Objectify Yourself — Why Straight Young Men Crave Gay Adulation

attitude6I’ve penned an essay in the February edi­tion of Out magazine — with a David Gandy cover — about why straight young men won’t leave me alone:

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

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

Read the essay here.

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Dude, Where’s My Objectification?

These ‘jokey’ Veet ‘Don’t risk dude­ness’ ads in which a ‘sexy lady’ turns into an ‘unsexy dude’ because she hasn’t used the smelly depil­at­ory cream have pro­voked an e-flurry of out­rage for their sex­ism and sham­ing of women who aren’t always smooth, so much so that Veet had to issue an apo­logy and with­draw them.

But what’s truly ‘funny’ about these ads is that in some ways they strike me as actu­ally being the advert­ising world’s ver­sion of those ‘gender flip’ click-bait posts that many of the people lam­bast­ing the Veet ads pro­fess to love. You know, the ones that pre­tend that men are never objec­ti­fied – des­pite male (self) objec­ti­fic­a­tion being hard to miss these days unless you’re try­ing really, really hard not to notice flag­rant, flam­ing evid­ence like this. And this.

And this:

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Instead of look­ing around us, we’re sup­posed to listen to blather like this:

For some reason, as soon as you put a man in there … it’s an entirely dif­fer­ent thing that we aren’t used to seeing.”

Only if you’ve been jam­ming your eyes shut for the last twenty years, dear.

So, hav­ing pre­ten­ded that male objec­ti­fic­a­tion doesn’t exist, it’s now ‘really rad­ical’ and ‘chal­len­ging’ to ‘flip’ the roles. But in an ironic and uncon­vin­cing way, usu­ally mak­ing sure that the men adopt­ing the faux ‘sexu­al­ised’ poses are unat­tract­ive. (And not wet­ting their vests.)

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The ‘anti-sexism’ of many of those ‘gender flip’ memes strikes me as com­pletely bogus, impli­citly depend­ing as it does on the entirely (hetero)sexist pre­sump­tion that sex­i­ness is a female qual­ity. The ‘ludicrous­ness’ of the man adopt­ing ‘sexy’ poses requires a world­view that insists men just aren’t meant to be objec­ti­fied. That simply doesn’t see male objec­ti­fic­a­tion because it’s not sup­pose to hap­pen.

So the ‘gender flip’ actu­ally tends to rein­force the very thing it hypo­crit­ic­ally pre­tends to undermine.

Worse, people pre­tend, over and over again, to be impressed by daggy male hip­sters pre­tend­ing to do sexy while pre­tend­ing to sub­vert sex­ism – as a way of get­ting atten­tion. Which is the only really sin­cere part of the whole charade.

Instead of ditch­ing the dreary fuck­ing irony and just doing this. Or this.

By con­trast, these crass Veet ads are at least refresh­ingly hon­est and out of the closet in their hor­rendous het­ero­sex­ist revul­sion at ‘dude­ness’, and the ludicrous­ness of male sex­i­ness. And of course the thing that is always hov­er­ing behind that revul­sion, par­tic­u­larly in the US: that dudes might get it on with other dudes.

In stub­bly fact, this obses­sion ends up swal­low­ing their whole cam­paign, no gag reflex, to the point where it has little or noth­ing to do with women at all – des­pite them being the tar­get market.

It ends up being about two dudes in bed.

h/t Dr Petra

Meat the Spornosexual

The second gen­er­a­tion of met­ro­sexu­als are cum­ming. And this time it’s hardcore

Dan-Osborne-Spornosexual

by Mark Simpson

What is it about male hip­sters and their strange, pal­lid, highly ambi­val­ent fas­cin­a­tion with bod­ies beefier and sex­ier than their own? Which means, of course, pretty much everyone?

You may remem­ber last year that last year the Guardian colum­nist and TV presenter Charlton Brooker had a very messy bowel-evacuating panic attack over the self-sexualisation of the male body exhib­ited in real­ity show Geordie Shore.

Now the hip­ster bible Vice have run a long, pas­sion­ate – and some­times quite funny – com­plaint about today’s sexu­al­ised male body by a Brooker wan­nabe (and lookali­kee) titled ‘How sad young douchebags took over mod­ern Britain’.

At least the Vice writer isn’t in total denial. Brooker was so threatened by the brazen male hussies on Geordie Shore and the con­fu­sion their pumped, shaved ‘sex doll’ bod­ies, plucked eye­brows and pen­ises the size of a Sky remote pro­voked in him that the poor love had to pre­tend that they didn’t exist out­side of real­ity TV. That they were some kind of sci­ence fic­tion inven­ted to tor­ment and bewilder him and his nerdy body. Perhaps because he’s rather younger than Brooker, Mr Vice on the other hand has actu­ally noticed that these guys really do exist and are in fact pretty much every­where today, dipped in fake tan and designer tatts and ‘wear­ing’ plunging ‘heav­age’ condom-tight T-s.

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In a media world which largely ignores what’s happened to young men Mr Vice is to be com­men­ded that he’s clearly spent a great deal of time study­ing them. Albeit with a mix­ture of envy and desire, fear and loath­ing – and a large side order of self-contradiction and sexual confusion.

He laments that these ‘pumped, primed, ter­ri­fy­ingly sexu­al­ised high-street gigo­los’ have been impor­ted from America, but uses the exec­rable impor­ted Americanism ‘douchebag’ to describe them – over and over again. What’s a douchebag? Someone with big­ger arms than you, who’s get­ting more sex than you – and prob­ably earn­ing more than you, des­pite being con­sid­er­ably less expens­ively edu­cated than you.

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But by far the most infuri­at­ing thing about ‘sad young douchebags’ is that they are so very obvi­ously not sad at all. They and their shame­less, slutty bod­ies are hav­ing a whale of a time, thank you very much. They’re far too happy being ‘sad young douchebags’ to sit down and write lengthy, angry ration­al­ising essays about why someone else’s idea of a good time is WRONG. Or read one. Or read any­thing, in fact. Apart maybe from Men’s Health.

A strong smell of nos­tal­gia eman­ates from this Vice jeremiad, like a pickled onion burp. The writer laments a lost Eden of mas­cu­line cer­tain­ties and whinges that these young men with their sexu­al­ised ‘gym bunny wanker’ bod­ies have replaced older, more ‘authen­tic’ English mas­cu­line arche­types, ‘the charmer’, ‘the bit of rough’, ‘the sul­len thinker’ (which, I won­der, applies to him?) and that as a result:

Nobody wants to be Sean Connery any more. With their buff, waxed bod­ies and stu­pid hair­cuts, the mod­ern British douchebag looks more like a model from an Attitude chat­line ad than a poten­tial Bond.

Ah yes, Sean Connery – the former Mr Scotland gym bunny wanker ex chorus boy who wore a wig and fake tan in those glossy, slutty Bond films. Masculinity is never what it used to be. Even back in Ancient Greece every­one was whin­ing that real men went out of fash­ion with the Trojan War. And what’s so wrong with want­ing to look like an Attitude chat line ad, rather than a hired killer?

Oh, that’s right – coz it looks gay.

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All this moan­ing, along with the writer’s com­plaints that these buff young men are dis­ap­point­ingly ‘soft’, crap in a fight and don’t have nearly enough scars, reminds me of those gays on Grindr who stip­u­late in their pro­file ‘I like my men to be MEN!!’. Or the camp queens who over the years who have sol­emnly informed me: ‘If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s camp queens!!’ Actually, it reminds me of myself when I was much more hope­lessly romantic than I am today, and before I real­ised real men were really slutty.

There is noth­ing gayer than the long­ing for mas­cu­line cer­tain­ties like this. Especially since they never really exis­ted any­way. It’s like believ­ing that the phal­lus is the real thing and the penis is just a sym­bol. It’s Quentin Crisp’s Great Dark Man syn­drome, but sans the self-awareness, or the arch­ness and the henna.

In fact Mr Vice is so nos­tal­gic – and so young – that he seems to think met­ro­sexu­al­ity is some­thing prior to, dis­tinct from and more taste­ful than these sexed-up shame­lessly slutty male bod­ies that insist on grabbing his atten­tion, wist­fully con­trast­ing how the ‘nat­ural con­fid­ence’ of met­ro­sexu­al­ity ‘has been replaced by some­thing far more flag­rant’. Take it from metrodaddy, today’s flag­rantly sexu­al­ised male body is merely more met­ro­sexu­al­ity. More sexy, more tarty, more porny, more slapped in your face. So stop bitch­ing and suck on it. Metrosexuality has gone hard-core –the ‘sexu­al­ity’ part has gone ‘hyper’.

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The met­ro­sexual was born twenty years ago and had to struggle to sur­vive in an untucked ‘no-homo’ 1990s — but the second wave take the revolu­tion he brought about in mas­cu­line aes­thet­ics for gran­ted. Steeped in images of male desirab­il­ity from birth and mas­turb­at­ing furi­ously to hard-core online porn from puberty, they have totally sexed-up the male body and turbo-charged the male desire to be desired, which was always at the heart of met­ro­sexu­al­ity rather than expens­ive fash­ion spreads and fas­ti­di­ous lists of ‘dos and don’ts’. Their own bod­ies rather than clob­ber and cos­met­ics have become the ulti­mate access­ory, fash­ion­ing them at the gym into a hot com­mod­ity. Nakedly met­ro­sexy.

If we need to give this new gen­er­a­tion of hyper met­ro­sexu­als a name – other than total tarts – we should per­haps dub them sporno­sexu­als. These mostly straight-identified young men are happy to advert­ise, like an Attitude chat line, their love of the pornolised, sporting-spurting male body – par­tic­u­larly their own. Along with their very gen­er­ous avail­ab­il­ity to anyone’s gaze-graze. Especially at premium rates.

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And every­one is call­ing their num­ber. Though admit­tedly not many do it via the extremely kinky route of writ­ing long essays denoun­cing them and explain­ing why they’re TOTALLY NOT INTERESTED. Hipsters, who of course think them­selves above the vul­gar­ity of sex­i­ness, are simply the ironic, anti-sexual wing of met­ro­sexu­al­ity – which is to say, abso­lutely fuck­ing point­less.

It’s the obvi­ous, if often obli­vi­ous, visual bi-curiosity of today’s totally tarty, hyper met­ro­sexu­al­ity that alarms people even more than its ‘vul­gar­ity’. Male bisexu­al­ity is still largely a taboo pre­cisely because it threatens the final, fond, sac­red, and highly phal­lic myth of mas­culin­ity: that it has an (het­ero­norm­at­ive) ‘aim’ and ‘pur­pose’. The scat­ter­shot slut­ti­ness of sporno­sexu­als sig­nals a very sticky end to that virile delusion.

Mr Vice argues repeatedly that these young men enjoy­ing their bod­ies and their lack of inhib­i­tion com­pared to their fath­ers and grand­fath­ers, are hav­ing a ‘crisis of mas­culin­ity’. This just smacks of more middle class resent­ment dressed up as ‘con­cern’ – a pissy, pass­ive aggress­ive way of call­ing them ‘sad douchebags’ again. Or ‘gay’. When people talk about a ‘crisis of mas­culin­ity’ they’re usu­ally talk­ing about their own – in deal­ing with the fact that mas­culin­ity isn’t what they want it to be. And par­tic­u­larly when work­ing class chaps aren’t what middle class chaps want them to be.

It’s true that our post-industrial land­scape often doesn’t know what to do with the male body apart from shag it or sell it, but that’s not neces­sar­ily such a ter­rible con­trast with the ‘glor­i­ous’ past. For a younger gen­er­a­tion of young men no longer afraid of their own bod­ies there’s no crisis – but rather a lib­er­a­tion. From the dehu­man­ising, sex­ist con­straints of their fore­fath­ers. Men’s bod­ies are no longer simply instru­mental things – for fight­ing wars, extract­ing coal, build­ing ships, scor­ing goals, mak­ing babies and put­ting the rub­bish out that must renounce pleas­ure, van­ity, sen­su­al­ity and a really good fin­ger­ing and leave that to women and pooves.

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Instead the male body has been rad­ic­ally redesigned, with the help of some blue­prints from Tom of Finland, as a sen­sual sex toy designed to give and par­tic­u­larly to receive pleas­ure. Maybe it’s not ter­ribly heroic, and admit­tedly some of the tatts are really grotty, but there are much worse things to be. Such as a slut-shaming writer for a hip­ster magazine.

Of course, I would say that. Because I find these sporno­sexual, totally tarty young men fuck­able. But that’s kind of the point. They des­per­ately want to be found fuck­able. It would be extremely rude and ungrate­ful not to find them fuck­able when they have gone to so much trouble doing all those bubble-butt build­ing bar­bell lunges at the gym for me.

And in fuck­able fact, it’s their fuckab­il­ity which makes the unfuck­ables hate them so fuck­ing much.

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© Mark Simpson 2014

Mark Simpson’s Metrosexy: A 21st Century Self-Love Story is avail­able on Kindle.

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Totally tarty Dan Osborne gifs from here - h/t DAKrolak

It’s a Queer World

Deviant Adventures in Pop Culture

Saint Morrissey

The acclaimed ‘psycho-bio’ of England’s most charm­ing – and alarm­ing – pop star.

Metrosexy

A bio­graphy of the metrosexual.

By his dad.

End of Gays?

What’s left of gay­ness when the homo­pho­bia stops?

Male Impersonators

The book that changed the way the world looks at men.

Sex Terror

This book will change the way you think about sex. It may even put you off it altogether.

Diet Cock: Coca Cola’s Porno Promo

As an avid voyeur of the media’s mar­ket­ing of the male body I meant to write about this new Diet Coke advert ‘Gardener’ when it first strut­ted its stuff a a month or so back, but it com­pletely slipped my mind — like a chilled, bead­ing soft drink can in a lubed hand. Apologies. Obviously there’s not enough NutraSweet in my bloodstream.

For its 30th anniversary Diet Coke, a sticky, fizzy, calorie-free brown drink aimed at women (Coke Zero is the ‘male’ equi­val­ent — the girly word ‘diet’ replaced by a manly stat­istic), has resur­rec­ted its most mem­or­able cam­paign trope, The Diet Coke Hunk.

Back in the 1990s Diet Coke suc­ceeded in con­nect­ing itself with the emer­gence of female sexual assert­ive­ness — and also of course emer­ging male sub­missive­ness, objec­ti­fic­a­tion and com­modi­fic­a­tion: after all, a ‘hunk’ is a face­less, name­less, if appet­ising thing. In doing so Diet Coke made itself mod­ern and tasty.

Naturally, every­one in the new ad, now set in the brave new, arti­fi­cially sweetened, colour-enhanced met­ro­sexy world that Diet Coke helped usher in, is slim, young and attract­ive. No one here needs to do any­thing as vul­gar as actu­ally diet. Diet Coke is a life­style, a sens­ib­il­ity — cer­tainly not a util­ity or a neces­sity. The women look like they’re tak­ing a break from shoot­ing on loc­a­tion for the British ver­sion of Sex in the City. Or at least, the British ver­sion of Daughters of Sex in the City.

The Hunk is a blandly attract­ive boy with a fash­ion beard — he could eas­ily be a con­test­ant on Take Me Out, and prob­ably has been. As usual in Diet Coke Land The Hunk is labour­ing away in some menial, manual capa­city while the middle class women, relax­ing from a higher vant­age point (remem­ber ‘Diet Coke Break’?), enjoy lit­er­ally look­ing down on him. He cuts the grass; they sit on it. He works; they watch.

When one of them rolls a can of the product down the hill towards the sweat­ing pro­let­arian this seems like a hos­tile act. It could after all have gone into the spin­ning lawn mower blades and caused dam­age and injury. Perhaps even scarred that pretty face!

Instead it comes to rest on the side of The Hunk’s mower. When the thirsty, sweaty chap opens the can it sprays him with the con­tents - in slow, money shot motion. The women from their lofty, grassy vant­age point find this hil­ari­ous and it seems as if this had been the plan all along. Maybe they even shook the can before rolling it down the hill. The minxes.

So now our man of toil is covered in ejac­u­lated stick­i­ness. And our tri­umphant, thor­oughly mod­ern women have had their fun.

However, when he takes his t-shirt off and wrings it out, flash­ing his abs and care­fully flex­ing his large pec­toral muscles, the women’s jaws drop. The look they give The Hunk’s body is one of total, gob-smacked long­ing and very unlady­like lust.

The Hunk seems entirely aware of his effect on the women and in fact this is both his revenge and his reward. He smiles a know­ing smile over his shoulder as he heads off, con­tinu­ing his mow­ing with a spring in his step. Objectification is a kind of gratification.

This moment reminded me of the corny line from Magic Mike: “You have the cock. They don’t.” No won­der the woman who rolled the can down the hill quickly presses her lips to the can in her hand.

 As the short ‘teaser’ below makes por­no­graph­ic­ally clear, with its close ups on undress­ing Hunk’s belt buckle and Voyeur Lady’s lips, Diet Coke is quite shame­lessly, quite expli­citly mar­ket­ing itself as the cal­orie free, car­bon­ated phallus.

 

Becks’ Bum: Satisfaction or Disappointment?

Becks running

I don’t have much to say about the much-discussed latest Beckham ad for his H&M pants, dir­ec­ted by fel­low LA-loving Brit Guy Ritchie, in which he runs through Beverly Hills in his white slip­pers as the props and scenery con­spire to remove his clothes, Cupid Stunt–like.

Except: Those slip­pers must be really, really snug to stay on.

And: How sweet that Guy Ritchie has gradu­ated from mak­ing homo­phobic gay porn for straight men, such as Lock Stock and Snatch, to mak­ing gay porn for, well, every­one.

OK, while I found the rest of it, like the under­wear itself, fairly for­get­table (espe­cially the Cheever cliché) - and even when he has no lines Becks evid­ently still can’t act to save his dress­ing gown — the final shot is more interesting.

Unlike those eye-poppingly Photoshopped Armani ads the emphasis in this ad com­modi­fy­ing the world’s most fam­ous man’s body seems to be not on his bas­ket but his on his bum.

And what a hungry bum it appears to be.

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This shot (reprised twice in the ad) is prob­ably inten­ded to demon­strate the lovely stretchi­ness of the lycra-cotton mix and rub up against our com­mod­ity fet­ish­ism. But it looks like some­thing else is quite stretchy too.

Perhaps the real reason I don’t have much more to say about Beck’s latest is because I’m very dis­trac­ted. By the hil­ari­ous par­ody clip below made by some ‘cheeky’ British Army lads for nowt which has recently been brought to my attention.

Not only does it rep­res­ent the ulti­mate in all those ‘sol­diers act­ing gay’ vids (end­ing up as a semi-simulated gay orgy), it also rep­res­ents a much fun­nier, much met­ro­sex­ier example of ‘self-objectification’ and male exhib­i­tion­ism and ‘passiv­ity’ than Becks and Ritchie’s big budget bore. (

Plus they seem to have got around the packet prob­lem by shame­lessly stuff­ing their crotches.

Basically, it’s just so much more sat­is­fy­ing.

Besides, the squad­die who opens the video — and whose idea the whole thing prob­ably was - has got a bet­ter arse than Becks. He doesn’t need a booty double.

Oh, and his under­wear is much nicer too.

Tip: DAKrolak

Nightmare Balls

Once again, I’m very grate­ful that American fem­in­ists have sci­en­tific­ally proven (by look­ing at dusty back issues of Rolling Stone magazine) that men aren’t ‘really’ objec­ti­fied, only women are.

Because it means that this eye-popping ad for toi­let cleaner fea­tur­ing a tarty boy band sus­pen­ded beneath the rim of a toi­let in cages, implor­ing ‘baby’ to pull the chain and flush them — slowly wash­ing away their clothes — doesn’t really exist, and none of us need have night­mares about it.

And I don’t need to ana­lyse it.

Tip: David S

Male Impersonators’ Gets Digitally Dressed Up: now available on Kindle

Tom Cruise is reportedly work­ing on a script for a sequel to Top Gun. In case he’s mis­laid his well-thumbed ori­ginal copy of Male Impersonators: Men Performing Masculinity, the book that outed the flam­ing queer­ness of the ori­ginal movie, he needn’t worry.

Tom can now down­load it in an instant as a Kindle eBook, in a ‘2011 Director’s Cut Edition’.

In fact, Top Gun and Tom Cruise’s swish­ingly sexu­ally ambigu­ous career only make up one of the chapters (and one of the weaker ones at that, it seems to me now). Published in 1994 Male Impersonators examined the way men were rep­res­en­ted in pop­u­lar cul­ture as a whole – movies, ads, mags, music and com­edy – filtered through, of course, my trade­mark ‘bent’. Showing how ‘unmanly’ pas­sions such as homo­erot­ics, male nar­ciss­ism and mas­ochism were not excluded but rather exploited, albeit semi-secretly, in voyeur­istic virility.

Essentially, Male Impersonators is an X-ray of what late-Twentieth Century medi­ated cul­ture was doing to mas­culin­ity. Elbow deep.

Unlike most ‘Director’s Cuts’ I have actu­ally cut instead of adding stuff. Chiefly, I’ve axed the long intro­duc­tion I didn’t want to write in the first place and that prob­ably no one read anyway.

WARNING: Commissioned by an aca­demic pub­lisher, Male Impersonators, my first book, is often heav­ily ref­er­enced and freighted with the­ory. This was the last time I wrote that kind of book.

It was also the high sum­mer of my love-affair with Freud. So there’s rather a lot of what Gore Vidal sniff­ingly dubbed ‘the Jewish dent­ist’ in this work. My heart still belongs to Siggy and his the­ory of uni­ver­sal bi-responsiveness, of course. But I’m no longer, as they say, ‘in love’.

Written in 1993, a lot of MI is nat­ur­ally very dated now. It really was a dif­fer­ent cen­tury. ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ had just been enacted in the US, while even prop­erly closeted homo­sexu­al­ity was still a dis­missal offense in the UK Armed Forces. The age of con­sent for two civil­ian males was 21 (lowered halt­ingly, reluct­antly, to 18 in the same year as MI was pub­lished). Section 28, the 1980s law intro­duced by Margaret Thatcher that out­lawed the ‘pro­mo­tion of homo­sexu­al­ity’ by local author­it­ies was still in force, along with all the grim panoply of ‘gross-indecency’ and ‘impor­tun­ing’ anti-homo legis­la­tion of the Nineteenth Century.

The HAART ther­apy cav­alry was yet to arrive and Aids was still per­ceived as a (gay) death sen­tence in the West, and had ‘executed’ a num­ber of friends of mine: includ­ing one of the ded­ic­atees, Imanol Iriondo (who died just after MI was published).

So it’s only under­stand­able that I should have been a little more pre­oc­cu­pied with ‘homo­pho­bia’ back then than I am these days. Particularly the hypo­crit­ical way it was often used to keep homo­erot­ics pure. I was a lot gayer then.

That said, some of MI stands up sur­pris­ingly well, I think. Often, my feel­ing as I went through it was: WHY did I write that? Quickly col­lid­ing with HOW did I write that? MI was writ­ten in the space of three months, when I was still in my 20s. Ah, the energy of youth.…

For all its dated­ness, there is some­thing time­less about the book The ‘male objec­ti­fic­a­tion’ it ana­lysed has become so dom­in­ant and every­day that even New York Magazine (and then Details) notices it.

And MI did after all give birth to that attention-seeking, dam­nably pretty creature that was to own the 21st Century: the met­ro­sexual. Though I never use that word in MI. Instead I talk about male nar­ciss­ism (and mas­ochism). A lot. It wasn’t until I wrote an essay for UK news­pa­per The Independent in late 1994 to pub­li­cise MI that I used the ‘m’ word – which turned out to be its first appear­ance in print.

I deployed ‘met­ro­sexual’ as journ­al­istic short­hand for the freighted the­ory of MI. Reading MI you may decide that the short­hand said rather more than the longhand. If Male Impersonators was the the­ory of met­ro­sexu­al­ity, Metrosexy, my recent col­lec­tion of metro journ­al­ism, doc­u­ments the way met­ro­sexu­al­ity went on to con­quer the cul­ture over the next dec­ade or so – and also the half-hearted, men-dacious back­lash against it in the late Noughties.

Sometimes I have to pinch myself today. Watching the pretty boys hug­ging and cry­ing on X-Factor and American Idol, or the straight muscle Marys flaunt­ing their depil­ated pecs and abs on Jersey/Geordie Shore, or the orange rugby play­ers spin­ning around top­less in glit­tery tight pants on Strictly Come Dancing — or Tom Hardy doing much the same thing in Warrior - it’s as if I’ve died and gone to a hellish kind of heaven.

MALE IMPERSONATORS

Men Performing Masculinity

The book that changed the way the world looks at men.

Why is body­build­ing a form of trans­sexu­al­ism? What do foot­ball and anal sex have in com­mon? Why is Top Gun such a flam­ingly ‘gay’ movie? Why is male van­ity such a hot com­mod­ity? And why oh why do Marky Mark’s pants keep fall­ing down?

In his influ­en­tial first book Male Impersonators, first pub­lished in 1994, Mark Simpson argues for the vital cent­ral­ity of homo­eroti­cism and nar­ciss­ism in any under­stand­ing of the fraught phe­nomenon of mod­ern mas­culin­ity. A highly pen­et­rat­ing, tick­lish but always ser­i­ous exam­in­a­tion of what hap­pens to men when they become ‘objectified’.

From porn to shav­ing adverts, rock and roll to war movies, drag to lads’ nights out, Male Impersonators offers wit and reader-friendly the­ory in equal meas­ure in a review of the greatest show on Earth – the per­form­ance of masculinity.

On male strippers…‘

The myth of male strip­ping mes­mer­ises pre­cisely because it con­tra­dicts itself with every dis­carded item… No mat­ter how freak­ish his gen­ital attrib­utes, no mat­ter how craft­ily engorged and arranged with rings and elastic bands, no mat­ter how frantic­ally it is waved and waggled, the stripper’s penis, once naked, never lives up to the prom­ise of the phal­lus: the cli­mactic finale of the strip is… an anti-climax.’

On Elvis…

The world does not need a ‘gay Elvis’, for the ori­ginal, with his black leather suit, pomaded pom­pa­dour, come-fuck-me eyes and radi­ant nar­ciss­ism, was quite queer enough.’

On porn stars…

Visually, Jeff Stryker resembles noth­ing so much as an illus­tra­tion of the human nervous sys­tem in a med­ical text­book where the size of each region and append­age rep­res­en­ted is related to the num­ber of nerve end­ings. Thus Jeff on-screen is remembered as a huge face, a vast pair of hands (all the bet­ter to grab and slap ass with) and grot­esquely out­sized genitalia.’

Praise For Male Impersonators

Simpson pulls the pants off pop­u­lar cul­ture and wit­tily winks at the Freudian sym­bols lurk­ing beneath.’ (FOUR STARS OUT OF FOUR) – The Modern Review

This set of high-spirited essays dis­plays more insight into the mas­cu­line mys­tique than has the dec­ade of earn­est men’s stud­ies that pre­ceded it. Simpson has an unerr­ing eye for the inner logic and pre­tences of a wide range of mas­cu­line enter­prises and sym­bols. THIS IS QUEER THEORY WITHOUT THE JARGON AND IS A MUST FOR ANYONE INTERESTED IN THINGS MALE. GENERAL AND ACADEMIC READERS AT ALL LEVELS ‘– Choices

What is hap­pen­ing when men and their sexu­al­it­ies become the focus of the camera’s gaze? Mark Simpson’s bril­liant, witty, up-to-the-minute ana­lysis shat­ters com­pla­cen­cies, old and new.’ – Alan Sinfield, University of Sussex

Mark Simpson detects and dis­sects the myths of mach­ismo and its attend­ant media cir­cus with refresh­ing gusto and wit.’  – John Ashbery

It’s not only women who don’t have the phal­lus – men don’t have it either – just the inad­equate penis! This book cheered me up with the reminder that when it gets down to it, both sexes are just great pre­tend­ers.’ – Lorraine Gamman

Like me this book plays with men. Provocative, irrev­er­ent, acerbic and witty, it offers one gigantic intel­lec­tual orgasm after another.’  – Margi Clarke

A brilliantly-positioned array of fire­crack­ers, ele­phant traps and banana skins designed to trick con­ven­tional male­ness into show­ing it’s true hand, or some extremity.… SIMPSON CAPERS LIKE ROBIN GOODFELLOW, STRIPPING OFF THE FIG LEAVES WITH EXUBERANCE.’  – The Observer

CLEVER, ENGAGING, INCISIVE.’ – The Guardian

EMINENTLY READABLE.’ – My Prime

Mark Simpson’s Male Impersonators could do for male sexu­al­ity what Camilla Paglia did for women, find­ing lat­ent homo sub­texts to Marky Mark, Clint Eastwood and Tom Cruise’s base­ball bat.’ - Melody Maker

‘Male Impersonators quickly reveals itself to be dif­fer­ent and, argu­ably more insight­ful than many pre­vi­ous ‘Masculinity books’. Male Impersonators makes a timely and exem­plary addi­tion to cult stud’s ‘Return to Freud’. It has an excel­lent read­ab­il­ity factor com­pared to many oth­ers freighted with dull writ­ing.’  – Perversions

A DEFT AND PERSUASIVE DISCUSSION ON THE SUBJECT.’

– Stage and Television Today

These smash­ingly pro­voc­at­ive essays by the spunky Brit writer Mark Simpson det­on­ate myths, ste­reo­types and icons, gay as well as straight. The psycho-social line sep­ar­at­ing homo and hetero male­ness, he ful­somely shows, is much fuz­zier than Robert Bly and Pat Buchanan find it to be.’

- Lambda Book Report

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Straight Sausagefests: The Slutty, Passive Pleasure of Porn

‘What do women want?’, is the title of a long fea­ture by Amanda Hess at Good Magazine, based around a 25 year-old male (straight) porn star called ‘James Deen’, illus­trated with some long-shot snaps of him fully-clothed, loun­ging around his ‘porn man­sion’, look­ing like a young Roman Abramovich. 

Despite ‘Deen’ turn­ing out to be some­what less inter­est­ing than he’s billed as being (he likes burri­tos, appar­ently), the piece nev­er­the­less throws up some inter­est­ing ques­tions about what women want from porn. And also, along the way, what men might want too.

Essentially, Deen is a nerdy twink. (A ‘twerd’, if you will.) It seems this is big news in straight porn.

Deen has carved out a niche in the porn industry by look­ing like the one guy who doesn’t belong there. Scroll through L.A.’s top porn agency sites and you’ll find hun­dreds of pouty women ready to drop to their knees, but just a few dozen men avail­able to have sex with them. These guys all have a famil­iar look—neck chains, fros­ted tips, unreas­on­able biceps, tri­bal tat­toos. Deen looks like he was plucked from a par­tic­u­larly intel­lec­tual frat house.’

In other words: Deen doesn’t look vul­gar and low-class and thus is worthy of Ms Hess’ and Good magazine’s interest.

It’s not that more normal-looking guys don’t want to be in porn, it’s that the industry isn’t exactly look­ing for them. Within the major porn tal­ent agen­cies, female per­formers out­num­ber male ones almost 5-to-1. The dir­ect­ors and pro­du­cers hir­ing them are mostly men. They’re staff­ing porn’s work­force with an etern­ally refreshed slate of female bod­ies, and a hand­ful of guys who look like what men think women want: Big arms. Big abs. Big dicks.’

Hang on. The reason the dir­ect­ors and pro­du­cers hir­ing them are mostly men is because the audi­ence for porn as you have admit­ted is – over­whelm­ingly – men. And so it fol­lows that the men who become porn act­ors are not chosen because it’s thought they will appeal to women (though this may be the ‘no-homo’ ration­al­isa­tion that goes through some men’s heads).

They’re chosen because – in addi­tion to being able to main­tain a large erec­tion for hours in front of a cam­era and crew, some­thing which most mor­tal men can’t man­age – they appeal to men. Most men like and admire big arms. Big abs. And big dicks. Men are so low-class.

The porn machine churns out per­formers to sat­isfy every fantasy, be it MILF, dwarf, fat, granny, or gang bang. But if you’re inter­ested in watch­ing a young, het­ero­sexual, non­re­puls­ive man engage in sex, James Deen is basic­ally it.’

So every male porn model doing straight porn, apart from your twinky, slightly dull, and frankly rather homely-looking Deen, is repuls­ive? Fine. More for me then.…

Once upon an 80s time, in the early days of hard­core straight video­porn, when men were first nego­ti­at­ing their anxi­et­ies about mas­turb­at­ing over another man’s penis, it was often the case that male porn act­ors ten­ded to be delib­er­ately ‘repuls­ive’ – or at least, their appear­ance was heav­ily sig­nalled to be ‘com­pletely unimportant’.

But in recent years the appear­ance of male porn act­ors is no longer unim­port­ant. It’s expec­ted by the men that con­sume porn who have them­selves become more image and body-conscious that male porn mod­els will take care of them­selves. They are not always just a self-propelled penis. More of their body and even their face appears on cam­era, and hence the body is usu­ally worked on to make it ‘worthy’ of display.

At the very least, the guys watch­ing porn today expect to see male per­formers who reflect their own met­ro­sexual pre­oc­cu­pa­tions. More than that, I think many young men expect that male porn actor’s bod­ies should give them visual pleas­ure. (Deen com­plains that he gets hate mail from men – who fre­quently tell him he ‘needs to work out’.) Though it’s true that at the moment there isn’t exactly much vari­ety in that visual pleasure.

You can of course though watch lots of ‘young, het­ero­sexual non-repulsive men’ enga­ging in sex – but gay-for-pay sex. While the same kind of worked out, tat­tooed male bod­ies Hess finds repuls­ive dom­in­ate in gay porn too, because it’s cater­ing mostly to men who have a pref­er­ence for their own sex it nat­ur­ally has a much lar­ger range of ‘niche’ ‘types’ avail­able. Which is per­haps part of the reason why some women like it. And I’ll wager there’s at least a dozen gay web­sites spe­cial­ising in Deen-ish ‘intel­lec­tual frat­house’ twerdy types. (And as this art­icle states fur­ther down, they’ll be paid up to ten times as much for it as they would for doing straight porn.)

Then again, I know lots of gay men who only watch straight porn – because they say they prefer the guys in it. And because of course, no mat­ter what kind of male mod­els are used, or how­ever you dis­em­body them, or try to dis­avow it, hard­core straight porn is by voyeur­istic defin­i­tion bisexual. Gay porn on the other hand is deter­m­indedly mono­sexual. Sexual dif­fer­ence simply does not exist. You never, ever see a vagina in a gay porn flick. Unless it’s in an art­house movie made by Bruce LaBruce (whom I sus­pect only puts them in to piss off The Gays).

Anyway, I’m not ter­ribly con­vinced by Hess’ idea of ‘nor­mal’. She talks a lot in the Good piece about how ‘nor­mal look­ing’ and ‘naturally-muscled’ Deen is, and how unlike other male porn per­formers he is. But then men­tions, almost as an after­thought, ‘His penis is 9 inches long.’

Assuming this has been, er, fact-checked, stat­ist­ic­ally this makes Deen lit­er­ally a fuck­ing freak. Only 0.1% of white males have a penis that ‘normal’.

According to Hess, ‘non­re­puls­ive’ and affec­tion­ate Deen is help­ing to inflate young women’s interest in porn. Maybe. But then again, young women’s interest in Deen as presen­ted in the piece is often about any­thing other than the fact that he fucks women on film for a liv­ing. They treat him more like a boy-band star who hap­pens to be work­ing as a porn model while wait­ing for Simon Cowell to notice him.

I think he is really cute (not in a sexual way),” one woman writes. “I want to talk to him and tell him why I like him,” another says. “It’s not only cause of his amaz­ing tal­ent, it’s because of his per­son­al­ity.” One woman shares a video that “doesn’t have James fuck­ing her but he is there and he is being sweet so I think it’s cute to watch anyway.”

With their anim­ated gifs and col­lages and focus on the way he gazes into the eyes of his female part­ners, or holds their hand, you get the impres­sion his women fans are mak­ing a kind of fan-fic out of his back catalogue.

Perhaps Deen really does sig­nal the begin­ning of a sea-change in hard­core porn con­sump­tion and pro­duc­tion – involving women much more as con­sumers not just (well-paid) performers.

But prob­ably not with porn pro­du­cers like Joshua Lehman in charge:

I get 300 dick pic­tures sent to my phone every day. I don’t want to see your penis. That’s not how you get into porn.” He advises straight men to “get the hot­test bitch you can and make her your girl­friend,” then “go into a producer’s office and have her tell him that you’re the only guy she’ll fuck.”

So if you look like shit and you have a four inch penis you’ll have a career in porn because your girl­friend is a ‘hot bitch’? Yeah, right.

I think the guys send­ing Mr Lehman pic­tures of their cocks may have a bet­ter idea – or a more hon­est one – of what straight porn is about than the chap mak­ing it. After all, if you watch ‘straight’ online hard­core porn today you will prob­ably see at least 300 (very large) pen­ises in the space of an hour or so’s brows­ing. And con­sid­er­ably fewer vagi­nas. I know some work­ing class straight guys who like to send one another pics and vids of espe­cially large pen­ises they’ve found in straight porn to each other’s phones. Which is sweet.

And of course, in the typ­ical porn view­ing scen­ario we have to always add at least one more, very, very import­ant penis to how­ever many there are on screen. The one in the hand of the chap watch­ing it.

But the female porn mod­els are undoubtedly the stars of straight porn – and get paid hand­somely, com­pared the small change thrown at the male mod­els. Partly because loads of gents would do porn for noth­ing. Partly because straight (and bisexual) fel­las are, of course, very keen on the ladies. And partly because the ‘hot chicks’ are what keeps all this penis from being… GAY. Which would, iron­ic­ally, spoil the virile pleas­ure of the pen­ises for many of the men watch­ing it (includ­ing my gay friends).

All of this changes, of course, when there are no girls involved at all. Gay porn stars make “a ridicu­lous amount more,” Lehman says. “The best male per­formers make $1,000 a scene on aver­age. Some of the male per­formers in gay porn make up to $10,000 a scene. That’s why guys do it.” According to Lehman, “some of the guys who do gay for pay would rather be in straight porn,” but if you turn up in gay porn, “we don’t really want you on the straight side,” Lehman says.’

No, because that would let the cat right out of the bag, wouldn’t it? It would sug­gest some kind of well-lubed con­tinuüm between gay and straight porn – both of which are saus­age­fests. Lehman sounds like his job is keep­ing straight porn… straight. Less of a porn pro­du­cer than a porn policeman.

Lehman tells me he was recently approached by “two well-known male per­formers” float­ing a DVD of their sexual exploits with women. “The box is basic­ally them. Huge pic­tures of them. In the back­ground, there’s a couple of hot chicks, but it’s real small,” he says. “I looked at it and said, ‘Is it gay porn? Because that’s what it looks like.’” Lehman can­not ima­gine a future in which this rule does not hold. “Even James Deen. You may see him in every movie, but do you see him at the cen­ter of a box? I don’t think so,” Lehman says. “If you put a man in the fore­ground on a box cover, male and female cus­tom­ers are going to assume it’s gay porn.”

This anxi­ety is, Hess sug­gests, part of the reason why (straight) porn doesn’t appeal to women very much.

The straight male per­former must be attract­ive enough to serve as a prop, but not so attract­ive that he becomes the object of desire. As Curry puts it, “No one wants to ali­en­ate the male audience.”’

Of course, des­pite all this care­ful poli­cing and present­a­tion of hard­core male/female porn as rigidly, con­ven­tion­ally ‘hot chick’ het­ero­sexual, male view­ers, just like the female James Deen fans, are very cap­able of read­ing it their own kinky way.

I’ve lost count of the num­ber of bi-curious straight men who have told me they were turned on to the joys of suck­ing or rid­ing penis by watch­ing straight porn. Never ever under­es­tim­ate the greed­i­ness of male voyeur­ism. In the pri­vacy of their own filthy minds men don’t con­scien­tiously restrict them­selves to identi­fy­ing with the male ‘stud’. They also identify with the ‘slut’ who is ‘get­ting it’ – from all dir­ec­tions. Particularly since in straight porn she’s the one who is actu­ally allowed to enjoy herself.

Whilst the men have to busy them­selves with their ‘work’, like naked gym­nastic car mech­an­ics in a hurry to fin­ish their ‘ser­vice’, in the centre of all this activ­ity the female porn act­ress enacts and vocal­ises – very loudly – the slutty, pass­ive pleas­ure of sex.

And judging by the num­ber of men they’ve turned into sluts they’re doing a very good job of it.

Tip: Tobias

Men’s Tits, Women’s Balls & Gavin Henson’s Tarty Body

This jokey Canadian ad is aimed, I believe, at encour­aging women to reg­u­larly check their breasts for strange lumps. Though it seems to have been side-tracked by, er, check­ing out strange lumps. Albeit perfectly-formed and waxed ones. 

For my char­ity money the blond, buffed, fashion-bearded presenter’s best asset isn’t his chest but his man-humps — which he, along with the other tarty men in the ad, kindly shoves in the cam­era dur­ing the cred­its, while disco dancing.

I sup­pose women are very grate­ful for this kind of eager self-sacrifice on the part of men, but I’m not entirely sure what the gentle sex is sup­posed to do with all those plucked, pushy, insa­ti­able bottoms.

To be hon­est, I’m not even sure what I’d do.

Is a bevvy of men flaunt­ing tits and ass the best way to edu­cate women about look­ing after their own bod­ies? It may come as a shock, but I’m prob­ably not best qual­i­fied to answer that ques­tion. I would ima­gine though that this infomer­cial has been cir­cu­lated on the inter­web rather more than more con­ven­tional efforts. But then, maybe it’s being cir­cu­lated by men like me, who can’t recall the last time they examined a pair of breasts that didn’t come shrink-wrapped from Sainsburys.

One thing’s indubit­able, how­ever: this ‘inver­ted’ ad is more evid­ence if it were needed of the way that in the 21st cen­tury men’s tits have not just rivalled but replaced women’s as the touch­stone of ‘sexy’ in main­stream pop cul­ture, even when the audi­ence for them is other men.

Speaking of tits, the appar­ently end­less UK ver­sion of real­ity TV series The Bachelor star­ring met­ro­sexy Welsh rug­ger bug­ger Gavin Henson reached its final cli­max this week on C5. Though I’ve no idea which lucky lass Gav plumped for in the end as I only made it through the first couple of shows. I have a patho­lo­gical fear of com­mit­ment. And crazy ladies with a fam­ous, rich, orange man in their sights.

Ostensibly a real­ity TV show in which a series of foxy women try ensnare a celebrity play­boy who will then treat them like a prin­cess, The Bachelor is, as every­one knows, quite the oppos­ite — or inverse — of how it presents itself.

No mat­ter how many times they make the eli­gible bach­elor say sin­cerely, sol­emnly and unblink­ingly into the cam­era, “I am look­ing for the spe­cial woman I will marry and spend the rest of my life with” we can’t help scoff­ing, loudly. Even when they say it in an ador­able, slow-talking Welsh accent. We know that every­one on the show, Mr Henson espe­cially, have gone on telly to spend their life with you and me.

Likewise, des­pite the tra­di­tional pre­tense of the ‘pretty ladies’ with their ‘stun­ning’ out­fits paraded like cattle in front of the ‘man of the world’, Henson is unques­tion­ably the show’s eye-candy. Or ‘object’ as the fem­in­ists would have it (if they could ever bring them­selves to admit that men are objec­ti­fied too — by both women and espe­cially by themselves).

Gav’s the Prince and the Princess of The Bachelor. And, it has to be said, the worst act­ress out of a brace of very bad ones.

Pink of lip, white of eye and tooth and with a much pret­tier com­plex­ion than most of the ladies, his body, which only seems to be actu­ally clothed after sun­set — and then in tailored shirts and suits that advert­ise his flar­ing back, his beefy arms, his swell­ing chest, his volup­tu­ous, shelf-like arse even more — simply has no com­pet­i­tion. All must wor­ship it. And do.

It is an aston­ish­ing, cap­tiv­at­ing ‘object’ (much more so than the one in the Canadian ad), which Henson has clearly devoted thou­sands and thou­sands of intim­ate hours to nur­tur­ing, feed­ing, water­ing, sculpt­ing, shav­ing, tan­ning and mois­tur­ising. This, finally, is a love story we can all believe in. What’s more, unlike most male bod­ies on dis­play these days, his also has a actual func­tion. He’s a pro­fes­sional athlete.

Little won­der then that Gav and his body is the relent­less focus of the camera’s gaze. Every time he strips off the cam­era zooms in and grazes along his taut, pol­ished skin, prac­tic­ally lick­ing the Armani body lotion off him. Just as it did last  year when he appeared on the BBC’s Saturday night ‘fam­ily show’ Strictly Come Dancing — a real­ity vehicle tar­get­ing the older viewer which also objec­ti­fies men but presents it within the faux tra­di­tional ‘sex­ist’ format of ball­room dan­cing where men ‘lead’ — the eye. Sportsmen appear­ing on the show have to go top­less every week or go home.

OK, hav­ing worked myself into a frenzy talk­ing about Gav’s pneu­matic body I’ve just taken a quick peek at the final epis­ode of The Bachelor online, and it seems Gav chose as the win­ner and his ‘girl­friend’ (whatever that actu­ally means in the con­text of real­ity TV) a female model — with a Roman nose remark­ably sim­ilar to his. Whose first, del­ic­ate, coy, halt­ing words on see­ing him clad immacu­lately in designer black tie in Episode One,  were: “GO ON!! SHOW US YOUR MUSCLES THEN!!!”

Before doing what every­one else wants to do to Gav, and what Gav seems to want every­one to do — grabbing his bicep and cop­ping a really good feel.

And this is the show that the Guardian recently moaned was ‘demean­ing to women’.

Like ballsy ladies, gender reversal is every­where these days. Below is a UK viral ad rais­ing aware­ness for testic­u­lar can­cer, which uses the same ‘inver­sion’ as the Canadian breast can­cer ad, but to rather dif­fer­ent effect. Check out the lumps on her.…

Tip: DAKrolak

NY Mag Notices How Tarty Men Have Become

New York Magazine has just noticed that men have become ‘objec­ti­fied’. Or as I like to put it in Metrosexy, using the proper, sci­entific term – tarts.

The Summer of 2011 offi­cially became the sum­mer that the male gaze was reflec­ted back at itself — and with enthu­si­asm! In the summer’s super­hero movies, a supremely buff body became part of what made these her­oes so super. The Captain America trailer had Dominic Cooper doing the old look-over-the-top-of-my-sunglasses move to get a load of the newly pumped up Chris Evans. In Thor, Kat Dennings’s audience-surrogate char­ac­ter spends half the movie talk­ing about how nutso everything is and the other half point­ing out that this blond god from the heav­ens is massively pumped. Fourteen years ago, America lost it when Batman’s cos­tume included rub­ber nipples. Now we’ve got a Spider-Man whose cos­tume lifts and separates.

It’s great that New York Magazine has noticed (and wel­comed) how Hollywood has objec­ti­fied men, and how men have objec­ti­fied them­selves. Difficult to believe, I know, but there are still plenty of people who do their best not to. Or refuse to admit that they’ve noticed. Including some fem­in­ists who want to pre­tend that objec­ti­fic­a­tion is some­thing only done by men to women.

But des­pite NY Magazine’s present­a­tion of it, this isn’t some­thing that happened in one Summer. I’ve been banging on about it myself since 1994 — my first book Male Impersonators: Men Performing Masculinity examined the way the so-called ‘male gaze’ had been reflec­ted back at itself in movies, magazines and advert­ising. And rather liked what it saw. Even back then I wasn’t exactly the first to notice — though I did make more of a meal of it than any­one else.

Objectification’ is also of course the hall­mark of met­ro­sexu­al­ity — men’s desire to be desired is neces­sar­ily the desire to be ‘objec­ti­fied’. Though I have to say I think the ‘O’ word clunky and out­moded. ‘Tarty’ trips and skips off the tongue better.

For those inter­ested in ancient his­tory — albeit ancient his­tory that New York Magazine treats as news — all rights in Male Impersonators have rever­ted to me and I’m plan­ning to e-publish it very soon, prob­ably in down­load­able PDF format for a nom­inal fee.

The image below is the jacket of the ori­ginal Cassell edi­tion of M.I., now out of print, sport­ing a clas­sic 1950s Athletic Model Guild still. I chose it partly because it was a tad ‘over­de­termined’ and camp — par­tic­u­larly the Grecian cod­piece and the pedestal/butt-plug. And partly as an illus­tra­tion of the kind of ‘objec­ti­fic­a­tion’ of the male that happened under­ground and illi­citly in the past.

In con­trast to today’s cor­por­ate kind, con­duc­ted on bill­boards and at the multiplex.

UPDATE: Male Impersonators is now avail­able on Kindle.

Tip: Fraser K

Nadal Hammered Into Sexy, Slippery Pieces by Armani

As if the tarty Armani poster of Rafael Nadal offer­ing his arse to the world wasn’t slutty enough. Along comes the sporno video.

The ten­nis ace is being shoved up against the (unplastered) wall and then thrown down and hammered on the builder’s bench. Twice.

By the cam­era. Which chops up his body into sexy, slip­pery bits and pieces. Tits and ass and abs. Total, rampant, ruth­less objec­ti­fic­a­tion. Which Mr Nadal — like many young men today — appears to relish.

And that liquid he’s half-drowning in. Is it bod­ily flu­ids? Or is he being water boarded by our gaze?

Could this video in fact be any slut­tier, without actual pen­et­ra­tion? Then again, wouldn’t your actual, standard-issue pen­et­ra­tion dimin­ish the slut­ti­ness by mak­ing it both ‘hard’ and banal?  Instead of the grainy non-specific slut­ti­ness that drips off everything in our medi­ated, met­ro­sexy world.

Muscle: Hollywood’s Biggest Special Effect

By Mark Simpson

(Independent on Sunday 31 March, 2002)

Guys! Do you worry that your body isn’t suf­fi­ciently lean and mus­cu­lar? Do you fre­quently com­pare your muscles with other men’s? If you see a man who is clearly more mus­cu­lar than you, do you think about it and feel envi­ous for some time afterwards?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these ques­tions it used to mean that you should send a postal order to Mr Charles Atlas to ask for advice. Nowadays, if the myriad art­icles about the latest ‘dis­ease’ to afflict men are to believed, it means you might need to see a ther­ap­ist to talk you out of going to the gym so much because you may be suf­fer­ing from ‘big­orexia’ – the delu­sion that you’re not beefy enough.

On the other hand, it might just mean that you go to the movies.

We expect as a mat­ter of course that our male leads these days will have per­fect pec­tor­als, bounteous biceps and cor­rug­ated steel stom­achs that speak of thou­sands of hours of sweat, tears and neur­otic diet­ing. ‘Brad Pitt’ is now Esperanto for ‘six pack’. What, after all, is the point of being a film star if you can’t hire the most sad­istic per­sonal fit­ness instructor in town and feast on egg white omelettes and rice cakes? More per­tin­ently, why should we puny punters pay good money to gaze up at men on the big screen who aren’t them­selves big­ger than life, but sport waist­lines that speak of no life at all?

It wasn’t always thus. In fact, until the Eighties muscles were usu­ally so few and far between on the screen that the oiled man in swim­ming trunks bash­ing the big gong at the begin­ning of Rank films was as much meat as you were likely to get at the movies. It was of course an oiled Austrian action hero and former Mr Universe who changed all that, banging a gong for body­build­ing in ‘Conan the Barbarian’ (1982) and ‘Terminator’ (1984) intro­du­cing us to the spec­tac­u­lar male body and chan­ging forever the way we see the male physique.

True, all those steroid-pumped chests look excess­ive now, ‘tit­ter­some’ even, and screen muscles have ten­ded to come in a more man­age­able, more cov­et­table size for some years, but a male Hollywood star who doesn’t work out is as unthink­able now as an American who doesn’t floss.

And Arnie, like the cyborg he played in his most fam­ous movie – or a per­sonal fit­ness trainer from hell – keeps com­ing back. He refuses to acknow­ledge that he’s mor­tal, or, which is much more hub­ristic, out of fash­ion. Next week sees the open­ing of his new action-hero movie ‘Collateral Damage’, in which he plays a fire­man seek­ing to avenge the murder of his wife and son by ter­ror­ists. Next month he begins film­ing ‘Terminator 3′, quickly fol­lowed by ‘Total Recall 2′ and ‘True Lies 2′ Single-handedly, and Promethian-like, fifty-five year-old Arnie, who had major heart sur­gery five years ago, seems to be try­ing to haul the Eighties back. (Not least because his polit­ical ambi­tions seem to prom­ise ‘Reagan 2′.)

Meanwhile, his former arch-rival and Sylvester Stallone is cur­rently try­ing to get fund­ing for yet more sequels to his Rocky and Rambo films (6 and 4, respect­ively if you’re still count­ing). Also fifty-five years old, Sly hasn’t had a hit movie for a dec­ade. Post September 11th he hopes America is ready again for a muscle-bound, if slightly wrinkly hero and that Hollywood will buy the idea of Rambo para­chut­ing into Afghanistan in a thong and put­ting the fear of god into Bin Laden and Al Quaeda. So far his attempts to get fund­ing have been unsuc­cess­ful, but if the Austrian Asshole suc­ceeds in mak­ing a comeback from the knack­ers yard, who will be able to stop the Italian Stallion?

Of course, Arnie and Sly weren’t the first muscle­men to make it in movies – just the first to suc­ceed in mak­ing it really ‘big’ business.

Back in the 1930s there was Johnny Weissmuller, Olympic swim­mer turned jungle vine swinger in a loin­cloth. His mus­cu­lar tarti­ness in the Tarzan movies was made accept­able by the fact that his physique was prac­tical in ori­gin (swim­ming, vine climb­ing and wrest­ling alligators). He was also an ‘ape-man’. As a (white) noble sav­age, who hardly spoke except to ulu­late loud enough to make the tree tops quiver, or shout ‘Ungawa!’ at a startled passing ele­phant or chim­pan­zee, he was spared many of the enforced decen­cies of 1930s Western civil­isa­tion. Interestingly, like Arnie he was ori­gin­ally Austrian: ‘Weissmuller’ is German for ‘white miller’; while ‘Schwarzenegger’ means ‘black plough’. Modern body­build­ing owes everything to Aryan farming.

By the 1940s and 50s Sword and Sandal epics, the pre-cursor of the action movie, star­ring people like Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, and B-movie body-builder-turned-actor Steve Reeves legit­im­ised the dis­play of more naked, shapely male flesh (hence the line in ‘Airplane’ when the per­vey pilot asks the lad being shown the flight-deck: ‘Son, do you like watch­ing gla­di­ator movies?’). Russell Crowe of course was to revive this genre in 2000 in ‘Gladiator’ and went out of his way in inter­views to claim that his brawny physique had been formed not in the gym but in ‘prac­tising sword fights’ — in a leather skirt. (Some cyn­ics might say that he failed to gain the Oscar for ‘A Beautiful Mind’ because by then he seemed to have lost his beau­ti­ful body).

In the Fifties and Sixties, Rock Hudson, epi­tom­ised the ‘All-American’ clean-cut hunk. A Tarzan of the sub­urbs, if you will. He had a body, but was not sexual. His mas­culin­ity was pleas­ingly super­fi­cial and unthreat­en­ing. (And now we know that there was never any chance that he might do Doris Day at all).

But it was that other fifties phe­nomenon Marlon Brando who inaug­ur­ated a new era — the male as brazen sex object. His tight-T-shirted, sweaty mus­cu­lar­ity was openly erotic; his bru­tish, built but sen­sual Stanley Kowalski was the street­car named Desire (‘Stell-la!’). Clift and Dean were faces, but Marlon was a face on a pout­ing body. There was some­thing andro­gyne yet virile about the Wild One’s most phys­ical roles. Perhaps as a kind of revenge on the industry, Marlon fam­ously developed an eat­ing dis­order (some­thing usu­ally asso­ci­ated with women) and later became notori­ous for his ‘work outs’ with gal­lon tubs of ice cream. In an odd way, Brando’s weight-problem is a kind of ‘big­orexia’, and prob­ably even harder work than stay­ing trim in the way that, say, Clint Eastwood has (and hav­ing sex in ‘In the Line of Fire’ with his tight white T-shirt at 70).

In the Fifties-come-around-again Eighties, Tom ‘Risky Business’ Cruise some­how man­aged com­bine Brando’s erotic nar­ciss­ism with Hudson’s clean-cut ster­il­ity, this time in a pair of Y-fronts. Later, in ‘Taps’ he played an intense right-wing recruit with an obsess­ive interest in body­build­ing and shower­ing. In ‘Top Gun’, the defin­it­ive Eighties movie, he legit­im­ised the new male nar­ciss­ism as some­thing pat­ri­otic and Reaganite. Most of Tom’s oeuvre since then has stuck to the same theme of boy­ish vul­ner­ab­il­ity mixed with determ­in­a­tion; passiv­ity and mas­culin­ity; sen­su­al­ity and respect­ab­il­ity — and the iden­tity prob­lems that this cre­ates (e.g. ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ and ‘Vanilla Sky’). By the same token, his muscles, with the excep­tion of those seen in ‘Taps’ — and his pre­pos­ter­ous fore­arms in ‘Mission Impossible’ — have never been huge, but they have always been very def­in­itely there if needed. Or desired.

The Eighties ‘roided’ body­builder action her­oes such as Arnie, Sly, Mel, Bruce ‘Die-Hard’ Willis (who for most of the Eighties seemed to be wear­ing Brando’s unwashed vest from ‘Streetcar’) and the ‘Muscles From Brussels’, Jean Claude Van Damme were less happy to be sex objects. True, these were film stars whose claim to fame res­ted largely on their will­ing­ness to dis­play their bod­ies, but there was also slightly des­per­ate dis­avowal of any passiv­ity – hence the emphasis on being action her­oes. Arnie and Sly were offer­ing their spec­tac­u­lar bod­ies for our excite­ment. Like the explo­sions and the stunts, their bod­ies were spe­cial effects — in a pre CGI era they were per­haps the most import­ant spe­cial effects of all.

Since then the main­stream­ing of body­build­ing, the increas­ing soph­ist­ic­a­tion of CGI and the recon­cili­ation of a new gen­er­a­tion of young men to their orna­mental role has left their Eighties action her­oes’ antics look­ing rather embar­rass­ing. Today’s male stars work out, but the com­pens­a­tion of hys­ter­ic­ally massive mus­cu­lature, hard-on vas­cu­lar­ity and single-handedly wip­ing out entire armies isn’t needed. Aesthetics have become more import­ant than arm-aments. Arnie may have suc­ceeded in get­ting Hollywood down the gym, but it is (early) Marlon and Tom who have inher­ited the World. Keanu Reeves, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Ethan Hawke, and all those close-ups on hunky-but-pretty Josh Hartnett’s long-lashed Nordic eyes in the war movies ‘Pearl Harbor’ (2001) and ‘Black Hawk Down’ (2002) prove this. Even Will Smith in ‘Ali’ (2002) doesn’t really look ter­ribly heavyweight.

And former WWF wrest­ler Dwayne Douglas Johnson ‘The Rock’ who made his debut in ‘The Mummy Returns’ may be hailed by Vanity Fair as ‘the next Segal, Stallone and Schwarzenegger rolled into one’ (a queasy image), but seems extra­vag­antly orna­mental, with his plucked eye­brows, lip gloss, make-up and dec­or­at­ive tattoos.

However, that’s not to say that the new rela­tion­ship to the male body is any less patho­lo­gical. When for example we see Brad smoking or eat­ing a ham­burger in ‘Ocean’s Eleven’, we can’t help but won­der how much it cost in CGI. (Reportedly he and his wife don’t keep any food in the house and have all their meals cal­orie coun­ted and delivered to their door). It’s dif­fi­cult to ima­gine any of today’s gen­er­a­tion of male stars find­ing any­thing they’d actu­ally swal­low – and keep down – on the menu at Planet Hollywood.

Meanwhile Arnie and Co., the ‘bigox­eric’ her­oes of yesteryear’s big screen, seem unlikely to bring back the out­sized Eighties not just because no one really needs them or can find a use for them, but because they are look­ing their age – older actu­ally, in Hollywood terms. The ster­oids Arnie began using at the age of 14 to pro­duce those ‘spe­cial effects’ can hasten the age­ing pro­cess and may well have con­trib­uted to other ‘col­lat­eral dam­age’, such as his heart prob­lems (they have also become main­stream – 7% of High School boys in the US admit­ted to tak­ing them). Having been con­vinced by Arnie to put so much faith in work­ing out and get­ting beefy, the world does not want to be reminded that it can’t keep you young forever and in fact can have the oppos­ite effect.

Yes, in ‘Collateral Damage’ Arnie’s Panzer body is still there, trundling around beneath his pill-box head, but it is faintly embar­rass­ing now – so much so that every­one in the movie pre­tends not to notice it. He plays a fire­man, which is nice and use­ful and human-scale. But we know, post September 11, that most American fire­men, beefy and worked-out as many of them are, do not look like age­ing male mas­seurs. As one of the char­ac­ters com­plains, almost sur­really, when Arnie turns up unex­pec­tedly: ‘You order cheese pizza and you get German sausage’.

Copyright Mark Simpson 2010

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

Firemen’s Big Hose Sets NY Ablaze

By Mark Simpson, (The Guardian, 8 Aug 2007)

The Phalliban, America ‘s kill­joy cam­paign against the male body’s, er, male­ness, strikes yet again.

The 2008 Fire Department of New York Calendar of Heroes, the elev­enth in series of snaps of buffed young fire­men stripped to the waist which pro­duces mass hys­teria on the streets of NY on its release every year — along with large amounts of cash for the FDNY — will be the last.

Why? Because it might make the good people of New York think of firemen’s hoses.

Calendar cover-boy 22-year-old Michael Biserta (above) has caused a scan­dal because he briefly got his semi-erect hose out in the video Boys Gone Wild in 2004 — some time before he even joined the FDNY.

For the sake of research, you under­stand, I’ve viewed the clip (it’s because in the Net Age images never go away that this scan­dal has happened). And let me just say that Biserta’s fire-fighting equip­ment will have no trouble extin­guish­ing the tallest flames.

Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta is not impressed, how­ever, and has ordered the scrap­ping of future cal­en­dars. Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes, him­self a former fire com­mis­sioner (and, judging by his pen­chant for double entendre, also an avid fan of Are You Being Served?) agrees, telling the press straight facedly: ‘You can’t allow any­thing that tar­nishes the repu­ta­tion of the people on the job.’

Not being American, I’m not sure how the fact that a fire­man flashed his large axe to con­sent­ing adults before he became a fire­man tar­nishes the repu­ta­tion of the people ‘on the job’, or any­where else.

Unless you’re just jeal­ous. Or pen­ises frighten you. (Admittedly, Biserta’s is slightly scary.)

And, Captain Peacock, isn’t a spot of pol­ish­ing, French or oth­er­wise, the usual way to deal with tarnishing?

I could under­stand if the FDNY was wor­ried that Biserta’s hot body might be start­ing more fires than it puts out. Instead it seems like just another example of the pur­it­an­ical American Phalliban try­ing to turn back the com­modi­fic­a­tion cock that American con­sumer­ism star­ted tick­ing. In the UK its dif­fi­cult to ima­gine that a top­less fire­man cal­en­dar would be banned because one of them had once got their big pump out on video. Instead, they’d prob­ably be given their own TV show. Over in France, the Dieux du Stade cal­en­dars fea­tur­ing stark­ers pro­fes­sional rugby play­ers covered in baby oil with their balls out sells like hot crois­sants — and no scan­dal erupts.

The US clearly has a dif­fer­ent atti­tude towards the male mem­ber, even if many people are con­vinced it’s cur­rently led by one. Recently the city coun­cil in Kaiser, Oregon was forced to prom­ise to remove some traffic bol­lards because people com­plained they looked ‘too much like pen­ises’. In other words, bol­lards. During the film­ing of last year’s Superman Returns the biggest pro­duc­tion pre­oc­cu­pa­tion was how to keep Superman’s Spandexed bulge from… bul­ging.

This year the posters for a film called Pride about Philadelphia ‘s first black swim team were nearly banned by the hawkeyed American Motion Picture Association because they were con­vinced that the pack­age of one of the black swim­mers in the back­ground had been ‘digit­ally enhanced’. (It hadn’t, and it wasn’t even par­tic­u­larly ‘proud’.)

I real­ise that post 9–11 the FDNY has been sanc­ti­fied. That they are now all ‘her­oes’. But nowadays ama­teur porn stars can be her­oes too. Especially if they’re hung as hero­ic­ally as Biserta.

The real prob­lem here is that Biserta’s showing-off before he became a fire-fighter was a little too expli­cit. The fact the cover-boy had got his actual cock out instead of his sym­bol­ism outed the pornoliz­ing of the male body going on in the cul­ture that the FDNY cal­en­dars them­selves are part of. Which freaked out the top brass who prob­ably never liked those faggy cal­en­dars anyway.

Many of the glossy images in the cal­en­dars, like the one on the cover, are delib­er­ately phal­lic and fet­ish­istic. Look at the way a ‘pumped’ and ‘ripped’ Biserta is hold­ing his big shiny red fire axe with both hands, over that huge butch metal clip appar­ently keep­ing his util­ity belt and flies together.

Even the Statue of Liberty, look­ing on, has erec­ted her arm — which has, under­stand­ably, burst into flames. Unlike the old grey men who run the FDNY, she’s an American who knows how to salute a prodi­giously well-equipped young fire­man when she sees one.

You can see that incen­di­ary Biserta clip on Xtube here.

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

Mens Health Magazine – How Gay is It?

Mark Simpson probes Men’s Health and finds it in pain­ful denial (ori­gin­ally appeared on Guardian CiF)

Isn’t it about time Men’s Health, the world’s biggest-selling ‘men’s life­style’ magazine, came out to itself?

I couldn’t get to sleep the other night and so resor­ted to flick­ing through last month’s UK issue: I find the pic­tures of semi-naked men’s per­fect, sweat­ing muscles and the dron­ing nar­ciss­istic hypo­chon­dria of the copy in this notori­ous met­ro­mag strangely soothing.

Then I happened across a five page cringe­mak­ingly earn­est art­icle about ‘het­ero­pol­it­ans’ (com­plete with a deathly ser­i­ous ‘Am I het­ero­pol­itan?’ ques­tion­naire), which MH wants us to believe have replaced met­ro­sexu­als. Apparently met­ro­sexu­als were too gay and too vain. HETEROpolitans on the other hand are just per­fect: they’re really, really hetero, really attract­ive, really buffed, really rich, really styl­ish and really suc­cess­ful. What’s more they also find the time to be really great hus­bands and dads, and are not in the least bit gay, vain, or even single.

Did I men­tion that they’re not gay already? And guess what? Men’s Health read­ers are all goody-two-shoes ‘heteropolitans’!

Now this single, child­less, beer-bellied bum-bandit REALLY couldn’t get to sleep.

Who do they think they’re kid­ding with this guff? Their mother? Men’s Health, with it’s front page pin-ups of studly six-packed shirt­less men and pages and pages obsessive-compulsive advice on how to get the per­fect pecs/skin/low-fat soufflé has long been one of the most nakedly metro of the men’s met­ro­mags. You might be for­given for think­ing that the only ques­tion­naire MH needs to run is: ‘Am I Gay? Or Just Bisexual?’

It looks like we’ll have to wait a while for that one. Of course most of its read­ers are not card-carrying homos like me (though most of them prob­ably have a Boots Storecard). Or closeted. Or even par­tic­u­larly bisexual. Though I’d take a wild guess that a fair per­cent­age of them are. But even the major­ity hetero read­ers of MH and other men’s shop­ping and gym­ing ‘men’s life­style’ mags are not that hetero – they’re clearly metro. Even if MH is in massive denial about this.

The prissy pre­tence that that any sug­ges­tion of gay­ness is utterly incon­ceiv­able between their pristine pages can lead to hil­ari­ous res­ults: such as the recent MH sex guide which encour­aged read­ers to get in touch with the hid­den pleas­ures of their pro­state gland by ‘get­ting your girl­friend to mas­sage it for you with her fin­ger’. Or maybe your boy­friend could do it with his penis? (In fact, it’s MH and con­sumer­ism in gen­eral that is really ‘mas­sa­ging your pro­state’, no vaseline.)

I haven’t been exactly what you’d call a devoted reader over the years (the UK edi­tion of MH was launched in 1995), I tend to dip in when I’m feel­ing in need of mas­ochistic motiv­a­tion at the gym or just some eye-candy, but I don’t recall MH always being so com­ic­ally keen to insist on its Totally Het cre­den­tials. Yes, like almost all men’s glos­sies, the copy didn’t openly acknow­ledge any of its read­ers might be homo­sexual, bisexual, bi-curious, or even just straight but-not-narrow. But then, with those cov­ers it didn’t need to.

Obviously there’s been a rethink at MH Towers. MH is pub­lished by Rodale, an American-owned com­pany and I sus­pect they’ve been influ­enced by all that men­dacious ‘menas­sance’ mar­ket­ing twaddle in the US last year in which manly man­li­ness and old-time real-guyness sup­posedly made a comeback knock­ing that faggy metro back into the closet. ‘Reclaim your man­hood – go shop­ping for mois­tur­iser in a Hummer’, that kind of thing.

Maybe this faux-macho Hummersexual over-compensation works in God-fearing, Bush-voting, fag-baiting America – after all, as Gore Vidal once observed, Ernest Hemingway was a joke that only America couldn’t get. But it just looks as camp as a row of cam­ou­flage print tents over here. When it doesn’t come across just plain creepy.

Every month gets more sur­real in the flaw­lessly worked-out world of MH. In addi­tion to the usual advice on how to achieve the most desir­able body on the dance-floor, the May issue of MH includes an oh-so butch ‘Spartan war­rior workout’ based on the Chippendale epic ‘300’, ran­dom expres­sions of dis­gust at male homo­sexu­al­ity in the Dining Out sec­tion, and a ‘wel­come aboard’ piece on the Contributors Page in which the editor chas­tises a new boy from Total Film for spend­ing too much time review­ing films ‘in darkened base­ments with other men’.

Not to worry though lads, noth­ing queer about the new groom­ing editor: he’s a fan of Rocky movies. (I kid you not.) ‘We’re now ensur­ing he spends as much time in day­light and in the com­pany of women as pos­sible,’ smugly assures the – rather gay and grey look­ing – editor. Which means, I guess, that he won’t be spend­ing much time in the gym. Or read­ing Men’s Health.

After tak­ing rather a lot of paid advice from MH over the years, I have some advice for them I’ll offer gratis. The edit­or­ial staff at MH should give some ser­i­ous thought to all those nasty stress hor­mones released into the blood­stream by hav­ing to live a lie, and the ter­rible things they do to com­plex­ions, hair and muscle tone.

Not to men­tion look­ing abso­lutely bloody ridicu­lous by being so nancy about man­sex and so coy about some­thing as nat­ural and irre­press­ible as good old male vanity.

Especially when your busi­ness is built on it.

 

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