Hollywood Gayze

Mark Simpson on Hollywood heartthrobs going ‘gayish’ 

The appear­ance of Channing Tatum and his Magic Mike XXL bun-chums Matt Bomer and Adam Rodriguez on a float at LA Pride shak­ing their money-makers for the highly appre­ci­at­ive LGBT crowd seems to have marked a water­shed moment in the City of Signs.

Not long after Tatum’s float dis­ap­peared into the heat haze of Santa Monica Boulevard the Hollywood Reporter ran a piece by Merle Ginsberg, formerly of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, about the way straight male per­formers like Tatum have gone ‘bey­ond met­ro­sexu­al­ity’ (char­ac­ter­ised by the HR as ‘indul­ging in feminine-seeming ped­i­cures and hair products’) and now want to be read as ‘gayish’.

Ginsberg argued that far from being frightened of  gay atten­tion and gay ‘taint’ as in days of yore, straight men these days act­ively – or is it pass­ively? – seek out, tickle and tease the male gayze on Pride floats and Out magazine cov­ers, and by talk­ing about which other male actor they’d do if they did guys. The piece also looked at how this phe­nomenon of furi­ously flirty ‘straight homos’ – or ‘stromos’ as it was dubbed – is blur­ring the lines of sexu­al­ity and jam­ming gaydar.

Obviously this is a sub­ject right up my pro­cliv­ity. And sure enough I found myself  quoted in the piece – but couldn’t quite remem­ber when I’d given them. I searched my Inbox and found that I’d answered ques­tions from Ginsberg about this phe­nomenon of straight male ‘gay­ness’ by email back in 2013. I guess even two years ago I’m still so now.

However the Hollywood Reporter piece seems to have ruffled a few gay feath­ers eli­cit­ing com­plaints about ‘gay ste­reo­types’ and ‘exploit­a­tion’. While it’s not really for me to defend the word ‘stromo’ – I’ve enough annoy­ing neo­lo­gisms of my own to look out for – the phe­nomenon that the art­icle is about is def­in­itely worth ana­tom­ising and cer­tainly not ‘made up’ as some claim, offen­ded ostrich-like.

You prob­ably won’t be sur­prised to hear that I think the only prob­lem with the Hollywood Reporter piece was that I wasn’t quoted enough — par­tic­u­larly since the art­icle strives to delin­eate a dif­fer­ence between ‘stromos’ and ‘met­ro­sexu­als’ which seems to be based more on an American mar­ket­ing defin­i­tion of met­ro­sexu­al­ity than mine.

So here are the answers metrodaddy gave in full. (Note the bit towards the end where I say the increas­ing inco­her­ence of what we mean by ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ is troub­ling for tra­di­tion­al­ists – straight and gay.)

MS: I agree that met­ro­sexu­al­ity has morphed – though I would say it has always been morph­ing and that really it’s intens­i­fied. Metrosexuality was never about facials and flip flops it was about the male desire to be desired – which is rampant nowadays. Today’s men are totally tarty. And shame­less hussies with it. Male self-objectification is very much the name of today’s game.

Funnily enough, I think this presents a prob­lem for male celebs in gen­eral and movie act­ors in par­tic­u­lar. Now that the young str8 male movie-going audi­ence are so image con­scious and so keen to attract the eye, the man on the screen has to go the extra mile – and get up even earlier for even longer, harder workouts. Likewise as their audi­ence becomes ‘gayer’, they have to become even gayer or else end up look­ing Dad-ish. They have to push the envel­ope fur­ther and try harder than their male fans, or the boy­friends of their female fans, or else why should they be in the spotlight?

MG: What do you think of these actors/singers (Adam Levine) who look and dress and even move in a rather gay way? Is this the new masculinity?

Adam Levine looks and sounds like a singing David Beckham. With a bit of Marc Jacobs thrown in. But then Beckham is a kind of non-singing pop star.

What’s hap­pen­ing is that a kind of male bi-sensuality is becom­ing more and more the norm, both with young men and par­tic­u­larly with male per­formers, appro­pri­at­ing tastes and man­ners sens­ib­il­it­ies and sens­it­iv­it­ies that were pre­vi­ously pre­served for women and gay men – on pain of emas­cu­la­tion and ridicule.

Men increas­ingly want to present them­selves as avail­able for any fantasy, and respons­ive to both sexes – even and espe­cially when they’re het­ero­sexual. It’s a use­ful strategy for a ‘civil­ian’ in today’s medi­at­ised, mirrored world, but it’s an essen­tial one if you’re a performer.

Is this pos­sibly due to a fur­ther accept­ance of gay cul­ture in gen­eral? How did that hap­pen over time?

It’s partly due to a greater accept­ance of gay cul­ture. If homo­pho­bia is uncool, as it is for most young people in the US or UK today, then fear of ‘gay’ things also, even­tu­ally, becomes uncool.

But I would almost put it the other way around, homo­pho­bia has declined because today’s men are less afraid of them­selves than they used to be. Today’s straight men enjoy most of the same sexual prac­tises as gay men, though usu­ally with someone with a vagina, and have embraced gay men’s love of the male body too – though usu­ally their own body. Likewise, male passiv­ity is much less of a taboo than it was. The itchy throb of the pro­state gland is no respecter of sexual orientation.

Why would a gay magazine put a straight guy on the cover? Why would a straight guy do it?

Gay magazines put straight men on the cover because a) Their read­ers, how­ever much they may deny it some­times, really like to look at hot straight guys, and b) it gets them press: ‘You’ll never guess who’s in his pants on the cover of OUT magazine this month!!’. A gay guy on the cover of a gay magazine is not news. Of course, straight guys on the cover of gay magazines is hardly news any­more now that they’re all scratch­ing each other’s eyes out to get there.… Another reason why gay magazines do it is because it helps to make homo­pho­bia even un-cooler.

Why do straight celebs and sports­men do it? Because: a) They get pub­li­city, and b) They get kudos, and c), prob­ably the most import­ant, straight men nowadays love to be ‘gay icons’.

There is money and career points in hav­ing a ‘gay fol­low­ing’, to be sure, but I think the need for gay male approval goes deeper and is shared by a lot of young straight men today. It’s that desire to be desired thing again. Straight men ache to be sex objects – and what bet­ter way to be objec­ti­fied than by other men? Straight men know how demand­ing men’s eyes can be. How pen­et­rat­ing their ‘gaze’ is.

Even if you have no desire to ever have sex with another guy there’s noth­ing quite so sym­bol­ic­ally, deli­ciously ‘pass­ive’ as being oggled by other pen­ised human beings.

Is it con­fus­ing that we can’t tell who’s straight or who’s gay any­more? Is this a good thing?

It is very con­fus­ing. But con­fu­sion can be a good and lib­er­at­ing thing.

I think we’ve reached a point where straight men are so ‘gay’ nowadays that they’ve actu­ally become ‘straight act­ing’. Those beards that gays star­ted wear­ing back in the early Noughties to butch up have been adop­ted whole­sale by a lot of straight guys in the last few years, and for sim­ilar reas­ons. The dec­or­at­ive, imit­at­ive mach­ismo of the gay world has become the ‘real’ thing.

Likewise, the pleas­ur­ing and pleas­ured pneu­matic porno male body that Tom of Finland was dood­ling from his over­heated ima­gin­a­tion back in the 50s and 60s has become the dom­in­ant main­stream fantasy. The Situation and his real­ity TV ‘bros’ have Tom-ish bod­ies that invite and plead for the gayze.

But of course the big­ger pic­ture is that what we mean by ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ is really break­ing down into inco­her­ence. Which is troub­ling for both straight and gay tra­di­tion­al­ists. While you might think that gay men would all wel­come this glor­i­ous con­fu­sion some do find it very dis­con­cert­ing. And no one likes to be upstaged.

But in the end, the total tri­umph of met­ro­sexu­al­ity and male tarti­ness, ter­ri­fy­ing as it is, should prob­ably be seen as a lib­er­a­tion for straight men – and a bloody relief for gay men. After all, they no longer have to embody all the van­ity and tarti­ness of their entire sex just to keep straight men ‘normal’.

MX-5 Love

Mark Simpson  on his hate-love affair with his dinky Japanese sports car

I hate my car. I hate the way I’m blinded by other cars’ head­lights. I hate the way all the dirt and water on the road ends up cov­er­ing it, turn­ing it into a sub­mar­ine on motor­ways. I hate the way I can’t see past pretty much any other vehicle I’m behind, or along­side. Or in front of.

I hate the way I have to be so care­ful with the bottles in my super­mar­ket shop­ping because the cramped boot is not very deep and the lid is ter­ribly thin. I hate that it isn’t very fast, except on round­abouts. I hate get­ting in and out of it in a kind of half limbo dance that will undoubtedly res­ult in an early hip replace­ment op. I hate how noisy and exhaust­ing it is over long dis­tances – you always arrive feel­ing you’ve driven twice as far as you actu­ally have.

And most of all, I hate the way I can’t have sex in it because there’s only two seats and they’re buckets.

But I love my car enough to put up with all of this moany aggrav­a­tion and more. Because my car is itself pure sex. You see, my car is an MX-5. If you already have one you will know exactly what I mean and slap me on the back. If you don’t, you will prob­ably be covered in bit­ter­ness and envy.

Yes, you may scoff and say love is blind even if it’s nifty with a pair of scis­sors, but Mazda’s fam­ous ‘hairdresser’ road­ster, launched way back in 1989 and made in Hiroshima, Japan, is the best-selling two-seat con­vert­ible in his­tory. There are now nearly a mil­lion sat­is­fied cus­tom­ers wear­ing a smile that can only be called post-coital.

Still scep­tical? Here’s that well-known lover of dinky under­powered cars – Jeremy Clarkson:

Nothing on the road will give you bet­ter value. Nothing will give you so much fun. The only reason I’m giv­ing it five stars is because I can’t give it fourteen.’

So what do I love about my Mk 2.5 MX-5 exactly? I could talk about its respons­ive­ness, about how its light­ness and approx­im­ate 50/50 weight bal­ance means it has nearly neut­ral hand­ling. How rufty-tufty bends just see it com­ing, sigh, and sur­render. How it is a car which con­nects you, sen­su­ally, to the road in the way no other car I’ve driven does. (Though this is also why it can be exhaust­ing – all that fun and frol­ick­ing wears you down in middle age.)

Or I could talk about how it is the uncanny dis­til­la­tion of great British and Italian sports road­sters of the 1960s, such as the Triumph Spitfire, MG MGB, Alfa Romeo Spider and Lotus Élan. But with an engine that actu­ally starts.

But really, if there’s one thing I can boil my MX-5 love down to it would be this: a cloth hood you can open and close with one arm while still seated. The MX-5 is a con­vert­ible per­fectly suited to squeez­ing out the max­imum expos­ure to day­light and fresh air in the vagar­ies of the UK climate.

The MX5 is only really, orgas­mic­ally, gig­gly fun to drive with the top down. This is after all what it was designed to do – to scoop up the sky and suck in the 360 degree speed­ing land­scape while sur­ging around corners. Even revers­ing is a thrill in the MX5: you turn around in your seat and you can see right over the flat rear, as if it were a 1950s Italian speedboat.

Driving the MX 5 top down in the UK is a bliss­ful, illi­cit, almost kinky joy which you know is ulti­mately doomed to be cut short. Which is why I always dis­trust people who have an MX-5 as their second car, one which they only really use in the sum­mer at week­ends. I’m sorry but you have to suf­fer in it the rest of the year to earn and deserve the intense pleas­ure it gives you on those gold dust sunny days. Sorry, day.

And Mazda seem to agree with me about what really makes an MX5.

After going ser­i­ously astray with the 2005 Mk3 or NC ver­sion, which was too big, too heavy, over-powered, too quiet, and too com­fort­able – and most blas­phem­ous of all offered a coupe ver­sion with a powered retract­able hard top – they have just launched a Mk4 or ND ver­sion which is a return to the MX-5’s Mk1 roots. Smaller, slim­mer, shorter in fact than any MX5 before. It’s proper dinky.

This makes it even more respons­ive and pleas­ur­able to drive, accord­ing to early reviews. But much more import­antly, this means that the cloth hood is also smal­ler and even easier to raise or lower one-handed.

And there are no coupe versions.

Mx5 comparisons

The Lost Manly Art of Map-Reading

Mark Simpson nav­ig­ates around the nos­tal­gia and the facts about drivers and maps

I recently bit the bul­let and had a clear-out in my rather cramped car. I freed up a sur­pris­ing amount of space by get­ting rid of the yel­low­ing, dog-eared maps clut­ter­ing it up with their obsol­es­cence. Including a street atlas of North Yorks where I live, sev­eral city maps col­lec­ted over the years (when am I likely to visit Plymouth again?) and a 2003 AA road atlas of Britain.

OK, I left one garage-bought UK road atlas in the boot of my car. But I’m not sure why, except per­haps to absorb spillages from my weekly super­mar­ket shop. I hon­estly can’t remem­ber the last time I looked at it. Certainly no more recently than any of the other maps I removed. Call it a large-scale, absorb­ent safety blanket.

I was a little bit sad, as I felt as if I was los­ing a part of my past and indeed of my mas­culin­ity. I grew up in a world where maps were some­thing that, if you were a chap, you con­sul­ted often with a com­pet­ent frown, pre­tend­ing to under­stand them as nat­ur­ally and com­pletely as DIY and the off­side rule – while wear­ing a square chin and a chunky wrist­watch, like Richard Todd plan­ning a dar­ing raid on the Mohne dam.

Certainly you would much rather con­sult a map, even one with pages stuck together with sour milk, than ever ask for dir­ec­tions. Directions could be wrong, and were any­way likely to be too com­plic­ated to remem­ber – no mat­ter how many times the over-helpful ped­es­trian repeated them to you while you sat there, smil­ing, nod­ding and bit­terly regret­ting your mistake.

Most of all, ask­ing for them was an open and pub­lic admis­sion that you had failed as a man.

But now of course no one needs to ask for dir­ec­tions, because we have a gad­get in our car that will tell us where to go auto­mat­ic­ally and dis­creetly. And because it’s a gad­get and gad­gets are manly it’s OK to be told what to do by it. Even if it strands you in a raging ford or wedges you in a charm­ingly nar­row street.

After a dec­ade or so of wide­spread sat­nav use, and par­tic­u­larly the integ­ra­tion of sat­navs into smart­phones, map read­ing so twen­ti­eth cen­tury. It’s a lost art. Several recent sur­veys have sug­ges­ted that most UK drivers are so reli­ant on sat­navs they don’t know how to read a map any more.

A 2014 sur­vey of 1150 road users by Flexed.co.uk found that 77% of people who use a sat­nav admit they rely on it totally on a jour­ney – with an alarm­ing 63% of drivers not even both­er­ing with road signs when using sat­nav, let alone maps.

60% admit­ted they can’t even read a paper map, and only 9% said they research the route before tak­ing an unfa­mil­iar jour­ney. Often they have no idea of the route they’ve taken to reach their des­tin­a­tion, while listen­ing to Adele really loudly.

Another sur­vey of 2000 road users by Telenav GmbH (to pro­mote their off­line sat­nav Scout) pub­lished at the end of 2014 echoed these find­ings with 57% of all ages admit­ting they couldn’t read a map com­fort­ably. But they also found that a whop­ping 85% of 18–24 year olds say they can’t read a map.

Certainly, like middle-aged me, most of these digital kids can’t be bothered to reach for a map, find the right page, find where they are on the page, find where they’re going to, decode the sym­bols and col­ours and nav­ig­ate the best route between.…

Sorry, I lost the thread there – I was so bored just typ­ing that last sen­tence I had to go and check my Facebook and Twitter feed and play Angry Birds.

Perhaps most alarm­ing of all, the same sur­vey dis­covered that half of drivers don’t even wear wrist­watches (you can determ­ine North with one). The Dambusters spirit is truly dead.

These sur­veys usu­ally prompt anxious head­lines and edit­or­ial soul-searching about the loss of map-reading skills by a gen­er­a­tion, and sug­ges­tions that map-reading should be included in driv­ing tests. Obviously ‘map read­ing’ is some kind of code for ‘moral compass’.

A 2013 sur­vey of 24,000 drivers by the good old Automobile Association found a very dif­fer­ent, more tra­di­tional pic­ture. In the reas­sur­ing words of AA President Edmund King, ‘most motor­ists are still turn­ing to maps when plan­ning car jour­neys even in the age of high tech nav­ig­a­tions systems’.

Perhaps because they were slightly afraid of being told off for being slack, 63% of drivers assured the AA they had used a prin­ted map in the last six months, com­pared to 60% who had used sat­navs, while just over 35% of drivers said they used both sat­nav and an atlas to plan a route (com­pared to 9% from the Flexed sur­vey). Only 17% admit­ted they relied solely on sat­nav (com­pared to 77%)

When it came to those lazy, lost 18–24 year olds the AA offered hope, find­ing that only 43% said they depended on their sat­navs alone to nego­ti­ate the nation’s roads – about half the fig­ure from the sur­veys a year later, and under that psy­cho­lo­gic­ally import­ant 50% figure.

Now, far be it for me to sug­gest that the AA is wor­ried about fall­ing sales of its fam­ous road atlases, but frankly, any recent sur­vey that claims to have found that more UK drivers use prin­ted maps than sat­navs is clearly com­pletely lost.

Even more so than 67-year-old Sabrine Moreau who in 2013 took a 1,800 mile detour through six coun­tries after her sat­nav mal­func­tioned. She was aim­ing for Brussels from her home in Soire-sur-Sambre to pick up a friend from the train sta­tion but even­tu­ally ended up in Zagreb, Croatia.

And I think we’ve all been there, one way or another.

We all laugh at the stu­pid­ity or credu­lity of zom­bie drivers auto­mat­ic­ally fol­low­ing sat­nav instruc­tions because they remind us uneas­ily of ourselves, but the real­ity is that most of the time Google and Garmin read maps much bet­ter than most drivers, male or female. Who, in the glor­i­ous pre-satnav past, would often be try­ing to read them on their laps while driv­ing.

It’s time to face car­to­graphic facts and not be dis­trac­ted by the, er, legend. Printed maps are now pretty much as obsol­ete as driv­ing gloves, hand-cranks and Richard Todd’s pipe. And that’s not such a bad thing.

Originally appeared on Hitachi Capital Vehicle Solutions blog

Magic Mike XXL: What It Tells Us About Modern Manhood

The Magic Mike movies are, truth be told, a bit of a nos­tal­gia trip. ‘Male strip­ping’ is actu­ally rather retro. It emerged as a phe­nomenon in the now impossibly innocent-looking 90s when the Chippendales and their orange muscles framed by bow ties, white cuffs and permed hair drove women wild – and Channing Tatum him­self was work­ing as a strip­per in Florida, before he became a Hollywood sex object.”

Yours mus­ing on today’s stripped-down stuffed-crotch mas­culin­ity in The Telegraph.

Manly Strap-Ons Still Selling Like Hot Bronuts

I usu­ally avoid link­ing to any­thing on Buzzfeed. On prin­ciple. I for­get exactly what that prin­ciple is but I’m sure it was a very good one.

However this list of ’27 gendered products’ is rather funny. ‘Gendered products’ is of course a polite way of say­ing manly strap-ons — things that have to be butched up so that men’s pen­ises don’t shrivel and blow away when they use/do them. Scary things like sun­screen and soap.

I say ‘men’s pen­ises’ but really I mean American men’s pen­ises. Most of the manly strap-ons are American — very American — and began to come on thick and strong dur­ing the faux back­lash the US had against met­ro­sexu­al­ity in the late Noughties. Remember the ‘menais­sance’? Thought not.

Strapping a ‘man’ word onto some­thing not very manly (man­scara, man­dates, man­bag) was a kind of phal­lic paci­fier, a lucky charm against any anxi­ety about sexual ambi­gu­ity. In other coun­tries, such as Australia, this might have been done with humour and irony — but not in the US.

It was after all the US which gave us, in all ser­i­ous­ness, the ‘lum­ber­sexual’ — the manly strap-on man (who worked in IT or artisan cof­fee retail). And before him the ‘uber­sexual’ and the ‘macho­sexual’. All hys­ter­ical reaction-formations to the metrosexual.

Four years ago I hoped that manly strap-ons and campy cod­pieces had peaked — or drooped — with ‘hegans’. You know, men who don’t eat meat but aren’t faggy at all but MANLY. I was so wrong. Apparently there is such a thing in the world as ‘Mangria’ — though prob­ably you shouldn’t drink it with a raised pinky, or even too much fruit. And ‘bronuts’. Which appar­ently you eat when you want to ‘snack like a man’. Whatever the bloody nora that means.

My favour­ite though is the manly soap with grips — a very prac­tical addi­tion: ensur­ing, of course, that it is NEVER DROPPED.