Hollywood Gayze

Mark Simpson on Hollywood heartthrobs going ‘gayish’ 

The appear­ance of Channing Tatum and his Magic Mike XXL bun-chums Matt Bomer and Adam Rodriguez on a float at LA Pride shak­ing their money-makers for the highly appre­ci­at­ive LGBT crowd seems to have marked a water­shed moment in the City of Signs.

Not long after Tatum’s float dis­ap­peared into the heat haze of Santa Monica Boulevard the Hollywood Reporter ran a piece by Merle Ginsberg, formerly of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, about the way straight male per­formers like Tatum have gone ‘bey­ond met­ro­sexu­al­ity’ (char­ac­ter­ised by the HR as ‘indul­ging in feminine-seeming ped­i­cures and hair products’) and now want to be read as ‘gayish’.

Ginsberg argued that far from being frightened of  gay atten­tion and gay ‘taint’ as in days of yore, straight men these days act­ively – or is it pass­ively? – seek out, tickle and tease the male gayze on Pride floats and Out magazine cov­ers, and by talk­ing about which other male actor they’d do if they did guys. The piece also looked at how this phe­nomenon of furi­ously flirty ‘straight homos’ – or ‘stromos’ as it was dubbed – is blur­ring the lines of sexu­al­ity and jam­ming gaydar.

Obviously this is a sub­ject right up my pro­cliv­ity. And sure enough I found myself  quoted in the piece – but couldn’t quite remem­ber when I’d given them. I searched my Inbox and found that I’d answered ques­tions from Ginsberg about this phe­nomenon of straight male ‘gay­ness’ by email back in 2013. I guess even two years ago I’m still so now.

However the Hollywood Reporter piece seems to have ruffled a few gay feath­ers eli­cit­ing com­plaints about ‘gay ste­reo­types’ and ‘exploit­a­tion’. While it’s not really for me to defend the word ‘stromo’ – I’ve enough annoy­ing neo­lo­gisms of my own to look out for – the phe­nomenon that the art­icle is about is def­in­itely worth ana­tom­ising and cer­tainly not ‘made up’ as some claim, offen­ded ostrich-like.

You prob­ably won’t be sur­prised to hear that I think the only prob­lem with the Hollywood Reporter piece was that I wasn’t quoted enough — par­tic­u­larly since the art­icle strives to delin­eate a dif­fer­ence between ‘stromos’ and ‘met­ro­sexu­als’ which seems to be based more on an American mar­ket­ing defin­i­tion of met­ro­sexu­al­ity than mine.

So here are the answers metrodaddy gave in full. (Note the bit towards the end where I say the increas­ing inco­her­ence of what we mean by ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ is troub­ling for tra­di­tion­al­ists – straight and gay.)

MS: I agree that met­ro­sexu­al­ity has morphed – though I would say it has always been morph­ing and that really it’s intens­i­fied. Metrosexuality was never about facials and flip flops it was about the male desire to be desired – which is rampant nowadays. Today’s men are totally tarty. And shame­less hussies with it. Male self-objectification is very much the name of today’s game.

Funnily enough, I think this presents a prob­lem for male celebs in gen­eral and movie act­ors in par­tic­u­lar. Now that the young str8 male movie-going audi­ence are so image con­scious and so keen to attract the eye, the man on the screen has to go the extra mile – and get up even earlier for even longer, harder workouts. Likewise as their audi­ence becomes ‘gayer’, they have to become even gayer or else end up look­ing Dad-ish. They have to push the envel­ope fur­ther and try harder than their male fans, or the boy­friends of their female fans, or else why should they be in the spotlight?

MG: What do you think of these actors/singers (Adam Levine) who look and dress and even move in a rather gay way? Is this the new masculinity?

Adam Levine looks and sounds like a singing David Beckham. With a bit of Marc Jacobs thrown in. But then Beckham is a kind of non-singing pop star.

What’s hap­pen­ing is that a kind of male bi-sensuality is becom­ing more and more the norm, both with young men and par­tic­u­larly with male per­formers, appro­pri­at­ing tastes and man­ners sens­ib­il­it­ies and sens­it­iv­it­ies that were pre­vi­ously pre­served for women and gay men – on pain of emas­cu­la­tion and ridicule.

Men increas­ingly want to present them­selves as avail­able for any fantasy, and respons­ive to both sexes – even and espe­cially when they’re het­ero­sexual. It’s a use­ful strategy for a ‘civil­ian’ in today’s medi­at­ised, mirrored world, but it’s an essen­tial one if you’re a performer.

Is this pos­sibly due to a fur­ther accept­ance of gay cul­ture in gen­eral? How did that hap­pen over time?

It’s partly due to a greater accept­ance of gay cul­ture. If homo­pho­bia is uncool, as it is for most young people in the US or UK today, then fear of ‘gay’ things also, even­tu­ally, becomes uncool.

But I would almost put it the other way around, homo­pho­bia has declined because today’s men are less afraid of them­selves than they used to be. Today’s straight men enjoy most of the same sexual prac­tises as gay men, though usu­ally with someone with a vagina, and have embraced gay men’s love of the male body too – though usu­ally their own body. Likewise, male passiv­ity is much less of a taboo than it was. The itchy throb of the pro­state gland is no respecter of sexual orientation.

Why would a gay magazine put a straight guy on the cover? Why would a straight guy do it?

Gay magazines put straight men on the cover because a) Their read­ers, how­ever much they may deny it some­times, really like to look at hot straight guys, and b) it gets them press: ‘You’ll never guess who’s in his pants on the cover of OUT magazine this month!!’. A gay guy on the cover of a gay magazine is not news. Of course, straight guys on the cover of gay magazines is hardly news any­more now that they’re all scratch­ing each other’s eyes out to get there.… Another reason why gay magazines do it is because it helps to make homo­pho­bia even un-cooler.

Why do straight celebs and sports­men do it? Because: a) They get pub­li­city, and b) They get kudos, and c), prob­ably the most import­ant, straight men nowadays love to be ‘gay icons’.

There is money and career points in hav­ing a ‘gay fol­low­ing’, to be sure, but I think the need for gay male approval goes deeper and is shared by a lot of young straight men today. It’s that desire to be desired thing again. Straight men ache to be sex objects – and what bet­ter way to be objec­ti­fied than by other men? Straight men know how demand­ing men’s eyes can be. How pen­et­rat­ing their ‘gaze’ is.

Even if you have no desire to ever have sex with another guy there’s noth­ing quite so sym­bol­ic­ally, deli­ciously ‘pass­ive’ as being oggled by other pen­ised human beings.

Is it con­fus­ing that we can’t tell who’s straight or who’s gay any­more? Is this a good thing?

It is very con­fus­ing. But con­fu­sion can be a good and lib­er­at­ing thing.

I think we’ve reached a point where straight men are so ‘gay’ nowadays that they’ve actu­ally become ‘straight act­ing’. Those beards that gays star­ted wear­ing back in the early Noughties to butch up have been adop­ted whole­sale by a lot of straight guys in the last few years, and for sim­ilar reas­ons. The dec­or­at­ive, imit­at­ive mach­ismo of the gay world has become the ‘real’ thing.

Likewise, the pleas­ur­ing and pleas­ured pneu­matic porno male body that Tom of Finland was dood­ling from his over­heated ima­gin­a­tion back in the 50s and 60s has become the dom­in­ant main­stream fantasy. The Situation and his real­ity TV ‘bros’ have Tom-ish bod­ies that invite and plead for the gayze.

But of course the big­ger pic­ture is that what we mean by ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ is really break­ing down into inco­her­ence. Which is troub­ling for both straight and gay tra­di­tion­al­ists. While you might think that gay men would all wel­come this glor­i­ous con­fu­sion some do find it very dis­con­cert­ing. And no one likes to be upstaged.

But in the end, the total tri­umph of met­ro­sexu­al­ity and male tarti­ness, ter­ri­fy­ing as it is, should prob­ably be seen as a lib­er­a­tion for straight men – and a bloody relief for gay men. After all, they no longer have to embody all the van­ity and tarti­ness of their entire sex just to keep straight men ‘normal’.

Magic Mike XXL: What It Tells Us About Modern Manhood

The Magic Mike movies are, truth be told, a bit of a nos­tal­gia trip. ‘Male strip­ping’ is actu­ally rather retro. It emerged as a phe­nomenon in the now impossibly innocent-looking 90s when the Chippendales and their orange muscles framed by bow ties, white cuffs and permed hair drove women wild – and Channing Tatum him­self was work­ing as a strip­per in Florida, before he became a Hollywood sex object.”

Yours mus­ing on today’s stripped-down stuffed-crotch mas­culin­ity in The Telegraph.

Keyless Entry & Male Versatility

“I call him lollipop”

The sexu­al­isa­tion of the male body probes new, perfectly-rounded depths in this European ad pro­mot­ing the ‘key­less entry’ fea­ture on Ford cars.

And pos­sibly the use of Ford key fobs as sex toys.

A remark­ably well-crafted ad, it makes excel­lent use of the increas­ingly blatant mod­ern phe­nomenon of meta­phys­ical — and increas­ingly phys­ical - male ver­sat­il­ity. How men in our sporno­sexual age are now act­ive and pass­ive. Tops and bot­toms. Subjects and objects. Heroic and tarty.

To the strains of an ‘inno­cent’ 1960s bubblegum pop track in which a girl com­pares her boy­friend to some­thing sweet to suck, every­one on the beach, male or female, young or old, gay or straight, is hav­ing a really good look at the worked-out, oiled-up grin­ning hot­tie in the tight trunks saun­ter­ing past.

So far, so nor­mal in a world in which the male body has become bouncy castle for the eyes.

As our beach babe approaches his car how­ever, we real­ise that every­one is sup­posedly star­ing because they are won­der­ing how he’s going to get into his locked, lovely new ride.

The oblig­at­ory, ‘objec­ti­fy­ing’ close ups of his packet and ass served up to us before­hand have only ‘served’ to make it clear that he hasn’t got any­thing down his pants, save his meat and two vege — plus two pert buns.

The car greed­ily unlocks itself when presen­ted with his lunch-packet. Which is entirely understandable.

But we’re star­ing right at his bubble butt strain­ing against his tight trunks when this happens.

And then the kiss-off strap­line spells out the anal­ity of all this:

FORD KEYLESS ENTRY

Where you keep your key is up to you.

So the ad is less about the lol­li­pop and more about the buttered buns. ‘Keyless entry’ is all about male ver­sat­il­ity, if not voraciousness.

Likewise the pop­ping sound-effect on the ‘Lollipop’ track at the end of the ad is now less sug­gest­ive of fel­la­tio than the removal of a car fob from a toned, er, trunk.

Britain’s Got Tarty (& Chris Hemsworth’s Got Codpiece)

I always used to won­der when watch­ing gay porn in the 1990s how the deuce the mod­els man­aged to get their pants over their chunky butch boots without remov­ing them.

Now of course every straight male from South London learns how to do this before they can leg­ally drink in pubs — as ‘Forbidden Nights’, an act audi­tion­ing on Britain’s Got More Talent recently demonstrated.

Note how the camp judge (David Walliams) is con­trac­tu­ally bound to be ‘gay’ — regard­less of the fact he’s straight. And twice the size of the rather lovely pocket-sized strip­per he hugs (no doubt he had to have his suit dry-cleaned of orange body make-up).

Note also how ‘sexu­al­ised images’ of the male body — and extreme close-ups of cotton-lycra mix bulges — are now an entirely accept­able, and enthu­si­ast­ic­ally applauded, part of British prime-time fam­ily entertainment.

Something the American Phalliban suc­cess­fully sab­ot­aged in the BBC’s recent Wolf’s Hall — spoilsport American TV execs insisted the Tudor cod­pieces be toned down.

Hooray for Hollywood how­ever — who gave ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ Chris Hemsworth one the size of, well, the ham­mer of a Norse god of thun­der, in the just-released ‘red band’ trailer for the forth­com­ing remake of National Lampoon’s (R-rated) Vacation.

That’s prob­ably way more phal­lus than you’ll get in Magic Mike XXL.

Tip: Hans Versluys

 

Man-Knockers on the London Underground

A funny thing happened to Mark Simpson on the way to the ‘Being a Man’ forum

I almost fell off the plat­form when I saw this body­build­ing sup­ple­ments poster bust­ing out all over the London Underground recently - around the same time as all that indig­nant hul­laba­loo sur­round­ing The Sun’s infam­ous now-you-don’t-see-them-any-more-now-you-do-again lady busts.

There they were, depil­ated man-knockers (and pixelated knack­ers) nakedly objec­ti­fied in the rush hour for all to see: men and women, chil­dren and adults, wide-eyed tour­ists and jaded loc­als. No need to buy a copy of a declin­ing tabloid news­pa­per, open it and turn to page three to ‘exploit’ this model’s tits and abs. Just look up from your smart­phone. Shameless male top­less and bottomless-ness plastered all over the walls for every­one to ‘gaze’ at while wait­ing for the next obscenely over­crowded Elephant & Castle train, per­haps car­ry­ing Laura Mulvey.

Even worse, the poster encour­aged other young men to objec­tify them­selves (‘reveal your­self’), and spend their hard-earned cash buy­ing sup­ple­ments that they hope will help to make them more desir­able, more sale­able, more shag­gable — bustier. Men are the new glam­our models.

The web­site for the sup­ple­ment com­pany includes ‘cover model’ as one of the poten­tial ‘goals’ that their sporno­sexual cus­tom­ers might be inter­ested in:

…lean muscle has become an industry recog­nised term that is now syn­onym­ous with a cover model look. To achieve a cover model body, the key con­sid­er­a­tion is to increase muscle whilst keep­ing body fat to an abso­lute minimum’.

And lib­eral use of Photoshop.

Funnily enough, I was on my way to appear on a panel at the Southbank Centre talk­ing about ‘Being a Man’ when I was con­fron­ted with these man-knockers. On the panel I was respond­ing to a present­a­tion by the artist and TV presenter Grayson Perry. Who is a bit of man knocker him­self — in a more ‘crit­ical’ sense.

Perry’s present­a­tion (along the lines of this piece for the New Statesman) was acerbic, enter­tain­ing and not without insight, but some­times seemed at least thirty years out of date. And I know this because I myself am only twenty years out of date.

My main issue with it was not that it prob­lem­at­ised and patho­lo­gised mas­culin­ity and ‘toxic’ testoster­one and the Sauronic ‘male gaze’ — which it did in spades — but that it reified, pos­sibly fet­ish­ised mas­culin­ity as some­thing unchan­ging, some­thing mono­lithic. Sometimes the biggest crit­ics of mas­culin­ity are its biggest believ­ers — includ­ing cross-dressing fem­in­ist men.

Of course, I tend to notice far too much what some don’t care to see at all — and I began my com­ments by warn­ing the audi­ence that I like men. A LOT. But I was sur­prised how little Mr Perry seemed to under­stand me when talk­ing about the eager self-objectification young men today go in for and the break­down of what I call the het­ero­sexual divi­sion of labour, of look­ing and of loving.

I won­der if he uses the tube? Or even his eyes?

***

The recently-released movie ver­sion of Fifty Shades of Grey has been attacked by some fem­in­ists for set­ting back ‘the cause of woman­hood’ (because it fea­tures female sub­missive­ness and male mas­ter­ful­ness) and for glor­i­fy­ing ‘abuse’ (des­pite being very con­sen­sual). Notwithstanding it is writ­ten by a woman, dir­ec­ted by a woman (Sam Taylor-Johnson), green-lighted by a woman — and of course enorm­ously pop­u­lar with women. Likewise, the rehab­il­it­a­tion of female mas­ochism in the last dec­ade or so seems to have been for­got­ten and replaced by sus­pi­cion of women who like their sex sub­missive and spanky.

I haven’t seen the movie, I’m still recov­er­ing from going to see the last ‘event’ ‘chick flick’, so can’t com­ment on whether or not the women involved in mak­ing it and the mil­lions going to see are suf­fer­ing from ‘false con­scious­ness’. And obvi­ously I don’t know much about woman­hood anyway.

But I have watched the offi­cial trailer. Repeatedly. The mas­ter­ful Mr Grey (Jamie Dornan) is a standard-issue sporno­sexual who prob­ably has a Bulk Powders Gold Card. In the 2.23 min trailer there are 7 top­less shots of his sculp­ted torso, includ­ing a mir­ror shot which gives you a sim­ul­tan­eous, spitroast­ing front and rear view of it, vs 1.5 of Ms Steele (Dakota Johnson), sans nipples in her case. Oh, and one side shot of her panties — with Dornan’s pretty face in front of them.

My favour­ite shot though shows him play­ing his grand piano shirt­less, in a scene that looks a bit Behind the Candelabras - but with Liberace as the toy-boy. I sup­pose that the grand piano rep­res­ents Ms Steele sub­mit­ting to the skill­ful fin­gers of Mr Grey. But it looks like a very camp — sorry, I mean mas­ter­ful — form of masturbation.