Mirror Men on Canvas — and in Crocs

The Delhi-based artist Pallavi Singh has been med­it­at­ing on met­ro­sexu­al­ity in the Indian sub­con­tin­ental con­text again and has very kindly sent me these rather won­der­ful new paint­ings and given me per­mis­sion to post them here.

I think my per­sonal favour­ite is ‘Rise of Mirror Man’ — I par­tic­u­larly like how his Crocs match his suspenders.

Here’s Ms Singh’s accom­pa­ny­ing write-up:

In my recent work “Here comes the Mirror Man” and “Rise of Mirror Man”, I have tried to present the grow­ing con­fid­ence and com­fort of my char­ac­ter towards met­ro­sexu­al­ity, his desire to be adored and his accept­ance of his met­ro­sexual needs while remain­ing uncon­cerned with labels of homo­sexu­al­ity and cross dressing.

 pallavi singh work 1 1024x731 Mirror Men on Canvas   and in Crocs

 pallavi singh work2 731x1024 Mirror Men on Canvas   and in Crocs

 

In the paint­ing “Mirror Mirror on the wall”, I have tried to com­pare the regional 18th–19th cen­tury Dandy phe­nom­ena with global Metrosexual phe­nom­ena of today i.e. the dis­tinc­tion between “to be admired” and “to be adored”.

pallavi singh work 3 1024x731 Mirror Men on Canvas   and in Crocs

All images Copy­right Pallavi Singh, 2012

Princess Spiderman

An inter­est­ing seg­ment from ABC about the way kids are made to wear the ‘appro­pri­ate’ gender, whether they want to or not. (Sorry about that emetic ‘mes­sage’ music at the end.)

The first mother lit­er­ally jumps with hor­ror and a sharp intake of breath when the boy shows up in his prin­cess out­fit. OK, so maybe yel­low isn’t his col­our, but behav­ing as if he was Freddie Kruger seems like a bit of an overreaction.

I think though that this isn’t mostly an issue of sexual ori­ent­a­tion, which is what it seems to end up being por­trayed as. Although many and per­haps most gay adults dis­played gender non-conformity as kids, most kids who want the ‘wrong’ Halloween cos­tumes don’t turn out gay, or transgendered.

Intriguing how many moth­ers, at least the ones who made the final edit, seem to have encountered this ‘prob­lem’ with their own kids — before ‘nip­ping it in the bud’. The nat­ur­al­ness of gender needs to be overtly policed quite a bit — even after all the other ‘pink’ and ‘blue’ mes­sages kids get every day. (And the way they can be pretty total­it­arian in their enforce­ment of them amongst themselves.)

  It’s a shame no one came to the aid of the little boy who wanted to be a prin­cess. But as was sug­ges­ted, girls who want to be Spiderman prob­ably face less dis­ap­proval, in gen­eral, than boys who want to be princesses.

My favour­ite bit is where the no-nonsense Staten Island mat­ri­arch says to the girl who wants to be an action not a pas­sion figure:

A Spiderman is only for one time. A prin­cess you can be for 24 hours of the day!”

Quite. No won­der the little boy wants that dress.

Tip: Michael Dennis

It’s Not a Journey: The Endless Trend of Male Vanity

The next time someone tries to con­vince me that Pitt is ‘a really great actor, actu­ally’ I’ll just throw my eyes around the room in a casually-but-profoundly dra­matic fash­ion before fix­ing them on the Fight Club fan­boy — and it always is a Fight Club fan­boy — and say­ing: “THERE you ARE!”

I don’t mean to be bitchy, but… Ab Pitt seems to have all the neur­oses of a Marilyn Monroe about being thought a dumb blond, but little or none of the tal­ent. It’s not the fact this Big Movie Star has done an ad like this at all, or even the bathetic hor­ror of the script – par to the course in per­fume ads – it’s the way he deliv­ers this stinky stuff like it was a Shakespearean soli­lo­quy. We’re laugh­ing at it because we know it will hurt.

Though of course, we’re just jeal­ous. I cer­tainly am. Brad is being so earn­est and romantico not because he’s address­ing you or me or Angelina Jolie, but his reportedly $7M cheque for the 30 second spot – which I sus­pect the dir­ector has taped to the camera.

At the height of her fame method-actress Marilyn was paid only $100,000 plus 10% of profits for the feature-length clas­sic movie: Some Like It Hot. And I rather doubt she received a fee at all for her own posthum­ous Chanel No.5 ad.

The real sig­ni­fic­ance of Brad’s ad of course is that Pitt is the first man to advert­ise the woman’s fra­grance Chanel No.5 – which hitherto has been plugged only by lead­ing examples of the ‘fairer sex’. Leading man Brad has stepped into a role pre­vi­ously occu­pied by lead­ing ladies.

brad pitt Troy 02 300x297 Its Not a Journey: The Endless Trend of Male Vanity

This though is very famil­iar ter­rit­ory though for Brad. Often described as ‘the most beau­ti­ful man in the world’ – i.e. the most objec­ti­fied – he did after all play both Achilles and Helen in the movie Troy. He has the abs that launched a thou­sand sit-ups. And this former model’s own movie career was launched by play­ing a toy­boy picked up and rav­ished by an older Geena Davis in Thelma and Louise (1991), a movie which itself fam­ously reversed the gender roles of the buddy road movie.

Brad Pitt Thelma and Louise 1 300x279 Its Not a Journey: The Endless Trend of Male Vanity

Clinching the mat­ter, his hair­styles are dis­cussed almost as much as any act­ress’ – or even David Beckham’s.

Pitt also played, you may remem­ber, the highly, er, aes­thetic leader of a bogus revolt against met­ro­sexu­al­ity and con­sumer­ism in Fight Club.

Oh, and by the way. Pitt is 48 years old. Which makes him even older than me. But in the Chanel ad, even with his gray beard and (elec­tron­ic­ally altered?) grav­elly voice, Dorian Pitt seems no older than about 27 — the same age he was when we first met him in Thelma & Louise. In fact, he looks like a 27-year-old with a stick-on beard pre­tend­ing to be 48.

As he puts it himself:

It’s not a jour­ney. Every jour­ney ends. But we go on.”

***

A sur­vey released just before Brad’s Bad Marilyn moment appears to con­firm the con­tinu­ing, end­less trend for men appro­pri­at­ing pre­vi­ously fem­in­ine pre­serves that has been going on since at least the 1990s, and which Pitt, whether he wants to or not, has often exem­pli­fied – and encour­aged. “The world turns and we turn with it.”

The fash­ion and beauty spend­ing poll (com­mis­sioned by online casino RoxyPalace.com) asked 1000 UK men and women how much they spent on clothes and cos­metic products. The find­ings showed, they said, that ‘men are fast catch­ing up with women’.

  • Women aver­age £2,462 p.a.; men £1,786 (£50 less a month than women).
  • Men and women in London are the most extra­vag­ant, and also the closest to one another in expendit­ure, with women spend­ing c. £2,700 a year; men £2,350, £29 per month less than women.
  • Unsurprisingly, other met­ro­pol­itan areas such as Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle and Liverpool also showed above-average rates of spending.
  • A man who took part in the sur­vey says: ‘I can remem­ber my dad’s cos­metic shelf con­sisted of a bar of soap and a bottle of Old Spice but I have a cab­inet full of products.’
  • A woman says: ‘I have been shop­ping with my boy­friend before and on occa­sions he has been known to spend more than me on hair products. I don’t think men spend­ing more money on clothes and cos­met­ics is a bad thing. It’s always attract­ive for someone to take pride on their appearance.’

Again, noth­ing very new here (and the quotes do sound a tad hack­neyed). Just, fur­ther evid­ence that des­pite the reces­sion the ‘trend’ of met­ro­sexu­al­ity has hardened into an epoch — that nev­er­the­less some are still in ter­rible denial about.

A spokes­per­son for RoxyPalace.com concluded:

It’s becom­ing increas­ingly accept­able for men to use cos­metic treat­ments. Even macho film stars are advert­ising skin cream, and whilst it would be dif­fi­cult to ima­gine a world where guys spent more money on look­ing good than women do, but who knows where the age of met­ro­sexu­al­ity will lead us?’

I ima­gine when he men­tioned ‘macho film stars’ he had in mind Gerard Butler as the bearded face of L’Oreal, not Brad Pitt. But in regard to his last poser, it’s not entirely impossible that for younger people liv­ing in met­ro­pol­itan areas, that world may have already been delivered by met­ro­sexu­al­ity. Or very nearly.

These days, work­ing out is often at least as import­ant a way of ‘look­ing good’ for males as fash­ion­able clothes and cos­met­ics — but isn’t covered in the sur­vey. In fact, many men invest more heav­ily in their bod­ies than in their ward­robe — which tends to be rather skimpy.… And gen­er­ally it seems men are more into work­ing on their bod­ies to ‘look good’ than women are.

So if you were to factor in aver­age spends on gym mem­ber­ship, fit­ness equip­ment, and par­tic­u­larly sports sup­ple­ments such as cre­at­ine and pro­tein drinks (a boom­ing mar­ket), the gap between men and women’s aver­age spend on ‘van­ity’ might shrink again. Currently the gap between male and female spend­ing on ‘look­ing good’ is reportedly only £29/month in London. That’s less than most monthly gym memberships.

£29 also hap­pens to be about the price of a yearly sub­scrip­tion to the best-selling men’s magazine, Men’s Health. The November UK issue of which car­ries the res­ults of another sur­vey, this one study­ing MH read­ers’ favour­ite sub­ject: them­selves.

One of the ques­tions asked read­ers who had their ideal body. The answers were:

  • Tom Hardy 42%.
  • Cristiano Ronaldo 32%.
  • David Beckham 26%.

Somewhere David Beckham is cry­ing into his low-carb lunch. Interesting to note though that Brad Pitt doesn’t make the list at all, when once he would prob­ably have dom­in­ated it – after all, Men’s Health has built a global empire out of mod­ern man’s yen to have abs — and thus be worthy of love. And abs didn’t exist, remem­ber, until Brad Pitt inven­ted them in the 1990s.

Perhaps though Brad is relieved to be out of the run­ning. Or maybe he’s relieved and heartbroken.

Tom Hardy, the Brit Brando with the volup­tu­ous pecs and the pouty lips, seems to have won the hearts of Men’s Health read­ers. I don’t blame them. And I sus­pect Tom’ doesn’t either. Probably they were seduced by his body in Warrior and his motto in Inception: “Don’t be afraid to dream a little big­ger darling”. Actually, in a bet­ter world that would be the motto of Men’s Health magazine.

Interesting that a third would want a body like Ronaldo’s – des­pite Ronaldo’s offi­cial des­ig­na­tion in the UK as Most Hated Footballer. It rather con­firms my sus­pi­cion that us Brits are just jeal­ous of him.

It does seem a little odd though that there are only three men in the whole world whose bod­ies Men’s Health read­ers want/aspire to – and nearly half of them want just one body in par­tic­u­lar. (There’s no indic­a­tion of whether they were given a mul­tiple choice or just came up with the names themselves.)

Other find­ings include:

  • 37% of MH read­ers spend 4–6 hours in the gym a week — while 30% spend more than six hours there.
  • 46% want to improve their abs. 42% their upper body, and 12% lower body.

Chicken legs, in other words, are de rigeur with MH readers.

 

Tip: Lee Kynaston

Charlie Brooker’s Anxious Anus

Middle class met­ro­pho­bia keeps rear­ing its ugly, anxious head and leav­ing a really bad smell in the air. Maybe it’s because some middle class men are hap­pier pre­tend­ing that they don’t have bod­ies, just giant self-propelled brains (that are always right), but men’s new-found desire to be desired and the attend­ant rampant sexu­al­isa­tion of the male body in the media seems to lit­er­ally scare the shit out of a few of them.

The world’s lead­ing lib­eral voice’ this week ran two curi­ously met­ro­phobic art­icles in the space of a few days (while this older blo­g­post fea­tures numer­ous other examples). Today’s Guardian car­ries a piece by an Olly Richards pegged to the new strip­per movie Magic Mike, ostens­ibly about male nud­ity in the movies.

At the top of the piece he announces:

We all know the nude male form is essen­tially ridicu­lous, built only for floppy comedy.’

Speak for your­self, Mary.

This asser­tion of the writer’s con­tempt for the male body — and de facto dis­missal of any­one who thinks dif­fer­ently — is the only thing the art­icle has to say. An art­icle on male nud­ity in the movies has noth­ing to say about male nud­ity in movies – because if it did then the author would have to be inter­ested in the male body.

But Olly is a par­agon of self-awareness and insight com­pared to a bizarre rant earlier in the week by the Guardian’s star colum­nist and TV celeb Charlton Brooker, which also seemed to take it as a given that the sexu­al­ised male body is ‘essen­tially ridiculous’.

Charlton’s column pre­tends it’s about the hate­ful­ness of real­ity stars – and let’s face it, they are fair, if embar­rass­ingly easy game. But it’s telling that he has noth­ing spe­cific to say about the female real­ity stars in his piece. At all. None of them are men­tioned, no female pro­nouns are used. It’s all about judging the men. For how they look. For pluck­ing their eye­brows. For using product. Fake tan and make-up. For work­ing out. For ‘sexu­al­ising’ their bodies.

But let’s not judge them by the con­tent of their char­ac­ter. Let’s judge them by the col­our of their skin, which is ter­ra­cotta. Mostly. Apart from the pale ones. The way they look is the second unbe­liev­able thing about them. Not all of them; most of them are sort of nor­mal. But one or two of the men look … well they don’t look real, put it that way. They’ve got sculp­ted physiques, sculp­ted hair­dos, sculp­ted eye­brows, and as far as I can tell, no skin pores.’

They’re not real men or nor­mal because Charlton says so. Here’s a pic­ture of him look­ing nor­mal and real (from his Wiki page).

Charlie Brooker 199x300 Charlie Brookers Anxious Anus

Charlton (41) saves his most pas­sion­ate, most fun­da­mental atten­tions for a con­test­ant called James (21), whom he describes as resem­bling a ‘vinyl sex doll’. Born and bred in the Home Counties, liv­ing and work­ing in London’s medi­a­land, Brooker is also an expert on Newcastle:

 ‘I’ve been to Newcastle. There’s no way James is from Newcastle. He’s from space. Deep space. My guess would be he’s actu­ally some form of sen­tient syn­thetic meat that crudely dis­guises itself as other life forms, but only to an accur­acy of about 23%. He’s awe­somely creepy to behold. Seriously, if James popped up on the comms screen of the USS Enterprise, Captain Kirk would shit his own guts out. And that’s the sort of beha­viour that can under­mine a leader’s authority.’

Yes, I real­ise it’s faintly ridicu­lous tak­ing this kind of ‘comic prose’ ser­i­ously. And part of the irony here any­way is that Brooker is ridicul­ing real­ity TV for its vul­gar­ity while his job descrip­tion at the Guardian is to be as vul­gar as pos­sible about vul­gar TV shows and use words like ‘shit’ and ‘cock’ a lot. Pour epater les bour­geois – at the same time as appeal­ing to their snobbery.

But in the wider con­text of the Guardian’s middle class prob­lem with met­ro­sexu­al­ity and the male body, and Brooker’s role in many people’s eyes as right-on lib­eral super­hero, I think it’s worth­while examin­ing what’s going on here.

James of course doesn’t look like any of the things Brooker says he looks like. Here’s a pic­ture of James (who lives with his mam and who accord­ing to the Geordie Shore web­site ‘isn’t ashamed to call him­self a mummy’s boy’).

Geordie Shore James 300x209 Charlie Brookers Anxious Anus

Now, I know this is very sub­ject­ive. But I would much rather look at James in HD widescreen in my liv­ing room than Charlton. Especially if it comes down to shag­ging, as Geordie Shore often does. And before you accuse me of being bitchy: which TV celeb was it again who said earlier that we should judge only appearances?

What’s more, James is not at all unusual, let alone ‘non-existent’ as Charlton would like to believe. There are loads of lads like James in the North East. And I know this because I didn’t visit for a book-signing once but because I live here. There are sev­eral down my gym. One of them, a really nice, chatty bloke who’s always got a canny smile, was short­l­is­ted for this year’s Big Brother. It could eas­ily have been him that Charlton was rail­ing against for pluck­ing his eye­brows and hav­ing plunging neck­lines. So for­give me if metrodaddy feels a bit maternal.

As with the blue-collar guys turned strip­pers in Magic Mike, in the post-industrial North East work­ing class lads hap­pily work on their own bod­ies instead of someone else’s prop­erty and, unlike London hip­sters, aren’t afraid to flaunt it and make them­selves pretty. Especially since they don’t gen­er­ally have many other routes to celebrity – not being likely to land them­selves a place on a C4 panel show being snarky and painstak­ingly scruffy in a dowdy cor­duroy jacket.

So why the pas­sion­ate rage against James for being a very com­mon (these days) mix­ture of mas­cu­line and fem­in­ine beauty tricks? Why the des­per­ate need to pre­tend he doesn’t exist? That he shouldn’t exist? That he should be ban­ished to outer space?

There can only be one answer. The sad, taw­dry truth is that Charlton can’t trust him­self in a world with James in it. He has to tell him­self these wicked lies about James because oth­er­wise he might find him­self being turned on by him.

James the ‘sex doll’ is the one, by the way, who fam­ously has a cock the size of a Sky remote.

Here’s a simple test — one that you can apply to almost any instance of lib­eral met­ro­pho­bia, how­ever ‘jokey’ or ‘ironic’ it presents itself as being. Would someone like Brooker still rage on and on about James’s ‘unmanly’, ‘creepy’, ‘alien’ appear­ance and how worthy he was of hatred because of it, if James was gay instead of straight? Would he still describe a gay James as ‘syn­thetic meat’ and a ‘pol­ished turd’? Or someone who would make Captain Kirk ‘shit his guts out’? (The anxious anal­ity here is all Charlton’s — def­in­itely not Captain Kirk’s, who wasn’t afraid to shape his eye­brows and side­burns, or wear a corset.)

Wouldn’t Charlton the lib­eral super­hero in fact be the first to loudly ridicule him­self for his own homo­pho­bia and repressed homo­sexu­al­ity? And, drunk once again on his own self-righteousness, call him­self a farty old reac­tion­ary cock?

In fair­ness though it can’t be denied that one of the truly awful things about met­ro­sexu­al­ity is the way it gives uneducated, shame­lessly tarty young men with regional accents a way of get­ting gigs on TV shows with more view­ers than yours.

Tip: Bat020

The Perfect Mandate: Obama & Becks (& the Media)

David Beckham, global poster-boy for met­ro­sexu­al­ity, sport­ing an Edwardian beard, had a hot date with Obama at the White House today.

Though he had to bring his team-mates along as LA Galaxy were being hon­oured with a recep­tion after win­ning the Major League Soccer Cup, America’s equi­val­ent of the Premiership.

After list­ing the soc­cer star’s achieve­ments, intro­du­cing him josh­ingly as a “young up-and-comer,” and adding that, “half your team­mates could be your kids”, Obama quipped (almost fluff­ing the line): “It’s a rare man that can be that tough on the field and have his own line of underwear.”

Or as rare as a GQ Commander in Chief?

Contrary to recent reports, Obama is not the first gay President. He’s the first met­ro­sexual President. Or as I wrote in Metrosexy:

A well-dressed mixed-race, poly­glot male who makes the Free World wait on his gym visit every morn­ing. A man whose looks are reg­u­larly praised – par­tic­u­larly by male jour­nal­ists. A man who won the Demo­c­ra­tic nom­i­na­tion in part because he was much pret­tier than his more expe­ri­enced female oppo­nent. His wife Michelle is very attrac­tive too, of course – but in some ways Obama is the first US Pres­i­dent to be his own First Lady.”

Which makes the Beckham and Obama’s hot date quite a his­toric occasion.

I can’t quite decide though whether Obama’s own rampant met­ro­sexu­al­ity makes his bitchy remark to Beckham about his under­wear funny or a bit… pants.

Becks Obama The Perfect Mandate: Obama & Becks (& the Media)

Winsome, Losesome, Mansome

It’s always tricky as a writer talk­ing to a researcher for a TV or film doc­u­ment­ary. On the one hand you want your ideas to be taken ser­i­ously and the his­tor­ical record to be as accur­ate as pos­sible. And of course we all like atten­tion. Especially from a visual medium we prob­ably don’t belong in.

On the other hand, you don’t want to give everything away for nowt.

But you can hardly blame research­ers for try­ing. For every ‘expert’ who appears on-screen in a doc, prob­ably a dozen or more had their brains picked.

I don’t recall much of what I gabbled down the phone when I was con­tac­ted a couple of years ago by a female asso­ci­ate of the indie doc­u­ment­ary maker Morgan Spurlock about a doc­u­ment­ary she was help­ing him develop about the ‘male-grooming industry’. But I do remem­ber that after speak­ing to her for about an hour I politely wound up the call – after get­ting that famil­iar brain-pick feel­ing. Or maybe I was just embar­rassed at how talk­at­ive I’d been.

And that was the last I heard from Spurlock & Co. Which didn’t sur­prise me as I live in the UK, and it’s an American doc (with an Indie budget). True, I’m credited/blamed not just for coin­ing the ‘met­ro­sexual’ back in 1994 but also intro­du­cing him to the US ten years ago this Summer, kick­ing off the national nervous break­down America had over mas­culin­ity in the Noughties and from which it is yet to fully recover. (Sorry ‘bout that, guys!)

But if there’s one thing the USA has no need to import from Blighty it’s talk­ing big heads. They pro­duce even more of those them­selves than they do male beauty products.

Last April Mansome as it is now offi­cially dubbed, emerged glisten­ing and groomed at the TriBeCa film fest­ival. With the pub­li­city pos­eur: ‘In the age of man­scap­ing, met­ro­sexu­als, and groom­ing products galore – what does it mean to be a man?’ And of course they found plenty of States-side experts, plus sev­eral celebs, such as Paul Rudd, Judd Apatow and John Waters to answer that ques­tion – along with Jason Bateman and Will Arnett, both exec­ut­ive pro­du­cers of the doc and unashamed pedicurists.

I haven’t seen Mansome myself yet (an enquiry to the distributor’s press office some weeks ago has yet to pro­duce a response), but going by the trail­ers, the advance reviews – and the title – I have a hunch that even if I’d lived within eyebrow-plucking dis­tance of Spurlock and had been inter­viewed on cam­era for days I still wouldn’t have made the final nip and tuck of Mansome.

That ‘ironic’ music in the trailer, remin­is­cent of Desperate Housewives, seems to be there as a reas­sur­ance that none of this is to be taken ser­i­ously. That – relax dudes! – Mansome won’t goose you with any pointy ideas or insights. After all, even an indie film costs actual money to make and you have to get bums – waxed or just clenched – on seats to have a hope of get­ting any of it back. Mansome is selling itself as light enter­tain­ment not heavy enquiry. Or as Jessica Bennett at the Daily Beast put it in her review: ‘pseudo-documentary’.

So prob­ably the last thing poor Spurlock would have wanted was the English and queer Metrodaddy insist­ing that met­ro­sexu­al­ity is not only male van­ity swish­ing tri­umphantly out of the closet, but tarty male passiv­ity flaunt­ing itself every­where too. How men’s now flagrant-fragrant desire to be desired means that mod­ern mas­culin­ity is quite lit­er­ally ask­ing for it.

But I won­der a bit how many bums, male or female, clenched or oth­er­wise Mansome will actu­ally lure into the mul­ti­plex. Arnett and Bateman are very droll in their tow­el­ling dress­ing gowns, but really, in 2012 who genu­inely finds the notion of Hollywood act­ors vis­it­ing spas or shav­ing their backs remark­able? Or ter­ribly snig­ger some? Even in America?

What’s more, the trail­ers, the cred­its and the hair­lines sug­gest the mas­culin­ity being spot­lighted here is mostly middle-aged. (It takes one to know one.)

One reviewer com­plained Mansome is ‘cute’ but has ‘noth­ing to say’. I doubt any­one would have bothered to make that com­plaint if we were talk­ing Mikey Sorrentino’s abs. Or Channing Tatum’s but­tocks. Or Justin Bieber’s dimples (Bieber, by the way, was born the very same year as the met­ro­sexual). I cer­tainly wouldn’t.

In the UK many if not most of the younger gen­er­a­tion of males have taken met­ro­sexu­al­ity as a given and lit­er­ally fash­ioned their own bod­ies into a desir­able, mar­ket­able product – and facial hair into less of a sec­ond­ary sexual char­ac­ter­istic, or fet­ish of man­hood, than just another sweet male access­ory. Rather than try to define ‘what makes a man’ most would rather visit the gym or the tan­ning salon. Again.

Or show Metrodaddy their depil­ated pubes, balls and pierced John-Thomases in the pub. While their girl­friends look on, rolling their eyes. (No, really, this hap­pens to me ALL the time. It’s just one of the many crosses I have to bear.…)

Despite all this carp­ing I’m still keen to see Mansome. America — or maybe just America of a cer­tain age - does still need to talk this stuff through, hon­estly and openly. Especially after the men­dacious ‘menais­sance’ anti-metro back­lash of the late Noughties that shut down the (admit­tedly rather skin-deep) con­ver­sa­tion by shout­ing: ‘MAN-UP!!’.

Or the retreat into a slightly creepy if metic­u­lously observed hip­ster wax­work ver­sion of Madison Avenue in the 1960s.

And there are some encour­aging signs that Mansome might have some­thing to say after all. Executive pro­du­cer Bateman was quoted say­ing some­thing rather refresh­ing in the WSJ the other day, cut­ting through much of the mar­ket­ing froth around ‘male groom­ing’ – i.e. male beauty:

What this film con­firmed for me was that men are not aller­gic to the mir­ror at all, We want to be as pretty as females. Body-hair removal, skin care—men basic­ally do the same things, but are more secret­ive about them.’

Mind you, in the same art­icle Spurlock him­self was quoted as blam­ing Adam’s van­ity on Eve again – in a very famil­iar and fruit­less attempt to straighten out male narcissism:

Men do crazy things for women, to get them and to keep them,” he said. “If all women were like, I want to have sex with a big, hairy Neanderthal, next thing you know one of the most pop­u­lar products would be stuff that grows hair on your back and forearms.”

Not so sure about that, darling. (Though I do know a few bears who are already hot for hairy backs.)

And then there’s the manly strap-on euphem­ism chosen as the title for his doc. The Wiki page for Mansome includes this help­ful para­graph about it:

Mansome’ is a rel­at­ively new word in pop cul­ture. It is defined by UrbanDictionary.com as ‘an adject­ive that describes a man who is both manly and hand­some.’ Mansome, the doc­u­ment­ary, attempts to cla­rify exactly what makes a man “mansome”.

Obviously this is inten­ded as a clever, ironic decon­struc­tion of the way the ‘man’ word is too often stuck on a ‘girly’ product so that unad­ven­tur­ous fel­lows don’t think their nads are going to fall off if they buy it.

After all, ‘hand­some’ is a tra­di­tional, accept­able ‘manly’ euphem­ism for ‘mas­cu­line beauty’. Or ‘attract­ive male’. One that a chap can use to describe another chap without call­ing into ques­tion one’s own whop­ping manhood.

So, need­lessly strap­ping ‘man’ on an already essen­tially ‘male’ word would be some­thing you would only ever do to point up the ridicu­lously camp and self-defeating nature of all these ‘man’ words, wouldn’t it?

I mean, effect­ively call­ing your doc­u­ment­ary about male beauty Handsome (No Homo) is some­thing you could only be doing to sat­ir­ise the juven­ile homo­pho­bia of American culture.

Isn’t it?

 Mansome goes on gen­eral release in the US later this month.

Mark Simpson’s Metrosexy: a 21st Century Self-Love Story is avail­able now.

 

Postscript

I’d for­got­ten about this hil­ari­ous clip of Dean Martin Orson Welles gos­sip­ing under hairdry­ers at a ‘male hairdress­ing salon’. It puts Bateman and Arnett to shame. And it aired c. forty years ago.

Mâle Au Corps’: Mark Simpson talks to ‘Liberation’

friends with benefits2 Mâle Au Corps: Mark Simpson talks to Liberation

Mark Simpson inter­viewed by Clement Ghys in France’s Liberation news­pa­per about the evol­u­tion of his met­ro­sexual off­spring – and Justin Timberlake’s ass.

(Unedited English email Q&A, April 2012)

CG: In 1994, you coined the term “Metrosexual”. Looking back, how would you say the concept has evolved? In what way do you find this defin­i­tion still rel­ev­ant?

MS: Well, nat­ur­ally the reason it’s still rel­ev­ant, Clement, because I’ve recently pub­lished a book on the subject!

More ser­i­ously, met­ro­sexu­al­ity is still rel­ev­ant all these mois­tur­ised years later because the breadth and depth of the mas­cu­line revolu­tion it rep­res­ents has been obscured – often quite delib­er­ately – in a lot of chat­ter about facials, ‘man­bags’ and flip-flops.

Ironically, out-and-proud male beauty isn’t itself skin-deep. Metrosexuality rep­res­ents a pro­found change in how we look at and think about men. The emer­gence from its closet of the male desire to be desired has revolu­tion­ised the cul­ture and also opened up the options of what a man can be.

Metrosexuality isn’t about man­bags. It’s not about men becom­ing ‘girly’ or ‘gay’. It’s about men becom­ing everything. To them­selves. In much the same way that women have been for some time.

For all its faults, met­ro­sexu­al­ity rep­res­ents a kind of ‘male lib­er­a­tion’. It’s the end of the sexual divi­sion of labour in look­ing and lov­ing – of bath­room and bed­room labour. And of ‘sexu­al­ity’ itself.

Male ‘passiv­ity’ is the flip side of female ‘activ­ity’ – and should be wel­comed or at least accep­ted as much as the lat­ter, but is mostly mocked instead. Metrosexuality has too often pro­voked a kind of reverse sexism.

How has the met­ro­sexual man blurred the bound­ar­ies between the “gay” and straight” labels?

Irretrievably. To quote metrodaddy’s own defin­i­tion of the metrosexual:

He might be offi­cially gay, straight or bisexual, but this is utterly imma­ter­ial because he has clearly taken him­self as his own love-object and pleas­ure as his sexual preference.’

There’s noth­ing ‘straight’ about met­ro­sexu­al­ity. Even though most met­ros def­in­itely prefer women in bed.

Narcissism was sup­posed to be the female qual­ity par excel­lence. ‘Vanity thy name is woman’. It’s con­sidered ‘fem­in­ine’ because invit­ing the gaze/exhibitionism is ‘pass­ive’. Likewise homo­sexual men were con­sidered devi­ant and ‘woman­ish’ because of their – real or per­ceived – passiv­ity. In a sense, homos exis­ted to lock up male passiv­ity in the homo body and keep it away from ‘nor­mal’ men.

Men were offi­cially sup­posed to be always desir­ing, never desired. Always look­ing, never looked at. Always act­ive, never pass­ive. Always hetero never homo.

Metrosexuality queers all of that. By out­ing the ‘passiv­ity’ in men, their desire to be desired, and also their keen visual interest in other men and their bod­ies. It’s pre­cisely because of this blur­ring between gay and straight that many older and more tra­di­tional types have reacted with phobic and often hys­ter­ical hos­til­ity to met­ro­sexu­al­ity. What indeed is straight a man to do – who in fact is he to be – if he can’t define him­self as NOT a gay?

Particularly in the mono­sexual US, which had a gigantic national nervous break­down over the met­ro­sexual in the mid-late Noughties, pre­cisely because of the queer­ness of met­ro­sexu­al­ity – pro­du­cing a so-called ‘menais­sance’ back­lash against it.

Though the back­lash was largely a phoney one. Metrosexuality con­tin­ued to con­quer that con­flic­ted con­tin­ent, albeit on the down-low, and even the US is now led by a svel­tely hand­some man who makes the world wait on his morn­ing workout and who, des­pite Michelle’s pret­ti­ness, is in many ways his own First Lady.

Even in less tra­di­tion­al­ist coun­tries like Britain there have been reaction-formations too, but less pro­nounced, and the younger gen­er­a­tion has gen­er­ally been quicker to seize the free­dom from gay/straight, male/female ghet­toes and bin­ar­ies that met­ro­sexu­al­ity offers. Recent research claimed that most hetero young men at uni­ver­sity enjoy kiss­ing their male friends full on the lips as an expres­sion of affec­tion. Quite a turn­about for an Anglo coun­try that sen­tenced Oscar Wilde to three years hard labour!

Recently in The Guardian, you said that “the met­ro­sexual revolu­tion has taken an increas­ingly phys­ical, sen­sual form”. Can you com­ment on that?

Metrosexuality is con­sumer­ist and fashion-orientated, but it isn’t neces­sar­ily about clothes. In fact, these days it’s per­haps less about clothes than the ulti­mate access­ory: the body. It’s almost as if male naked­ness has been abol­ished at the very moment that acres of male flesh are dis­played every­where you look. Young men have inves­ted a great deal of time, money and sup­ple­ments ‘fash­ion­ing’ their bod­ies into some­thing they ‘wear’ – and show off. Shaven (often every­where), sculp­ted, intric­ately tat­tooed, pierced. Never, ever unmediated.

The near-global hege­mony of ‘Men’s Health’ magazine with its Photoshopped cov­ers of men’s sculp­ted tor­sos bears testi­mony to this, along with the massive pop­ular­ity of real­ity shows such as ‘Jersey Shore’, which fea­ture young men like Mikey Sorrentino show­ing off their tits and abs.

In this they’re also fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of tarty sporno stars like David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo and Rafael Nadal, whose bod­ies are mar­keted and pro­moted by cor­por­ate consumerism.

A whole gen­er­a­tion of young men have grown up with met­ro­sex­i­ness. As the recent hit LMFAO single that is a kind of met­ro­sexy anthem puts it: ‘I’m sexy and I know It’.

In the same art­icle you evoked the highest and heightened interest of men in their own bod­ies (diets, ster­oids, gyms). What do you think is driv­ing this?

It’s partly an effect of post-industrialism. It’s inter­est­ing that its most pro­nounced amongst young work­ing class males who in the past might have looked for­wards to a life of selling their labour and work­ing on other men’s prop­erty, but who now instead of going to the fact­ory go to the gym to labour on their own bod­ies and turn them into a product. Their bod­ies remain the only thing they own – their only asset.

But now they turn their bod­ies into a com­mod­ity them­selves. By mak­ing them­selves desir­able they give them­selves value in a con­sumer­ist world. Not for noth­ing are ath­letes such as Beckham who will­ingly strip off and push their pack­ets down our throats on the side of buses often from a work­ing class background.

It’s also the effect of course of an increas­ingly visual world – of web­cams, face­book, cam­era phones, widescreen HD TVs, and real­ity TV. The desire to be desired is also about the desire to be noticed. To be wanted. To be pop­u­lar. To succeed.

And let’s not dis­count the import­ance of all the vast quant­it­ies of porn that men and boys are now down­load­ing, in which the male body is fully on dis­play. And is usu­ally worked out, shaved, tat­tooed, de-pubed. Lots of men aspire to be male porn stars these days. Or at least many of them seem to be audi­tion­ing for that job.…

In recent years, male bod­ies have been very much shot on screen.
Sometimes, even more than female bod­ies. I’m think­ing of Ryan Gosling in com­ed­ies such as Crazy Stupid Love, Justin Timberlake in Friends With Benefits or Alexander Skarsgard in the TV show True Blood. How do you explain this?

Friends With Benefits was a fea­ture film all about Justin’s ass! It was in almost every scene. We even heard from his girl­friend that he likes a fin­ger up it. His char­ac­ter was work­ing as an art-director for American GQ but had a body by Men’s Health. How met­ro­sexual can you get!

Women, who make up the major­ity of TV view­ers, have dis­covered an appet­ite for look­ing at men’s bod­ies on screen. In some ways the sexy scantily clad male has become a sym­bol of women’s con­sum­ing power and their new assert­ive sexual appet­ite. True Blood espe­cially seems to ‘feed’ on that.

But men also as we’ve seen also enjoy look­ing at other men’s bod­ies, and admir­ing, desir­ing and aspir­ing to them.

 What do you think of this quote? The actor Thomas Jane said, after appear­ing naked on screen, “I now know what it’s like to be a woman, because I now have to say dur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion, ‘Hey, my eyes are up here!’ ”

It’s a funny quote, but it’s inter­est­ing that the sex of the per­son he’s talk­ing to with wan­der­ing eyes is left unstated.

Men are ‘sex objects’ now too. Some might put it in terms of ‘men are the new women’. But actu­ally what met­ro­sexu­al­ity has done is to break down the bound­ar­ies between ‘men’ and ‘women’.

Ironically many fem­in­ists are com­pletely blind to this phe­nomenon of men will­ingly objec­ti­fy­ing them­selves and other males. Or they pre­tend it’s a mar­ginal thing in no way com­par­able to the objec­ti­fic­a­tion of women. When clearly in main­stream media, par­tic­u­larly TV and cinema, it’s at the very least the equi­val­ent of female objectification.

Male nud­ity and sex is now a full advert­ising argu­ment. How do you explain David Beckham’s “pack­age” on the Armani/H&M camaigns? Or the homo­erotic Dolce & Gabbana ads?

This is what I dub ‘sporno’ – the place where sporn and porn get into bed while Mr Armani and Dolce and Gabbana take pictures.

Sporno rep­res­ents an intens­i­fic­a­tion of met­ro­sexu­al­ity. Where early met­ro­sexu­al­ity was soft-core, sporno is hard­core. Metrosexuality is now so main­stream and so ‘nor­mal’ that male coquet­tish­ness isn’t in itself likely to turn heads. So instead you have to prom­ise the punters a gang-bang in the showers. Or, more usu­ally, a prone, pass­ive image of a sport­ing star with their legs apart lit­er­ally mak­ing them­selves avail­able for the view­ing public.

And of course the ‘hard­core’ aes­thetic of sporno is flag­rantly gay.

Some have tried to dis­miss all this as some kind of con­spir­acy by gay fash­ionis­tas to cor­rupt young straight men and ram their pro­cliv­it­ies down their throats. If it is, it’s worked. Spectacularly. Sporno is the aes­thetic of the 21st Century.

Likewise, met­ro­sexu­al­ity is now so main­stream that to point to someone as a ‘met­ro­sexual’ these days is almost redund­ant. That’s why I called my latest col­lec­tion ‘Metrosexy’ – because what we’re talk­ing now is not a ‘type’ but rather a whole new male way of look­ing and being looked at.

Do you think that gay ima­ging has now com­pletely entered (pre­dom­in­antly straight) soci­ety? How do you explain the fact that it is now a com­mer­cial tool?

Well as I say, it makes people look. Which is quite an achieve­ment in this jaded age.

But also ‘gay’ ima­ging is inev­it­able once the male body is com­mod­i­fied, and once men begin to objec­tify them­selves and other men. This is part of the reason why it was banned or res­isted for so long.

It’s impossible to straighten this stuff out. Of course, people try. Men some­times pre­tend that their self objec­ti­fic­a­tion is ‘strictly for the ladies’. But even if this weren’t a bare-cheeked lie it wouldn’t solve any­thing. Because the ‘queer­ness’ is in the male passiv­ity. It’s about as ‘straight’ as being fucked with a strap-on.

It even turns out that many women have male-on-male fantas­ies which increas­ingly com­mer­cial cul­ture is pan­der­ing to. In other words, men are being encour­aged to ‘act gay’ to turn the ladies on.

More cyn­ic­ally, or per­haps more real­ist­ic­ally, gay ideals of male beauty and per­fec­tion are largely unachiev­able. That’s really the point of them. They prom­ise end­less desir­ing – and also anxi­ety. Which is what con­sumer­ism needs.…

 Mark Simpson’s ‘Metrosexy’ is avail­able on Amazon Kindle.