underwear.

Sporno stars them­selves, mov­ing in their celebrity circles, prob­ably don’t care two hoots whether a fel­low player likes bed­room part­ners with the same-shaped tackle, and may even be as pan­sexual as their advert­ising and fash­ion tastes por­trays them, but they worry very much about what their fans will think. After all, this is show busi­ness, darling, and you can’t afford to ali­en­ate your audi­ence – or, para­dox­ic­ally, those homo­erotic spor­no­graphic endorse­ment deals. While the state­ments of gay-friendly soc­cer stars such as Beckham and Ljungberg (and Cohen and Henson in rugby) have been sin­cere, thus far, actual homo­sex, or even bisex, rather than the faux vari­ety proffered by advert­ising appears to still be bey­ond  the pale. Sporno stars may pose gay but until now all of them have had to be offi­cially totally het­ero­sexual – as do all pro foot­ballers and, with one or two excep­tions, all rugby players.

Perhaps this is also the reason today’s soc­cer stars, who appear, way ‘gayer’ than their pre­de­cessors – accord­ing to The Sun, Manchester United’s locker rooms have recently had to be mod­i­fied to make room for play­ers’ ‘man­bags’, because ‘they use more cos­met­ics than their wives’ – no longer kiss one another pas­sion­ately after a goal is scored as they did just a few years ago. They have to main­tain the impres­sion, like many gay porn stars, that they’re only gay for pay.

As for the pay­mas­ters them­selves, the fash­ion brands, while they cer­tainly wish to con­tinue chan­ging main­stream mas­cu­line atti­tudes towards clothes and the male body, it could be argued that a cer­tain amount of homo­pho­bia works to their bene­fit here: mak­ing sporno advert­ising more arrest­ing, more power­ful – and also help­ing to dis­place any homo­erotic feelings/anxiety they pro­voke into com­mod­ity fet­ish­ism: buy­ing the product instead of try­ing the fantasy it’s wrapped in. ‘Of course I don’t want the athlete’s desir­able looks/face/body/packet’, the hetero male viewer/voyeur of sporno per­haps says to them­selves – ‘I want his pants’.

Nevertheless, these are inter­est­ing if some­what con­flic­ted times. We shouldn’t under­es­tim­ate how far we’ve come and how dra­mat­ic­ally tra­di­tional male past-times such as foot­ball and rugby have changed in the last dec­ade as a res­ult of their col­li­sion with the worlds of fash­ion, celebrity and con­sumer­ism. Sporting male her­oes have enthu­si­ast­ic­ally taken up shock­ingly exhib­i­tion­istic sex-object poses in the global media that once were ana­thema for most men because they were seen as ‘girly’, ‘slutty’ or ‘homo’. Or, what was much the same emas­cu­lat­ing taboo in the male mind: pass­ive.

Sports starts have become sporno stars – play­ing enthu­si­astic power bot­toms to the public’s ima­gin­a­tion.  Stripping off, lying back, and think­ing of England… lust­ing over them.

 

Unsurprisingly, this flag­rant passiv­ity rep­res­ents a taboo too far for some. As one out­raged middle-aged male (and, it prob­ably needs to be said, some­what plump and plain) BBC sports presenter thundered recently in a pop­u­lar British tabloid about Beck’s Armani lunch-box ad: ‘You’ve got money, status, respect and fame – then someone says: “Armani want you to do a pic­ture wear­ing tight white pants with your legs as wide open as the hole in England’s defence.” Why would you say yes?’

Actually, in a spor­no­graphic age, the ques­tion should rather be: Why on Earth would you say no?

© Mark Simpson 2010

This essay is included in Simpson’s latest col­lec­tion: Metrosexy: A 21st Century Self-Love Story

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