Taking the sporno trend to parts it hasn’t yet reached — and what parts! — while spreading the famous French ‘pro’ tartiness of the Dieux du Stade calendars to these shores, the latestad campaign for Powerade’s ‘InnerGear’ isotonic sports drink features several UK pro rugger buggers in the buff snapped by the photographer Alan Clarke. Including, most spectacularly, most spherically, England Rugby Union Captain Steve Borthwick (above), keeping his spornographic end up for the Queen. And nicely stuck out.
Or as the gay porn legend Dink Flamingo would say, ‘Arch your back, bitch!’
Once again, it seems that it isn’t just me who is undressing athletes with my eyes and giving them filthy directions. Advertising is doing it too. But unlike me, advertising can actually afford these tarts.
But I’m not bitter. Honestly. I’m sure that Borthwick was rewarded handsomely by his sugar daddy Coca Cola (who own Powerade) for his bare-faced cheek, but nevertheless he also deserves, as Julian Clary would put it, a warm hand on his entrance for his bravery. Apparently his mates have been rogering him — sorry - ribbing him. ‘It is one of the most daring shoots I’ve been involved in,’ he told the ladies and gentlemen of the press, ‘but it has been loads of fun, even it it has given my team mates plenty of ammunition for changing room banter.’
I can’t help thinking though that the shoot would have been even more daring and fun if Borthwick had been portrayed along with his bantering naked team mates in an actual scrum instead of doing a muscular Marcel Marceau. For the purposes of realism, of course.
‘The InnerGear for an athlete — how we train, what we eat and drink — is as important as what we wear,’ says Borthwick, clearly reading here from Coca Cola’s script. ‘And it’s great that this campaign brings it to life’.
‘Gear’ of course is also the street name given to steroids, that hot commodity more and more rugby players these days look as if they’re taking, mandatory drug testing or no. According to various reports, epidemic numbers of young men who aren’t athletes but who, like today’s sportsmen, also want to look like porn stars are downing them like, well, soft drinks.
I’m sure Coca Cola chose the name ‘InnerGear’ for entirely innocent and pure reasons, and that none of their models would ever use banned substances, even if it is quite easy to do so and avoid detection, but if young men think that by drinking an overpriced sugary-salty drink invested with magical, virile properties by advertising they’ll get buff instead of fat, and look as desirable, as shaggable, as these pro athletes, that can surely only help sales.
Below, England International Paul Sackey and Welsh International Shane Williams who also feature in the InnerGear campaign, prove that really fit bubble-butts can fly. Williams, who looks a little like a Welsh statue of Eros with a rugby ball let loose instead of an arrow, also proves that really fit bubble-butts can arch and look over their shoulder at the same time.
It’s true that this public campaign, unlike the DDS calendars (which are for private consumption, after all), avoids frontal nudity, but then Freud thought that in dreams flying had a phallic symbolism.
So with InnerGear’s flying rugby buttocks you really can have both.
Welsh International Shane Williams. Your flexible friend.
It looks a lot kinkier. It looks, in fact, like a suburban fetish party. Rather ‘dark’, with a lot of leather and rubber and a lot of porno pouting — and that’s just the guys.
The most popular male Gladiator, ‘Spartan’, wears a skirt.
Some of the men also seem to be wearing bras. It’s difficult not to wonder they’re a bit lacking in the tit department but have good abs, so they gave them something to cover up their saggy breasts or over-large nipples.
Or maybe, along with the skirt, it is just more evidence that the male body is now as packaged and fetishised, not to mention scrutinized, as the female variety — at least on Prime Time TV.
Actually, on the basis of the new Gladiators, you could argue that women are now held up to less exacting standards. The men are showing more flesh than the ladies — and their flesh is much more spectacular. Spartan’s abs aren’t really terribly useful, but they do look fantastic, so let’s have him hanging by his arms while the camera zooms in on them.
Either way, the Gladiators, male and female, with the exception of pigtailed Battleaxe who looks like she might actually be able to handle herself in a pub fight, seem less like super-heroes than a bunch of tarts.
But then, tarting’s what we want these days. Especially on family shows like Gladiators.
It’s a measure of how mainstream metrosexuality is now, how ‘normal’ it’s become, that even naff old Gladiators has been metrosexed up — ‘for all the family’. The original series was of course also a form of lycra-clad voyeurism, but with a It’s a Knockout/PE-teacher heartiness as fig-leaf. New Gladiators, on the other hand, like the brave/terrifying new metrosexual world we’re living in, isn’t the least bit shy and doesn’t need fig-leafs. Instead, we’re given skimpier outfits and flickering, lustful, wicked flames licking around their perfect bodies.
Sometimes the effect though can be very confusing. Atlas (left), with that long blond hair and sly wink he does on the website, looks less like Charles Atlas, than a cross between Popeye, Jessica Rabbit and Dick Emery. It used to be said that female bodybuilders looked like men in wigs — but looking at Atlas I can’t work out who or what is wearing the wig. Transexy time again.
Perhaps inevitably the trailer for the new series includes a pastiche of the hit 2000 film Gladiator, set in the Coliseum. Gladiators were slaves, commodities of worked-out human flesh that were bought and sold and pitted against one another in a life and death struggle by Roman showbiz at the point of a sword. Now though it’s done at the point of a TV contract. Who says civilization doesn’t advance?
Perhaps I’m reading too much in again, but to my eye this adds a layer of irony to the inclusion of several black Gladiators — in an attempt to update the format to reflect multi-racial Britain. Or perhaps simply to make it look more ‘exotic’ and saleable.
The muscliest gladiators meanwhile seem even musclier. Atlas and Destroyer look more impossibly massive than the big Gladiators of the Nineties series, such as Hunter and Wolf. The bar has, literally, been raised. Their shoulders in particular are vast — perhaps because since the 90s, partly down to the original Gladiators series, we’ve all got a personal fitness trainer — or are related to one. So they have to be EVENBIGGER.
Or perhaps it’s because we’ve all got widescreen TVs now.
Somehow I don’t think it terribly likely the steroid ‘epidemic’ that drug agencies have warned is rampaging amongst young men today because they want a desirable body like the ones they see in the media will abate anytime soon.
And this despite the frightening possible side-effects meticulously listed in these press reports, including liver, heart and kidney damage, atrophied testicles, erectile dysfunction, depression and raised aggression. (Though, arguably, you could also experience most of these simply by following Arsenal FC.)
The key to this mainstreaming of steroids is vanity. If you want to get into people’s bloodstream these days, promise to make them like what they see in the smoke-glass gym-mirror. According to the surveys, the large majority of young men using the gear are not doing so to be stronger or faster or scarier — all traditionally acceptable ‘masculine’ ambitions — but rather to look more attractive. To look shaggable. Or just make you look.
In other words, young men are taking steroids the way that many gay party boys have taken them for years: to look good on the beach or dance floor or webcam. ‘Muscle Marys’ — as they’re called by envious, less-muscular gays — are apparently no longer a strictly gay phenomenon. Muscle Marys are where masculinity is at, Mary.
It shouldn’t be so surprising. We don’t really need surveys to tell us this. It has, after all, happened right before our eyes. It’s the media that has mainlined steroids into the culture and our kids. Unlike, say, very skinny girls, very muscular boys are very popular. An anti ‘Size Hero’ campaign like that we’ve seen against Size Zero is somewhat unlikely. Steroids are an essential, prescribed even, part of the way that the male body has been farmed and packaged for our consumption since it was laid off at the factory and the shipyard in the 1980s.
A generation of young males have been reared on irresistibly — and frequently chemically — lean and muscular images of the male body in sport, advertising, magazines, movies and telly, even in the cartoons they watch and the computer games or toy dolls (or ‘action figures’) they play with. It seems all that’s left of masculinity in a post industrial, post paternal world, apart from a science-fiction-sized penis, or a right foot good enough to get you into the Premier League, is a hot bod. Men and women — but especially men — will give you kudos for that. So will people casting reality TV series.
Even Action Man (GI Joe in the US) is now a Muscle Mary. Perhaps because he’s only twelve inches tall, Action Man seems to have been hitting the ‘juice’ big time. He’s also got himself a nice deep all-over tan — to better show off his pumped muscles.
Since the 1960s his bicep measurements have more than doubled from a (scaled up) 12″ to 27″ and his chest from 44″ to 55″. His current ‘cut’ physique would be rather difficult to achieve just by eating corned-beef hash rations — especially since, as far as I’m aware, a portable plastic gym isn’t yet one of his basic accessories. In an example of life imitating art, or at least squaddies imitating dolls, steroid abuse by soldiers is increasingly common: US soldiers in Iraq have been caught ordering steroids online, and it was recently alleged that a sizeable proportion of Blackwater mercenaries are on ‘the gear’.
Muscle Marys aren’t just for Xmas — they’re also for High Office. Arnold ‘Commando’ Schwarzenegger, seven times Mr Olympia, who has admitted using industrial quantities of steroids since he was in his teens (though denies he takes them now) is today the walk-on-water Green Governator of California and Republican inspiration to David Cameron — after a successful Hollywood movie career playing an under-dressed heavily-muscled male masseur pretending to be an action hero. Quite an achievement when just walking without painful chafing must have been difficult.
Partly because of Arnie’s 80s ‘special effects’, Muscle Marys are de rigeur in the movies today — even in middle-age. The ageing star of a recent epic blockbuster whose career has largely been built on his six-pack was widely rumoured to have been on so much ‘gear’ trying to look ‘invincible’ that he frequently had to be stretchered off the set at the end of the day, poor love. Meanwhile ‘Comeback Kid’ Sylvester ‘Rocky’ Stallone (aged 60) was caught by Australian customs with several vials of his comeback secret earlier this year.
The ailing James Bond franchise successfully re-launched Bond and made him more attractive to younger viewers by reincarnating him in the pneumatic form of Daniel Craig — Bond became his own big-chested Bond Girl - and last year’s smash hit film ‘300′ featured ‘Spartans’ who looked less like ancient warriors than Muscle Marys at a Toga Party. Or the “juiced-up” professional wrestlers in Speedos that so many boys today have on their bedroom walls.
WWE wrestler Chris Benoit’s recent murder-suicide of his wife and child and intense media speculation about whether it was steroid-related (steroids were found at his house and his post mortem testosterone level was ten times normal) has caused a major scandal in the US. But it has been as obvious for many years that most of these guys were sprinkling more than sugar on their Cocoa Pops (and Benoit was actually relatively scrawny compared to some wrestlers).
That’s, after all, what people were looking at. What they were paying to see. Pro wrestling is showbusiness, and steroids are the business — at least when it comes to making spectacular bodies.
As a result of this and other recent steroid scandals in American football and baseball - including at High School level — a panic has emerged about the use of steroids by US athletes. But this has tended to obscure how mainstream steroids already are in the US and how, as in the UK, they’re principally (ab)used by non-athletes (only 6% of users played sports or considered themselves bodybuilders).
In the UK there have been calls to ban the sale of steroids online, crackdown harder on gyms selling them and educate young people about the dangers. Well, everyone is in favour of education, and no one is in favour of teens using steroids, but it’s unlikely that any of this will seriously reverse the Muscle Mary/Size Hero trend.
Steroids can’t be uninvented — or filtered out from the culture’s bloodstream. They’ve already changed the shape of masculinity. What’s more, unlike most if not all of the expensive supplements advertised in FHM, Men’s Health and Nuts as ‘muscle-builders’ and ‘fat-burners’, they actually work. And I know whereof I speak: I dabbled with the ‘juice’ myself as a callow youth. They certainly did what they said on the tin: I only stopped because they made me even spottier and angrier than I already was.
In an age when what’s authentically masculine is unclear, but what’s hot is as in-yer-face as a nice pair of pecs, injecting synthetic manliness, despite the possible risks to your actual man-bits, is not going out of fashion anytime soon. The only effective way to discourage their use will be to come up with a new generation of muscle-building drugs that work as well as steroids but have fewer side-effects. I’d certainly take them.
Steroids are the metrosexual hormone — they make men saleable and shaggable in an age that doesn’t have much idea what else to do with them.