Mike ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino is looking pumped in this jokey-but-serious poster for PETA, encouraging cat owners to get their cats neutered.
‘The Occasional Table’ – as his fellow housemate Julian Clary hilariously dubbed him – looks rather more pumped than he did on Celebrity Big Brother this Summer, where he seemed very ‘off season’, spotty and almost skinny (all things are relative). Perhaps that’s why he almost never took his shirt off – which you’d think would violate his booking contract.
In eye-candy terms Mikey was eclipsed by the pretty UK Olympic judo medalist Ashley McKenzie – who, heavens be praised, didn’t seem to own a shirt. What’s more, the Situation looked so puffy-faced unkind wags compared him to Elmer Fudd.
Nevertheless, when Julian and Mikey were called to the Diary Room by Big Brother early on in the show to perform a task together, perched on the double-seater ‘throne’ they looked like a sweet intergenerational gay couple at some nightclub in Gran Canaria. Julian the indulgent, worldly-wise older, fey gay; Mikey the puppyish, decorative muscle mary. Though of course Mikey, whose abs are more famous than his housemates’ faces, is actually the one with the serious dough.
Alas though it was a CBB romance that wasn’t to be.
Maybe it was displaced sexual tension, or maybe it was just those zits, but Julian seemed to take against the Jersey Shore star’s general vulgarity, and the ‘disrespectful way he talks about women’, and kept nominating him. Straight Mikey eventually finished an unimpressive fourth, while gay Julian won the show and the nation’s hearts.
Perhaps if Julian the animal-lover reduced to tears by a few minutes BB granted him with his dogs as a reward for successfully completing a task had known about Mikey’s passion for non-derogatory pussy – not to mention Mrs Slocombesque double entendre – he might have warmed to him, zits and all.
Are men the new women? I’ve always avoided using that line until now. As the (hetero)sexual division of labour and loving and looking continues to fall apart, men are the new everything. Just as women are.
A third said they think about their appearance more than five times a day, 18% were on a high-protein diet to increase muscle mass, and 16% on a calorie-controlled diet to slim down. While a Faustian 15% claimed they would happily trade 2-5 years of their life if they could have their ideal body weight and shape. (Probably because they hoped the years would be sliced off the end of their lives — when they’re old and crumbly and not very likely to go on Big Brother anyway).
Which generally means tits and abs. Men’s main preoccupation, the survey found, was their ‘beer belly’ and lack of muscles, with a whopping 63% saying they thought their arms or chests were not muscular enough. And people never believe me when I tell them that while some women are size queens, all men are.
Clearly a lot of men are gazing avariciously at the flaunted porno pecs and abs of hit TV shows like Jersey/Geordie Shore (Geordie Shore is back for a second season on MTVUK at the end of this month). We already know they’re buying Men’s Health magazine as it became the biggest-selling men’s mag recently. All those tarty, shouty Men’s Health front covers promising BIGGER ARMS! PUMPED PECS! and RIPPED ABS! in a fortnight may be as laughable as they are repetitive, but they’re clearly, lucratively tapping into 21st Century man’s deepest, darkest and beefiest desires.
Men may or may not be the new women, but men’s tits and abs are the new eye candy. Men have become their own High Street Honeys.
They’re also rather bitchy. Apparently 80.7% of the survey respondents talked about their own or others’ appearance in ways that draw attention to weight, lack of hair or slim frame. It also confirms that men of whatever sexual orientation look rather a lot at each other’s bodies, comparing and contrasting, desiring and detracting.
Dr Philippa Diedrichs of the Centre for Appearance Research at UWE in Bristol who led the survey, described this conversation between men about their bodies as ‘body talk’ (which makes me think of both Olivia Newton John beating up the fatties in ‘Physical’, and also that single from the same era by the incredibly camp dance band Imagination.)
‘Body talk reinforces the unrealistic beauty ideal which reinforces leanness and muscularity. This is traditionally seen as an issue for women but our research shows that men are feeling the pressure to conform too.’
Rosi Prescott, chief executive of Central YMCA which commissioned the research also sees this as ‘damaging’:
‘Historically conversation about your body has been perceived as something women do, but it is clear from this research that men are also guilty of commenting on one another’s bodies; and in many cases this is having a damaging effect. Men’s high levels of body talk were symptomatic of a growing obsession with appearance, she added.
Some three in five men (58.6%) said body talk affected them, usually negatively.’
I’m a bit conflicted here. Probably because as an ‘avid fan’ of the worked-out male body I’m part of the problem. On the one hand I welcome this kind of research and the publicity it’s received because it’s both putting the spotlight on both how much men’s behaviour has changed of late, and also undermining sexist assumptions about ‘men’ and ‘women’, which many feminists, like lazy stand-ups, buy into. And it’s always good to draw attention to the Patrick Batemanesque dark side of the metrosexual revolution – and its costs.
On the other hand, I’m not entirely sure that applying the problematising, pathologising and sometimes Puritanical, dare I say ‘Wolfian’ (as in ‘Naomi’), discourse that’s been used on women’s bodies wholesale to men would be something to welcome. Men aren’t the new women, but they might be the new moral panic.
This ‘body talk’ amongst men isn’t necessarily a sign of ‘guilt’ as was suggested. It might be a healthy honesty. And whilst obviously this kind of critique and competition might push some into anxiety and obsession and self-destructive behaviour, or conformity to rather narrow ideals of male beauty, the generalised, compulsory, traditional self-loathing that existed amongst men before ‘body talk’ and (male) body interest became acceptable was in many ways worse. It was also, remember, ‘normal’.
After all, not wanting to talk about their bodies is part of the reason why men historically have been very reluctant to visit their GP and tend to die much earlier on average than women. Until very recently the male body was simply an instrument that was to be used until the mainspring broke. Barely giving men time to rewind their horribly symbolic retirement clock.
And certainly, men didn’t look at one another’s bodies. Unless they were queer.
Not anymore. Men’s ‘body talk’ has become deafening. On the hit ITV reality series The Only Way is Essex Arge, who is a little on the husky side, was always gazing longingly at Mark (above) and asking how he gets his ‘fit body’ and whether he can help him get one too.
A married squaddie mate who is an occasional gym buddy always subjects my body to a close scrutiny in the changing rooms after our workouts, appreciatively commending, say, my deltoid or tricep development, and mercilessly criticising, say, my forearms’ failure to keep up with them. And my belly’s general miserable flabbiness. Part of me dreads the scrutiny, but another welcomes the frank ‘body talk’ too. I’m glad he gets all Olivia Newton John on my ass. If he didn’t, I might have to pay someone to do it.
Mind you, his wise observation about gym culture to me one day sticks in my mind: “It’s all about ‘ow you look isn’t it, Mark? Nobody really cares whether any of this makes you fit or not. You could be rotten underneath but if you look great no one gives a fook.” He’s right. The metrosexy cult of male beauty is all a bit Dorian Ghey.
Which reminds me, apparently a quarter of the respondents in this survey were gay (well, it was sponsored by the Central YMCA). Of course, some people will hastily seize upon that to disqualify its findings. And while it probably is reason to treat them with at least as much caution as those of any other survey, I’m inclined to see the large sample of gay men included as a sign of this survey’s relevance and inclusiveness. After all, it’s gays that are to blame for the cult of male bloody beauty….
Gays like The Village People. Love it or loathe it, the body-fascist foundations for the metrosexy male culture we’re living in were laid in the early Eighties. And I’m deliriously happy the Central YMCA commissioned this survey as it’s a perfect excuse for me to post (below) my Favourite Music Video of All Time. I suspect it was part of the inspiration for Olivia’s ‘Physical‘ video. (And both were almost certainly inspired by this epic.)
Every frame is a joy, but the Busby Berkeley (or is it Leni Riefensthal?) shot of the swimmers diving one after the other into the pool as if they were perfectly-formed poppies scythed down by the camera’s gaze never fails to send me into paroxysms of delight. For me, it’s always fun to stay at the YMCA.
Which is just as well. In the 21st Century we’re all checked in there. Permanently.
Mike De Luca (played with sweaty verve by Jordan Nice) is an unemployed, rather lazy young Italian-American chap living in blue-collar, post-industrial Philly who decides to go with the metrosexy times and make his fame and fortune by turning his manhood into cash. Whipping it out on webcam for the punters, male and female.
In his Ma’s front room.
As he puts it in a catch-phrase even more salient and wise than ‘Gym. Tan. Laundry’:
“When you gotta big dick, you don’t gotta do nothin! Life comes to YOU!”
So true, Mike, so true. You don’t even need to go to the gym. Or the laundry.
Big Dick Mike has gone one stage further than that other Italian-American Mikey ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino, the real star of Jersey Shore, who has already of course made his name and fortune by commodifying his body. For all the machismo, Mikey Sorrentino in many ways occupies the position of voluptuous female glamour model getting her tits out for the paparazzi – a glamour model who just happens to be penised. (Though if the bitchy rumours are to be believed, not so much.)
Mike De Luca on the other hand is all cock. Which he has totally commodified. If not very successfully yet.
The Big Dick Mike Show is a great idea for a sit-com, and also a pointed commentary on where masculinity is at in a mediated, totally tarty world.
It’s also much more entertaining than that dreary, moralising TV series Hung. Let’s hope Mike ‘The Erection’ De Luca gets a Network deal soon. And flops it out coast to coast, showing Mikey Sorrentino what a real ‘Situation’ looks like.
Last week I found myself chatting between sets, as you do, to a young, buff, absurdly attractive straight lad in a gym in the North East of England. He told me wanted to move to Miami. Why Miami? I asked. ‘I wanna be in Jersey Shore!’ he said, (which, confusingly, is now set in Miami). ‘It’s fookin’ great!!’
But now the lad — who would give Mikey ‘Situation’ Sorrentino more than a run for his protein shakes — doesn’t need to move at all. Because Jersey Shore is coming to him. MTV’s most popular ever series is being shot in the North East – as ‘Geordie Shore’.
Some years back I was asked by a British newspaper which city in Europe was the most metrosexual. ‘Newcastle’, I replied, without any hesitation. I suspect they thought I was pulling their leg. They were probably expecting Stockholm or Milan, or some such. But I was quite serious. Lads in Newcastle are the tartiest you could ever hope to find, spending more on their appearance than men in any other part of Europe. Not because they are wealthy, but because they live with their mam or in relatively inexpensive accommodation and hence have a high disposable income – which they tend to blow on looking good, being noticed and having a good time.
In Newcastle lads will check one another out (just as David Bowie said they would) and comment: ‘That’s a mint shirt/trousers/shoes man, where did you get them, like?’ But probably they know already. Newcastle is also home you see to the largest shopping centre in Europe – helpfully called the Metrocentre. Just in case any Geordie metros didn’t know where they should be spending their Saturdays. And Sundays.
The North East, once a workshop to the world, with a famously macho, hard-drinking, buttoned-down, cloth-cap culture was de-industrialised – no vaseline – by Thatcherism in the 1980s (and looks set to be hard hit by Maggie Cameron’s new wave Tory cuts). And it was around the same time the old order was being deliberately demolished that the Metrocentre was built. The North East learned that hard taught lesson about the victory of consumption over production very well indeed.
Now lads work on their bodies instead of ships or the coal face. And, if they have a job, tend to work in ‘service’ industries. Like gyms. Or call centres. And tanning salons. Tanning salons are very, very important in the sunless North East. GTL is already a way of life here. Perhaps because the loss of male semi-skilled jobs for life has rendered them less appealing to women as life-long partners, young men have tended to become decorative and fun-promising instead. Certainly their bodies have.
Geordie Shore won’t be the first time that Newcastle has made it to reality TV of course. After all, C4’s Big Brother depended on a steady supply of Geordies shunted down the East Coast Main Line – particularly Geordie metrosexuals – for most of its ten year run. It remains to be seen though whether the rest of the UK will be quite as keen on undiluted Geordies in their natural habitat.
Or understand what the fook they’re talking about. Man, pet.
by Mark Simpson, Arena Hommes Plus (Winter-Spring, 2010)
America’s hottest new Hollywood stars – who naturally enough in this post-Hollywood era, don’t actually work in Hollywood but reality TV – were recently honoured with a profile in Interview magazine. The Italian-American ‘Guidos’ from MTV mega-hit ‘Jersey Shore’, who have conquered America with their brazenness and their Gym Tan Laundry routine, were styled in Dolce & Gabbana. Suddenly, they looked as if they had come home. After all, these twenty-something earthy but flamboyant, self-assured but needy young men are, aesthetically, emotionally, the bastard offspring of Dolce & Gabbana.
The Italian designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana got together over two decades ago to make beautiful, emotional clothes for men – but ended up, almost as an afterthought, siring a generation. Such has been the potency of Dolce & Gabbana’s worldview they have more or less patented the aestheticized modern male and his yearning desire to be desired. Their dreamy but virile vision of the male has become the dominant one in our mediated world. Even if Dolce & Gabbana man sometimes likes to be underneath.
But who or what is Dolce & Gabbana man? In ‘20 Years of Dolce & Gabbana’ a bumper book of vintage glossiness cataloguing the growth of the brand, the French actress Fanny Ardant describes him as ‘arrogant, with irony,’ which sounds very Jersey Shore. Victoria Beckham describes him as: ‘not afraid to be in tune with his feminine side and the sexual side of his persona…’ adding, ‘he has a strong sense of European fashion and has an extravagant, flamboyant sense of personal style.’ I think we know who she has in mind.
Aside from Becks (some, er, seminal 2002 images of him in half-undone jeans are included here) who is the quintessential Dolce & Gabbana man? ‘Cesare Borgia’, says Ardant, perhaps being slightly ironic herself. ‘My son Rocco,’ asserts Madonna, who probably isn’t. For my part I’d be tempted to name Cristiano Ronaldo, whose carefree personal style seems totally Dolce, even when he’s advertising Armani.
Actress Scarlett Johansson hits the bullseye when she identifies him as: ‘Marlon Brando in Streetcar Named Desire’. Yes! That white vest! That brooding brow! That pouting face on a Sicilian stevedore’s body! Truly “STEL-LA!”, young Brando was in many ways the first Hollywood male pin-up, arrogantly and flirtatiously inviting our gaze in a way that hadn’t really been seen before in America, even if it was nothing unusual on the streets of Syracuse, Sicily.
Brando doesn’t appear in the many film stills scattered through this book as examples of the inspiring lights of the brand, instead we have the pin-ups of Italian neo realist cinema such as Massimo Giretti and Renato Salvatore and of course, the sublimely refined Marcello Mastroanni. But Marlon and his vest – and even in his middle-aged Godfather role – are evoked by many of the fashion shoot images here.
As Tim Blanks puts it in his introduction: ‘There’s some irony in the fact that it was actually Hollywood which distilled Italy’s international image to handful of core ingredients that were really Sicilian in essence – the machismo, the mama, the Mafia, of course, and, all the time, bright sunlight, dark shadows, and overwrought emotion.’ Dolce & Gabbana were in effect an Italian take on Hollywood’s take on Italy. But all the more poignant for that.
Dolce & Gabbana are less of a fashion brand, more a studio system that produces pin-up-ness in the form of clothes. Or, as they like to put it themselves, ‘dream doctors’. The famously iconic pictures included here of a smouldering young Matt Dillon, and Keanu Reeves in his vealish prime, bring out and something Sicilian in them that Hollywood itself has long since forgotten how to do.
Amidst the swathe of drearily predictable ‘decade in review’ pieces that appeared at the end of December this one by Amanda Hess at The Sexist stood out as one which actually managed to offer some observational cultural insight, rather than just recycled cuttings and cliches:
Think boys are simply born into their masculine gender role? Consider, for a moment, how quickly the cultural norms of acceptable maleness can change. The past decade of masculine fads saw cultural expressions of manliness range from finely-groomed boy bands to shlumpy stoners to blowed-out “guidos.” The versions of masculinity that gained popularity in the aughts saw an infusion of traditionally feminine traits—along with a heavy dose of hyper-masculine compensation.
Sharply observed and well-informed (after all, she quotes me) Hess is one of the few decade-end commentators to notice that the Noughties signalled a major, if not epochal shift in masculinity — but perhaps this isn’t so surprising since as I know very well myself the media in general is highly resistant to any serious analysis of the subject, despite or perhaps because of the space it gives to women’s issues.
Hess’ section on ‘bros’ is worth quoting at length:
Like the metrosexuals who rose alongside them, bros incorporated some traditionally feminine aspects into their own version of masculinity—think pink polos, pastel ribbon belts, and store-bought scents. But bros differentiated themselves from the metro set with a healthy dose of crippling homophobia that encouraged both aggressive heterosexual behavior and subversive homoerotic displays among the bros. And so—we got aggressive heterosexual sexual conquests (banging some chick in the frat house), alongside decidedly homoerotic sexual conquests (banging some chick in the frat house with three of your best bros). We got extreme masculine contests (CHUG! CHUG! CHUG!) alongside absurd homosocial displays (fraternity initiation paddling). At least women got a reliable warning sign of likely brodom—the double-popped collar.
I would submit however that most of Hess’ listed masculine trends, particularly ‘boy bands’, ‘bros’ and ‘Guidos’ are more like fads or subspecies within the wider trend of metrosexuality itself and the breakdown of traditional male gender and sexual norms that it represents. Bros and Guidos for instance seem to be examples of how metrosexuality is being assimilated (and resisted — often in the same gesture) in different areas of American life, according to class, ethnicity, age etc.
The homophobia of bros for example, looks very familiar and very ‘gay’ to me: it’s the homophobia of ‘straight acting’ gay men towards ‘queens’. While Jersey Shore looks to me very much like metrosexuality for boys who love their Momma’s cooking too much to go to college. They also look a lot like metrosexual young men from matriarchal working class backgrounds in the UK, such as Geordies — who tend to be just as orange and plucked and just as prone to fights and making fun of men who cook). [Prophetic words: Geordie Shore launched a year after this post in 2011 was the UK’s version of Jersey Shore.]
Hess lists the ‘peak year’ of metrosexuality as being ‘2003’ — in reality, this was the peak year not of metrosexuality but of metrosexmania, the global media’s insatiable craving for literally skin-deep stories about male spas and sack-and-crack waxes — and trying to wear out the ‘m’ word with empty repetition.
Metrosexuality, men’s passionate, epoch-making desire to be desired, is a long, long way from peaking. And the Twenty First Century is going to have to get used to it.