below-the-belt-grooming-commercial-youtube

Balls on the Box: Male Grooming’s Groping For New Markets

by Mark Simpson

All these nicely-presented years on from the birth of the metrosexual – he turned 22 this month – and my prediction that he represented the future of masculinity, out and proud male vanity shows no sign of getting bored with itself, or running out of cash to splash. ‘Male grooming’ is still booming: it’s a fine-smelling, thoroughly-moisturised market estimated to top £14.8bn globally this year.

But now that almost every post-pubescent male shares his bathroom with a buff puff there is a danger that the market could become as saturated as men’s skin. In order to continue growing, and create demands for new products, male grooming increasingly has to boldly go where no ad has gone before. Groping male consumers intimately in the quest for new frontiers of needs.

And this TV commercial currently airing in the UK is very bold, as Julian and Sandy would say. It features a man playing with his balls on prime time.

‘Only a few decades ago if you wore underarm spray you were not considered to be a REAL MAN,’ says the strangely robotic (butch?) voiceover, as we watch a young, worked out, fashion-bearded male performing his most personal ablutions in his mirrored privy. ‘A few decades’ looks like a millenia.

The Scottish-American text-to-speech app goes on to tell us that talcum powder ‘around your damp bits’ was acceptable back then, but ‘black suave underpants put paid to that messy solution’.

Yes, those black suave underpants that I’m probably to blame for.

He continues (I had to replay this bit several times to understand what was being said): ‘Lots has evolved since then, but men are still just as badly-designed downstairs.’

Are we? Speak for yourself, dear!

But before we can ponder that statement, or assess whether sweaty knackers are really such a major social problem, we’re slapped in the face with a irresistible question:

‘Surely modern man deserves the choice of being comfortable all day?’

Well, who can argue with choice, comfort and deservingness? And besides, the model is nodding in agreement at this point. Or maybe ecstasy – he’s clearly handling himself now. While admiring his reflection in the mirror.

‘Welcome to Below the Belt grooming and fresh and dry balls!’

Thanks! I think.

Then the corny kiss-off line which is, it has to be said, the dogs bollocks:

‘Your balls are safe in our hands!’

The effect is to make the ad – sorry, testimonial – a WTF? moment. Is this is a spoof? Is this product real? Or is there some double entendre here that I’ve somehow missed? Surely they can’t be being this direct on the tellybox?

And then you find yourself wondering well, why shouldn’t balls be mentioned in telly ads, without coyness or evasion? Even if yours aren’t ‘badly-designed’? Men’s balls exist! They have needs! They have feelings! (Which can, as any man will tell you, be hurt very, very easily.) And they need to breath! It’s about time they stopped having to hide and came out.

The sweaty nads ad is perhaps not quite as clever or funny – or even as ‘ballsy’ – as this ‘I’d f*ck me’ US Phillips manscaping ad from a few years back which took male vanity to its logical, self-loving conclusion, but it’s up there. Or down there. Certainly we’ve come a long way since this anxious 1968 UK commercial that sought to tell us that spray-on deodorant wasn’t girly or gay at all because manly, pub-going, bird-chasing, working class England footie heroes used it (and it was kept in the locker-room first aid cabinet because it was purely medicinal and not at all cosmetic).

Post-Beckham, all professional footballers have monogrammed Luis Vuitton washbags filled with the latest, most expensive male cosmetics issued along with their football strip.

Some of course will worry that the Below the Belt ad is just more horrifying evidence that metrosexuality has gone Too Far. That men are being emasculated by their ‘girly’ vanity. That along with ‘extreme’ manscaping trends such as increasing numbers of men apparently shaving their legs, and the arrival of ‘scrotal lifts‘ consumerism now has men by the balls.

And perhaps it’s true that consumerism is trying to create new male neuroses merely to sell more products, in much the same way that it has done with women for decades. That’s a kind of equality, I suppose.

Others might argue that it merely comes down to more freedom, that as the ad says, ‘surely modern man deserves the choice’. You don’t have to Immac your legs or baste your bollocks if you don’t want to. Pants may have got tighter but masculinity is much less restrictive than it used to be, and as a result men are less inhibited than they used to be – and more likely to do things that might seem a bit silly.

Besides, isn’t it a good thing that men are being encouraged to ‘examine’ their testicles daily – especially during Movember? Not all bollocks are created equal – some balls really are sweatier than others. And maybe testicle antiperspirant gel is a potential solution to that terrible modern scourge of ‘manspreading’.

As for me, my main concern is simply this: does Below the Belt come in different flavours?

h/t: Peter Watkins

peter-york-hipster-barbers

Notes on Hipsterism

By Mark Simpson

While everyone else in the 80s wanted to look like they’d walked off the set of Blade Runner or Top Gun, Peter York looked and sounded like he’d stepped out of Dangerous Liaisons. Whenever the co-author of Style Wars and The Sloane Ranger Handbook popped up on telly, as he often did back then, talking about trends or ads in a dapper Saville Row suit, his hair looked like it should be powdered and bowed, and his upper-lip beauty-spotted.

In BBC Four’s recent TV doc The Hipster Handbookwhich I was asked to contribute to but was unfortunately unavailable York seems relatively unaffected by the vulgarities of time, sartorially or even much physically, given that he’s now in his 70s. That imperious ‘high’ hair is still there, if greyed. Though who knows? Maybe it really is a wig now.

His almost drag queen hauteur is still also present and incorrect, enabling him to be wonderfully rude and direct but entirely politely. I have no idea about York’s sexuality, but in an odd way his persona reminds me slightly of Quentin Crisp (or rather, Hurtian Crisp).

When he visits Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NYC, the birthplace – though perhaps we should call it curationplaceof hipsterism he explains in clipped tones to a local complimenting him on his ‘fashionable’ Olde Worlde overcoat: ‘It’s the national dress of my country’.

York was an anachronism in the 1980s but also strangely, sharply (post)modern. Now that we’re living in a ‘post-postmodern’ world he looks like a time-traveller. Dr Who as market researcher. In Williamsburg he discovers that a decade or so on from their arrival, hipsters and even beards are now thin on the ground, having moved on to pastures more affordable – and are not much missed. Asked to define a hipster a young, clean-shaven man dismisses them as: ‘creatives about to turn into yuppies.’

York also travels to Shoreditch, London where hipsters are, as in most other ‘cool’ enclaves of large cities in the Western world, apparently still very much ‘a thing’ – after all these years of peak hipsterdom and regular pronouncements of its death. It’s full of young creatives being uniquely individual and amazingly authentic in their identical plaid shirts, compulsory facial-hair and passion for really-like-difficult-to-source coffee beans and expensive frosted cereals.

York like any good dandy, aspires to be as artificial as possible. Culture is nature’s enemy and vice versa. Hipsters however, perhaps because they usually have no idea about nature at all – and seem only to have the same ‘ironic’ idea about culture for that matter – are obsessed with authenticity.

‘It’s SO not me’ drawls York.

Paradoxically, the clean-shaven, sharply-dressed old man of slightly camp artifice seemed much more substantial than the young, earnestly ironic men in their ill-fitting beards and table-cloth shirts. Then again, I imagine Mr York is very substantial financially (according to Wikipedia, in addition to his best-selling books he works as a management consultant).

And yes, the doc was entirely focused on the male hipster: the only women interviewed were social commentators, academics or sales staff in hipster clothes shops. To the point where it sometimes looked like a documentary about a bear cub commune. But most people are only interested in the male hipster – and as York points out, most women can’t grow the hipster hallmark: a beard.

York’s mere presence offered a kind of mocking critique of our hairy young creatives – even without the impish glitter he had in his eyes when listening to them as they droned on about the ‘tradition’ and ‘craft’ behind the expensive bottled beer they like to drink and make.

The money shot came when he visited a barbershop in East London, now specialising in ‘facial-hair management’, observing a handsome man-bunned twenty-something chap reclining in a retro barber’s chair getting his bushy brunette beard ‘managed’.

‘Would you like it rounder at the bottom – a lumberjack finish?’ asked the bearded, inked, young barber solicitously.

At the climax of the ‘management’, the barber rubbed beard conditioner into the customer’s pride and joy.

Regardless of what the actual, existing sexuality of these two young men is it’s difficult to see how this scene could be any gayer. In fact, if it had been properly gay, with your actual gay sex – cocks agogo – it would somehow have been considerably less gay.

And what’s more, it was gay threesome – with York as the older voyeur/punter (in a double-breasted blazer).

peter-york-2

‘What does “lumberjack” mean?’ asked York, with a heroically straight face. The barber patiently explained that it’s a ‘wild’, ‘rugged’ look. He mentioned the ‘lumbersexual’. But pronounced it ‘lumbosexual’. Which is, actually, the way it should be pronounced.

The barber, who I think may not have been so much a true believer as just someone trying to make a living, made the salient point that a lot of his customers ‘work in media, architects, or web design, that type of thing’, who ‘spend a lot of time in front of a PC screen so don’t have that feeling of being in touch with their, like, masculine side’.

Amidst all this plaidery and lumbering York’s voiceover tells us that the shelves in the barber shop are positively groaning with beautifully-packaged product: ‘This is not a lumberjack’s cabin – this could be Mayfair’.

He suggests that hipsters’ laborious obsession with ‘masculine authenticity’ produces a look as constructed as what he terms ‘the metrosexual look that went before it’. He also admits that he can’t quite get the ‘beardy thing’ and that it strikes him as ‘a bit steampunk, a bit homosexual – a bit Clone Zone, a bit Tom Selleck in Magnum PI’.

Tom Selleck - original hipster?

This is probably where I would have popped up saying something unkind. Though I’m not entirely sure that I would have been needed.

All the same, I’ve listed seven unkind thoughts on hipsterism below:

1. Everyone hates hipsters – including & especially hipsters.

They’re far too special and unique and knowing to be captured in a word. Let alone that word. Hipsters want to be the curators never the curated. Which is why everyone delights in pinning the ‘H’ word on them as they try to wriggle away. It’s Kryptonite to their eclectic superpowers. Or garlic to a vampire.

2. Hipsterism is a cult with no credo

As that that big beardy Karl Marx put it: ‘Hipsterism is the sigh of the badly-dressed, a longing for authenticity in an inauthentic, online world. It is the OxyContin of the creative classes.’

3. Hipsters think they’re totally worth it.

And so should you. ‘Artisan’ means: ‘double the price coz expensively-educated kids got their hands dirty – and wrote something amazing on a chalkboard’.

4. Hipsterism is not locally-sourced.

It’s a thoroughly American cultural franchise. Hence hipsters in London or Brighton or Barcelona or Berlin or Rome laboriously replicate the obsessions of American hipsters – such as ‘gourmet burgers’, ‘craft ales’ and ‘real coffee’ – that were a reaction to the Budweiser blandness of American consumerism. Regardless of the fact that in Europe we already have amazing ‘real beer’ and ‘real coffee’ outlets. Called ‘Germany’ and ‘Italy’.

5. Hipster masculinity is also not locally-sourced.

It is imported, assembled and accessorised – curated – largely from officially ironic but rather anxious-looking retro ‘authentic’ American signifiers such as ‘the trucker cap’, or ‘the lumberjack’. Signifiers which are fairly meaningless in the UK – except perhaps as a Monty Python sketch.

6. Hipsterism is the anti-sexual wing of metrosexuality.

Maybe it depends on how aroused you are by gingham, but hipsterism sometimes looks like a form of male self-love that seems to be oddly self-loathing. Flannel shirts as hair shirts. Hipsters generally have big beards and big data allowances instead of bodies. (This is perhaps why some hipsters like to make ‘gender flip’ memes mocking the objectification of women which depend on the notion that men aren’t and can’t be objectified.)

7. The hipster beard is not a beard.

It’s far too heavily overdetermined to be mere face fur. There’s something magical and quasi-sexual about it. At least for hipsters. For all their famous love of irony, most don’t seem terribly ironic about the hairy thing on their chin that they treat like a prized, pampered pet.

The plain, unvarnished, but nicely-conditioned truth is that the hipster beard is a fetish in the classic Freudian sense of a penis-substitute. This is why they have to be so BIG, and why they can’t leave them alone.

And also why we can’t stop staring at them.

Burst your bubble

Man Down – Defining Deflated & Liberated Masculinity

by Mark Simpson

‘What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! in apprehension how like a god!… And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?’ – Hamlet

There has been a lot of soul-searching about what it means to ‘be a man’ nowadays. Because no one really knows the answer. Defining ‘man’ and ‘masculine’ in a world in which phallic certainties have dramatically deflated like a dirigible disaster is an endless and probably pointless task. It is the philosopher’s stone of marketing. The quintessence of dust.

Coach, a weekly free UK men’s fitness/lifestyle magazine produced by Dennis publishing (also behind the stalwart spornosexual monthly Men’s Fitness), recently produced some research on the elusive nature of the modern male that defined him by un-defining him. It claimed to show that the ‘alpha male’ stereotype is largely a thing of the past, replaced by an ‘alta male’ who is less interested in money and career than in a healthy work/life balance, self-improvement and personal relationships – ‘higher’ things.

Most of all, he prefers to follow his own lights, rather than compare himself to traditional models of masculinity which are now seen as largely obsolete. Modern man is defined, in other words, by his lack of definition.

Last month I was invited by Coach to appear on a panel in Soho, London discussing the findings. As I said at the time, what most interested me about the research was that, in addition to proving me, in my humble opinion, completely and absolutely right about everything – which is always gratifying – it seemed to finally dispel the over-hyped, almost hysterical, notion that men are undergoing a ‘crisis of masculinity’. Though I’m sure many of the people in crisis about this ‘crisis’ will continue to have a cow about it.

Masculinity has always been in crisis. This has been its ‘natural’, anxious, paranoid, Hamletian state. It’s why it always had something to prove. But probably less so now than ever before.

As I’ve argued for some time, instead of a crisis, what we’re really going through is a revolution. A revolution against mostly restrictive, repressive ideas of what being a man is. A metrosexual revolution – or ‘male lib’. In fact, this revolution has been going on for the last few decades and for most of the younger generation its achievements are largely taken for granted.

Hence the Coach found that: ‘Friendliness, intelligence, being funny, caring are all attributes man wants to be seen possessing – in contrast with toughness and strength of the man of yesteryear.’

This is underlined by how ‘masculine’ is the No.2 quality today’s men attribute to ‘man of yesteryear’ (48%) – but doesn’t make it into the top 12 attributes he likes others to see in him (23%).

This sentiment is loudly echoed in a recent YouGov survey (cited in the Coach research) that found only 2% of 18-24 year olds see themselves as ‘completely masculine’ – compared with 56% of 65+ men.

genderAge

A whopping 47% (the largest segment) see themselves as 2s on a scale of 0-6, where 0 = completely masculine 6 = completely feminine, while a sizeable 17% see themselves as 3s, i.e. somewhere in the middle. (This is similar to a previous YouGov survey on sexuality which found that most young people in the UK now consider themselves something other than ‘100% heterosexual’.)

For comparison, 14% of 18-24 women see themselves as ‘completely feminine’, which is seven times as many men of the same age who see themselves as completely masculine. While 12% see themselves as 3s.

The remarkably low figures for young men seeing themselves as ‘masculine’ may be influenced by the way that masculinity has had a bad press lately – and indeed the majority of 18-24 men have a negative impression of masculinity, with 42% perceiving it negatively compared to 39% positively. Interestingly, 18-24 women mostly don’t share young men’s critical view of masculinity and are as positive about it as young men are negative (42% positive to 27% negative). In this regard, young men seem to be more ‘feminist’ than young women.

By the way, YouGov’s figures for the US show that American men are much more likely than UK ones to think of themselves as ‘completely masculine’, 42% overall compared to 28%. As I’ve pointed out before, despite being very much involved in its creation, the US has been resistant to metrosexuality and the revolution it represents – or at least terribly conflicted about it. The US is of course the home of ‘manning up’, bearism, ‘bro-nuts‘, and IT professionals who think they’re lumberjacks.

Back in the effete UK, while discussing its findings on men’s attitudes towards masculinity, the Coach report concludes: ‘But even though man is more comfortable with who he is on the inside, there’s a struggle to define ‘masculinity’. (61% find it ‘hard to define exactly what masculinity means’.)

I think this statement is phrased wrongly. There’s no ‘but’ about it. And not much of a ‘struggle’. I don’t think many if not most young men can be bothered. Which is a good thing. It’s precisely because masculinity can’t be easily defined nowadays that men have much more freedom than their forefathers – and can thus be ‘more comfortable with who he is on the inside’. In the past, really only a couple of decades ago, everyone knew what being a man was – and what a ‘regular bloke’ looked like. And who wasn’t.

Although trad masculinity had many admirable qualities, such as self-sacrifice, stoicism and DIY – they were largely based on repudiation. Most of trad masculinity was defined by what men were not – not soft, not tender, not nurturing, not passive, not feminine, not good with colours, not gay. As a result, most young men today don’t ‘struggle’ to define masculinity – rather, they get on with living their lives how they want to live them.

Finally, a slightly tedious word about demographics. The Coach research was based on a focus group of 21 men aged between 22-59 in London, and a survey of 1000 men and women across Britain. Although the focus group apparently included many men originally from around the UK (and some who still lived outside London), it’s probably true that the research – like the magazine itself – had a metropolitan bias.

It also seems to have had, unsurprisingly, a middle class one – 79% of the respondents were ABC1 (compared to c.54% nationally according to 2015 figures). However, I don’t think this invalidates their findings, especially since the aspects of their research which most interested me seem to be backed up by the more demographically representative YouGov research – which when you drill down into their C2DE/ABC1 breakdown, mostly shows no great differences between them in regard to attitudes towards masculinity.

It’s one of the hallmarks of the metrosexual revolution that it cuts across all classes, with working class men often on the coalface of change.

Ronaldo married

Ronaldophobia

Mark Simpson explains why Cristiano Ronaldo’s talent & prettiness are so intolerable

One of the queerest things about homophobia is that many of its targets are not actually homo. Not because homophobia is a blunt, inaccurate baseball bat – though that as well – but because homophobia is used as a way of policing all men’s behaviour, whatever their actual sexual preference. Or just to bring them down a satisfying peg or two. That’s so GAY!! What are you, a FAG?? Etc. Etc.

Now that overt homophobia is increasingly uncool and sometimes illegal, it perhaps tends to be directed even more at men who are not officially gay or bi – albeit in a ‘joshing’ way. Especially if they’re hotter, hencher and much more famous, wealthy and talented than you – and we’re talking about football.

During last week’s match between Real Madrid and Barcelona, the 31-year-old Portuguese football ace and underwear god Cristiano Ronaldo – Real’s star player – was targeted from the stands with chants of ‘MARICON!!’, the Spanish equivalent of ‘faggot’. Apparently this has been going on for a while.

Francisco Ramirez the director of the Spanish LGBT Observatory said: ‘For months the Real Madrid player Cristiano Ronaldo has been the continued object of insults and malicious rumours from the tabloids, and also from sports journalists and… players, in order to humiliate, offend and denigrate a great football player.’

Ronaldo is, by the way, not just a great football player – he’s one of the greatest of all time. He’s also currently the highest paid footballer in the world. Which of course just makes him and his prettiness all the more intolerable. Ronaldophobia is perfectly understandable, really.

‘It is necessary to clarify,’ added Ramirez ‘that homophobia does not necessarily mean that people who suffer are homosexual, but only that other people believe it or use it to insult, harass and humiliate others.’

Quite. I have no burning interest in Ronaldo’s ‘real’ sexual orientation – someone who has reportedly been involved with a series of female supermodels. But lots of people do – straight and gay. Last year a photo of him horsing around with his bearded Moroccan kick-boxing buddy Badh Hari was seized upon by many as ‘proof’ that Ronaldo is GAY!! (it’s never lower-case ‘gay’ – and of course never, ever ‘bi’). Football pundits ‘worried’ on TV that ‘cuddling’ his buddy would ‘affect his performance’.

Football is a very odd game indeed.

Perhaps I don’t have enough imagination, or perhaps I’m just not repressed enough, but when I saw the photos I only saw two young men enjoying each other’s company and, rather wonderfully, not being afraid to show it. Not afraid, in other words, that people would think them… GAY!!

I also found myself wondering that if they were actually having a secret gay relationship they might have been rather more inhibited – and Hari might not have captioned the pic of him picking up a grinning Ronaldo ‘Just married!’.

But then, probably nobody really believed that the photos proved Ronaldo was having a gay affair – they were just a way to have a phobic little faux scandal and chastise him again for being a free, affectionate spirit with loads of money and talent and no modesty.

But however you interpret it, Ronaldo feels no need to deny the rumours and the abuse or react to them at all. He really doesn’t give a shit what you or I think. Which is what drives so many of us – especially us English with our herd mentality – crazy.

When he played in the UK from 2003-2009 for Manchester United – the same club David Beckham had played for before moving to Real Madrid – Ronaldo was regularly abused from the terraces and also became the target of an especially vicious and sustained phobic campaign from the UK media. Ronaldophobia was a national sport.

Unlike savvy, needy Beckham, proud Ronaldo didn’t go out of his way to curry favour with the press and play the self-deprecating game. Worse, he was younger, better looking, more talented – and, fatally, wasn’t English.

The UK’s biggest-selling tabloid repeatedly attacked the ‘arch metrosexual’ as they dubbed him (as in, I guess, ‘arch villain’ and ‘arched eyebrows’), for sunbathing too much, for wearing ‘tight silver shorts’ on holiday, for his interest in grooming, his ‘perfectly shaved chest’ and generally being a big poof.

They even ran a piece comparing him to George Michael – who is also olive-skinned and GAY!! GEDDIT?? – suggesting he fancies ‘playing for the other team’, and basically just shouting ‘MARICON!!’ at him over and over again.

Ronaldo’s response? He went on holiday wearing even tighter shorts and a pink baseball cap. With a pink flower behind his ear. After the UK press went predictably berserk again – including publishing photos of a male friend ACTUALLY TOUCHING HIM while he was wearing that GAY!! hat and GAY!! flower – he was pressed for a response: ‘I don’t see what is wrong with that if you are comfortable with your sexuality,’ he replied, matter-of-factly.

The English of course aren’t comfortable with anything. Least of all themselves. Which is where much of their Ronaldophobia came from – and will likely surge back again with a passion if he returns to Manchester United as has been rumoured lately.

In that recent match against Barcelona where he was called MARICON! by the terrace oafs, Ronaldo remained as unchastised and shameless as ever – scoring a stunning winning goal in the last few minutes. Then in the locker room afterwards he lost no time stripping down to his white Speedos and showing off his tanned, shredded body in a team photo with the celebrating Real lads.

What a careless, thoughtless, utter bastard. Why can’t he show some respect for the feelings of ugly, untalented men everywhere?

Whatever their sexuality.

Ronaldo locker 2

Steve Cook reclining

Spornosexual Steve Cook on the Meaning of Metrosexual

While prepping for my Barcelona lecture, ‘From Metrosexual to Spornosexual – a Permanent, Spectacular Masculine Revolution’, this video serendipitously popped up into MetroDaddy’s timeline on Twitter.

It’s an exploration of the meaning of being called ‘metrosexual’ by professional bodybuilder and popular online fitness guru Steve Cook, who has his own YouTube channel SwoldierNation where he offers workout tips, vlogs, and totally ‘hench’ eye candy to those who wanna be like him or just wanna be with him.

There’s a whole humpy army of these online fitness coaches/ exhibitionists today – and according to my buff and brainy Chilean stand-up chum Villouta, they are making Men’s Health magazine look lame.

Like most of these YouTube heroes, Cook is an aesthetic/physique bodybuilder – that is, one that aims to look hot rather than HUGE. Horny rather than Arnie. Cover model rather than Rambo. He is out and proud about his metrosexuality, and says he’s been called metrosexual since high school – though not always in a positive fashion. In the vlog he rather touchingly shares with us his extensive product stash.

He also gets a pedicure, enjoys the comfy pink ‘girly’ chairs and then confronts some rather terrified looking mall-goers about what they understand ‘metrosexual’ to mean. I suspect they were as intimidated by his preposterously good looks, awesome body and self-confidence as much as the questions. I think I would have fainted.

Reading between the lines, Cook seems keen to emphasise that ‘metrosexual’ doesn’t mean ‘non heterosexual’ (he’s a married, hetero father). But then he does live in America, a country which since the early Naughties has had regular nervous breakdowns about the possible ambiguity of metrosexuality – hence those very American reaction-formations ‘machosexual’, ‘ubersexual’, ‘heteropolitan’ and ‘lumbersexual’. Which were in some ways oddly ‘gayer’ than what they were trying to run away from.

So kudos to Mr Cook for refusing to run away from the ‘metro’ tag and having the cojones to embrace and pamper it instead.

Of course, Cook who was born in 1984, is more of a second generation metrosexual – that’s to say, spornosexual. He has fashioned his own body into the ultimate accessory and hot commodity. A product. A brand.

And I for one am certainly buying. Even if he isn’t so great at research. He doesn’t seem to know who his ‘daddy’ is….

Steve Cook reclining

As ever, though the Brits are ahead of the curve, and more relaxed about the gay thing – even if their abs aren’t always Olympian standard. The short but charming video below by Jenny Wotherspoon (accompanying an excellent piece on spornosexuals by Theo Merz in The Daily Telegraph) is comprised of interviews with self-confessed spornosexuals from Newcastle, North East England – who aren’t ashamed of their love of lycra, or much bothered their own, more traditionally-minded parents keep asking them ‘are you sure you’re not gay?’.

channing_tatum_matt_bomer_magic_mike_xxl_float_2015_la_pride_parade

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’.