Invictus — Smells Like Team Sporno

 

This bom­bastic ad for Paco Rabanne’s new fra­grance for men ‘Invictus’, released this Summer, stars Aussie rug­ger bug­ger Nick Youngquest, his muscles, his tatts, his beard, and most of all his obliques. (They’re the diag­onal lines above those track pants with the really worn waist elastic — point­ing to his, ahem, price­less package.)

Youngquest

The world’s paparazzi bathe him in money-shot white flashes as he strolls through a sta­dium show­ing off his oiled, win­ning body with a rather self-satisfied grin. Not that we hold it against Nick, of course. We wish we could hold it against him.

The whole ad with its Olympian motifs seems to be ref­er­en­cing the ‘Gods of the Stadium’, ‘Gods of Football’ sporno vibe — which Nick also appeared in a few years back.

Also with his arms in the air, invit­ing our attentions:

nick-youngquest

Really Rucking Funny: Best Manlove Video of 2011 (SFW)

This clip by Irish com­edy out­fit Dead Cat Bounce called ‘Rugby’ has to be my favour­ite video of 2011. Even if it strongly sug­gests that, in Ireland at least, my work here is done and it’s well past time to retire to the touch-lines.

There’s much to admire here: the light­ness of touch, the hil­ari­ous blend of the accur­ate and the absurd; the josh­ing, ban­ter­ing, boy­ish affec­tion — both for rugby and man­love. I even like the tune. But I find myself espe­cially mes­mer­ised by the lead singer’s vast, match-winning gob. He could swal­low that giant, muddy testicle he’s pre­tend­ing to lick without it so much as touch­ing the sides.

It seems I’m not the only one who rated this man­love bal­lad. Originally broad­cast on their state TV sta­tion RTE, it’s the fifth most pop­u­lar YouTube clip in Ireland this year. Oh, and you can down­load the song from iTunes too.

Below the YouTube clip are scores of com­ments by self-identified straight rugby play­ers and fans, most of whom seem to love it as much as this old homo does:

im a rugby player. i play lock.. which makes me the guy who sticks his head between the guys’ thighs. i still think this is fuck­ing hilarious.’

It’s dif­fi­cult to ima­gine a sim­ilar skit about soc­cer get­ting the same good-humoured response. But then, as sev­eral rugby fans have poin­ted out, soc­cer is for poofs.


Tip: Dermod Moore

Traditional Masculinity Has a Stroke — From ‘Burly Rugby Player’ 2 ‘Gay Hairdresser’

My friend Michelle, formerly the male strip­per known as ‘Stud-U-Like’, aler­ted me to this ‘freaky’ tale of trans­form­a­tion repor­ted in this week’s freaky Daily Mail with this price­less headline:

Burly rugby player has a stroke after freak gym acci­dent… wakes up gay and becomes a hairdresser

It then teases us with a couple of ‘shock­ing’ bullet-pointed facts

  •  Chris Birch loses eight stone and trans­forms him­self from skin­head to ‘preened man’
  • Gives up job in bank and retrains as a hairdresser

 

Cutting to the chase:

Mr Birch recalled: ‘I was gay when I woke up and I still am. It sounds strange but when I came round I imme­di­ately felt different.

I wasn’t inter­ested in women any more. I was def­in­itely gay. I had never been attrac­ted to a man before – I’d never even had any gay friends.

But I didn’t care about who I was before, I had to be true to my feelings.’

Before the acci­dent Mr Birch, of Ystrad Mynach, South Wales, had spent his week­ends watch­ing sport and drink­ing with his mates.

But he said: ‘Suddenly, I hated everything about my old life. I didn’t get on with my friends, I hated sport and found my job boring.

I star­ted to take more pride in my appear­ance, bleached my hair and star­ted work­ing out. I went from a 19-stone skin­head to an 11-stone preened man.

People I used to know barely recog­nised me and with my new look I became even more confident.’

The copy and a sup­port­ive quote from a neur­os­cient­ist seems to sug­gest only two explan­a­tions: ‘he was gay all along but didn’t know it before the stroke’; or ‘his stroke made him gay and good with colours’.

I’m not a neur­os­cient­ist, but it seems to me that there are more than two pos­sible explan­a­tions here.

Maybe Mr Birch was just fed up with being the big Welsh boyo every­one wanted him to be and when it almost killed him he decided: ‘Sod THAT for a game of sol­diers! Life’s too short. I’m gonna be a FLAMER!!’

Maybe Mr Birch simply resolved, albeit uncon­sciously, to be about Mr Birch from now on, not what his fam­ily, friends and fiancée expec­ted of him. Maybe he chose to reject het­ero­sexu­al­ity because it made too many demands on him. And what bet­ter way to escape its demands in a small Welsh town by wak­ing up from a near death exper­i­ence as the only gay in the village?

Being a bloke’s bloke isn’t always as much fun as it looks. And being hon­est, it usu­ally doesn’t look that much fun any­way. You don’t have to be a ‘secret gay’ to find it miser­able and oppress­ive. And more often than not you’ll be pun­ished if you try to escape. Look at what happened to Shane Warne, whose own trans­form­a­tion from beer-bellied Aussie ste­reo­type to flam­ing met­ro­sexual has been reg­u­larly pil­lor­ied in the papers, includ­ing the one in which this latest sport­ing trans­form­a­tion story appeared.

Though of course nowadays it’s some­times pos­sible to be a rugby-playing Welshman and some­thing of a flamer too. Maybe Mr Birch should have taken a leaf out of fel­low Welshman Gavin Henson’s bach­elor book and con­tin­ued play­ing with odd-shaped balls but as a ‘preened’ rugby player. But then again, per­haps he didn’t have the legs for it.

And as for Mr Birch’s new-found interest in chaps. Well, I’m sorry but I don’t think it very sur­pris­ing when males find other males sexu­ally inter­est­ing. Or some­thing that needs to be explained by a stroke. At least not the kind the Daily Mail reports.

There is though yet another pos­sible explan­a­tion for all this. That this story is com­plete twaddle. It did after all appear in the Daily Mail. And the writer is the same one who repor­ted pretty much every import­ant fact about this infam­ous ‘gay orgy in the bushes’ story incor­rectly, appar­ently pan­der­ing to the ima­gined Daily Mail reader’s worst fantasies.

Also, the stroke that ‘turned him gay’ (instantly, appar­ently), happened in 2005. Why wait six years to tell the national press? Especially if you told your par­ents and fiancée when you came round in the hospital.

And I seem to recall that when I first read this story about Mr Birch online yes­ter­day it men­tioned that he and his fiancé/girlfriend were ‘tak­ing a break’ before the acci­dent. The piece was ‘updated’ today and this detail is nowhere to be found.

And then we have the ban­ner head­line which talks about a ‘freak gym acci­dent’ caus­ing his injur­ies but the copy talks instead about ‘him attempt­ing a back flip in front of friends on a field when he fell down a grass bank, break­ing his neck and suf­fer­ing the stroke.’ Or the way the ‘before’ pic­ture appears to have been manipulated/squashed to make him look burlier.

But my favour­ite dodgy pas­sage is this one:

He was taken to hos­pital where his fiancée and fam­ily spent days wait­ing anxiously at his bed­side before he delivered the shock­ing news.’

What? More shock­ing than break­ing his neck, suf­fer­ing a stroke and nearly dying?

UPDATE 18/04/12

Last night BBC3 aired ‘I Woke Up Gay’, a doc­u­ment­ary about Mr Birch. It was an hour long, but apart from some local Welsh col­our, some more snaps of Birch pre-stroke when he was straight and very chunky (“Oh! That’s AWFUL!!’” was today’s slim­line Birch’s hor­ri­fied response to them) and more close-ups of Birch’s remark­able hairdo, which looks like a badly ironed dead badger, the doc didn’t really add any­thing to the Mail’s story. Or really cla­rify the ‘con­fu­sions’. (Birch says he ‘can’t remem­ber’ much of his pre-stroke past.)

It did how­ever leave you feel­ing that the whole thing wasn’t just cooked up by the Mail, and that Mr Birch seems to believe his own story. Or per­haps needs to believe it. Though it’s still not entirely clear when exactly he decided on it. His fam­ily were not­able by their absence in the doc — appar­ently he has become estranged from most of the people he used to know before the stroke.

I don’t wish to sug­gest as many have done that Birch is ‘lying’, or was a ‘closet queen’ before the stroke. Or that he’s simply attention-seeking (though he cer­tainly doesn’t seem to mind it). I do think though that he may be deceiv­ing him­self — but then, we all do that. To some extent prob­ably most com­ing out stor­ies are fic­tional if neces­sary nar­rat­ives. What’s inter­est­ing is not what his story says not about dubi­ous ‘brain sci­ence’ but about how dif­fi­cult it can still be for some to accept them­selves in places like the Valleys as gay, or just not a boozy rug­ger bugger.

In that kind of situ­ation a stroke might even be a stroke of luck. At least in the sense of giv­ing you a chance to rein­vent yourself.

The ‘high­light’ of the doc was when Birch travels up to London to see the Wizard of Oz — or rather, a highly con­tro­ver­sial sci­ent­ist called Quazi Rahman who believes that gay men’s brains are innately dif­fer­ent to straight men’s (this in turn is based on dubi­ous assump­tions about ‘men’ and ‘women’ that are increas­ingly being ques­tioned). The nar­rator told us that Rahman has tested “hun­dreds of les­bian, gay and straight volun­teers” (no bisexu­als, note — and for the pur­poses of this entire doc­u­ment­ary they simply don’t exist) and “can tell if a per­son was born gay or straight, des­pite their cur­rent lifestyle”.

In other words, Rahman is God.

The nar­ra­tion con­tin­ues, cheer­fully telling us:

“Though con­tro­ver­sial, some sci­ent­ists believe that our genes and hor­mones may determ­ine sexu­al­ity before birth and per­son­al­ity traits too. These traits can be tested and this means that Dr Rahman can work out whether or not a per­son was truly born gay.”

Truly born gay.

In other words, Rahman is even big­ger than God. He’s Jeremy Kyle.

(Note how BBC3 throws in a reluct­ant ‘con­tro­ver­sial’ at the begin­ning of the first sen­tence but by the end of the second, know­ing most BBC3 view­ers have already long for­got­ten it, seems to be express­ing noth­ing short of a divine revelation.)

So it was touch­ing to see two people who both fer­vently believe in ‘gay brains’ come together — but unfor­tu­nately for Birch, it wasn’t a mar­riage made in heaven. Rahman talks to Birch about test­ing him to find out “how gay your brain is” (no, really, that’s actu­ally what he says), but was clearly dis­ap­poin­ted with his own res­ults, which showed that half Birch’s responses fell within the ‘nor­mal range’ for a gay man and the other half within the ‘nor­mal range’ of a straight man. Whatever that means.

Birch though is delighted with the res­ults because he sees it as an endorse­ment of his nar­rat­ive of the stroke ‘turn­ing his brain gay’. But Rahman seems set against the idea, des­pite his mixed find­ings. Perhaps this is because for the gay neur­os­cient­ist (who is the author of a book called ‘Born Gay’) the whole point of ‘gay brains’ seems to be that you’re born with them, rather than being some­thing you can acquire, even by acci­dent. Like I said, every­one has their own neces­sary com­ing out fiction.

Birch’s boy­friend, who accom­pan­ied him to the Gay Brain Detector’s lab, seemed to be the only one who had his head screwed on. He was gently scep­tical of his partner’s belief that the stroke made him gay, but was patiently sym­path­etic to the psy­cho­logy of it. “He’s based his whole life on the stroke mak­ing him gay,” he said whilst Birch’s brain was being ‘tested’ for ‘gayness’.

If he wasn’t, it would almost be like hav­ing to start from scratch again.”

Touching Another Dude Dudely

I’m not sure I entirely believe the pre­amble from the overly dudey — if very easy on the eye — presenter and star of this ‘exper­i­ment’ in ‘touch­ing dudes softly’. Particularly the bit about ‘noth­ing makes me uncomfortable!’

But it is inter­est­ing to watch the responses of the men he decides to mon­ster with ‘inap­pro­pri­ate’ ten­der­ness — or ‘touch­ing another dude softly’.

I’m also per­son­ally inter­ested in why I found it very uncom­fort­able to watch. Is it because I’m wor­ry­ing the men will freak out? Or is it just because I’m very uptight about phys­ical ten­der­ness myself? Or is it simply because of the pain­ful self-consciousness of the setup?

I’ve watched drunken straight lads do much ‘worse’ things to one another and not felt in the least bit uncom­fort­able about it. And nor did they, apparently.

I atten­ded a gay rugby tour­na­ment some years ago and was struck by the way that there was on the whole rather less in the way of phys­ical affec­tion and ten­der­ness between men than you’ll find at ‘straight’ rugby matches. I still remem­ber watch­ing a sozzled young chap at the Army & Navy match bat­ting his mate’s gilfriend’s hand away from his chum so HE could hold his hand as they left Twickenham.

In fact, many of the play­ers I spoke to at the gay ruby tour­na­ment seemed to be dis­ap­poin­ted that the gay rugby teams were miss­ing one vital rugby ritual: post-match homo­erotic horseplay.

Sometimes being straight means that you can get away with much more. Because it’s all ‘a laugh’. Dude.

Tip: Pug Bear

Sporno

dg2_web

Mark Simpson on how sport and porn got into bed — while D&G and Mr Armani took pictures.…

(Out magazine, May 2006; expan­ded for The V&A’s ‘Fashion V Sport’ cata­logue, June 2008. Also col­lec­ted in ‘Metrosexy’)

You might think that it was Italy’s greater ball skills, or stam­ina, or team spirit that won them the 2006 foot­ball World Cup. But you would be wrong.

Clearly, expli­citly, thrill­ingly, what won it for the Italians was not so much their sport­ing spirit as their sporno spirit. In the run-up to the tour­na­ment, some espe­cially fit play­ers from the Italian foot­ball team took time off from their train­ing and did some­thing much more use­ful: they recruited Dolce & Gabbana (or was it the other way around?) to pro­duce a spor­no­graphic fash­ion shoot of them all oiled-up and ready for us. In hind­sight, we can see that the world was already grov­el­ling at their feet from that moment on.

Sporno, the post-metrosexual aes­thetic that sports and advert­ising are using to sell us the male body is, well, irres­ist­ible. Even for a fine French team – who were, let’s face it, a much plainer bunch. First Portugal dev­ast­ate England because Ronaldo is bet­ter look­ing than Becks and far swoon­ier than Rooney, then Italy trounce France because the punters would much rather cel­eb­rate with the sweaty Italian stal­lions in the locker-room. The best men def­in­itely won.

In a spor­no­graphic age it’s no longer enough for the male body to be presen­ted to us by con­sumer­ism as merely attract­ive, or desir­ing to be desired, as it was in the early days of nakedly nar­ciss­istic male met­ro­sexu­al­ity. This mas­cu­line coquettish-ness, pleas­ing as it is, no longer offers an intense enough image. Or pro­vokes enough lust. It’s just not very shock­ing or arous­ing any more. In fact, it’s just too… nor­mal. To get our atten­tion these days the sport­ing male body has to prom­ise us noth­ing less than an immacu­lately groomed, waxed and pumped gang-bang in the showers.

showers

But of course, because this is sporno and not actual por­no­graphy, it remains just that: a prom­ise. Advertising and fash­ion are less inter­ested in mak­ing a fet­ish of the potent male body than its under­wear: com­mod­ity fet­ish­ism is usu­ally the name of the sporno game.

However, the homo­pro­voc­at­ive nature of sporno is much less easy to over­look than it was in early met­ro­sexu­al­ity, which could pre­tend when it wanted to that it was ‘straight’ and some­thing entirely for the ladies. Where met­ro­sexual imagery stole slyly from soft gay porn, sporno blatantly ref­er­ences hard gay porn.

Sometimes you might be for­given for think­ing sport is the new gay porn. Sportsmen are now openly acknow­ledging and flirt­ing with their gay fans, à la David Beckham and fel­low foot­baller and Calvin Klein under­wear model Freddie Ljungberg. Both of these offi­cially het­ero­sexual thor­ough­breds have posed for spreads in gay magazines (Ljungberg appeared on the cover of Attitude in April 2006, Beckham in 2002), albeit sport­ing more clothes than they usu­ally wear when appear­ing on the side of buses.

Beefy England Rugby ace and mar­ried father of two Ben Cohen has expli­citly mar­keted a cal­en­dar of sexy (PG) pics of him­self at gay men, and talks of ‘embra­cing his gay fans’. Some, like Becks and smoothly-muscled Welsh Rugby ace Gavin Henson have even argued over them (Becks recently admit­ted that Henson had stolen a lot of his gay fans and he wanted them back because ‘I miss them.’).

Being found desir­able by gay men, once a source of ridicule by oth­ers and even viol­ent anger from the desired, now seems to mean you are worthy not just of love but also of large amounts of cash. A whole new gen­er­a­tion of young bucks, from twinky soc­cer play­ers such as Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo, who has mod­elled for Pepe, and Chelsea’s Fabulous Frankie ‘Legs’ Lampard, to rougher pro­spects such as Joe Cole and A.C. Milan’s Kakà pos­ing for Samsung and Armani jeans respect­ively, and the naked, pneu­matic rugby ‘pros’ of the legendary Dieux du Stade cal­en­dars, seems to be act­ively pur­su­ing Beckham’s and Ljungberg’s male sex-object, more than slightly tarty, status. The sports­man as erotic symbol.

Being equal oppor­tun­ity flirts, today’s sporno stars want to turn every­one on. Partly because sports­men, like porn stars, are by defin­i­tion show-offs, but more par­tic­u­larly because it means more money, more power, more endorse­ments, more kudos. Sporno exploits the cor­por­ate show­biz dir­ec­tion that sport is mov­ing in, as well as the undif­fer­en­ti­ated nature of desire in a media-saturated, mirrored-ceiling world – and inflates their career port­fo­lio to gar­gan­tuan proportions.

Why is Euro soc­cer star Beckham a house­hold name in the United States, a coun­try that gen­er­ally has less interest in soc­cer than social­ism? Why did his recent move to the US to play for a team most Americans had never hear of pro­voke so much breath­less cov­er­age in the US media? Again, it wasn’t down to his soc­cer skills, but rather his sporno skills. Pictures of him semi-naked in Vanity Fair, or in W magazine, sport­ing skin-tight trousers that nev­er­the­less seem to be some­how pulling them­selves off, or that naked cam­paign for Motorola, in which the mobile phone dangles tan­tal­iz­ingly between his pert nipples, seem to be more ubi­quit­ous, not to men­tion more stir­ring, than images of him actu­ally play­ing football.

And what could be more American? Sporno stars are pushy young hust­lers who are happy to be ogled undressed on Times Square bill­boards or in Vanity Fair – advert­ising a will­ing­ness to put out, or at least get it out, to get ahead. In cam­paigns like Ljungberg’s Calvin Klein unfor­get­table under­wear posters of 2006 or Beckham’s glob­ally gawked Armani briefs ads of 2008, their bod­ies and their bulges, blown up to gigantic pro­por­tions, are rammed down our throats by advert­ising. Most of us don’t appear to be gag­ging, however.

The male body has been well and truly, not to men­tion tastily, com­mod­i­fied. After dec­ades of being fet­ish­ized by gay men, jocks are now fet­ish­iz­ing them­selves. It was prob­ably inev­it­able. Men are tra­di­tion­ally the more visual of the sexes – and by far the greatest con­sumers of porn. So why not cut out the middle-women and pornolize your­self? Because of the fant­ast­ical mas­cu­line potency of sporno mil­lions of boys and men around the world are excitedly buy­ing clothes and under­wear worn or endorsed by their hero. And how could a guy, any guy, not have their head turned by a sporno star? Sporno stars have everything a man could want today: youth, vigour, money, fame, looks, equally beau­ti­ful bosom bud­dies, glam­or­ous part­ners – and the num­bers for top pho­to­graph­ers and stylists.

The people who essen­tially inven­ted sport, the Ancient Greeks, cer­tainly thought the male ath­lete the greatest head-turner. For them, sport was an oppor­tun­ity to wor­ship and admire the beauty of the youth­ful male form, which in turn rep­res­en­ted the free­dom of the human spirit. They thought it nat­ural that men would find the youth­ful ath­letic male form inspir­ing and desir­able, and an essen­tial part of the pleas­ure of sport. Most sports com­pet­i­tions, includ­ing the ori­ginal Olympics, were con­duc­ted naked: clothes spoiled the exper­i­ence, for ath­lete and spec­tator. Much of their mus­cu­lar art was a clas­sical ante­cedent of today’s sporno.

Admittedly though, many Greeks would prob­ably have been scan­dal­ized by the keen­ness of today’s golden young ath­letes to pose for images designed to inflame lust – and cash pur­chases. Plato for one would cer­tainly have been aghast at the neo-classical shame­less­ness of Dieux du Stade (‘Gods of the Stadium’). The phe­nom­en­ally suc­cess­ful, lux­uri­ous cal­en­dars fea­ture the Paris-based Stade Français rugby team and vari­ous well-endowed sport­ing guest stars from around the world re-enacting, you may be for­given for think­ing, the plot of every sports-themed gay porn vid. (Fashion pho­to­graph­ers rather than por­no­graph­ers take the pic­tures: Dolce & Gabbana favour­ite Mariano Vivanco was respons­ible for the par­tic­u­larly strik­ing 2007 images.) Shot in musty locker rooms, the naked, pumped and tweezed ‘gods’, often in full body make-up, clutch stra­tegic­ally placed rugby balls like fat leather erec­tions and gaze long­ingly into the cam­era, or into each other’s eyes.

Such brazen beha­viour has only enhanced the careers of these rug­ger bug­gers. Frédérik Michalak and his hyp­not­ic­ally tat­tooed and geode­smic butt’s star­ring role in an early DVD show­ing the mak­ing of the Dieux du Stade cal­en­dar, has helped land him mod­el­ling con­tracts for Christian Lacroix, a French con­dom line endorse­ment deal, as well as becom­ing the expens­ive face of Biotherm Homme and the sport­ing pack­age for a skimpy under­wear line.

No doubt the Greeks would have been shocked even more by the way that women are openly enjoy­ing these homo­pro­voc­at­ive images too. In fact, the Dieux du Stade cal­en­dars were ori­gin­ally part of a mar­ket­ing plan to update and widen the appeal of French rugby, par­tic­u­larly for women, and have proved massively pop­u­lar: the 2007 cal­en­dar reportedly sold 200,000 cop­ies. But the sporno-graphic eye of Dieux du Stade is quite delib­er­ately, quite flag­rantly un-straight. Partly because some of today’s women are being turned on to the voyeur­istic charms of male-on-male action (in an echo per­haps of their boy­friends’ interest in female-on-female action), partly because it gets atten­tion – ‘whatareth­ose­guys­do­ing!’, and partly because, as we’ve seen, the ador­a­tion of gay men is the key to the suc­cess­ful mar­ket­ing of the male body. But mostly because this all-male exhib­i­tion­ism, whomever it’s dir­ec­ted toward, gay, straight or bi, female or male, is so charm­ingly, sub­missively keen to please. Especially from guys who live through action and the urge to dominate.

Check out the DDS ‘Making Of the 2004 Calendar’ DVD, or the ‘Making of’ DVD from any year really, and see them obed­i­ently adopt­ing the gay porno poses reques­ted of them by the pho­to­grapher, head placed on buddy’s shoulders, or head at buddy’s waist, hands on his per­fectly formed buttocks.

The unin­hib­ited­ness of the rugby play­ers, in part a func­tion of the phys­ical intim­acy of the game itself, ends up being deli­ciously suited to the visual unin­hib­ited­ness of our times. How things – or rather, thighs – have changed. In the United Kingdom rugby tra­di­tion­ally was the sport of hairy beer mon­sters with nowhere else to go on a Saturday. But with pro­fes­sion­al­iz­a­tion, play­ers, par­tic­u­larly the more stream­lined backs, have become younger, fit­ter, and self-consciously sex­ier and their dance-cards are as full as their biceps. Blond, buffed, green-eyed, square-jawed, England International player Josh Lewsey, has been deployed to interest rugby fans in bul­ging lycra. A giant, god-like blow-up ‘bronze’ statue of him in his shorts was erec­ted out­side Twickenham rugby sta­dium in 2006 by his spon­sor Nike. Rugby fans queuing for their tick­ets had the dis­tract­ing pleas­ure of gaz­ing up between Josh’s tower­ing, flared thighs and at his ‘divine’ abs and pecs burst­ing out of a skin-tight Nike top.

Meanwhile the England rugby strip itself has been given some­thing of a Queer Eye makeover. Banished forever are their baggy, shape­less beer-towel rugby shirts, replaced by a form-hugging strip that might well have been designed by Jean Paul Gaultier. Understandably, England’s new sporno kit dazzled the oppos­i­tion: in 2003, the year the team deb­uted it, England won the Rugby World Cup for the first time ever. The latest ver­sion of it, intro­duced for the 2007 World Cup, saw them achieve second place des­pite being writ­ten off before­hand by pundits.

No doubt this aston­ish­ing turn­around was down to their new strip being being even tighter than before and includ­ing a saucy red arrow/swoosh from armpit to the edge of the oppos­ite thigh, reportedly designed to con­fuse oppos­ing play­ers. Too right – they won’t know whether to tackle them or kiss them. A con­fu­sion that seemed to be exploited, albeit unwit­tingly, by the ‘C’est so Paris’ humor­ous advert­ising cam­paign pro­mot­ing the 2007 World Cup, which fea­tured snog­ging scrum­ming rugby play­ers and the jokey tagline ‘Paris: City of Love’ (the only far-fetched aspect of the cam­paign was the unat­tract­ive­ness of the ad’s faux rugby play­ers com­pared to the ‘real’ Dieux du Stade thing).

In the more moneyed world of foot­ball, which has been a much big­ger busi­ness for much longer, the eye-catching potency of a sporno star seems to have dis­or­i­ent­ated even the tough no-nonsense guys who man­age foot­ball clubs – until you look at the bot­tom line. Despite some­what incon­sist­ent per­form­ances on the pitch, David Beckham is the world’s biggest-earning soc­cer player and the best known – because of his off-pitch pout­ing (most recently con­firmed by his 2007 £20 mil­lion Armani under­wear deal). His pur­chase in 2003 by Spain’s Real Madrid made them the most prof­it­able soc­cer club in the world – repla­cing Manchester United: Beckham’s pre­vi­ous club. Beckham is an object of global desire, and his mer­chand­ise moves even faster than his hips – his body is worth more on bill­boards than on the pitch. After mak­ing what was billed as the biggest sports deal in his­tory at £128 mil­lion, American team LA Galaxy is his new sporno stu­dio, and he their Number One box cover star.

There is, how­ever, another way in which British soc­cer play­ers are find­ing them­selves and their ath­letic prowess paraded on the front pages. A slew of kiss-and-tell art­icles have appeared in the tabloids in recent years about the pen­chant our young sports­men have for shar­ing a young female groupie with sev­eral other team mates. Simultaneously. Often video­ing the pro­ceed­ings. Sporting gods in naked, adult video action with other sport­ing gods. No won­der the tabs and the pub­lic got so excited. In recre­at­ing the more than slightly homo­erotic straight ‘gang-bang’ porn that they, like many other young men today are down­load­ing from the Net, foot­ballers are, wit­tingly or not, real­iz­ing the fantasy under­pin­ning sporno itself.

Things reached their logical, if slightly Footballers Wives con­clu­sion – their spor­no­graphic money shot – in 2006 when lurid stor­ies were ‘splashed’ across the tabloids about a ‘secretly shot film’ allegedly show­ing sev­eral glob­ally fam­ous (but unnamed) English soc­cer stars enga­ging in a ‘gay sex orgy’, in which expens­ive lim­ited edi­tion mobile phones were sup­posedly used as ‘sex toys’. Regardless of the fact or fever­ish fantasy of this story, no one seemed to be able to get enough of it. Except per­haps the foot­ballers them­selves – who were not only not mak­ing any money out of this par­tic­u­lar sporno spin-off, but also faced the threat of los­ing earn­ing poten­tial as a res­ult of the scan­dal (British libel laws how­ever quickly came to the res­cue provid­ing at least one player with a large, undis­closed sum). The response of many fans on the ter­race in the form of vicious anti-gay taunts and the con­tin­ued absence of any openly gay pro­fes­sional foot­ballers, sug­gest that cas­ual homo­pho­bia is as rampant in the cul­ture as sporno itself – which is more than slightly ironic.

A gen­er­a­tion of men may be entranced by images of glam­or­ous, sport­ing males who so clearly, achingly, desire to be desired by all and sun­dry, but it seems the expli­citly homo­erotic implic­a­tions of that still give quite a few of them the wil­lies, espe­cially in the highly-strung world of foot­ball.  Though this is per­haps merely a time-lag issue: atti­tudes take longer to change than underwear.

Sporno stars them­selves, mov­ing in their celebrity circles, prob­ably don’t care two hoots whether a fel­low player likes bed­room part­ners with the same-shaped tackle, and may even be as pan­sexual as their advert­ising and fash­ion tastes por­trays them, but they worry very much about what their fans will think. After all, this is show busi­ness, darling, and you can’t afford to ali­en­ate your audi­ence – or, para­dox­ic­ally, those homo­erotic spor­no­graphic endorse­ment deals. While the state­ments of gay-friendly soc­cer stars such as Beckham and Ljungberg (and Cohen and Henson in rugby) have been sin­cere, thus far, actual homo­sex, or even bisex, rather than the faux vari­ety proffered by advert­ising appears to still be bey­ond  the pale. Sporno stars may pose gay but until now all of them have had to be offi­cially totally het­ero­sexual – as do all pro foot­ballers and, with one or two excep­tions, all rugby players.

Perhaps this is also the reason today’s soc­cer stars, who appear, way ‘gayer’ than their pre­de­cessors – accord­ing to The Sun, Manchester United’s locker rooms have recently had to be mod­i­fied to make room for play­ers’ ‘man­bags’, because ‘they use more cos­met­ics than their wives’ – no longer kiss one another pas­sion­ately after a goal is scored as they did just a few years ago. They have to main­tain the impres­sion, like many gay porn stars, that they’re only gay for pay.

As for the pay­mas­ters them­selves, the fash­ion brands, while they cer­tainly wish to con­tinue chan­ging main­stream mas­cu­line atti­tudes towards clothes and the male body, it could be argued that a cer­tain amount of homo­pho­bia works to their bene­fit here: mak­ing sporno advert­ising more arrest­ing, more power­ful – and also help­ing to dis­place any homo­erotic feelings/anxiety they pro­voke into com­mod­ity fet­ish­ism: buy­ing the product instead of try­ing the fantasy it’s wrapped in. ‘Of course I don’t want the athlete’s desir­able looks/face/body/packet’, the hetero male viewer/voyeur of sporno per­haps says to them­selves – ‘I want his pants’.

Nevertheless, these are inter­est­ing if some­what con­flic­ted times. We shouldn’t under­es­tim­ate how far we’ve come and how dra­mat­ic­ally tra­di­tional male past-times such as foot­ball and rugby have changed in the last dec­ade as a res­ult of their col­li­sion with the worlds of fash­ion, celebrity and con­sumer­ism. Sporting male her­oes have enthu­si­ast­ic­ally taken up shock­ingly exhib­i­tion­istic sex-object poses in the global media that once were ana­thema for most men because they were seen as ‘girly’, ‘slutty’ or ‘homo’. Or, what was much the same emas­cu­lat­ing taboo in the male mind: pass­ive.

Sports starts have become sporno stars – play­ing enthu­si­astic power bot­toms to the public’s ima­gin­a­tion.  Stripping off, lying back, and think­ing of England… lust­ing over them.

 

Unsurprisingly, this flag­rant passiv­ity rep­res­ents a taboo too far for some. As one out­raged middle-aged male (and, it prob­ably needs to be said, some­what plump and plain) BBC sports presenter thundered recently in a pop­u­lar British tabloid about Beck’s Armani lunch-box ad: ‘You’ve got money, status, respect and fame – then someone says: “Armani want you to do a pic­ture wear­ing tight white pants with your legs as wide open as the hole in England’s defence.” Why would you say yes?’

Actually, in a spor­no­graphic age, the ques­tion should rather be: Why on Earth would you say no?

© Mark Simpson 2010

This essay is included in Simpson’s latest col­lec­tion: Metrosexy: A 21st Century Self-Love Story

Visit the Facebook sporno gal­lery here.

 

Homoerotic Horseplay — Not Gay Just Guy

afghanistan-embassy-guards-2

A column of mine on Out.com, ‘Men At Play in Afgrabistan’, gal­lantly defends the free­dom of the derided (and now dis­missed) secur­ity guards at the US embassy to get naked with one another and eat potato chips from each other’s butts in their spare time — even if they’re out of shape.  I also point out how every­day and ‘nor­mal’ homo­erot­ics is for many if not most men — but we don’t want to see it, and when we can’t ignore it because it’s thrust in our face by digital cam­eras and the Interweb we patho­lo­gize or crim­in­al­ize it:

…the furor is another reminder that we live in a cul­ture where female bi-curiousness is routinely regarded as nat­ural and almost uni­ver­sal while male bi-curiousness is seen as non-existent — or else it is just “sexu­ally con­fused” (i.e. they’re really gay, but laugh­ably repressed), or it is “devi­ant haz­ing” con­duc­ted by “sexual pred­at­ors” that needs to be eradicated.

In real­ity, to any­one who opens their eyes on a Saturday night on either side of the Atlantic, there’s scads of evid­ence that plenty of “nor­mal” young men who aren’t par­tic­u­larly “sexu­ally con­fused” — espe­cially the most, er, phys­ical types — have a healthy appet­ite for highly homo­erotic beha­vior after a keg or two. It’s what beer seems to have been inven­ted for. In the Middle Ages they thought the cause of sod­omy was drunk­en­ness — they weren’t wrong. By con­trast, I’ve hardly ever seen such homo­erotic horse­play amongst straight women, even des­pite the inven­tion of alco­pops (though admit­tedly I per­haps wasn’t look­ing as closely.)

Some people have a more viol­ently neg­at­ive response to the every­day evid­ence of male homo­erot­ics, lit­er­ally try­ing to stamp it out.  In the UK a straight female Canadian mar­tial arts expert attacked and knocked out a couple of drunken British sol­diers at a disco for kiss­ing and ‘pre­tend­ing to be gay’, scream­ing ‘THIS SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED IN THE BRITISH ARMY!!’.

Living in a gar­rison town I’ve seen plenty of sim­il­ary steamy beha­viour from drunken squad­dies in pubs and on dance-floors, snog­ging and hump­ing and grop­ing one another, so I can under­stand her frus­tra­tion — I’ve wanted to get phys­ical too, but not in quite the same way she did.

Sometimes the response is more gen­teel, but just as vehe­ment.  During the last Rugby World Cup a couple of years ago I was invited on Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio Four to talk about homo­erot­ics and rugby.  I thought it a bit odd that Woman’s Hour wanted to cover this sub­ject, but the pro­du­cer enthused: ‘The presenter Jane is really keen to talk about it’.  It turned out that neither the presenter, a former female sports journ­al­ist, or her guest, another female sports journ­al­ist, wanted to talk about it at all. 

Both of them refused point blank to coun­ten­ance the pos­sib­il­ity that a game that involves men with large thighs wrest­ling in the mud over odd-shaped balls, or tak­ing com­munal baths, or kinky nude drink­ing games that would shock the guards at the American Embassy in Afghanistan, could be in any way homo­erotic.  Only a homo would say such a thing.

Of course you would say that Mark,’ she said at one point, ‘because you’re gay.’

I paused.  Several things occured to me to say to that.  I could have said that droves of gay men were prob­ably rush­ing at that very moment to dis­so­ci­ate them­selves from what I was say­ing (they usu­ally do).  Or I could have said, ‘Well, of course you would say that Jane, as an uptight middle class woman’ (and I wished I had).

Instead I said, ‘It seems that some people have a prob­lem with the word “homo­erotic”.  They think that it means some­thing ‘for gays’.  Perhaps some people would be hap­pier with the word “male bonding”.’

Yes!’ they chor­used, ‘it’s male bonding!’

But,’ I con­tin­ued, ‘it’s male bond­ing with an erotic com­pon­ent so we’re back where we came in.’

They didn’t like that. 

And this just a few weeks after this show had gone out on national UK TV, in which a team of north­ern rugby play­ers had been filmed get­ting drunk and naked with one another, snog­ging, lick­ing each other’s nipples - and play­ing with their captain’s ‘don­key dick’.  Of course, I couldn’t even men­tion it, as on radio — espe­cially Radio Four — you’re not allowed to acknow­ledge that TV exists.

Again, being radio, and posh radio at that, a nice voice whispered in my head­phone just before we went on air. ‘Remember Mark, this is a fam­ily show so please try not to be too rude!.’   This did hamper my case some­what, as rugby homo­erot­ics are meant to be rude.  Though it didn’t stop me from leav­ing some­thing tan­tal­ising hanging in the air: ”The soggy bis­cuit game, for example, isn’t entirely a myth.…’.

I think we’d bet­ter move on,’ said Jane rather quickly.  Apparently the Radio Four switch­board was jammed with retired lady callers demand­ing to know what the soggy bis­cuit game was. 

 

(This fea­ture of mine from a couple of years back, ‘Assume the pos­i­tion’, offers a more in-depth invest­ig­a­tion of the culture’s crack­down on haz­ing and male horse­play in general.)

Tim ‘No Acorn’ Oakes

tim-oakes

I seem to have some­how missed the not entirely shock­ing news that Tim ‘No Acorn’ Oakes of Sandbach RUFC, the spunky rugger-bugger cap­tain who was so keen to show off his impress­ive semi-tackle on national tele­vi­sion — and very kindly let his team mates play with it — has since gone the whole hog and stripped off for FamousMales.com, teas­ing the gay­ers with his no longer semi but fully erect assets.

EthanSays.com has some safely doctored snaps from the FamousMales shoot (albeit with the wrong kind of ball  — please try to remem­ber you Yanks: rugby play­ers’ balls are odd-shaped). Here’s how the shoot went accord­ing to Ethan:

Completely at ease with being naked, Tim recently stripped down for Famous Males and stood stark naked in front of them, his proud, strong nude form — beau­ti­ful and stun­ning. “I’ve got quite a few scars now,” Tim said. “I get well bashed about on the field. God knows what the lads will think of this when they see the pictures…hee…hee.” “JUST LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU WANT ME HARD.”

I’ve seen the pics sans stra­tegic­ally placed foot­ball and let’s just say Tim is not only a shower, he’s also some­thing of a grower.  That said, I per­son­ally hap­pen to think his ‘ham­mer’ is even more fetch­ing than his ‘nail’.

His face isn’t bad either.…

(Shame about the hair­cut, though.)