I’m not a footie fan – you’ll probably not be shocked to hear. But I don’t really mind the World Cup – which is good of me, I know.
I watched some of the just-finished Russia 2018 matches on telly, as non-football fans tend to do during World Cups. Partly because you can’t escape it, especially when ‘our team’ is playing, and not watching becomes too self-consciously misanthropic, even for me.
And partly because I think: maybe this time I’ll finally understand the appeal of this dull kickabout game and rejoin the male race.
But watching this year’s World Cup in Russia I rapidly came to the same conclusion I do every time there’s a World Cup on: they should dispense with the game and extra time and go straight to the penalty shoot out. Saving everyone the bother of all that running hither and thither to little or no avail for two hours.
Even more urgently, they should do something about those criminally baggy and ludicrously long ‘shorts’.
Yes, thanks very much for the tight tops, but they just made the shorts look EVEN FLAPPIER – like opaque net curtains, forever twitching but never drawing. Or leg lampshades.
Footie shorts or ‘leg lampshades’?
Footballers may be gym bunnies these days but their best ass-ets are exactly that. And a knee-length veil was drawn over them by the jealous old men of FIFA. Barely a sliver of flesh was allowed peek out between those passion-killer stocking socks and high 90s homo-panic style basketball shorts pretending to be footie shorts.
No wonder Ronaldo, the leading sporno soccer star, decided to stage a pitch protest – hitching up his puritan pantaloons and bringing his swole quads out of the shadows.
“MY QUADS YEARN TO BE FREE!”
Which reminds me, the climax of the entire World Cup as far as I’m concerned came during the England-Croatia semi-final. Play had to be stopped while 27-year-old England striker Kieran Trippier’s thighs, suffocating under all that excess nylon, were given emergency resuscitation by a pair of para thigh-fluffers.
Trippier’s thighs aside, the undoubted star of WC 2018 was Neymar de Silva, the pretty 26-year-old hot-shot Brazilian striker. Not so much for the goals he scored as all the attention he garnered, first for his ‘terrible’ ‘spaghetti head’ haircut (which I quite liked) and then for his ‘diving’ and ‘rolling’ – allegedly spending 14 minutes on the ground during the tournament.
Neymar puts everything into his performance
Neymar, being such a prodigiously talented and thus feared striker, was the target of some sustained serial-fouling. But serious football chaps were furious with Neymar: “I’ve seen people get shot that take it better than this clown”, complained a British MP. “Fucking fairy!” thundered a thousand footie blokes on Twitter.
For all the indignant denunciations – and violent anger in some cases – wasn’t Neymar just doing what most professional footballers do, almost as a contractual requirement? Just more enthusiastically and energetically? And with less shame? Or in fact, none?
One of the problems with professional football, in my non-fan eyes, is not that it involves a lot of acting, or even that it’s very bad acting – after all, I enjoy reality TV and porn, which are all about bad acting. No, it’s that the acting is not for us, the people actually watching the game.
It’s for one person only: a middle-aged man running about with a silver whistle around his neck who points a lot. Footie Daddy – whose word is law, no matter how flawed or fickle, and which frequently decides matches, despite the fact that his view is often much worse than that of the (TV) viewers. ‘LOOK WHAT THE NASTY MAN DID TO ME, DADDY!’
Perhaps in literally throwing himself into his role, and going deliriously ‘over the top’, Neymar’s real crime is not so much the diving as turning it into a proper performance, for everyone, not just the ref. He threatens to make footie camp.
A combination of England’s unexpectedly good performance in the tournament (due in part, whisper it, to the good luck of playing against weak teams until the semi final), and a sustained, record-breaking heatwave, led to some feverishly over-optimistic expectations – and the resurrection of the awful 1990s ‘Four Lions’ dirge.
More than once I was accosted in the street by drunken shirtless grinning young chaps who were very keen to tell me that “IT’S COMING HOME!”, giving me back slaps and hugs.
So I decided that I loved football after all.
One of the most excited football fans was the British actor, TV presenter, professional ‘ard man Ross Kemp (and my better-looking doppelganger). I’ll leave you with his (Triga) video message to ‘the boys’ after qualifying for the semi.
It was announced last month that the little man is finally getting the big screen treatment. The director of the last two Muppet films is making an Action Man action movie.
But it seems that moneysupermarket.com have beaten him to it, producing this blockbuster which has been airing on UK television.
In it a regiment of Action Men in various butch outfits and manly accessories break into some very camp dance moves, to the strains of CeCe Peniston’s gay club hit ‘Finally’. For the big finish, some of them strip down to their moulded plastic briefs while the rest of the guys hoof it.
It’s very Village People, darling.
‘Epic Action Man’ represents a continuity with Moneysupermarket’s previous offerings which have ostentatiously fucked about with conventional masculinity – such as ‘Epic Strut’ in which a man who is apparently a male office worker from the waist up and a big-bootied woman in heels from the waist down (a kind of gender-fuck Centaur – or a binary non-binary) shakes his be-denimed money-maker around town.
Can we fix it?
The sequel, ‘Epic Squads‘, saw ‘Dave’ up the ante and lead a squad of similarly split-dressed apparently male office workers in a flaming dance-off with a group of builders with some really devastating moves.
And then the ante was upped again last year in ads which starred those famous 80s TV icons of boyish excitement He-Man and Skeletor, perhaps the best one being a parody of Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey famous end-of-movie dance to ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My life’ from the ultimate 80s chick-flick, ‘Dirty Dancing’. (And yes, Skeletor gives good Grey.)
So, having gayed up He-Man and got him to drop his big sword it was probably inevitable that they would turn Action Man into a club queen.
I’m not sure that Moneysupermarket has any other aim in these ads other than to grab our attention with something a bit shocking and giggly as we inhale our gluten-free ready meal. And it’s easiest and safest nowadays to do that with machismo: the images and iconography are very familiar and because they came from a more ‘innocent’ age, or at least less knowing, much of the work of parodying them has already been done by time. (See also Top Gun.)
Though Action Man like He-Man was of course always more than a little bit camp – at least seen in the right light, or by the wrong eyes. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, butchness is such a very difficult pose to keep up. Even when you’re made of 12 inches of moulded plastic. (I’m not if I’m honest really looking forwards to the Action Man movie: I prefer to hold on to the movies he starred in inside my head when I was a kid.)
Perhaps though the ‘funniest’ thing about Moneysupermarket’s ‘Epic Action Man’ ad and its swishing is that it is actually a case of dolls imitating real life soldiers. Action Man is here after all just catching up with all those YouTube videos of yer actual live squaddies in some desert locale camping it up to Lady Gaga.
Muller Light’s latest ad continues its heavy-handed theme of debasing the objectified men it uses to sell its aerated dairy products – perhaps finally reaching a kind of climax.
The ad deploys the usual buff and topless ‘fat free’ young male as eye-candy, this time handling his ‘pot’ – but he loses control at the signature ‘FAT FREE!!’ shrieks and ends up glazing himself. Hee-hee!
The Narcissus myth about the beautiful, doomed youth who falls for his own reflection continues to be a mainstay of this Millenium’s advertising – albeit re-written with a ‘happy ending’.
For example, this Pure XS Paco Rabanne TV ad set in a kind of Big Brother bathroom, stars a young, athletic and voluptuously beautiful man (Francisco Henriques) undressing/stripping for a bath, using the gold tap as a phallic signifier – while admiring himself in the mirror. All the while observed by young women through peepholes and two-way mirrors – admiring his admiration – and camply swooning to the floor as one at the end of the ad when he squirts the product at his groin.
Stinging nads to one side, the ad is a canny comment on – and exploitation of – the starring role of male vanity and ‘objectification’ in our 21st Century selfie-admiring, cam-show culture.
Thanks to a mediated world where everyone carries around a multiplying mirror in their pocket called a smartphone, Narcissus no longer wastes away unable to possess his reflection. He can reproduce himself on endlessly on social media, become a sporno hero – and find himself reflected in the gaze of others. Male beauty and male tartiness, once stigmatised as ridiculous or perverted, are the shining, Immaced inspiration of our age, the very symbol of ‘sexiness’.
Which makes it all the more unforgivable that I missed the ad when it first aired last year. I was probably fastforwarding to the latest instalment of Love Island or Bromans. But not to worry, some 120 people complained to the Advertising Standards authority about it, getting it into the news this week.
Shockingly, they weren’t complaining about the fact that it ends too soon.
It seems that most were upset about the Pure XS ad ‘objectifying’ the young sporno featured voyeuristically in it, claiming it was sexist and offensive for that reason. Apparently objectification is a bad thing.
Fortunately for the future of spornosexual advertising, the ASA rejected these complaints, and ruled that it was ‘unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence’ – which seems ‘objectively’ true.
However, the basis of the ruling was pure doublespeak. According to the ASA the ad – which like many ads today goes to enormous trouble and glossy expense to serve up the young man as a all-singing, all-dancing SEX OBJECT – even helpfully showing him being perved over by young women – ‘did not objectify the male character’.
But the ASA itself admitted that the commercial:
‘was heavily focused on the physical appearance of the male character. The ad featured multiple shots in which the male character was topless and his expressions when looking in the mirror suggest he was admiring his own physique and attractiveness. We considered that this and the reactions of the women to him placed a strong emphasis on the attractiveness of the male character.’
Well, quite. You could hardly say otherwise. But they then go on to say:
‘However, we noted the scenario depicted in the ad was not realistic and the tone was risque but comedic and farcical. We considered the ad showed the male character’s attractiveness in a light-hearted, humorous way, rather than in a degrading or humiliating manner… we considered, for the above reasons the ad did not objectify the male character.’
It’s certainly true that the scenario depicted in the ad was presented as comedic and farcical – as well as sexualised and objectifying. The ‘light-hearted’ presentation of the ad (and I’m not really sure that sexiness, or multi-million pound fragrance advertising, is ever really ‘light-hearted’) does nothing to change the fact that it glories in presenting the man as a (very willing) sex-object. The humour may make it more palatable to some, including apparently the ASA, but it does not do away with ‘objectification’. There would be no ad without it.
What the ASA seems to be saying is that the male model was not objectified because it’s not bad objectification. Good objectification, according to the circuitous reasoning behind what is anyway a loaded term, can’t be objectification – because objectification is necessarily bad. When in fact, objectification can be… wonderful. Which is part of the reason why so many young men today work so hard to turn themselves into sexy things.
Which raises the issue that got this ruling a lot of attention in some sections of the press this week, and alerting me to the existence of the ad. It seems likely XS was complained about by people who are not really offended by it but pushing an agenda, or as they might put it, concerned about double standards.
A double standard that seems to hold that objectification of men is either impossible or is good if possible, and objectification of women is bad – by definition. A double standard that, on TV at least, seems to now be the dominant morality – in part because TV tends to be watched more by women than men. Even BBC costume dramas these days are all about the gratuitous topless male tottie. Indeed, things have got so bad of late that I am tempted to actually watch one.
The double standard appeared to be underlined by the ASA’s simultaneous ruling – after just one complaint – that an ad featuring an attractive young female tennis player was ‘objectifying’ and therefore upheld the complaint.
The poster ad for Tunnock’s tea cakes (which was placed near a tennis tournament in Scotland) showed an athletic young female tennis player holding a tea cake in place of a tennis ball at the top of her thigh with her skirt raised at the hip. Text underneath stated: ‘Where do you keep yours?’ Then beneath an image of the product the endline: ‘Serve up a treat.’
Explaining why they upheld the complaint the ASA said:
‘We considered the phrase “serve up a treat” would be understood to be a double entendre, implying the woman featured in the ad was the “treat”, and considered this was likely to be viewed as demeaning towards women…’.
‘We considered that although the image was only mildly sexual in nature, when combined with the phrase “serve up a treat” it had the effect of objectifying women by using a woman’s physical features to draw attention to the ad.’
‘In light of those factors, we concluded that the ad was likely to cause serious offence to some consumers and was socially irresponsible.’
The Tunnock’s tea cake ad is, like the product itself, very 1970s. It is not nearly as glossy or expensive or indeed as playful or as knowing or well made as the Paco Rabanne ad. And it isn’t, for my money, very funny. I’m not sure though that any of these points are sufficient reason for calling it ‘socially irresponsible’.
You could perhaps argue that it is ‘more’ objectifying than the Rabanne ad because of its disembodied nature (the shapely thigh has no face) – and because of the history of female objectification.
But the ASA doesn’t argue this. It doesn’t accept, remember, that the Rabanne ad is objectifying at all. Difficult not to conclude that the main difference that the ASA seems to be interested in here is that one objectifying ad features a man, the other a woman. Indeed, if the tennis player had been a man wearing a kilt with the same text and the teacake in the same place I have a hunch the ASA would not have upheld the complaint. Or at least, I certainly hope not.
It upheld the complaint about the Tunnock ad on the grounds that it ‘uses a woman’s physical features to draw attention to an ad’. But that is precisely what the Paco Rabanne ad does with a man’s physical features – and at greater, HD length. Though granted without the cringe making copywriting.
Perhaps the strongest grounds the ASA has in censuring the sticky ad and not the smelly one is that it ‘bore no relevance to the advertised product’. Paco Rabanne, like most fragrances, is associated – or tries very hard to associate itself – with sensuality and sexuality. But this doesn’t seem to be a major part of the ASA’s ruling. And anyway there are all sorts of products pushed in prime time by attractive, mostly naked young men in ads that don’t bear much relevance to the product – or tin mining in 18th Century Cornwall.
Interestingly, some of those 120 complaints about the aftershave ad claimed it was ‘sexist’ because it ‘depicted women as powerless and weak and therefore reinforced stereotypes’.
These complaints were also not upheld. The ASA’s explanation points out that the women are ‘in a position of power over the male character’ because they are voyeuristically watching him, possibly unseen. Again, admitting in effect that the young man is objectified – despite asserting in their first ruling that he is not.
‘We considered because the women were seen to be watching the man, perhaps without his knowledge, it suggested they were in a position of power over the male character. We noted as the ad progressed and the male character was in various stages of undress, it was evident from the reactions of the women depicted they were increasingly being overcome with excitement. We further noted during one of the final scenes, all of the women were seen to have fainted and collapsed at the sight of the man spraying the fragrance towards his groin.’
The ASA ruled that the surreal and farcical nature of the ad meant it was unlikely to reinforce stereotypes of women and concluded it was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence. Which essentially means: only an idiot would take the fainting seriously.
I would add that the women’s voyeuristic enjoyment of the young man and their very visible arousal over him show that
a) The ad is depicts the women as having very active, almost perverse, sexual appetites, which is about as contrary to stereotypical portrayals as you can get
b) Their ecstatic response to his tarting shows that being ‘objectified’ can be very powerful. Which of course further undermines the ASA’s notion that it’s necessarily ‘bad’.
I’m not sure that I should be bringing any of this up though. All drawing attention to the possibility of a double standard here is likely to achieve is the banning of male objectification as well as the female variety – for the sake of ‘equality’.
And that would be horribly cruel. Narcissus really would wither away then.
Postscript: My chum Simon Mason helpfully pointed out something I’d forgotten – that the Pure XS ad is rather similar to a German ad I wrote about a few years back, which features a young sporno taking a bath, spied on by the camera/us, a voyeurism he seems to approvingly acknowledge towards the end:
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