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’.
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.
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
“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.
A good-looking gorilla in Japan called Shabani who looks after his kids has been getting a lot of press lately and making Japanese women swoon. The BBC’s Yuko Kato explains why.
(I agree that there’s something Clooney-esque about the mouth, but the pout is pure Beckham.)
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.