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

dg2_web

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.

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

Visit the Facebook sporno gal­lery here.

 

David Beckham’s Package: Don’t Handle The Goods, Madam

After all those ads in which Becks thrus­ted his giant Armani wrapped pack­age in our faces if not down our throats, an Italian satir­ical TV show decided to do a little con­sumer product test­ing.  You know that in Italy they like to handle the saus­age and toma­toes — and haggle over the price — before they part with their Euros.

Both parties are clearly unimpressed.

For those who don’t speak the most beau­ti­ful, most musical lan­guage in the world: the rubber-gloved lady shouts at a hooded, glower­ing Beckham driv­ing off in his (ridicu­lously large) car full of mind­ers: ‘HOW COULD YOU TAKE US FORRIDE!!??’

The incid­ent has caused some anger in the UK, and some see it as out­right sexual assault.  But if you are paid very large wedges of cash to put your lunch­box on the side of buses to sell over­priced under­wear to the masses then per­haps the only shock­ing thing is that more punters don’t cop a feel of the goods.

There’s Something About Henry

A friend has just drawn my atten­tion to this teas­ing ‘Letter to David Beckham’ by Mr Rollins recor­ded a couple of years ago, warn­ing Becks when he moves to LA to play for LA Galaxy he’s not going to be so spe­cial: the town is already full of ‘met­ro­sexu­als… with crunchy hair and dis­tressed jeans and abso­lutely glow­ing skin’.  And warn­ing him that he’s not going to sell soc­cer to American kids because they when they see a soc­cer game they think ‘soc­cer… gay!’

It’s funny, and per­haps given Beckham’s Stateside for­tunes today also on the money, but the fun­ni­est part of it is per­haps not entirely inten­tional.  When Rollins talks about ‘us met­ro­sexu­als’ the gag, like the image of Henry primp­ing his crew cut under a salon hairdryer, seems to be that no one could be less metro than thick-necked, bulldog-voiced, tat­tooed Henry.  But I’m not so sure.  There’s some­thing intensely nar­ciss­istic about Henry, it’s part of his star qual­ity — and his pumped, buzz-cut mas­culin­ity does look self-conscious and a little accessor­ised.  (And I should know about access­or­iz­ing such things.)

What’s more, like many met­ros Henry’s sexu­al­ity has been the sub­ject of rumours and innu­endo for years, some­thing which he has often com­plained about — though he him­self seems to be here mak­ing josh­ing innu­endo about Beckham’s sexu­al­ity him­self.  Maybe the rumours are so per­sist­ent because he’s out­spokenly pro-gay rights (only a gay could care about the gays so much, the ‘reas­on­ing’ per­haps goes), he’s middle-aged and unmar­ried, and quite a few gay — and straight — men fancy him.  Or maybe it’s because he does look a bit ‘gay’ in that slightly car­toon­ish, slightly over-drawn, over-inked butch way.

For what it’s worth, I’m more than happy to accept that Henry the per­son isn’t homo, but Henry the per­sona does have a cer­tain queer­ness about him that just won’t quit, which is an import­ant part of what makes him intriguing to the pub­lic.  This is what I was try­ing to get at, I think, in the brief inter­view below that Rollins gave me in his modest-sized hotel room dur­ing the London leg of his 1998 Spoken Word Tour.

Tip: Topak

Henry Rollins inter­viewed by Mark Simpson

(Attitude magazine, September 1998)

Henry Rollins is not gay. Okay? Can we get that straightened out right now?  The ex Black Flag front-man, stand-up comic, author, actor, weight­lifter and lead­ing expo­nent of pen­it­en­tiary chic á la Robert De Niro in Cape Fear, may come across like the American Mishima, but he’s into chicks.  Though not that much.

There was this rumour going round,’ says Henry in his oddly artic­u­late jock/jarhead/jeffstryker way. ‘Fucking MTV called me up and asked me if I’d like to come out on some show of theirs. ‘So I’m gay, huh? I think I’d remem­ber some guy fuck­ing me up the ass!’ The thing that bummed me out about it is that when you have the ‘he’s gay’ fic­tion spread around the media about you it’s only to slander you. Everyone is like, ‘That guy, he’s a fuck­ing fag!’. But for me being gay is just such a non event. You are into what you’re into. End of story.’

Why do you sup­pose people think you’re homo?

I asked my gay friends why people thought I was gay, and they said, ‘You’re 37 and in shape. You are thor­oughly focussed. You have a great ass.’

Maybe the rumours have some­thing to do with the fact that you don’t have a girlfriend?

Well, yeah. That’s pos­sible. I don’t want a girl­friend because I don’t want to have to call someone every day. The only thing I miss on tour is my bar. I got a pre­ci­sion engin­eered York power­lift­ing bar; I miss that fucker because it feels so good! I’ve had enough girls in my time, but I’ve slowed up lately. I’d rather jack off than get into some­thing shal­low. But I think the prob­lem is that I don’t make a song and dance about the women I do fuck. I don’t go out on the town with them on my arm. I go to the bookstore.

That’s faggy.

Yeah, ‘He must be a fag—he’s literary!’

On the other hand, you are ‘gay’ in the sense that you’ve built your­self your own masculinity.

Is that a gay thing?

Not spe­cific­ally. But char­ac­ter­ist­ic­ally.

Yeah, you do get some gay guys who are like hyper-masculine. Look at that guy in leather! Hell, that’s two guys in one man! He’s really get­ting his point across. When I was in high school I was very skinny. It was a Vietnam Vet that got me into weight­lift­ing. It was the first time in my life when I achieved some­thing: I put on 15 pounds of muscle mass. In life you’ve got to have a bit of the ‘Come on mother­fuck­ers! I got some­thing for your ass!’ mentality.

Tell me about it. Do you get offers from men?

Oh yeah. Sure. All the time. And I go, ‘Well, that’s cool, but I’m not from that bolt of cloth,’ and they go ‘Really? I thought you were.’ And I go, no, no I wouldn’t kid you about that. ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Not even maybe just this once?’ ‘Nah, really I don’t want to go there.’ One guy hit me with a really great pro­pos­i­tion. He said, ‘Well, close your eyes and you really can’t tell the dif­fer­ence. And I’d do it a lot bet­ter than any chick you’ve been with.’ ‘Well, since you’ve got a cock I bet you would.’ But you know, it’s just not my scene.

Your look, the tattoos—have you done time?

Nah. But other con­victs… other convicts!—convicts come up to me. One man I’ll never for­get. Nebraska, 1988. Old school prison tat­toos. Guy walks by and goes, ‘Brother!’ ‘Scuse me?’ ‘Soledad, ’85 Right!’ ‘Er, no.’ ‘Chino?’ ‘No.’ ‘Hell, I’ve done time with you some­where…’ [in a nerdy book­worm voice:] ‘Well, no sir, actu­ally not’.

How do you think you’d fare in prison? Do you think you’d be some motherfucker’s bitch?

I don’t know man. You’re look­ing at me about eight pounds under­weight, usu­ally I’m 200, but I can’t get the lifts because I’m tour­ing so much, I think that kind of keeps me out of little bitch mode, I’m not anybody’s idea of a piece of chicken, and as far as fight­ing goes, I know a little bit about that. But in prison, I’d prob­ably be fuck­ing ter­ri­fied man.

But hasn’t your whole life been a kind of pre­par­a­tion for prison? No fam­ily life, no time off—all that lift­ing weights…

Well, other people tell me where to go because I want to go there, I let them struc­ture it for me. But yeah, I see what you’re say­ing. I went to a mil­it­ary school for seven years and that had a big impact on me. My dad was also ex-military. My Dad would say stuff like, ‘Fall-out for McDonalds’. Fall-out for your fuck­ing Happy Meal. Shit like that gets to you after a while.

A shrink would say that you have a very pun­ish­ing super-ego.

(Rollins shrugs his large shoulders)

What I mean is, it sounds as if a part of you is always watch­ing over your­self, poli­cing you –always demand­ing better.

Oh, that’s true. A lot of my work is res­ult ori­ent­ated. I’m always try­ing to do a bet­ter show, a bet­ter CD, a bet­ter book. I have to grade myself nightly. I come off the stage and I often kick myself….

I’ve heard that you were recently ‘watched over’ by someone else.

Oh yeah well, {act­ing out the scene very loudly} this guy is stand­ing next to me just star­ing at my dick, and I’m think­ing, this is cool, I can deal with this, and my bladder’s fuck­ing burst­ing but I can’t go, man! I said to myself, Watch me take a leak with this guy watch­ing me and me not give a fuck. But this guy totally took me. He won. Maybe he was some kind of urine comp­troller. Fucking crazy shit, man.

Copyright Mark Simpson 2009

Twinsome Devils and the Narcissus Complex

Echo_and_Narcissus

Mark Simpson paints a por­trait of a clono­sexual world of Dorians

(Arena Hommes Plus, Winter 2008, and col­lec­ted in Metrosexy)

Most ads these days aren’t worth a first glance. But earlier this year D&G Time launched a heavily-rotated global cam­paign dir­ec­ted by Hype Williams that was def­in­itely worth a second. If you looked hard enough, you could see right into the mirrored heart of the 21st Century — a ‘new’ cen­tury that is now nearly a dec­ade old. Not since the Levis ‘male striptease’ ads of the 1980s has there been a com­mer­cial that summed up — and summoned up — an era.

First time, you see an attract­ive young man and woman in tasty D&G even­ing wear check­ing their D&G watches anxiously, hur­ry­ing across dif­fer­ent sides of the sexy night-time Metropolis to hook up with one another, to the urgent, techno sounds of Stylophonics’ ‘R U Experienced? (‘Dance music for people who want to listen to tomorrow’s music today!’), finally they arrive breath­less at their meet­ing place. But rather than rush­ing into each other’s arms, they ignore one another and instead clinch and kiss a same-sex part­ner that turns up at the last minute.

So those naughty people at D&G flirt with shock­ing, or at least sur­pris­ing homo­sexu­al­ity again, coolly wrong-footing our het­ero­sex­ist assump­tions — or ram­ming gay­ness down our throats. Either way, this seems to be the ad that most people saw. In other words, most people watched it only once.

Watching it again, pay­ing atten­tion this time, you real­ise that the ‘same-sexuality’ of D&G Time goes much deeper — and is much more shock­ing. So much so you can under­stand why people wanted to see just reas­sur­ing homo­sexu­al­ity — even homo­phobes. Second time, you notice that the same-sex couples are in fact… the same. Twins. Clones. Mirror images. These latter-day Echo and Narcissus are, like many if not most of us these days, on a hot date with them­selves. Or at least, a hot, ideal­ised D&G ver­sion of them­selves. No won­der they’re in such a hurry.

What’s more, D&G Time — and this is look­ing more and more like the D&G Century — has the effrontery not only to ram down your throat what con­sumer and celebrity cul­ture today is all about, but of course for reas­ons of decency usu­ally goes out of its way to deny and dis­guise, it also does it in such a way that feels and looks entirely nat­ural, entirely appro­pri­ate. The lack of shame about rotat­ing around your­self is per­haps the most eye-catching thing of all. Only the Italians could get away with it.

What, then, is D&G Time? What is the era, the epoch it her­alds and meters and so accur­ately, so taste­fully access­or­izes? Well, a cloned, digital world in which the driv­ing force, the coiled spring at the heart of the jew­elled mech­an­ism, is not het­ero­sexual repro­duc­tion, or even homo­sexual coup­ling, but rather, nar­ciss­istic per­fec­tion. Narcissistic per­fec­tion achieved through fash­ion, con­sump­tion, cos­met­ics, tech­no­logy, sur­gery and really good light­ing. A utopian-dystopian, twin­some future in which men and women date them­selves instead of each other that has already arrived. Dance music for people who want to listen to tomorrow’s music today.

It’s a meas­ure of how far and how quickly we’ve come that only a few years ago this ad would have been regarded as ‘sick’ by almost every­one, not just a few homo­phobe hol­d­outs.  But the brazen auto-strumpetry of D&G Time broad­casts that nar­ciss­ism is no longer a patho­lo­gical con­di­tion — it’s the con­tem­por­ary con­di­tion. That’s to say, it’s no more patho­lo­gical today than desire itself – since nar­ciss­ism and desire are much the same thing, par­tic­u­larly since we’re now sur­roun­ded by such shiny, pretty accessor­ies as D&G jewellery.

The tri­umph of met­ro­sexu­al­ity has seen to that. Contrary to what you may have heard, met­ro­sexu­al­ity is not about ‘fem­in­ized’ males — or even about straight men ‘act­ing gay’. To talk in such terms is merely to reveal your­self as a hope­less nos­tal­gic. As the ‘father’ of met­ro­sexu­al­ity, I can tell you that met­ro­sexu­al­ity isn’t about men becom­ing women, or becom­ing gay — it’s about men becom­ing everything. To them­selves. In much the same way that women have been for some time.

In the early Noughties I defined the met­ro­sexual as someone who ‘might be offi­cially gay, straight, or even bisexual, but this is utterly imma­ter­ial as he has taken him­self as his own love-object and pleas­ure as his sexual pref­er­ence.’ The met­ro­sexual announced the begin­ning of the end of ‘sexu­al­ity’, the 19th Century pseudo-science that claimed that your per­son­al­ity and psy­cho­logy and taste in home fur­nish­ings was dic­tated by whether or not your bed-partner’s gen­italia were the same shape as yours.

As we approach the Teenies (what else should we call what comes after the Noughties?) this pro­cess, with a flush of hor­mones, has been speeded up. D&G Time is neither homo, hetero, bi — or even metro. It’s simply same-sexuality. Clonosexual. In D&G Time, all gen­italia are the same shape: fashion-shaped. In place of the Oedipal military-industrial com­plex of the 20th Century we have… the all-consuming Narcissus Complex of the 21st.

We live, you can hardly failed to have noticed, in an age of Dorians, male and female, admir­ing them­selves in web­cams, phone cams, digicams, online pro­files and the two-way mir­rors of the global Big Brother House. There may or may not be a por­trait in the attic, but if there is you can be sure that it’s been Photoshopped. Back in the 20th Century — which seems much, much longer than just a dec­ade ago — I thought that the defin­i­tion of a trans­sexual was someone who behaved as if they were being pho­to­graphed 24 hours a day. Now, of course, this is how every­one under the age of 25 behaves. Because they are.

As the young Quentin Crisp, a real­ity TV win­ner long before there was such a thing as real­ity TV, or even TV, respon­ded proph­et­ic­ally to his starchy father’s angry accus­a­tion: Do you intend to spend the rest of your life admir­ing your­self in the mirror??

‘If I pos­sibly can.’

Whatever you or I may think of nar­ciss­ism — and Gore Vidal fam­ously described a nar­ciss­ist as ‘someone bet­ter look­ing than you’ — it’s far, far too late for an opin­ion. After a cen­tury of very bad press indeed, nar­ciss­ism now holds the (nicely turned) whip-handle over the cul­ture. Even polit­ics, always the last to know, has noticed: in the UK the ‘Nasty’ Tory Party is now led by a nice, dash­ing, mois­tur­ised young man who wants very much to be liked, while the American Democratic Party earlier this year chose a gym-going, preen­ing youth­ful male over a tougher, older, more exper­i­enced female can­did­ate in large part because he was much pret­tier than her and reflec­ted back, in his charm­ingly, delib­er­ately vague way, a more flat­ter­ing image of themselves.

Now that we’re pretty much over the 20th Century we can see that at the end of the 19th Century Dorian’s Dad, Oscar Wilde, the ‘first celebrity’, wasn’t pun­ished for his homo­sexu­al­ity so much as his nar­ciss­ism. Wilde the aes­thete may have been gaoled for sex with males, shortly after the word ‘homo­sexual’ was coined, becom­ing its most fam­ous exem­plar, but it was the ‘gross inde­cency’ of his van­ity that had sen­tenced him in the minds of many Victorians, long before his trial.

Have you ever adored a young man madly?’ he was asked in the wit­ness box. Wilde par­ried, quite truth­fully: ‘I have never given ador­a­tion to any­one but myself.’ You could have heard a cologne-soaked silk handker­chief drop. A line that would have worked per­fectly in a com­edy of man­ners in a West End theatre fell omin­ously flat in the courtroom. No won­der he was given four years hard labour — a fit­ting pun­ish­ment for idle self-contemplation in Victorian England. An England that per­sisted, of course, for much of the 20th Century.

For that other Nineteenth Century celebrity, Sigmund Freud, nar­ciss­ism was a neces­sary and healthy part of child­hood, but one that must be aban­doned to reach full adult­hood (remem­ber that?). This explained, he wrote, the fas­cin­a­tion that ‘chil­dren, humor­ists, crim­in­als, and any­one who holds on to his/her self-contentment and inac­cess­ib­il­ity’ rep­res­ent for us (Wilde was of course all three). He could also have added ‘women’ to that list, since women were expec­ted to hold onto their nar­ciss­ism — and use it to attract men. Heterosexuality was based on this Victorian divi­sion of sexual labour — as this divi­sion broke down in the lat­ter part of the 20th Century het­ero­sexu­al­ity was, as we now know, even­tu­ally itself phased out. (The very innov­a­tions which have helped free women from domestic drudgery, such as the pill, wash­ing machines, microwaves, Hoovers, and fem­in­ism — in that order — have also freed men from… women.)

For Freud the uni­ver­sal Oedipus Complex was the prin­ciple way in which boys became men. Today by con­trast the uni­ver­sal Narcissus Complex is the way in which boys become… pret­tier boys. Vanity, thy name is Man. Both Narcissus — who was, it needs to be said, a chap - and Oedipus were warned by Tiresias the blind trans­sexual seer (and like Quentin, a real­ity TV con­test­ant avant le lettre) that they would live a long life so long as they didn’t know them­selves. As poor old Oedipus found out when he con­sul­ted him, Tiresias’ proph­ecies although always accur­ate weren’t exactly help­ful. Narcissus doesn’t know at first that the hand­some image he glimpses in the pool and falls in love with is him­self (in other words Narcissus isn’t very nar­ciss­istic). It’s only when he twigs and ‘knows him­self’ that he dies of des­pair, know­ing that he can never pos­sess himself.

The ori­ginal Narcissus myth has been mis­rep­res­en­ted for much of the last hun­dred years as a cau­tion­ary tale about the patho­logy of male beauty. In fact, it was a warn­ing to beau­ti­ful youths to be more gen­er­ous with their looks — to both sexes. Sodom & Gomorrah in reverse.

Narcissus is not doomed by his own beauty but by his thought­less spurn­ing of vari­ous suit­ors, male and female. His selfish­ness. One cruelly rejec­ted youth prays to Nemesis that Narcissus should know what it is to love without hope. Nemesis, the god­dess of revenge, assents and arranges for Narcissus to be pun­ished for being so hoity-toity by ensnar­ing him with his own looks.

It’s a les­son that seems to have been instinct­ively learned by today’s tarty youths. Success and fame is now some­thing for the hero­ic­ally nar­ciss­istic and exhib­i­tion­istic, those who makes them­selves con­stantly avail­able for our love, on TV, at the cinema, on bill­boards and in glossy magazines. Or emer­ging glisten­ing and glam­or­ous from the roof of a red double-decker bus at the Beijing Olympics to the strains of ‘Whole Lotta Love’, show­ing a wildly cheer­ing world their latest cos­metic surgery.

Today, nar­ciss­ism is not aban­doned, of course, but cul­tiv­ated. It’s an industry. The industry. No won­der Oscar Wilde has been so rehab­il­it­ated to the point where he and Freddie Mercury are to all intents and pur­poses the same per­son. Today, chil­dren, humor­ists, crim­in­als and foot­ballers are not merely envied, they are emu­lated. We are encour­aged — nay, com­pelled — to mis­take them/recognise them for our own ideal­ised reflec­tion. (This is no doubt the point at which I should quote smoke-and-mirror-phase Jacques Lacan, but as far as I can tell, Lacan’s only real achieve­ment was to turn lucid Freudianism into self-regarding Gallic metaphysics.)

The cal­cu­lated child­ish­ness and fickle­ness of con­sumer­ism makes nar­ciss­ism not only pos­sible but neces­sary — since it is the very basis of our global eco­nomy. This is why 21st Century nar­ciss­ism is not a form of con­tent­ment but rather of end­less desir­ing. The Narcissus Complex is the romance of the end­less per­fect­ib­il­ity of ourselves proffered by the smoked High Street changing-room mir­rors of a medi­ated world — the irres­ist­ible lure of a hyper­real, twin­some ver­sion of ourselves. What the entire his­tory of human cul­ture turns out to have been work­ing towards.

Before his own doom, Wilde wrote a prose poem called ‘The Disciple’ which played with the story in a typ­ic­ally Wildean inver­ted fash­ion. Some Oreads griev­ing for Narcissus come across the pool and ask it to tell them about Narcissus’ famed beauty. The pool replies that it has no idea how beau­ti­ful Narcissus was. The Oreads are baffled: ‘Who should know bet­ter than you?’

But I loved Narcissus because,’ replied the pool, ‘as he lay on my banks and looked own on me, in the mir­ror of his eyes I saw my own beauty mirrored.’

As Wilde wrote in the Preface to his mas­ter­piece, the Narcissus novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, which has proved as eer­ily time­less as Dorian’s looks: ‘It is the spec­tator, and not life, that art really mirrors.’

D&G, how­ever, have mirrored both.

Beijing Beckham

I’m still in shock after watch­ing the han­dover to the London Olympics in Beijing. Please tell me it was a bad dream and that on your goggle-box you saw some­thing much less horrifying.

The Mayor of London Boris Johnson looked like he’d put on his worst suit — sorry, someone else’s worst suit — and slept in it all the way to China.  Adding to his impact, he gen­er­ally behaved like someone from a Home for the Terminally Bewildered on a rare day out.

As for the show the Brits put on, fea­tur­ing a morph­ing red London bus, hordes of annoy­ing dan­cers — it looked like a Cliff Richard film dir­ec­ted by Brent Council, but less fun.

And then the cli­max: David Beckham pop­ping out of the top of the bus like Samantha Fox out of a birth­day cake, to the tunes of ‘Whole Lotta Love’ warbled by crummy TV tal­ent show win­ner Leona Lewis in cri­nolene, stuck on the end of a pole like a dodgy Christmas decoration.

How the world went wild as he showed us his latest cos­metic sur­gery! (My tranny friend Michelle tells me he’s had his eyes done, the upper bags — and I never doubt her judge­ment about these things).  Before expertly kick­ing a ball into the wrong part of the stadium.

It was a com­plete and utter dis­aster and embar­rass­ment.  A com­edy of errors with no redeem­ing qual­it­ies whatsoever.

Welcome to London.

No, really, you’re wel­come to it.

Metro Cowboy to Play Metro Athlete

namath_250.jpgHollywood has appar­ently taken note of the global pub­li­city sur­round­ing über-metrosexual English foot­baller David Beckham’s arrival in Tinseltown and decided to dust off America’s own, dis­carded met­ro­sexual sports­man pro­to­type, 1960s flam­boy­ant, fur-coat wear­ing NFL quar­ter­back Joe Namath and give it the big-screen treatment.

Jake Gyllenhaal is to play Namath — pop­ularly dubbed ‘Broadway Joe’ — in a Hollywood biopic of the Hall of Fame sports­man who was the first American foot­baller to become a multi-media phenemonon and Madison Avenue model.

In other words, the actor who played a met­ro­sexual cow­boy will be play­ing the first met­ro­sexual ath­lete. It sounds per­fect cast­ing — in a post­mod­ern way. Gyllenhaal’s inab­il­ity to con­vince as a cow­boy, or a Marine, or a blue-collar NFL quar­ter­back is just more grist to the mill of the inau­thenti­city of mod­ern masculinity.

Jake’s pretty, bottom-boy looks also under­score some­thing else: how Namath really wouldn’t cut it today as an object of desire. He just isn’t attract­ive or seduct­ive or tarty enough. He looks like what he was: a reas­on­ably nice-looking 1960s quar­ter­back in a fur coat — or pantyhose.

Joe Namath’s most fam­ous ad was this eyebrow-raiser from 1974 for Beautymist pantyhose:

Apparently Namath regret­ted the ad for nylons which brought out many of his male fans in rash, des­pite its rather heavy-handed ‘I’M NOT A FAG AND THIS IS A JOKE’ mes­sage. It may have been one of the reas­ons why America, with the pos­sible excep­tion of Dennis Rodham, failed to pro­duce another ‘Broadway Joe’. That and the fact that America is some­times a more con­form­ist coun­try than Switzerland.

If this ad were to be reprised by David Beckham today you would notice the fol­low­ing differences:

  • He would look much bet­ter in pantyhose
  • He wouldn’t say ‘I don’t wear panty­hose’. And if he did, no one would believe him.
  • He wouldn’t be wear­ing any­thing else
  • He wouldn’t laugh. Fashion, as his titanium-cheekboned wife has taught him, is a very ser­i­ous busi­ness.
  • He wouldn’t be selling them to women.

America — meet David Beckham

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(The Guardian, 13 July, 2007)

America, meet David Beckham. America, meet The Metrosexual.

You’re going to be see­ing even more of both.

As most of the world already knows, today Becks is proudly ‘unveiled’ by LA Galaxy on their home turf. Brand Becks, the ulti­mate met­ro­sexual who trans­formed him­self from a tal­en­ted pro­fes­sional soccer-player with a cute smile into global me-dia, is the not-so-secret weapon in their cam­paign to seduce America into open­ing its arms, legs — and, most import­antly, wal­lets — to that obscure ver­sion of foot­ball played without crash hel­mets, Frankenstein pad­ding or artil­lery bar­rages by the rest of the world.

In case you can’t wait for the unveil­ing, you can find a selec­tion of ador­able pho­tos of Ken Doll David ‘taken’ from every deli­cious angle in his new strip in The Times of London. Or coquet­tishly meet­ing your gaze on the cover of Sports posh_becks_pose.jpgIllustrated, on a red car­pet. Or stripped to the waist on a car bon­net on the cover of ‘W’ magazine flex­ing his tits and tatts in trousers that appear to be pulling them­selves off. Oh, and that ex-ex Spice Girl wife of his is some­where in the pic­ture too.

And, of course, you can always catch Brand Beckham endors­ing major brands like Motorola and Nike. Or is it the other way around?

Spice Boy Becks is the total com­mod­ity who has totally com­mod­i­fied him­self — and turned soc­cer into his per­sonal bill­board. ESPN, the chan­nel tele­vis­ing Beck’s first game in his LA Galaxy strip on 21 July have arranged for an extra TV cam­era to feast solely on David for the dur­a­tion of the entire game, lest we miss any pre­cious moment of his spor­no­graphic body in motion — as well as mak­ing sure that they get their money’s worth. Who said that foot­ball was a game of two teams of eleven men? Or two halves? Becks is all that you could need and all that you could want. The Alpha and Omega of soccer.

ESPN are already air­ing an ad pro­mot­ing the match in which Becks leaves a heart­broken Europe for an ecstatic US, with the Beatles’ ‘Hello Goodbye’ as the soundtrack — ref­er­en­cing a pre­vi­ous ‘Brit’ inva­sion. Some are already talk­ing about ‘Beckmania’. The Beatles may have been big­ger than Jesus, but Becks is big­ger than soc­cer (which is why all those lengthy art­icles debat­ing whether he will or won’t make soc­cer pop­u­lar in the US some­what miss the point).

And after all, in the Sixties the Mop Tops suc­cess­fully expor­ted pop music back to the US, the coun­try of its birth, hav­ing taken it fur­ther and trans­formed it into some­thing even more sale­able. Becks in the Noughties is export­ing met­ro­sexu­al­ity back to the US, and in fact to the very town, which, in the Fifties, came up with the pro­to­type for it in the delect­able, Cinemascoped form of Marlon Brando, Monty Clift, James Dean, and Elvis Presley.

It was also the US that pro­duced pos­sibly the first metro sports star in the form of Seventies NFL star Joe Namath, dubbed ‘Broadway Joe’, an aes­thet­ic­ally inclined quar­ter­back who advert­ised shav­ing cream and… panty­hose. But once he retired, America pre­ten­ded he had never happened — leav­ing the field open to dandy for­eign play­ers like David Beckham.

America and Hollywood, so long at the cut­ting edge of com­modi­fy­ing mas­culin­ity, have fallen far behind. America is today con­flic­ted, fear­ful and hypo­crit­ical about one of its greatest inven­tions: the medi­ated, male sex object. Speedos, the per­fect ‘pack­age’ for the male body and Beckham’s favour­ite beach­wear, are all but banned on US shores because they are seen as ‘gay’. Which, appar­ently, is still the worst thing you can accuse a man of in the US — and the reason why the US, unlike the UK, exper­i­enced a back­lash against met­ro­sexu­al­ity, albeit a men-dacious one.

American mas­culin­ity des­per­ately needs some tarty tips on how to tart it out more. Enter Becks, the tarti­est tart in Tart-Town who rel­ishes being seen as ‘gay’ — and also rel­ishes being seen by gays (‘because they have good taste’). What’s more, he’s a jock not an actor.

Which reminds me, per­haps Becks will offer some friendly advice to his new Scientologist neigh­bour Tom Cruise. Cruise, the All-American Dream Boy gone wrong, who once wooed the world by dan­cing in his under­wear on a sofa in his 80s film ‘Risky Business’, but now jumps up and down on chat show sofas (while President Bush jumps up and down on Iraq), needs Becks more than Becks needs Cruise, who is now glob­ally much less pop­u­lar than Becks.

However much Becks may deny movie star aspir­a­tions, his Hollywood career has already begun.

Copyright Mark Simpson 2007

The Gay Bomb

gaybomb.jpg

Mark Simpson drops the Gay Bomb

(Guardian & Out magazine June 13, 2007)

Look out! Take cover! Backs to the walls, boys! It’s the Gay Bomb!

No, not a bomb with fash­ion­ably styled fins or one that can’t whistle, but rather a pro­posed “non-lethal” chem­ical bomb con­tain­ing “strong aph­ro­dis­i­acs” that would cause “homo­sexual beha­vior” among soldiers.

Since the United States Air Force wanted $7.5 mil­lion of tax­pay­ers’ money to develop it, it prob­ably involved more than the tra­di­tional recipe of a few six-packs of beer.

According to the Sunshine Group, an organ­iz­a­tion opposed to chem­ical weapons that recently obtained the ori­ginal pro­posal under the Freedom of Information Act, a U.S.A.F. lab ser­i­ously pro­posed in 1994 “that a bomb be developed con­tain­ing a chem­ical that would cause [enemy] sol­diers to become gay, and to have their units break down because all their sol­diers became irres­ist­ibly attract­ive to one another.” The U.S.A.F. obvi­ously didn’t know how picky even horny gays can be.

Despite never hav­ing been developed, the so-called Gay Bomb is a boun­cing bomb — or per­haps a bent stick: it keeps com­ing back. The media have picked up the story of the Gay Bomb more than once since 2005 — after all it’s a story that’s too good to throw away, and, as this art­icle proves, it’s a gift for dubi­ous jokes.

Mind you, it now seems to be the case that the Pentagon didn’t throw it away either, at least not imme­di­ately. In the past the Pentagon has been keen to sug­gest it was just a cranky pro­posal they quickly rejec­ted. The Sunshine Project now con­tra­dicts this, say­ing the Gay Bomb was given ser­i­ous and sus­tained atten­tion by the Pentagon and that in fact they “sub­mit­ted the pro­posal to the highest sci­entific review body in the coun­try for them to con­sider.” The Gay Bomb was no joke.

So per­haps we should ser­i­ously con­sider probing-however gingerly — what exactly was in the minds of the boys at the Pentagon back then.

The date is key. The Gay Bomb pro­posal was sub­mit­ted in 1994-the year after the extraordin­ary moral panic that very nearly derailed Clinton’s first term when he tried to honor his cam­paign pledge to lift the ban on homo­sexu­als serving in the U.S. mil­it­ary and that ulti­mately pro­duced the cur­rent “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) com­prom­ise that allows them to serve so long as they remain closeted and are not reported.

The newly sworn-in Commander-in-Chief was suc­cess­fully por­trayed by the homo-baiting right wing — and by the Pentagon itself — as a dirty pinko Gay Bomb that was ser­i­ously weak­en­ing the cohe­sion of the unit and molest­ing the noble, het­ero­sexual U.S. fight­ing man’s abil­ity to per­form his manly mis­sion. “Why not drop Clinton on the enemy?” is prob­ably what they were thinking.

The Pentagon’s love affair with the Gay Bomb also hints heav­ily that tick­ing away at the heart of its oppos­i­tion to lift­ing the ban on gays serving, which involved much emphasis on the “close con­di­tions” (cue end­less TV foot­age of naked sol­diers and sail­ors shower­ing together) was an anxi­ety that if homo­sexu­al­ity wasn’t act­ively dis­cour­aged the U.S. Armed Forces would quickly turn into one huge, hot, military-themed gay orgy — that American fight­ing men would be too busy offer­ing them­selves to one another to defend their coun­try. I sym­path­ize. I too share the same fantasy — but at least I know it’s called gay porn.

Whatever its motiv­a­tions or ration­al­iz­a­tions, the DADT policy of gay quar­ant­ine has res­ul­ted in thou­sands of dis­charges of homo­sexu­als and bisexu­als from the U.S. Armed Forces, even at a time when the mil­it­ary is hav­ing great dif­fi­culty mobil­iz­ing enough bod­ies of any sexual per­sua­sion and is cur­rently being pub­licly ques­tioned. But the Pentagon seems unlikely to budge its insti­tu­tional back from the pro­ver­bial wall.

Its top com­mander, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, recently defen­ded the policy in out­spoken terms, say­ing: “I believe that homo­sexual acts between two indi­vidu­als are immoral and that we should not con­done immoral acts.” (The good General prob­ably didn’t mean to sug­gest that homo­sexual acts involving only one per­son or more than two were not immoral.)

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, a policy that even Joseph Heller would have had dif­fi­culty sat­ir­iz­ing, may be con­fused and con­fus­ing, and it may or may not be repealed in the near future, but it clearly shows that the U.S. remains dra­mat­ic­ally con­flic­ted about itself and the enorm­ous changes in atti­tudes and beha­vior that its own afflu­ence and soph­ist­ic­a­tion have helped bring about.

After all, the Gay Bomb is here already, and it’s been thor­oughly tested — on civil­ians. It was developed not by the U.S.A.F. but by the labor­at­or­ies of American con­sumer and pop cul­ture, advert­ising, and Hollywood. If you want to awaken the enemy to the attract­ive­ness of the male body, try drop­ping back issues of Men’s Health or GQ on them. Or Abercrombie & Fitch posters. Or Justin Timberlake videos. Or DVDs of 300.

Or even the U.S.‘s newly acquired British-made weapons sys­tem for deliv­er­ing global sexual con­fu­sion and hys­teria known as ‘David Beckham’.

To para­phrase the Duke of Wellington: I don’t know whether they frighten the enemy, but by God they scare the Bejeesus out of me.

Beckham the virus goes to Hollywood

So Beckham, the über-metrosexual, the pho­to­genic English ath­lete who trans­figured him­self from mere pro­fes­sional soc­cer player into global me-dia, is leav­ing Real Madrid Football Club, his home for the past three years, and is now head­ing for the City of Signs.

becks-2.jpg

Beckham became a Hollywood foot­baller years ago (around about the time of ‘Beckham the virus’, pos­ted below).  Certainly his bosses at Real Madrid seem to have found Becks more style than substance.

But in a met­ro­sexu­al­ised world style is almost everything now.  Even and espe­cially in the world of men’s sports. This is why his lack-lustre per­form­ance on the pitch dur­ing his time in Spain didn’t pre­vent his agent land­ing him a $1M a week salary at Los Angeles Galaxy — the biggest world sports deal ever.

Galaxy, like Real, have paid a hefty premium for Beckham’s unri­valled mer­chand­ising power. Galaxy also believe, to the tune of a mil­lion bucks a week, that Beckham can seduce America, so long peev­ishly res­ist­ant to the sweaty, clean-limbed — and increas­ingly coquet­tish - charms of soc­cer, and ‘open up’ a spec­tac­u­larly luc­rat­ive new young male mar­ket in the US.

Whether or not he suc­ceeds, America had bet­ter get ready for a little more soc­cer and a lot more met­ro­sexu­al­ity and Sporno. It was back in 2002 that the US was intro­duced to met­ro­sexu­al­ity and its poster-boy, David Beckham (by, erm, me: ‘Meet the met­ro­sexual’), and look what happened then.  With Becks actu­ally resid­ing and play­ing in the US the res­ults could be climactic.

beckham-j.jpg

America and Hollywood, so long at the cut­ting edge of com­modi­fy­ing mas­culin­ity, have fallen so far behind much of the rest of the world since the 1990s. Incredible as it may sound, American mas­culin­ity needs some tarty tips on how to tart it out more. Enter Becks, the tarti­est tart in Tart-Town.

This is why Beck’s friend­ship with Hollywood’s box-office king/queen Tom Cruise is more than just another foot­baller going celebrity chum­ming.  Cruise, the all-American Dream-boy gone wrong, needs Becks more than Becks needs Cruise who is now glob­ally rather less pop­u­lar than Becks.  Because this is about media power rather than polit­ical or mil­it­ary power, that’s to say the New Power, it’s the inverse rela­tion­ship of Bush and Blair.

Britain mean­while will envi­ously and resent­fully watch his every move reflec­ted across the pond, and start to feel like it’s miss­ing out.  And then Becks, cur­rently out of favour here, partly because of last year’s World Cup dis­aster but mostly because we don’t for­give him for mov­ing to Spain three years ago, will be back in vogue.

We Brits are fickle like that.

 —-

becks-3.jpgBECKHAM, THE VIRUS

He’s one of the most fam­ous humans who has ever lived — even though he’s not that cute, not that smart and not that great a soc­cer player.

By Mark Simpson

[Originally appeared Salon, June 28, 2003)

It ha(n’t been like this since the death of Diana. Britain has been suf­fer­ing from a national nervous break­down ever since David Beckham, hand­some icon of the Manchester United soc­cer team, announced last week that he was leav­ing to play for Real Madrid.

The Sun, the best-selling UK tabloid, set up a Beckham “grief helpline” and claims it has been swamped with calls from dis­tressed fans. One caller said he was con­sid­er­ing sui­cide, while sev­eral con­fessed that they were so upset they couldn’t per­form in bed. A man who has “Beckham” tat­tooed on his arm threatened to cut if off. “I cried myself to sleep after hear­ing the awful news,” said grand­mother Mary Richards, age 85. A London cabby, ever the voice of reason, asked, “Has the world gone mad? He’s only a foot­baller!” But he was mis­taken. A foot­baller is now the least of what David Beckham is.

In the era of soc­cer that will come to be known as B.B. — Before Beckham — the sport was a team game. What mattered was the club, the team and the player in that order. Then in the mid-1990s, David Beckham — or “Becks” as he is known in that famil­iar, affec­tion­ately fore­shortened form with which the British like to address their work­ing class her­oes — came along, flicked his (then) Diana-style blond fringe and changed the face of soc­cer. It wasn’t his legendary right foot that altered the game, but his pho­to­genic face — and the fact that he used it to become one of the most recog­niz­able, richest and valu­able ath­letes in the world, receiv­ing a salary of $8 mil­lion per year, earn­ing at least $17 mil­lion more in endorse­ments and com­mand­ing a record trans­fer fee for his move to Real Madrid of $41.6 million.

Beckham’s greatest value is his cros­sover appeal — he interests not only those who have no interest in the club for which he plays, but those who have no interest in soc­cer. He is the most recog­nized sports­man in Asia, where soc­cer is still rel­at­ively new. Possibly only Buddha him­self is bet­ter known — though Beckham is catch­ing up there too: In Thailand someone has already fash­ioned a golden “Becks” Buddha. He’s even man­aged to interest Americans, for God’s sakes. The 27-year-old, tongue-tied, sur­pris­ingly shy working-class boy from London’s East End has suc­ceeded in turn­ing the mass, global sport of soc­cer into a mass, global pro­mo­tional vehicle for him­self, repro­du­cing his image in count­less coun­tries. He has turned him­self into a soc­cer virus, one that has infec­ted the media, rep­lic­at­ing him every­where, all over the world, end­lessly, mak­ing him one of the most fam­ous men that has ever lived.

David Beckham, in other words, is a superbrand.

In recog­ni­tion of this, Becks was the first foot­baller ever to receive “image rights” — pay­ment for the earn­ing poten­tial his image provided his club — and got them, to the tune of $33,300 a week. In fact, image rights were the main issue at stake in the record-busting six weeks of con­tract rene­go­ti­ations he had with Manchester United last year; his worth as a player was agreed at $116,500 a week almost imme­di­ately. Then there’s that $17 mil­lion a year for endors­ing such brands as Castrol, Brylcreem, Coca Cola, Vodafone, Marks & Spencer and Adidas. And Becks just keeps get­ting big­ger. His trusty law­yers have already registered his name for products as vari­ous as per­fumes, deodor­ants, jew­elry, purses, dolls and, oh yes, soc­cer jer­seys. Such is the power of the Beckham brand that it’s hoped it can res­cue the for­tunes of Marks & Spencer’s cloth­ing (a high-end British chain that has become a byword for “dowdy”).

But alas, the brand couldn’t save murdered Suffolk girls Holly and Jessica, poignantly pic­tured last year in police posters in match­ing rep­licas of his No. 7 red shirt. When it was still hoped that they might be run­aways, the man him­self made a broad­cast appeal for their return. There was the Becks, eer­ily right at the heart of the nation’s hopes and fears again.

a_becks_festeja_htop.jpgBeckham has even man­aged to brand a numeral — 7 — the num­ber on his soc­cer jer­sey. A clause in his Manchester United con­tract guar­an­teed him No. 7, he has 7 tat­tooed in Roman numer­als on his right fore­arm, his black Ferrari’s regis­tra­tion plate is “D7 DVB,” and his Marks and Spencer’s cloth­ing line is branded “DB07.” He even queues at No. 7 check­out when he goes shop­ping. This is often inter­preted as a sign of his super­sti­tious­ness, but is more an indic­a­tion of his very rational grasp of the magic of brand­ing. (He may, how­ever, have to settle for the num­ber 77 when he moves to Real Madrid, as the coveted 7 is already taken by Spanish super­star Raul.)

But some­how, Beckham has not yet become a vic­tim of his own suc­cess and has man­aged to remain offi­cially “cool.” Europe’s largest sur­vey into “cool” recently found that Beckham was the “coolest” male, accord­ing to both young women and men. Beckham’s status can be attrib­uted to his diva-esque ver­sat­il­ity and his super­brand power: “Like Madonna he is very ver­sat­ile and able to rad­ic­ally change his image but not ali­en­ate his audi­ence,” says pro­fessor Carl Rohde, head of the Dutch “cool hunt­ing” firm Signs of the Time. “He remains authen­tic.” Each time he goes to the hairdresser’s and has a restyle — which is alarm­ingly often — he ends up on the cover of every tabloid in Britain. In other words, whatever Becks does, how­ever he wears his hair or his clothes — or, cru­cially, whatever product he endorses — he is say­ing, as Rohde puts it, “this is just another aspect of me, David Beckham. Please love me.” And, it goes without say­ing, buy me. And mil­lions do.

Becks’ greatest sales suc­cess, how­ever, was actu­ally on the foot­ball field — though less with the ball than with the cam­era. He’s the most fam­ous foot­baller in the world, and con­sidered by mil­lions to be one of the greatest foot­ballers of all time, but argu­ably he’s not even a world-class player. A very fine one, to be sure, but not nearly the foot­baller we are sup­posed to think he is — not nearly the foot­baller we want to think he is. Sport, you might ima­gine, is the one area of con­tem­por­ary life where hype can’t win, where res­ults, at the end of the day, are everything. But Beckham has dis­proved that, has van­quished that, and rep­res­ents the tri­umph of P.R. over … well, everything. His con­tri­bu­tion to Manchester United was debat­able. On foot­balling skills alone, he is argu­ably not worthy of play­ing for the English national team, let alone being its cap­tain. However, in the last dec­ade soc­cer has become part of show busi­ness and advertising.

beckham.jpgBeckham is a hybrid of pop music and foot­ball, the Spice Girl of soc­cer — hence his mar­riage to one. He is — indis­put­ably — the cap­tain of a new gen­er­a­tion of pho­to­genic, pop-tastic young foot­balling lad­dies that added boy-band value to the mer­chand­ising and media pro­file of soc­cer clubs in the 1990s.

Beckham’s foot­balling forte is free kicks. This is entirely appro­pri­ate, since these are, after all, among the most indi­vidu­al­istic — and aes­thetic — moments in soc­cer. Unlike a goal, with a free kick there’s no one passing to you, no one to share the glory with. Instead there’s prac­tic­ally a spot­light and a drum roll. And how he kicks! “Goldenballs” (as his wife, Victoria, aka Posh Spice, reportedly likes to call him) has impress­ive accur­acy and his range is breath­tak­ing — along with his fam­ous “bend­ing” tra­ject­ory, his kicks also have style and grace. Long arms out­stretched à la Fred Astaire, wrists bent del­ic­ately upward, for­ward leg angled, and then — con­tact — and a power­ful, pre­cise, eleg­ant thwump! and follow-through. An Englishman shouldn’t kick a ball like this. This is the way that Latins kick the ball. Beckham doesn’t just rep­res­ent the aes­thet­i­ciz­a­tion of soc­cer that has occurred in a media-tised world — he is the aes­thet­i­ciz­a­tion of it. Like his silly hair­dos, like his “arty” tat­toos, like the extraordin­ar­ily elab­or­ate post-goal cel­eb­ra­tions he prac­tices with the crowd, almost everything he does on the field is designed to remind you that No. 7 is any­thing but a number.

Off the soc­cer field Becks is able to use clothes and accessor­ies to draw atten­tion to him­self. And does he. The Versace suits, the sarong, and the sequined track suit that opened the Commonwealth Games dazzled TV audi­ences and con­fused some for­eign view­ers who still thought the queen of England was a middle-aged woman. Essentially, Beckham’s visual style is “glam” — more Suede than Oasis (with a bit of con­tem­por­ary R&B pop promo thrown in). And like glam rock, which was a British working-class style run­ning riot in the dec­ade of his birth, the 1970s, Beckham, the son of Leytonstone pro­let­ari­ans, has a clear image of him­self as working-class roy­alty, the new People’s Princess (though his “super­brand” power has as yet been unable to sell us his wife, who, post-Spice Girls, remains unpop­u­lar and unsuc­cess­ful). Hence his wed­ding took place in a castle; at the recep­tion after­ward Posh and Becks were ensconced in match­ing His ‘n’ Hers thrones, and their Hertfordshire home was dubbed “Beckingham Palace” by the tabloids.

Soccer, like pop music, is one of the few ways the British are per­mit­ted any suc­cess — it is, after all, some­thing both manual and aris­to­cratic at the same time. Becks the foot­ball pop star rep­res­ents and advert­ises a mater­i­al­istic aspir­a­tion­al­ism that doesn’t appear bourgeois.

Beckham’s tat­toos — a lit­eral form of brand­ing — seem to epi­tom­ize this. What were once badges of male working-class iden­tity are now ways of advert­ising the unique Becks brand. “Although it hurts to have them done, they’re there forever and so are the feel­ings behind them,” Becks has explained. But these are not the kind of “Mum & Dad Always” tat­toos his plumber dad and his mates might have had. The huge, shaven-headed, open-armed, “guard­ian angel” with an alarm­ingly well-packed loin­cloth on his back looks more than a little like him­self with a Jesus com­plex. Beneath, in gothic let­ter­ing, is his son’s name: Brooklyn. Once his uni­form comes off at the end of a match — as it usu­ally does, and before any­one else’s — the tat­toos help him to stand out instantly, and mean that he is never naked: He’s always wear­ing some­thing designer.

becks-the-virus.jpgBecks clearly enjoys get­ting his tits out for the lads and lasses — and oil­ing them up for the cover of Esquire and other lad­die mags. While he may look strangely under­nour­ished and fra­gile in a soc­cer uni­form, as if his ghoul­ishly skinny wife has been tak­ing away his fries, and all those injur­ies sug­gest he’s some­what brittle, stripped down he looks as lithe and strong as a pan­ther. He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t smoke, he doesn’t do drugs. His body is a temple — to his own self-image — which he never ceases worshipping.

There is how­ever a sub­missive pho­to­philia to Becks. A cer­tain passiv­ity or even mas­ochism about his dis­plays for the cam­era, which seem to say “I’m here for you.” Hence per­haps the fond­ness for those Christ-like/James Dean-like poses with arms out­stretched (the cover of Esquire had him “cru­ci­fied” on the Cross of St. George). Even those free kicks seem to have the lop­ing icon­o­graphy of “Giant” or Calvary about them.  Truth be told, Becks is there for him, but it’s a nice thought nonetheless.

To some he is already a god — lit­er­ally. In addi­tion to the Thai Becks Buddha, a pair of Indian artists have painted him as Shiva, the Hindu god of destruc­tion. In the Far East, andro­gyny is seen as a fea­ture of god­head — and so it has here in the West as well since the Rolling Stones. As Becks tells us him­self: “I’m not scared of my fem­in­ine side and I think quite a lot of the things I do come from that side of my char­ac­ter. People have poin­ted that out as if it’s a cri­ti­cism, but it doesn’t bother me.” It’s as if when he was a teen­ager he looked at those grainy black-and-white ‘80s girl­ish bed­room shrine posters of smooth-skinned doe-ish male mod­els hold­ing babies and thought: I’d like to be like that when I grow up. Becks is the poster boy of what I have termed else­where met­ro­sexu­al­ity. His hero/role-model status com­bined with his out-of-the-closet nar­ciss­ism and love of shop­ping and fash­ion and appar­ent indif­fer­ence to being thought of as “fag­goty” means that for cor­por­a­tions he is a price­lessly potent vec­tor for per­suad­ing mil­lions, if not bil­lions, of young men around the world to express them­selves “fear­lessly,” to be “indi­vidu­als” — by wear­ing exactly what he wears. Beckham is the über-metrosexual, not just because he rams met­ro­sexu­al­ity down the throats of those men churl­ish enough to remain ret­ro­sexual and refuse to pluck their eye­brows, but also because he is a sports­man, a man of sub­stance — a “real” man — who wishes to dis­ap­pear into sur­fa­ce­ness in order to become ubi­quit­ous — to become me-dia. Becks is The One, and slightly bet­ter look­ing than Keanu — but, be warned, he’s work­ing for the Matrix.

Ultimately, though, it is his desire that makes him the super­brand that he is. Beckham has suc­ceeded where pre­vi­ous British soc­cer her­oes you’ve never heard of, such as George Best, Alan Shearer and Eric Cantona — a Frenchman who played for Manchester United and is John the Baptist to Beck’s Christ — have failed, and has become a truly global star. Partly because the world has changed but mostly because they didn’t want it as much as he did. Becks is trans­par­ently so much more needy — more needy than almost any of us is. The pub­lic, quite rightly, only lets itself love com­pletely those who clearly depend on that love, because they don’t want to be rejec­ted. Beckham’s need­i­ness is lit­er­ally bot­tom­less. Like his image, it grows with what it feeds on. He’ll never reject our gaze.

It’s there in his hungry face. He isn’t actu­ally that attract­ive. Blasphemy! No really, his face doesn’t have a proper sym­metry. His mouth is frog­like and bash­fully off-center. But what is attract­ive, or at least hyp­not­iz­ing in a demo­cratic kinda way, which is to say media­genic, is his neurotic-but-ordinary desire to be beau­ti­ful, and to use all the tech­no­logy and voo­doo of con­sumer cul­ture and fame to achieve this. His appar­ent lack of an inner life, his sub­missive, high-pitched 14-year-old-boy voice that no one listens to, his beguil­ing blank­ness, only emphas­ize his suc­cess, his power­ful­ness in a world of super­fi­ci­al­ity. That oddly flat-but-friendly gaze that peers out from bill­boards and behind Police sunglasses looks to beckham-g.jpgmil­lions like the nearest thing to god­li­ness in a god­less world. People fall in love not with him — who knows what Beckham is really like, or cares — but with his mul­ti­me­dia need­i­ness, his trans­mit­ted “viral” desire, which seems to spread and rep­lic­ate itself every­where, endors­ing mul­tiple products. Becks’ desire, via the giant shared toi­let handle of advert­ising, infects us, inhab­its us and becomes our own.

The British for their part, even those call­ing tabloid papers in tears to declare their lives ruined now that Beckham is mov­ing to Real Madrid, will sur­vive shar­ing him with the Spanish for a few years. After all, they’re already proudly shar­ing him with most of the rest of the world — and bask­ing in his reflec­ted glory. No one buys our pop music any more; our “Britpop” prime min­is­ter, Tony Blair, post-Iraq, is widely regarded abroad as a scoun­drel; our roy­als, post Diana, are a dreary bunch of sods (even her sainted son William is begin­ning to lose some of his Spencer spark and glow to the tired, horsey blood of his “German” dad and grandmama); and our national soc­cer squad has dif­fi­culty beat­ing coun­tries with a pop­u­la­tion smal­ler than Southampton.

But “our Becks” on the other, per­fectly man­i­cured hand, is some­thing British the world seems to actu­ally want. Badly.

 

Copyright Mark Simpson 2003

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

 

Sporno: where sport and porn meet and produce a spectacular money shot

Just in time for the World Cup the July issue of the re-launched OUT fea­tures an essay by yours truly on the post-metrosexual pornoliz­a­tion of sport — or what I dub ‘sporno’.  Here’s a (breath­less) taster:

Sportsmen on this side of the Atlantic are increas­ingly openly acknow­ledging and flirt­ing with their gay fans, à la David Beckham and Freddie Ljunberg (the man who actu­ally looks the way Beckham thinks he looks). Both these thor­ough­breds have posed for spreads in gay magazines and both have wel­comed the atten­tion of gay fans because they “have great taste”.

More than this, they and a whole new gen­er­a­tion of young bucks, from twinky soc­cer play­ers like Manchester United’s Alan Smith and Cristiano Ronaldo, to rougher pro­spects like Chelsea’s Joe Cole and AC Milan’s Kaka, keen to emu­late their suc­cess, are act­ively pur­su­ing sex-object status in a post-metrosexual, increas­ingly pornolized world.

In other words: they’re not just sports stars, but sporno stars’

You can read the full essay here.