A Bit of Laurie (& Fry)

At first I thought it was a mis­take, but then I real­ised that L’Oreal wasn’t look­ing for mod­els but for people with strong per­son­al­it­ies, who are worth it…and who aren’t afraid to pro­claim that using cos­met­ics can be a very mas­cu­line decision after all.”    – Hugh Laurie.

 L’Oreal’s new middle-aged poster boy Hugh Laurie — or Hugh L’Oreal as he shall hence­forth be known — used to attend the same gym as me in the 1990s, in Tufnel Park, North London, before he moved to the bright lights of Hollywood. He was a very determ­ined gym-goer, work­ing up a ter­rific sweat and going quite beet­root red in the face while those fam­ously gog­gly eyes stared fix­edly into the distance.

A dis­tance that turned out to be transat­lantic star­dom and luc­rat­ive men’s anti-ageing cos­met­ics endorse­ment deals. That sweaty determ­in­a­tion was a sur­pris­ingly con­trast with the fop­pish, Woosterish, posh idiot char­ac­ters this Cambridge-educated thesp was fam­ous for play­ing on British TV up until then.

He seemed to be aim­ing for a very much more ‘toned’ appear­ance than the largely working-class, younger lads that used the gym, most of whom who wanted ‘vul­gar’ big muscles. He would also work out alone, and rarely speak to any­one (notice­able because it was a very chatty, soci­able gym – or at least, I was forever chat­ting to the cute, vul­gar lads). There was almost a kind of reli­gious, monk­ish qual­ity to his work-outs. But per­haps that was less a class issue than a celebrity one.

One day though he brought along his con­sid­er­ably less toned, but equally posh gay chum and com­edy ‘other half’ (very much the top half) Stephen Fry. Who was very chatty and flirty. But entirely ‘in char­ac­ter’. After patiently wait­ing for the face-down leg-curl machine I was hog­ging, he clambered onto his stom­ach and hur­riedly moved the pin up to a much lighter weight, say­ing: ‘Oh, I couldn’t pos­sibly lift that kind of weight! I don’t have your thighs!

You prob­ably won’t be too sur­prised to hear that I think that was the only time I saw Mr Fry in the gym. Mr Laurie, on the other hand, was always there.

Because, I sup­pose, he was ‘worth it’.

The Metrosexual is Undead

How many obit­u­ar­ies will the press write for the met­ro­sexual before they finally accept that he’s immor­tal? Or at least, undead? That every time they cut off his head and pro­nounce him ‘deceased’ they replace him with even more metrosexuality?

I was recently asked some ques­tions by Maria Paz Lopez for the Spanish national news­pa­per La Vanguardia about the sup­posed ‘decline’ of the met­ro­sexual in response to a piece in food and drink retail­ing magazine The Grocer called ‘Rise of the Retrosexual’, also widely-publicised in the UK — though no journ­al­ists here took the trouble to ask for Metrodaddy’s opinion.

It wasn’t really neces­sary since this twaddle was any­way com­ic­ally rebut­ted a couple of weeks later by the this report about how a ‘new wave of met­ro­sexu­als’ promp­ted by real­ity TV shows like ‘Geordie Shore’ and ‘The Only Way is Essex’ appar­ently can’t go on hol­i­day without hair straight­en­ers and travel irons.

My Spanish is very poor and I’m not sure what con­clu­sion Paz Lopez comes to, or even how much of me she quotes. But below is the main ques­tion she asked, and my uned­ited response, incor­por­at­ing some sub­si­di­ary questions.

Do you agree that the met­ro­sexual man in Western soci­et­ies is now in decline in favour of the ret­ro­sexual one? If so, why? If not so, why? Or are both mod­els coex­ist­ing, and this hap­pens to be a trans­itional period to God knows what kind of manliness?

 Mark Simpson: I see no evid­ence of the ‘decline’ of met­ro­sexual man. Whatsoever. Quite the con­trary. I just see more mar­ket­ing men­dacity to sell us even more male beauty products.

Since the early Noughties, when people around the world began writ­ing and talk­ing about the met­ro­sexual in a big way, the met­ro­sexual has reg­u­larly been declared ‘dead’ every few months – by mar­keters keen to sell even more product to men. The met­ro­sexual is dead! Real Men are back! And using our Real Man moisturiser!!

You can’t really blame them. It seems to be a fool­proof way to get lots of press atten­tion. No mat­ter how many times you do it.

The retail­ing journal behind the latest announce­ment of the ‘death’ of the met­ro­sexual are even repeat­ing them­selves. In 2007 they pro­duced another widely-publicised ‘report’ that told us: ‘Move aside met­ro­sexu­als, real men are back in action.

If they were right four years ago, what’s news­worthy about their claim now? But of course, they were dead wrong four years ago and they’re dead wrong now. Or rather, they lied four years ago and they’re lying again now. But hey, that’s marketing.

Apparently I was the first to use the term ‘ret­ro­sexual’ to con­trast with ‘met­ro­sexual’, in an essay from 2003. Back then I just meant who weren’t metro – but a dec­ade on ‘ret­ro­sexual’ seems now to mean middle-aged, middle-class met­ros with shaped chest hair, designer stubble and L’Oreal endorse­ment deals.

The fact that sales of male cos­met­ics may have reached a plat­eau in the last year is remark­able only for the fact that this is the first time that mar­ket hasn’t grown con­sid­er­ably in over a dec­ade – des­pite reces­sion and eco­nomic hard­ship for the last few years. Male van­ity and its frip­per­ies has proved to be largely reces­sion proof.

But any­way met­ro­sexu­al­ity isn’t about male beauty products per se, or man­bags, or spas, it’s about the male’s desire to be desired in an increas­ingly medi­ated world. And there’s no sign that that is going away. Instead it has become increas­ingly ‘nor­mal’, espe­cially amongst young men, many of whom take a great deal of care over their bod­ies and their appear­ance – and the pic­tures of them­selves they post on their Facebook profile.

Of course, fash­ions come and go but met­ro­sexu­al­ity isn’t a fash­ion – it’s an epoch. It rep­res­ents a fun­da­mental shift in what men are allowed to be and to want. Men are now per­mit­ted to be ‘pass­ive’ – invit­ing our gaze.

Metrosexuality rep­res­ents a totally aes­thet­i­cized, self-conscious mas­culin­ity. And gays have been aes­thet­i­ciz­ing and access­or­iz­ing mas­culin­ity for longer than any­one else. Hence the cur­rent sup­posedly ‘rugged’ and ‘ret­ro­sexual’ fash­ion for facial hair (as yet another male access­ory) was actu­ally pion­eered by gays some years ago. ‘Retrosexuals’ are aping homosexuals.

Much has been made of L’Oreal’s adop­tion of stub­bly Hugh Laurie star of the US TV series ‘House’ as their poster boy. But no one men­tions that L’Oreal have for some time been tar­get­ing middle-aged men with ads that appeal in coded fash­ion to their anxi­ety about get­ting old (Laurie is 52). Middle-aged men who, with their more tra­di­tional mind­sets, are prob­ably the last hold-outs against met­ro­sexu­al­ity. Unlike their sons who just take it all for granted.

And any­way, their sons don’t know who Hugh Laurie is, or watch TV — or read news­pa­per art­icles about alleged ‘ret­ro­sexu­als’ — because they’re too busy updat­ing their top­less pho­tos on Facebook.

Henry Finally Throws in the Towel

Much-loved British heavy­weight boxer Henry Cooper died this week.

Unborn in 1963, the year he nearly defeated Cassius Clay (the Brits love near-winners much more than win­ners), I remem­ber him for the curi­ous Brut TV com­mer­cials he did in the 1970s that helped usher in the world of male product aisles in super­mar­kets and spor­no­graphic advert­ising we know today.

Enery’s ‘omely fea­tures and work­ing class man’s man status, along with the ironic play on Brut/brute, guar­an­teed that there was noth­ing poofy about men using cologne as more than just an after­shave — ‘splash it on all ovah!’ Which was an import­ant state­ment for one of the first mass mar­ket male colognes to make at a time when such van­ites were gen­er­ally still frowned upon in the rather pongy UK. In the Dick Emery, Are You Being Served? 1970s it was incon­ceiv­able that ‘enery could be ‘omo.

But the ‘omoso­cial reas­sur­ance that some­thing isn’t ‘omo can look a lot like ‘omo­sexu­al­ity sometimes.

Here’s one of the hap­pily mar­ried Henry hav­ing a sweaty workout, shower and towel-flicking sesh with foot­baller Kevin Keegan. Which is manly man’s man stuff, but with a sur­pris­ingly pro­nounced (intergen­er­a­tional) homo­erotic sub-text. The fact I still vividly remem­ber it from my youth sug­gests that the sub-text was there all along, and not just some­thing the filthy-minded 21st Century has pro­jec­ted on the past.

It even seems like they’re about to kiss at one point. But then, in the 1970s foot­ballers did this to one another after scor­ing. Because again, it was incon­ceiv­able that they could be ‘omo.

Thirty years on, it’s hardly a sur­prise that Brut is no longer trail­blaz­ing. Brut, which was never exactly a ‘refined’ fra­grance, is mar­keted in the US today as a slightly ironic ret­ro­sexual throwback.

Though maybe I’m mis­taken. Perhaps the ret­ro­sexual at the end of the ad below is really a butch lesbian.



Retrosexuality isn’t what it used to be

My atten­tion was recently drawn by a con­cerned mem­ber of the brows­ing pub­lic to a piece on Salon.com, ‘Retrosexuals: The latest lame macho catch­phrase’ by Aaron Traister, enter­tain­ingly lam­bast­ing the ‘new’ ret­ro­sexual trend:

I woke up this morn­ing to dis­cover my local paper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, ped­dling a story about America’s new favor­ite model of man: the ret­ro­sexual. Normally I ignore almost everything in my local paper, but this, in com­bin­a­tion with a recent art­icle in the New York Times about the sequel to “The Official Preppy Handbook,” has got my knick­ers in a bunch.

The ret­ro­sexual is a clever play on that other dusty gem of mod­ern trend mas­culin­ity, the met­ro­sexual. Unlike met­ro­sexu­al­ism, which encour­aged men to worry about their appear­ance and spend copi­ous amounts of money on beauty products and clothes to mask the kinds of insec­ur­it­ies nor­mally pushed on women, the ret­ro­sexual trend encour­ages men to worry about their appear­ance and spend copi­ous amounts of money on products and clothes to mask more tra­di­tional mas­cu­line insec­ur­it­ies, like being gay, or a broke loser, or a gay broke loser.

I hap­pen to agree with much of Traister’s trash­ing of ret­ro­sexu­al­ism, par­tic­u­larly the way he mocks its cent­ral fear of being thought a fag.  But then I would because I’ve already done it. Several years ago. On Salon.  OK, so I stopped writ­ing for them yonks ago, and it would of course be entirely under­stand­able if they were still sulk­ing about this.…

But still, Salon writers should per­haps show a little more research — even from just the Salon.com search box — before lam­bast­ing at length ‘the latest lame macho catch­phrase’. According to WordSpy.com the first usage of the term ‘ret­ro­sexual’ in the sense of the ‘anti-metrosexual’ was in an essay (‘Becks the virus’) by yours truly in 2003.  On Salon.

By the fol­low­ing year, 2004, America was hav­ing a gigantic national nervous break­down over met­ro­sexu­al­ity and gay mar­riage and re-elected Bush. I remem­ber it well because it fol­lowed the crazy year or so of met­ro­sex­mania that swept the US – after my out­ing essay ‘Meet the met­ro­sexual’ in 2002, and its bizarre appro­pri­ation and bowd­ler­isa­tion by American mar­keters.  Which also appeared on Salon.

The ‘menais­sance’ was men­dacious even back in the mid nought­ies, of course, with its prissy lists of ‘dos and don’ts’, and euphemistic mar­ket­ing strategies – as I poin­ted out at the time. But now every­one knows that ‘ret­ro­sexu­al­ity’, at least when appro­pri­ated by the media and mar­ket­ing busi­ness, is just jokey, Mad Men-esque nos­tal­gia for nos­tal­gia — with a trilby cocked ‘just so’.  Or gag-me-with-a-silver-spoon preppy wan­nabe niche mar­ket­ing that isn’t to be taken seriously.

In early 2004, with the homo­phobic anti-metro back­lash brew­ing in the US, I returned to the sub­ject – again, for Salon (‘Metrodaddy speaks!’).  Since I love quot­ing myself (at length), and since I think this as per­tin­ent now as back then, here’s the rel­ev­ant sec­tion from that auto-interview, which explains the repug­nance of tra­di­tion­al­ists towards the lack of repug­nance met­ro­sexu­als gen­er­ally have towards homoerotics:

Are hetero met­ro­sexu­als really lat­ent homosexuals?

MS: Certainly it would make life easier and less wor­ry­ing for ret­ro­sexu­als if this were true — and I notice that in cer­tain slightly, shall we say, clenched circles, met­ro­sexual has become another word for “homo” or “fag.” Unfortunately for these threatened types — and also for me — this is just wish­ful, over-tidy think­ing; homo­phobic house­work. Hetero met­ros are not “really” gay — they’re just really met­ro­sexual. In point of fact, hetero met­ro­sexu­als are prob­ably rather less “lat­ent” than ret­ro­sexu­als. They are, after all, rather blatant — in their flir­ta­tious­ness. Their iden­tity is not based on a con­stant repu­di­ation of homo­sexu­al­ity. What the ret­ro­sexual finds repug­nant in the met­ro­sexual is his invit­a­tion of the gaze — a gaze that is not and can­not be gendered or straightened out. They’re equal-opportunity narcissists.

Homoerotics, rather than homo­sexu­al­ity, is an inev­it­able and obvi­ous part of male nar­ciss­ism — just as it is for female nar­ciss­ism, hence “les­bian chic.” Which is one of the reas­ons why it has been dis­cour­aged for so long. This isn’t to say that most met­ro­sexu­als want to go to bed with other men — not even so as to gen­er­ously share their beauty with the half of the human race so far deprived of it — it’s just that they aren’t neces­sar­ily repulsed by the male body in the way that many ret­ro­sexu­als like to assert, repeatedly, they are. By exten­sion, their interest in women is not neces­sar­ily driven by self-loathing or a need to prove their vir­il­ity; it’s a mat­ter of taste and pleas­ure. Which I sus­pect many women find some­thing of a relief, not to men­tion a turn-on. Though admit­tedly some women may feel that the met­ro­sexual is too much like competition.

God, I was good back then.  But so was Salon.

Republican Great White Hope Scott Brown’s Pink Leather Past

A pro­file on the truck driv­ing Republican Presidential hope­ful from Boston Scott Brown in Vanity Fair caused a few chuckles last week with his wife’s cheeky rev­el­a­tion about the pink leather shorts he wore to his first date with her in the 1980s.  Here’s the money shot:

The pink­ish color drained from [Brown’s] face when I asked him about it dur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion in his cam­paign office just before we took off in the truck. He cla­ri­fied that the shorts weren’t some­thing that he went out and pur­chased — it wasn’t like that at all. ‘I did the cou­ture shows, and instead of pay­ing in cash, they paid in clothes,’ he said. ‘And one of the things I had to wear were leather shorts. And these happened to be pink.’”

It’s cer­tainly a relief to know Mr Brown didn’t buy them — that would be kinda faggy — that instead he was given the pink leather shorts for sash­ay­ing up and down the cat­walk at a cou­ture show.

How funny to think that the US was the only coun­try that had any­thing approach­ing a ser­i­ous back­lash against met­ro­sexu­al­ity, back in the mid-Noughties.  Oh, come on now, surely you remem­ber?  That so-called ‘menais­sance’?  Those prissy lists of ‘manly’ ‘do’s and don’ts’?  And those com­pletely non-ironic ‘Reclaim your man­hood — go shop­ping in a Hummer’ ads?  It got lots of cov­er­age  in the press at the time.  Supposedly metro was out and retro ‘reg­u­lar guys’ were back in.  Oh, and George W. Bush was re-elected in part on an anti-gay mar­riage anti-metro ticket (his Democrat oppon­ent was por­trayed by the Republican machine as a girly-man met­ro­sexual pas­si­fist).

And yet,  just a few years on, faux Texan ‘bring it on!’ George Bush has been replaced by a svelte mixed-race President who starts every day with a workout, who ran a cam­paign based on slo­gans prin­ted in the GQ font, and who is, for all Michelle’s pret­ti­ness, some­thing of his own First Lady.

And now the great white hope of the Republicans, who whipped Obama’s skinny ass in a Democrat strong­hold, is a former Cosmo centre­forld and male cou­ture model who liked to wear pink leather shorts because they showed off his tanned legs.

But per­haps the most inter­est­ing thing about Scott Brown’s very suc­cess­ful 1980s male mod­el­ling career, look­ing at the pic­tures, is this: he wouldn’t get the work today.  He’d have to do hard­core gay porn.  And cer­tainly not Falcon or any respect­able stu­dio — no, Scott would have to do fetish/extreme stuff.  Fisting in black (not pink) leather, that kind of thing.  Or cash-in on his sur­name.  And he still wouldn’t get paid very much.  Though they prob­ably would let him keep one of the XXL toys.

I’m not being bitchy.  No, really.  I’m just being real­istic.  And any­way, it’s not about him; it’s about us.

He was nice enough look­ing in a wooden sort of way, but since the 1980s an entire gen­er­a­tion of young men have been raised to be male mod­els — and they work at it a lot harder than Scott evid­ently did.  They also look at them­selves a lot harder.  Scott had it rel­at­ively easy because there was much less aware­ness of what was ‘desir­able’ in the male body back then — amongst women and men.  Young men as a sex hadn’t learned to desire to be desired.  That was still offi­cially women’s role.  And because there was prob­ably also rather more in the way of stigma attached to his pro­fes­sion there was even less competition.

Yes, it looks like Scott had a pert bum and what they used to call back then a ‘hunky’ physique — but today it would be a case of ‘Don’t call us dear, we’ll call you.’  Such is the choice avail­able of absurdly desir­able, obscenely fit young men, I doubt any­one would even bother to tell him what he so obvi­ously needed to do: get down the gym and take ster­oids and crys­tal meth.  (And if you work really hard and you’re really lucky you’ll end up on Jersey Shore.)

His body looks far too nat­ural to be cred­ible today as a ideal­ised male image: the lack of porno pecs, a six-pack and ‘cum-gutters’ is hein­ous.  The untrimmed, un-waxed body hair is griev­ous.  The unbleached teeth unfor­give­able.  He wouldn’t make the audi­tion for today’s male Cosmo — Men’s Health — let alone the cover.

In fact, the most buffed and pumped thing about the young Scott Brown to our crit­ical 21st Century eyes is his hairdo.

Damn Right Your Dad Swallowed

You may remem­ber I couldn’t res­ist pok­ing fun a while back at Canadian Club’s ‘Your Dad Wasn’t A Metrosexual’ poster, the one with with the tag line ‘Damn Right Your Dad Drank It’.  It turns out there were sev­eral instal­ments in that faux retro cam­paign, includ­ing ‘Your Dad Never Tweezed Anything’, the very appet­ising ‘Your Mom Wasn’t Dad’s First’, and the pos­it­ively lipsmack­ing, ‘Your Dad Had a Van For a Reason’. (I kid you not.)

It appears that the cam­paign received some bad press in Canada, and I wasn’t the only one that couldn’t res­ist send­ing it up.  Fresca has kindly drawn my atten­tion to this pro­ject by Michelle Koenig-Schwartz in which she invites people to cre­at­ively deface the ads — the ‘Your Mom Was Your Dad’ poster below is one of the con­tri­bu­tions. Others include a pic­ture of two naked twinks snog­ging under the head­line ‘Your Mom Wasn’t Your Dad’s First.’  I’m not sure that I share the sense of out­rage that some people seem to have over the ads, but they were cer­tainly ask­ing for a good kicking.

Which makes me won­der whether all this atten­tion might well be exactly what the wan­nabe Mad Men at the ad agency respons­ible wanted — the ‘Damn Right Your Dad Drank It’ cam­paign has appar­ently begun again, with posters announ­cing, ‘Your Dad Didn’t Wear a Bridge’. Whatever that is sup­posed to mean.

But it’s always fun defa­cing ads, so what the hell?

Canadian Club. Damn Right the Metro’s Dad Didn’t Drink it.  It tastes of syn­thetic provocation.

Your Dad Wasn’t a Metrosexual: But His Best Buddy Was

Mmmmm. Retrosexual mas­culin­ity. Served in a rocks glass. Effortless. Unselfconscious. Dated.

It tastes just like your… dad.

Unlike you, of course. You mois­tur­ize. Go to the gym. Watch what you eat. Fret about whether you’re worthy of love. Worry about what mas­culin­ity actu­ally means. And taste of tea-tree oil and lavender.

If only we could bring those days back! When you could oper­ate heavy machinery and speed­boats pissed out of your mind. When no one thought you might be homo. When the only magazines you bought were Popular Mechanics and Penthouse. When women couldn’t keep their hands off you even though you had no dress sense, smelt bad and your hair was full of lard.

And when toned, top­less, tweak­ing 1970s hust­lers checked them­selves out in rest room mir­rors while wait­ing for their next mar­ried punter. (Yes, that pic­ture caught my eye too.)

Canadan Club: for the the man who, like most men today, is on the out­side look­ing in. Aching to be sold back by advert­ising the very thing that advert­ising has deprived him of. How many of the men read­ing this ad today even speak to their dad, or know what he drinks?

As I have poin­ted out before, it’s a meas­ure of how self-conscious and medi­ated mas­culin­ity is now that ‘real guys’ whatever they were are now just another annoy­ing fad. Faux retro.

On the rocks.

Tip: Fresca Davis

The Sun newspaper: Retro or Metro?



So, Cilla, which of our lovely lads is the pub­lic going to plump for?

Will it be ‘Dave’ the ret­ro­sexual PE teacher from Liverpool with a pint, who only uses after­shave his mum bought him for Christmas ‘on spe­cial occa­sions’ (but seems to be rather fond of hair product)? Or will it be ‘Joe’ the met­ro­sexual Accounts Manager from Essex with a glass of Chardonnay and perched on an Ikea stool (I know where it’s from because I have one) who spends £350 a month on clothes and goes to the gym every even­ing because he’s going on a ‘lad’s hol­i­day’ with fif­teen mates and they’ve got a bet on for who ‘looks best on the beach’?

Yesterday’s Sun ran a ‘Hetero or Metro?’ com­pet­i­tion, sup­posedly promp­ted by the pop­ular­ity of the unre­con­struc­ted (and impress­ively ugly) sex­ist police char­ac­ter in BBC 80s ironic nos­tal­gia drama series ‘Ashes to Ashes’. According to the Sun he makes women ‘quiver’.

Probably because a) he’s safely in the 80s and b) they can’t smell him.

For just 10p you can cast your vote for the ‘hetero’ or the ‘metro’. (It costs noth­ing to show them your indifference.)

One of the many iron­ies of this exer­cise is that ‘Joe’ their sportswear clad ‘hetero’ ‘real man’ looks a lot like a lot of gay men these days, espe­cially the ones you find in Central Station or in Triga videos. But then, after all, he’s a PE teacher. Are any of them straight?

Because the Sun is, like the rest of the media, part of the met­ro­sexual con­sumer con­spir­acy, the com­pet­i­tion is of course men-daciously loaded in favour of the ret­ro­sexual (big­ger pic­ture, first billing, biased intro).

In case you needed remind­ing that actu­ally there’s no con­test and that, whatever it pre­tends, the Sun is really root­ing for met­ro­sexu­al­ity, today’s paper has a male workout spread giv­ing advice on how men can look good on the beach, or in under­wear ads. A spread aimed very much at ‘Joes’ — who, of course, have more money and neur­oses to spend than PE teach­ers from Liverpool. Even the Soaraway Sun’s fam­ily hol­i­day guide in the same edi­tion are illus­trated with a scrummy ‘daddy’ with per­fect pecs, skin, hair and teeth.

Whatever the out­come of the poll, Joe has already lost.

But the tri­umph of met­ro­sexu­al­ity is not without rather queer con­tra­dic­tions and iron­ies. In the very same edi­tion of the Sun, a news story tells of a gay BMW sales­man tak­ing his former employ­ers to court for har­ass­ment and humi­li­ation over his sexu­al­ity. Amongst his claims is that when he wore a pink shirt to work male col­leagues jibed ‘Hello sweetie!’. Rather than rep­rim­and them, his boss sent him home to change his shirt — whereas the same col­our shirts worn by his straight col­leagues went unremarked.

Perhaps they taunted and excluded the gay because he reminded them what their pink shirts were all about. What they were all about.

Waxing Desmond Morris


By Mark Simpson (Independent on Sunday, 21 Jan 2008)

Every child wants to be a zoo­keeper when they grow up. To run a place where everything is in its place, and has noth­ing to do but eat, shit and breed — to your timetable. Maybe it’s a yen for revenge on the par­ents who brought them into the world without ask­ing their per­mis­sion first, or maybe it’s just because chil­dren are all little dic­tat­ors with a peaked-cap fetish.

Most though aban­don these zoo fuehrer dreams when they actu­ally grow up. Not so Desmond Morris. Impressively, this former cur­ator of mam­mals at London Zoo, doesn’t make do with anim­als: with best-selling books such as The Naked Ape and Manwatching, this world-famous zoolo­gist has man­aged to become head keeper at his very own human zoo.

And to be hon­est, the world evoked in his latest book The Naked Man, ‘a study of the male body from head to foot’, sounds like a place I’d quite like to visit — but only because I’m some­thing of a nostalgic.

Morrisland isn’t just a zoo, you see. It’s also a his­tor­ical theme park. In Morrisland, mil­lions of years of evol­u­tion, red in tooth and claw, have brought us right up to… the sub­urban 1950s (the dec­ade Morris gradu­ated). In Morrisland ‘long-term pair bond­ing’ is the uni­ver­sal norm and there’s no need for a Child Support Agency or Asbos or turkey-basters since: ‘Powerful paternal feel­ings are unleashed the moment a human father holds his new baby in his arms and in the years ahead he will devote a great deal of time and atten­tion to the rear­ing of his offspring.’

In Morrisland, where everything hap­pens accord­ing to the zoo-keeper’s plan, women are 7 per­cent shorter than men so that their nose will reach inside a man’s hairy armpit, because sniff­ing his manly, rugged ‘pher­omones’ makes her happy and want babies. And, of course, no Western man would shave his armpit. Only ‘mem­bers of the homo­sexual com­munity or the bondage/sadomasochistic com­munit­ies’ would do that.

By far the biggest attrac­tion in Morrisland is sexual cer­tainty. Within this fenced-off space the dis­tinc­tion between ‘mas­cu­line’ and ‘fem­in­ine’, ‘homo­sexual’ and ‘het­ero­sexual’, is unclouded by all those unnat­ural mod­ern trends. ‘As nature inten­ded’ is a favour­ite phrase, one which appears above the entrance gates. In Morrisland, men are men — and there’s a strict golf club dress code. ‘Acceptance of male ear­rings still tends to be lim­ited to those worn by the younger, more flam­boy­ant males, largely from the world of sport, music and show­busi­ness,’ you’ll be glad to hear. Male brace­lets are simply effem­in­ate. And men only shave their legs — ‘sac­ri­fi­cing their mas­culin­ity’ — to swim or cycle faster.

In today’s fallen world, an older man might be called a ‘slap­head’ by unruly yobs — but safe inside Morrisland you’ll find your­self prop­erly respec­ted: ‘it is obvi­ous that bald­ness is a human dis­play sig­nal indic­at­ing male seni­or­ity and dom­in­ance. It typ­i­fies the virile older man…’ (There’s no author photo on the dust-jacket, but a quick Google search con­firms that Desmond is com­pletely ‘virile’.)

There is trouble in the Garden of Desmond, how­ever. Apparently ‘A few men — nar­ciss­ist or mas­ochists — have opted for nipple rings.’ But at least it’s only ‘a few’ — and they’re all devi­ants. Meanwhile, serpent-like ‘Gay design­ers’ ‘ignor­ing male pref­er­ences’ attempt to intro­duce ‘effem­in­ate new leg fash­ions’. Fortunately, these fash­ions prove as sterile as the gay design­ers them­selves: ‘they may have looked amus­ing on the cat­walk, but they have never made it to the high street. Crumpled trousers and grubby jeans still reign supreme in the world of the manly male.’

In Morrisland there does exist how­ever some­thing called a ‘‘six-pack’ chest’ — though ‘few are pre­pared to make the effort to cre­ate it.’ Perhaps because a ‘six-pack chest’ would require not just reg­u­lar vis­its to the gym, but also sub­stan­tial surgery.

Surprisingly, that ter­ri­fy­ing 21st Century male phe­nomenon I’ve been blamed for sir­ing myself — met­ro­sexu­als — are allowed in Morrisland. But only those whose het­ero­sexu­al­ity is bey­ond ques­tion and ‘are well-known as tough, mas­cu­line sports­men and as fam­ous celebrit­ies… so, for them to become fas­ti­di­ous and fashion-conscious cre­ates no con­fu­sion.’ Well, that’s a relief.

Non-celeb met­ro­sexu­als don’t exist in Morrisland, because ‘if an unknown het­ero­sexual male were to dis­play over-groomed, nar­ciss­istic tend­en­cies, his sexual pref­er­ences would be auto­mat­ic­ally mis­read by any­one who met him.’ Which would, it goes without Mr Morris say­ing, be the worst thing that could pos­sibly hap­pen to a man and would render him com­pletely emas­cu­lated and ridicu­lous. ‘This lim­its,’ explains the human zoo-keeper, ‘the met­ro­sexual cat­egory to fam­ous celebrit­ies who are already pub­licly recog­nised for their heterosexuality.’

Clearly, not many of those High Street sales of male cos­met­ics which have increased by 800% since the year 2000, have been made in Morrisland. Though I do worry that the cover model for Morris’ book, an anonym­ous, head­less, naked, smoothly mus­cu­lar, young male pho­to­graphed from behind in that sensuous-shadowy advert­ising sex-object way — offer­ing us his arse — has been binge­ing on met­ro­sexual products. I sin­cerely hope his het­ero­sexu­al­ity is already very pub­licly recognised.

As you may have guessed, Mr Morris has a prob­lem with homo­sexu­al­ity. Throughout his book ‘manly’ means ‘het­ero­sexual’, unmanly means ‘homo­sexual’ — and vice versa.

But it’s not a per­sonal prob­lem, it’s a sci­entific one, you see. In a final chapter called ‘The Preferences’ devoted not in fact to the pref­er­ences but rather to explaining/pathologising male homo­sexu­al­ity, he writes, ‘Viewed purely from an evol­u­tion­ary stand­point, there is only one valid bio­lo­gical life­style for the human male and that is het­ero­sexual.’ In other words, evol­u­tion, like zoo-keepers, doesn’t like waste and wants you to repro­duce early and often.

But I can’t help but won­der why, if God/Darwin/Morris didn’t want men to get shagged, why did he give them such itchy pro­state glands? And if every sperm is sac­red, why did he put their hands at crotch level?

Des’ explan­a­tion for exclus­ive homo­sexu­al­ity (exclus­ive het­ero­sexu­al­ity needs no explan­a­tion appar­ently — and bisexu­al­ity isn’t dis­cussed) is, like much else in his book, charm­ingly mid-Twentieth Century: at puberty some boys fail to move out of the long all-boy social phase of child­hood — and also boy-boy ‘sex play’ — and switch into dat­ing girls and home-making, because they have become ‘too attached’. I per­son­ally don’t mind the arres­ted devel­op­ment explan­a­tion of homo­sexu­al­ity: I think it rather romantic (like Morris, I atten­ded a boy’s board­ing school). I’m not entirely sure though that I’m that much more imma­ture than someone who never gave up want­ing to be a zoo keeper.

In con­clu­sion, Morris makes a final impas­sioned plea for tol­er­ance and accept­ance of dif­fer­ence and human vari­ety: ‘Isolating homo­sexu­als as though they are mem­bers of some exclus­ive club does them no favours’.

So true. Unfortunately, this is exactly what the The Naked Male does. Morris’ human zoo sep­ar­ates ‘homo­sexu­als’ and ‘het­ero­sexu­als’ with barbed wire — and elec­tri­fies the fence.

© Mark Simpson 2008

Who are you calling hummersexual?

by Mark Simpson (The Guardian, October 10, 2006)

There’s a war going on in the US. A war on met­ros. After years liv­ing under the cruel designer heel of those tri­umphant met­ro­sexu­als, poor old ret­ro­sexu­als — alias “reg­u­lar guys” — are fight­ing back. Old-time, unself-conscious, un-moisturised mas­culin­ity is in. Guys are guys again, with manly, painstak­ingly shaped and trimmed beards. They eat manly food, drive manly trucks and read manly books on manliness.

Or so you may have heard. Truth be told, this is a phoney war. The “menais­sance” is men­dacious. This isn’t ret­ro­sexual at all, but hum­mer­sexual - a noisy, over­blown, stud­ied and frankly rather camp form of fake mas­culin­ity that likes to draw atten­tion to itself and its allegedly old-fashioned “man­li­ness”, but tends — like driv­ing an out­sized mil­it­ary vehicle in the sub­urbs — to be a tad counterproductive.

The hum­mer­sexual, you see, doth protest too much. Rather than “reclaim­ing your man­hood”, as the recent US Hummer ad cam­paign trum­peted, hum­mer­sexu­al­ity tends to make people won­der whether there’s some kind of com­pens­a­tion going on. This is a fet­ish­ised, “strapped-on”, unsus­tain­able, gas-guzzling mas­culin­ity which, like the met­ro­sexu­al­ity it is sup­posedly a reac­tion against, is a needy product of con­sumer­ism and media. After all, it is Madison Avenue — with those Hummer, Burger King “man­them” (“We are men, hear us roar”) and Dodge “Anything but cute” ads — that styled it.

However, unlike his better-looking met­ro­sexual younger brother — whom he usu­ally refers to as ‘that fag’ — the hum­mer­sexual is in denial. He thinks he reeks of het­ero­sexu­al­ity, but is bliss­fully unaware that he often seems to have just stepped out of the funkier kind of gay leather/bear bar.

Despite his best efforts to con­vince you, the hum­mer­sexual is not ret­ro­sexual. Since when did “reg­u­lar guys” need sev­eral tons of mil­it­ary hard­ware, or “new macho” life­style magazines such as Best Life, or books such as the best­selling Alphabet of Manliness and Men Don’t Apologise, to be “reg­u­lar”? The hum­mer­sexual is clearly, hil­ari­ously, faux-retrosexual. He’s an off-the-peg, drag-king idea of “real” mas­culin­ity: stuffed crotch and joke beard included at no extra charge.

Speaking of stuffed crotches, President George W. Bush has exhib­ited some pro­nounced hum­mer­sexual tend­en­cies. Not only does the former male cheer-leader have a walk that tries a little too hard to ref­er­ence John Wayne, as Commander-in-Chief he used the USS Abraham Lincoln as a giant nuclear-powered elec­tion­eer­ing strap-on (“Mission accom­plished!”). “Reclaim your man­hood” was prac­tic­ally the Republican’s men­dacious re-election slo­gan — actual war hero Kerry was por­trayed as the flip-flopping met­ro­sexual girly man, to Bush’s real, manly, bring-it-on, gay-baiting Air National Guard bravery.

Like Bush, the hum­mer­sexual is already past his sell-by. He’s an end-of-line sale. Hummers them­selves, sales of which are threatened by the massive hikes in gas prices (in part because of Bush’s hum­mer­sexual for­eign policy), were never going to sell them­selves as green. BK were never going to sell them­selves as pur­vey­ors of exquis­ite Mediterranean salads. And the Republicans were never going to sell them­selves as a mod­ern party.

Whatever his life expect­ancy, the hum­mer­sexual is simply an annoy­ing fraud. In his manly coup against male con­sumer­ism and self-regard, the hum­mer­sexual is busy hog­ging two park­ing spaces instead of one at the mall.

Metrosexual Knobs’ — Can They Satisfy?

Poor Mark Latham, the former leader of the Australian Labour Party, isn’t happy with the state of Australian man­hood. Like so many things, it isn’t as good or as big or as sat­is­fy­ing as it used to be. In his new book (curi­ously titled ’A Conga Line of Suckholes’) he laments:

One of the sad­dest things I have seen in my life­time has been the decline in Australian male cul­ture … Australian mates and good blokes have been replaced by nervous wrecks, met­ro­sexual knobs and toss bags.”

I’m not sure who the ‘nervous wrecks’ or the ‘toss bags’ he was refer­ring to are, but when he was talk­ing about ‘met­ro­sexual knobs’ – the phrase that has made head­lines around the world – per­haps he had in mind Jamie Brooksby, this year’s Australian Big Brother win­ner, a young, highly groomed fit­ness trainer who spent much of his time naked in the bath­room show­ing the world his assets.

If so, Mark Latham is a very hard man to sat­isfy indeed. Jamie’s met­ro­sexual knob was more sub­stan­tial than Sydney Harbour Bridge. If Latham isn’t impressed with this met­ro­sexual knob what on earth does an Aussie ret­ro­sexual knob look like?

Well.… Mark Latham.

That his remarks have aroused so many column inches in the global press and ‘half-cocked’ dis­cus­sions about ‘the crisis of mas­culin­ity’ can only be down to the rather fond, rather dated fantasy that the rest of the world has about Australia in gen­eral and Australian men in par­tic­u­lar – that it’s the last fron­tier of ‘real’ man­li­ness in an ener­vated Western World. A mas­cu­line Eden, full of Crocodile Dundees wrest­ling their lunch onto the bar­bie and their Sheilas into bed.

This would also go some way to explain­ing the ‘out­pour­ing of grief’ (to use the man­dat­ory cliché) over the ’shock­ing’ death of the out­door cab­aret artist Steve Irwin, whose world­wide pop­ular­ity seemed to be based in large part on him being sold as the ‘real’ Crocodile Dundee.

That he died was not, I would ven­ture (at the risk of pro­vok­ing an out­pour­ing of rage), really quite so sur­pris­ing – his act depended on extreme reck­less­ness. Nonetheless, his death was talked about in aston­ished, trau­mat­ised tones as if it marked the passing away of a cer­tain kind of old-time mas­culin­ity rather than just a par­tic­u­lar TV per­son­al­ity. It’s as if people couldn’t quite come to terms with how the ret­ro­sexual was appar­ently killed off by Nature her­self, with a poison arrow through his heart.

While I’m sure there are plenty of ret­ro­sexual Australians left who haven’t been Stingrayed, par­tic­u­larly out­side the met­ro­poli, and while I per­son­ally can be rather nos­tal­gic about ret­ro­sexu­als (so long as they don’t look like Latham), Australia long ago made the trans­ition from indus­trial to ser­vice eco­nomy, pro­duc­tion to con­sumer­ism, min­ing to makeover, and was also the coun­try whose cutting-edge media helped pion­eer the pro­cess of turn­ing the sport­ing male body into a com­mod­ity — into appet­ising meat.

Australia is a highly metro coun­try – not least because, like Mark Latham and Steve Irwin - Australia is highly suc­cess­ful at draw­ing atten­tion to itself. Oz, that scarcely-populated dusty con­tin­ent in the middle of nowhere has for many years been parad­ing in the bath­room of the global media vil­lage with its knob out.

The Australian male is still on the fron­tier – but it’s now the fron­tier of con­sumer­ism and me-dia. Call me shal­low, but if they’re endowed like Brooksby, I doubt many people, apart from whinge­ing retired male politicos with faces like a smacked Platypus, will ser­i­ously com­plain if they’re more into sack-and-crack wax­ing than sheep-shearing, ab crunches than Crocodiles.

In a medi­ated world, met­ro­sexual knobs win over ret­ro­sexual knobs.  Hand(s) over fist.

(Thanks to the web­site at worst, my best for the ‘grabs’ of Brooksby & Topak  for find­ing them)

Faux-Retrosexual Backlash: Letter to ‘Business Week’

0636covdv.gifThe Editor
Business Week


As the ‘father’ of the met­ro­sexual (and also appar­ently of his anti­thet­ical brother the ret­ro­sexual) my atten­tion was drawn to your cover art­icle ‘Secrets of the male shop­per’ by Nanette Byrnes.

Since she talked so much about my off­spring, it would have been nice if Ms Byrnes had con­tac­ted me to check some of her metro fam­ily history.

When I first wrote about him in a UK news­pa­per in 1994 (‘Here come the mir­ror men’, Independent), I was not being insult­ing. Amused yes, but fondly so. Ambivalence was to come later.

Nor did the met­ro­sexual some­how ‘sur­face’ in the US ten years later — he was intro­duced Stateside by his father in 2002 (‘Meet the met­ro­sexual’, Salon.com). If I’d known what was com­ing I’d have groun­ded him in the UK.

US mar­keters abduc­ted him with false flat­tery and did their best to turn him into an annoy­ing fad, talk­ing incess­antly about the met­ro­sexual as ‘sens­it­ive’ and ‘in touch with his fem­in­ine side’. In fact, met­ro­sexu­al­ity is only ‘fem­in­ine’ if you believe vanity’s name is (forever) Woman.

Ironically, the final proof that men are now as self-conscious as women is the so-called ret­ro­sexual back­lash against met­ro­sexu­al­ity. As your fig­ures for boom­ing male con­sumer­ism show, it’s not really ret­ro­sexual at all. It’s faux–ret­ro­sexual. It’s Calvin Klein model Brad 6-pack Pitt lead­ing the rebel­lion against con­sumer­ism in Fight Club all over again.

Regular guys’, whatever they are/were, are fast becom­ing just another annoy­ing fad.


Mark Simpson