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.
Now their ads star the ultimate metrosexual smoothie, David Beckham, who is given the kind of soft-focus, mouth-watering treatment in this ad that used to be reserved for their ‘man-food’ Whoppers. Beckham is the ‘exciting thing’ happening at Burger King.
And he really does have a very appetising, seductive smile. Even his terrible acting is appealing. There is also something charmingly submissive about the way he pleads for his order. No wonder the female server is transfixed.
Like BK’s new menu, which includes freshly-made low-calorie fruit smoothies, chicken strips and ‘snack-wraps’ — or what might once have been called ‘girl-food’ — Beckham is part of a push to rebrand BK, whose sales have been plummeting. Even back in the Noughties, ‘manthem’ was an attempt to make a manly virtue out of BK’s accelerating obsolescence. Clearly even that approach isn’t working any more.
The ad rams home the rebranding of BK by playing up the omnisexual appeal of the metrosexual pin-up. The middle-aged male manager also finds himself captivated by Becks’ beauty midway through saying ‘I am sorry David we make them fresh every time with… fruit.’ It’s unclear whether the manager is actually a ‘fruit’ himself or just another straight man who finds himself strangely drawn by Beckham’s beguiling looks. Probably the latter as he seems genuinely surprised by his own response.
Beckham the equal opps narcissist isn’t phased of course and replies, with an indulgent smile: ‘No problem, John’.
The only part that mystifies me is why anyone, male or female, straight or gay, would fantasise that the be-jeaned and denim-shirted Becks before them was actually dressed as a 1960s undertaker.
Tip: Natty Soltesz
Yours truly in today’s Guardian.
Last year metrodaddy declared the LMFAO dance hit ‘Sexy and I Know It’ an anthem for the Jersey Shore/Geordie Shore/The Only Way is Essex/The Hunks/Men’s Health Magazine generation of metrosexy young men and the metaphorical (and not so metaphorical) spangly Speedos they’re flaunting themselves in.
But I have to say I was a tad ambivalent about the heavily ironic hipster promo video.
Fortunately, it’s been remade by non-hipsters. In shape non-hipsters. Cadets from the USAF Academy, no less. Now, in case anyone objects that this is conduct unbecoming future officers (and apparently some killjoys have) perhaps we should remember that one of the lesser known meanings of ‘cadet’ is ‘pimp’. Though here of course they’re pimping their own bodies. Like the rest of today’s young men.
Not to be outdone, US Navy cadets have also taken up the challenge (see below). Which do you think is sexier? And which one knows it most? Air Force or Navy? Or neither? So far I haven’t been able to locate an Army or USMC version — but something tells me it won’t be long.
Tip: Roger Clarke and Towelroad
UK Olympic diver Tom Daley and his chums have recorded their own Speedo-tastic version (I especially like Tom’s Carmen Miranda moment):
English (unedited) version of Q&A with Mark Simpson by Michele Masneri for Italian cultural magazine Studio in which he talks about the Italian roots of sporno, the next stage of metrosexuality – and the Silviosexual
What do you mean by the word “sporno”?
The place where sport and porn get into bed while Mr Armani takes pictures. Beckham and Ronaldo’s bulging packets rammed down our throat on the sides of buses. Dolce & Gabbana hanging around the Italian football team’s locker room. That kind of thing. So once again we mostly have Italia to thank.
Metrosexuality, the male desire to be desired, has become so normal now that it’s pretty much taken for granted. So in order to get noticed you have to go hardcore – and promise the viewing public a gang-bang in the showers. Hence sporno.
Is Italy the most metrosexual country?
In a sense the wave of metrosexuality that swept the globe in the last decade or so was really just the rest of the world catching up with Italia and becoming a little bit more Italian.
Male narcissism is at the heart of metrosexuality – and in Italy unlike in the Anglo world this has never really been properly repressed. Italy, home of Michelangelo, Marcello Mastroianni and Dolce & Gabbana, never seriously pretended that ‘beauty’ was a word that couldn’t sit alongside ‘male’, and pat its well-formed knee.
In Italy, particularly Southern Italy, young men often have an almost swishy but entirely assured way of walking that few Anglos can ever hope to match. And if we try, it just ends up a silly sashay.
Nonetheless, I think full-throated metrosexuality does break down traditional or official ideas about the sexual division of loving and looking even in Italy by undermining machismo and ‘outing’ the queerness of it all. The way that women look at men and men look at other men – and how men get very turned on by all the attention.
Do you know the Fiat-Chrysler CEO, Sergio Marchionne?
Mark Simpson: I’m afraid I had to look him up. Are you sure he’s Italian? He looks like Jeremy Clarkson’s dad. Do you think he has a wardrobe at home with 365 identical shapeless jumpers and shirts?
Hummersexuals are guys who over-emphasise their masculinity with ‘manly’ accessories in a way that makes you wonder what they’re covering up. Retrosexuals are merely pre-metrosexual.
Sergio seems more retrosexual than hummersexual. Partly because Fiat cars aren’t terribly popular with the US military or Hollywood action heroes – too small and ‘faggy’, I expect – but mostly because he reminds me of my old chemistry teacher.
And how about former Prime Minister Berlusconi?
He’s quite something, that Berlusconi! But at least, as he keeps reminding us, he’s not queer. Even if he does look like a drag queen.
I don’t think any of the categories really fit Silvio. He’s far too special. He’s in a category all of his own. Silviosexual.
Mind you, his old chum Tony Blair, our former PM and rock star manqué, shared the same drag queen smile. But ultimately Silvio is a reminder to an Anglo like me of the mysteries of ‘machismo’. How something so camp can imagine itself something so butch.
Perhaps we need to go way back in time to locate Berlusconi’s painted, dyed, stretched, terrifyingly cosmetic look. Back to the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt.…
Is David Beckham still the epitome of the metrosexual?
Yes, albeit the ageing metrosexual. In English we have an expression, ‘mutton dressed as lamb’.… But then there are lots of men his age and older who also don’t want to give up their sex-object status – so they look to him for inspiration. Though he’ll have to offer them something a lot sexier than those daggy H&M pants and vests he came up with recently.
Beckham’s metrosexual crown has of course been usurped by younger, prettier players such as Cristiano Ronaldo – who also famously stole his Armani undies. At the same time you have a new generation of tarty male reality TV stars, such as Mike ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino and his ‘gym tan laundry’ metro mantra from Jersey Shore. And at the movies you have stars like Tom Hardy, with those pouty, Brando-esque lips, muscles and his openly admitted bi-curious past telling us ‘Don’t be a afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.’
Is metrosexy the “next stage” of metrosexuality? The word ‘metrosexual’ was born in the Nineties. What happened to male narcissism since then?
Funnily enough Justin Bieber was born the same year as the metrosexual. They’re both sweet seventeen. In other words, metrosexuality is still waiting for its voice to drop.
That said, men’s narcissism has become much so mainstream and accepted in the last decade or so, to the point where it is often taken for granted, especially by the younger generation who has grown up with it. Hence the word itself is likely to become defunct at some point in the not too distant future. To some extent Metrosexy is about a post metrosexual world.
However, there are still reaction-formations and kinky backlashes against metrosexuality, particularly in the US which, because of a passionately Protestant history and an equally passionate denial about its own screaming gayness, continues to work out her issues. E.g. those hummersexuals.…
Essentially ‘metrosexy’ is the tarty male sensibility that metrosexuals have injected into the culture. Metrosexuality has gone from being a ‘type’ – ‘the metrosexual’ – to be spotted and pointed at, to being a pervasive ‘feeling’. A way of seeing and being seen.
Also, a glance at the newsstand, the billboard, the TV, and the queue at the bus stop tells us that with many young men the desire to be desired and embody male beauty has taken an increasingly physical, sensual form: their lovingly, painstakingly sculpted and shaved muscles and their elaborate, expensive designer tattoos.
Following the cues of sporno, many seem to aspire to be sexual athletes. Hustlers. Porn stars.
What’s the relationship between hipsterism and metrosexuality?
Although most hipsters would probably rather die than admit it, hipsterism is a form of metrosexuality. But a very middle-class and enervated – or ‘ironic’ – one. It’s patently narcissistic, but usually regards the body and ‘sexiness’ as ‘vulgar’. Which it is of course – if you’re lucky.
What’s the “gay bomb”, Abercrombie & Fitch or American Apparel or Apple?
Abercrombie & Fitch were perhaps the detonator – Apple and iPhones were the explosion. iPhones are of course the ultimate vanity product – they’re really MEphones. The app that comes gratis with every smartphone is dumb self-obsession. And they’re also a great way to take a picture of yourself topless in the gym changing room mirrors to upload to Facebook, or perhaps a more ‘discrete’ ‘social network’…
Are the social networks, i.e. Facebook and especially Twitter, a form of a sublimated metrosexuality?
Inasmuch as they’re all about MEEEEEE! yes. They’re where people compete for attention and try to turn themselves into brands and commodities and market themselves, a hallmark of metrosexuality.
In the case of Facebook, often the metrosexuality isn’t even very sublimated. Young men can and do upload hundreds of topless pictures of themselves, apparently auditioning for that Men’s Health cover.
You’ve written that “in some ways Obama is the first US President to be his own First Lady.” Is there any metrosexy candidate in the Republican party?
Not in the current line-up of hopefuls. Though Mitt Romney does look like a mannequin in the window of a particularly boring department store.
Aaron Schock on the other hand, the Republican Congressman who stripped off for Men’s Health magazine positively drips metrosexiness – for a politician. He’ll probably end up President one day. Him or Justin Bieber.…
Mark Simpson’s Metrosexy is available for download from Amazon.
Better order some industrial strength lip balm and practise suppressing the gag reflex.
Shameless sporno star and über-metrosexual David Beckham is ramming his eye-popping lunchbox down our collective throats again. This time with a media ‘offensive’ for his own line of men’s undies – and strangely shapeless vests – from Swedish-owned high street fashion chain H&M.
“I always want to challenge myself and this was such a rewarding experience for me. I’m very happy with the end result and I hope H&M’s male customers will be as excited as I am.”.
It’s true, you do look very pleased to see us again, David dear. But I worry that my ‘end result’ might not look quite so excited/exciting in your pants.
But Beck’s own palpable, prominent excitement is entirely understandable. He saw the humongous wads of cash Mr Armani was covered in when he brazenly pimped Beck’s designer cotton-clad tackle to the world a few years back. Becks was paid very handsomely for his services himself of course, but seems to have decided he can make even more filthy lucre by designing his packet himself and flogging it to the global punter (H&M is the second largest retailer in the world).
Last year he explained:
“I have had the idea of doing a bodywear collection for some time now. The push to do something of my own really came as a result of my collaboration with Armani. They told me that their gross turnover in 2007 was around €16 million, and after the campaign in 2008 it went up to €31 million, in 2008. It proved to me that there is a real market for good-looking, well-made men’s bodywear.”
Whether or not his finished pants and vests are that kind of bodywear I’ll let you be the judge of. Bear in mind they are a lot more affordable than Mr Armani’s. I think proud-father-of-four Goldenballs is here going for ‘volume’. Metrosexy dadwear. Hence the emphasis he puts on comfort.
And as we’ve seen again and again in the last few years, there is definitely a real market for good-looking, well-made, famous, well-packaged men’s bodies. Advertisers, reality TV and Hollywood have practically had our eye out with them.
Regardless of his advancing years (he’s a frighteningly well-preserved, carb-free 37 this May) and consequently fading football career, Becks will always be fondly identified with that metrosexual revolution and will very likely get his money shot yet again.
He and his endowments, natural and Photo-shopped, always seems to wangle a way to attract the eye. Whatever you may think of his vests.
If you have their email address you can gift a friend — or an enemy — a copy of a Simpson Kindle book.
(At the moment this service is only available from Amazon.com. Gift vouchers are currently the only way to gift a Kindle book at Amazon.co.uk.)
GP Leonardi at ‘Finzioni’ reviews Metrosexy. You can read it here.
The Summer of 2011 officially became the summer that the male gaze was reflected back at itself — and with enthusiasm! In the summer’s superhero movies, a supremely buff body became part of what made these heroes so super. The Captain America trailer had Dominic Cooper doing the old look-over-the-top-of-my-sunglasses move to get a load of the newly pumped up Chris Evans. In Thor, Kat Dennings’s audience-surrogate character spends half the movie talking about how nutso everything is and the other half pointing out that this blond god from the heavens is massively pumped. Fourteen years ago, America lost it when Batman’s costume included rubber nipples. Now we’ve got a Spider-Man whose costume lifts and separates.
It’s great that New York Magazine has noticed (and welcomed) how Hollywood has objectified men, and how men have objectified themselves. Difficult to believe, I know, but there are still plenty of people who do their best not to. Or refuse to admit that they’ve noticed. Including some feminists who want to pretend that objectification is something only done by men to women.
But despite NY Magazine’s presentation of it, this isn’t something that happened in one Summer. I’ve been banging on about it myself since 1994 — my first book Male Impersonators: Men Performing Masculinity examined the way the so-called ‘male gaze’ had been reflected back at itself in movies, magazines and advertising. And rather liked what it saw. Even back then I wasn’t exactly the first to notice — though I did make more of a meal of it than anyone else.
‘Objectification’ is also of course the hallmark of metrosexuality — men’s desire to be desired is necessarily the desire to be ‘objectified’. Though I have to say I think the ‘O’ word clunky and outmoded. ‘Tarty’ trips and skips off the tongue better.
For those interested in ancient history — albeit ancient history that New York Magazine treats as news — all rights in Male Impersonators have reverted to me and I’m planning to e-publish it very soon, probably in downloadable PDF format for a nominal fee.
The image below is the jacket of the original Cassell edition of M.I., now out of print, sporting a classic 1950s Athletic Model Guild still. I chose it partly because it was a tad ‘overdetermined’ and camp — particularly the Grecian codpiece and the pedestal/butt-plug. And partly as an illustration of the kind of ‘objectification’ of the male that happened underground and illicitly in the past.
In contrast to today’s corporate kind, conducted on billboards and at the multiplex.
UPDATE: Male Impersonators is now available on Kindle.
Tip: Fraser K
Mike De Luca (played with sweaty verve by Jordan Nice) is an unemployed, rather lazy young Italian-American chap living in blue-collar, post-industrial Philly who decides to go with the metrosexy times and make his fame and fortune by turning his manhood into cash. Whipping it out on webcam for the punters, male and female. In his Ma’s front room.
As he puts it in a catch-phrase even more salient and wise than ‘Gym. Tan. Laundry’: “When you gotta big dick, you don’t gotta do nothin! Life comes to YOU!”
So true, Mike, so true. You don’t even need to go to the gym. Or the laundry.
Big Dick Mike has gone one stage further than that other Italian-American Mikey ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino, the real star of Jersey Shore, who has already of course made his name and fortune by commodifying his body. For all the machismo, Mikey Sorrentino is in many ways a voluptuous female glamour model getting her tits out for the paparazzi — a glamour model who just happens to be penised. Though if the bitchy rumours are to be believed, not so much.
Mike De Luca on the other hand is all cock. Which he has totally commodified. If not very successfully yet.
The Big Dick Mike Show is a great idea for a sit-com, and also a pointed commentary on where masculinity is at in a mediated, totally tarty world.
It’s also much more entertaining than that dreary, moralising TV series Hung. Let’s hope Mike ‘The Erection’ De Luca gets a Network deal soon. And flops it out coast to coast, showing Mikey Sorrentino what a real ‘Situation’ looks like.
The Grooming Guru, alias Lee Kynaston, interviews Simpson about how Top Gun made a generation of young men ‘gay’ and why the Romans knew a thing or two about exfoliation. A snippet:
GG: Many commentators complain that men are ‘becoming more like women’ with their grooming/beauty regimes. What would you say to this?
MS: I think it’s more a case of men no longer tying one hand behind their backs when it comes to the increasingly important business – both in private and public life – of looking good. Happily married Lord Sugar, for example, sometimes seems to display a weakness for an attractive, nicely turned-out male candidate. And of course, more and more bosses are female.
Instead of men becoming ‘more like women’ what we’re seeing is men being less inhibited in their behaviour by worries about what’s ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’, ‘gay’ and ‘straight’. In much the same way that women have been since the feminist revolution of the 1970s. Likewise, ‘male beauty’ is no longer a completely verboten conjugation that has to always be euphemised with ‘male grooming’.
Read Kynaston’s interview in full here.
Perhaps only one of these US Marines in the latest ‘military camp’ Youtube hit is actually drop dead beautiful (clue: he’s the one who shakes his ass most convincingly, takes his top off, strokes his abs lovingly — and grabs his packet while his buddy zooms in for a close-up).
But you have to give his less physically gifted comrades full marks for the way these trained killers really want to be ‘drop dead’ gorgeous. At least for the duration of a Britney pop song about a woman who loves to look. And make a mockery of the ‘male gaze’ — along with the notion that men, particularly fighting men, are always active, never passive.
Like hundreds of other soldiers prancing around in Youtube clips it’s done for a laugh and a giggle — but it also seems to be seriously saying something about young men today. Even the ones expected to kill for us.
Boy, come over here with your sexy ass.…
Why did you decide to collect these texts in a single volume?
I wanted to bring together my essays that document and analyse the profound revolution in masculinity that metrosexuality represents. But which has been mostly trivialized by the media as being literally skin-deep – Oooh! men having facials!! Oooh! Manbags!! That kind of thing. Metrosexuality isn’t about men becoming ‘girlie’ or ‘gay’. It’s about men becoming everything. To themselves.
It’s told-you-so vanity on my part, but I also thought it was necessary to bring these pieces together into one collection so that if someone wants to find out the real story of what has happened to men and to sexuality in the early 21st Century they can. Even if it’s just historians of the future trying to work out why civilization collapsed.
The kind of texts you write and the tone you use (ironic and camp) is not common in Portugal but as far as I know is common in English language authors. Could you comment? Is the tone of your writings autobiographical or is just a rhetorical mechanism?
Are you calling me camp, Bruno? I try my best to be entertaining when I write, as I’m extremely dull in person. Also, I think when it comes to subjects like sex, sexuality and gender a sense of humour is absolutely necessary. If someone can write about these subjects straight-faced then they probably don’t know what they’re talking about.
Did you realize you were creating a worldwide concept when you first wrote about “metrosexual” men in 1994? How proud do you feel about having seen before others a social tendency?
The newspaper article in which I apparently coined that term was written to publicise my first book Male Impersonators: Men Performing Masculinity. I used metrosexuality as a kind of shorthand for what I was talking about in the book – about the way that an increasingly mediated world was changing masculinity and how it was becoming much more narcissistic and exhibitionistic – and ‘objectified’ in that feminist-speak.
In other words, masculinity was no longer always heterosexual never homosexual, always active never passive, always desiring never desired, always looking never looked at.
The enforced association of masculinity with capital H heterosexuality was breaking down even in the early 90s – you only had to look around the culture to see it. And I’ve always been something of a voyeur. The desire of men to be desired wasn’t something I was going to ignore.
Though, of course, people don’t always want to see things that are happening around them. Which is probably why it took another decade for the concept to catch on.
And yes, seeing some things before others want to does give me a certain mischievous, perverse pleasure, but it isn’t necessarily something you’ll be thanked for. Look what happened to Cassandra.…
You say in the 1994 text that “metrosexuals are the creation of capitalism’s voracious appetite for new markets.” Do you think sexuality is nowadays more an economic issue than a ‘natural’ or ‘primary’ behaviour?
Not really sure that sexuality has been a ‘natural’ behaviour since humans became social animals with elaborate rules and codes, languages – and religions. It’s certainly been even less ‘natural’ since the industrial revolution. What’s clear though is that the productive/reproductive impetus of early capitalism has been replaced by sensual/consumerist imperatives, even and especially for men.
You see this even in China, where after a period of rapid productive growth consumerism is now rampant and encouraged by the Party as the next step in China’s economic development – and hyper-metro behaviour has been observed amongst a lot of Chinese young men (the so-called ‘herbivore’ phenomenon). Plus of course, population growth is not something China exactly needs.
It’s fairly clear that men have always had a capacity for sensuality and vanity – and a desire to be desired – but for most of history it has been rather closeted. Especially since the Victorian era. Men were meant to be warriors or labourers or empire builders. They weren’t meant to be beautiful. The sexual division of looking that the Victorians codified decreed that women were beauty and men were action.
But now that men have been encouraged to get in touch with their vanity and sensuality it seems there’s no stopping it.…
Is the concept of “sporno” a proof that our Western culture is being constructed around pornography and sex? Camille Paglia wrote some months ago that American middle-class society is desexualized: men act like children until 50 and women are so thinner that men hardly fell attracted for their bodies. What should we conclude?
America is a conundrum. Sporno doesn’t really exist in the US, except via imported Armani advertising campaigns (which don’t feature US sportsmen). Sporno is a European phenomenon. The Protestant component of American culture is still very strong today and America still makes a quasi religious fetish out the notion of the Real Man.
The US is the only country that had a backlash against metrosexuality in the mid-Noughties. In many ways the ‘menaissance’ as it was called was men-dacious and hypocritical – often it was just a more uptight version of metrosexuality that was being sold. And in fact the US as a hugely consumerist country has continued of course down the metrosexual path – it can hardly do anything else. But it’s still in terrible denial.
Sporno represents an intensification of metrosexuality – from a soft core to more hard-core gay porn sensibility. It’s too out-and-proud in its metrosexuality, ramming it’s designer-clad packet – or ass – down your throat. America’s not really ready for that. America is, as everyone knows, one of the ‘gayest’ countries in the world but it’s the last to know it.
Why do we see rugby and football players acting as “sporno” stars but rugby and football are still homophobic areas?
I’m not so sure that rugby is that homophobic – partly because it’s all about male-male physical contact. And it does have one or two out players/ex-players. Football is a different matter however. Pretty much the whole point of following football is to prove you’re not gay, my son….
To some extent the fashion houses deploying footballers in their spornographic advertising campaigns are exploiting the homophobia of the sport – the images are especially striking in their ‘gayness’ and their ‘passivity’ because they use men who live by ‘activity’ in a sport renowned for its homophobia.
In fact, David Beckham’s media career has also been based to some degree on exploiting the homophobia of football. If football wasn’t homophobic the notion of a footballer who ‘loves my gay fans’ and wears sarongs and his wife’s knickers wouldn’t be so newsworthy.
But of course sporno – and Beckham and Ronaldo – also change expectations and challenge prejudices. There is a time-lag between the pansexuality proffered by sporno images used to sell clothing to young football fans and attitudes on the terraces and in the changing rooms. But this will change. Things have already changed enormously in just a few years.
What is really, strikingly, shockingly apparent in these spornographic images is the lust young sporting heroes have to be… sluts. This apparently insatiable appetite for tartiness and sluttiness of men is something that metrosexuality has unleashed and isn’t going back in the closet any time soon.
How do you see the way gay men, or more accurately gay activism, behave today: they demand gay marriage, they want to adopt children and they claim family values? What’s happening? Has the “heterosexist” society just contaminated the previously subversive gay culture?
A lot of gays seem to have decided that they want respectability. Of course they call it ‘equality’. But perhaps they have an equal right to be respectable if they really want to be.
Just as straights appear to be going ‘gay’, given the chance, in the form of metrosexuality and recreational, kinky sex, gays seem to be going ‘straight’. It’s the inevitable result of the breakdown of the division between ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ and the crossover between the two. Sexuality no longer dictates lifestyle.
And it’s not so surprising that it turns out that a lot of gays have made a fetish out of ‘normality’ and respectability – because it was denied them for so long. I expect though that many will tire of it rather more quickly than a lot of heterosexuals have.
What’s your opinion about the apparently main-streaming of the transgender culture (last week Daniel Craig in drag; the Spanish magazine Candy, the recent success of the model Andrej Pejic)? Is trans the new sexual/aesthetic model? Are we going “transexy”, as you call it?
I think it’s becoming pretty apparent that in an increasingly intensely mediated culture everything is becoming hyper-real – especially gender. The increasing use of cosmetic surgery by both men and women, especially celebrities, is bringing about a kind of effacement of sexual difference. Not necessarily because men and women are becoming androgynous, although that is happening too, but because even the attempts to emphasize ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ with cosmetic surgery, designer tatts and beards, steroids etc. etc. tend to produce an ‘over-exposure’ which results in a kind of ‘transexy’ appearance. Sexiness has effaced sex.
Gender has become so artificial and so over-stated that we’re all Pammy-trannies now. Male-to-male and female-to-female transsexuals.
Who do you consider to be the most interesting, sexy, defiant and mythological public person of nowadays? Why?
That’s a tall order. I’m not sure I can think of anyone that really fits that description. But Tom Hardy was the best thing by far about ‘Inception’ and there is something quite inspiring about this pouty-faced yet ruggedly handsome Hollywood star’s open ownership both of his bi-curious past and his ambi-sexual persona. He looks like a good advert for metrosexiness: ‘Don’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.’
I think that’s an excellent motto for negotiating the metrosexy world we’re now living in.
metrosexy is available for your instant pleasure on Amazon Kindle
I’ve added an eye-popping gallery of sporno to the metrosexy Facebook page here. (It’s a lot easier on FB than on WordPress.)
Alas, due to the limitations of the format there are no illustrations in the e-book — aside from David Williams lyrical shower scene on the cover. Metrosexy is 70,000 words long but doesn’t say nearly as much as the buttocks below.…