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.