Mikey Strokes His Pussy (For Charidee)

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.

Tip: Hans Versluys

Let me Hear Your Body Talk

Are men the new women? I’ve always avoided using that line until now. As the (hetero)sexual divi­sion of labour and lov­ing and look­ing con­tin­ues to fall apart, men are the new everything. Just as women are.

But in the last few months we’ve been told men now take longer get­ting ready than women, mer­ci­fully delet­ing at a stroke most of the mater­ial of stand-ups like John Bishop. We’ve also been told that gents are more likely to take travel irons, hairdry­ers and straight­en­ers on hol­i­day than ladies. Now there’s new evid­ence they may be as body-conscious as women too. In fact, accord­ing to a widely-reported study of 394 British men pub­lished last week, lads are now more con­cerned with their body image than lasses.

A third said they think about their appear­ance more than five times a day, 18% were on a high-protein diet to increase muscle mass, and 16% on a calorie-controlled diet to slim down. While a Faustian 15% claimed they would hap­pily trade 2–5 years of their life if they could have their ideal body weight and shape. (Probably because they hoped the years would be sliced off the end of their lives — when they’re old and crumbly and not very likely to go on Big Brother anyway).

Some we’re told were under­tak­ing com­puls­ive exer­cise, strict diets, using lax­at­ives or mak­ing them­selves sick in an attempt to lose weight or achieve a more toned physique. And although the sur­vey didn’t cover this, other data sug­gests a sur­pris­ingly large num­ber of men are also tak­ing ster­oids, growth hor­mones and other pre­scrip­tion drugs to achieve a more aes­thet­ic­ally pleas­ing appear­ance.

Which gen­er­ally means tits and abs. Men’s main pre­oc­cu­pa­tion, the sur­vey found, was their ‘beer belly’ and lack of muscles, with a whop­ping 63% say­ing they thought their arms or chests were not mus­cu­lar enough. And people never believe me when I tell them that while some women are size queens, all men are.

‘Geordie Shore’s Jay knows what you want

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.


When You Gotta Big Dick, You Don’t Gotta Do Nothin!”

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.

The North East Has a Situation: Geordie Shore

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.

20 ‘Stella’ Years of Dolce & Gabbana For Men

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.

The Metrosexual Noughties

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.