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The 'Daddy' of the Metrosexual, the Retrosexual, & spawner of the Spornosexual

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Friends, Bromans, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Rears

Mark Simpson on the decline and fall of male modesty

Telly seems to have been hacking my brain lately. The filthiest parts.

Just when you thought ITV2, the people who brought us Love Island couldn’t get any more spornographic, and the underdressed, over-muscled guys they insist on making us ogle entirely against our will couldn’t get any sluttier, along comes Bromans. A gladiator-themed reality game show about ‘modern geezers in the time of Caesar’ that seems intent on taking sporno back to its sword-and-sandals (‘S&M’ for short) roots.

Or as the press release puts it:

Eight 21st century lads are to be transported back to the Roman Empire to see if they can cut it as gladiators.

The handsome boys will fight it out with help from their loving girlfriends. They may have the muscles but do these lads have what it takes to go down in history?

Missed single entendre alert!

Cameras will follow eight modern day couples as they’re transported to an ancient world where they’ll live and fight like gladiators did 2000 years ago

If gladiators wore gold lame briefs and were ‘fresh as fuck’.

‘We who are about to do flyes salute your glutes!’

Note though how the first attribute of the boys is ‘handsome’, the second is ‘muscles’ – while the girlfriends are merely ‘helpful’ and ‘loving’. Likewise, the trailer and the title openly foregrounds the leather-harnessed tarty ‘geezers’ as the main visual/erotic attraction, seemingly going one logical step further than Love Island.

All this – plus the fact it looks camper than a Roman army laid up for the night – made me tremble with more anticipation than Dr. Frank N. Furter at Rocky’s first leather jockstrap contest.

The first episode aired last Thursday and didn’t disappoint visually, providing the promised spornographic guy candy – including a slave market scene which, intentionally or not, looked like a stark statement about the objectification of men on telly today.

The lads were ‘forced’ – i.e. allowed – to strip bollock-naked, chained up in the arena and left to sweat and bake in the hot gaze of millions of TV viewers, while covering their shaved immodesty with their hands.

Some of them weren’t exactly very conscientious about covering up: after all, like most young men today, they had painstakingly depilated themselves ready for their close-up. And neither were the VT editors.

The odd thing though is that although this flashing was happening in broad noonlight on primetime most of the guys didn’t look terribly naked at all. The ink, the waxing, the sculpting, the oiling, and the total lack of shame made sure of that. But then, the spornosexual body is designed and ‘built’ to be seen unclothed.

As the men sweated in chains the women (in skimpy bikinis) scrabbled about in the dust, fighting over a limited number of bags of clothes for the men. But this seemed entirely pointless as neither the men nor the viewers really wanted them to find any. Those ‘geezers’ whose partners failed to get them any clothes – entirely by chance, the swoliest, most shredded guys – had to wear a posing pouch straight out of Athletic Model Guild back issues for the rest of the episode. They didn’t look exactly crestfallen.

As reality TV though, the first episode teetered on the edge of floppiness. Bromans was not built in a day, only semi-erected. Hopefully future episodes (eight in total) will prove me wrong, but on the basis of last week’s outing it looked almost as if the title and the trailer was the whole point. Though admittedly, one that was entirely worth it.

Perhaps it’s just because I’m a big homo, but I’m also not entirely sure at the moment what the women on Bromans bring to the toga party, apart from visual proof of the heterosexuality of guys who otherwise look like gay-for-pay porn stars, and perhaps also an alibi for the straight men watching the show (though I doubt today’s young men really need one). As a female friend put it to me about the WAGs: ‘they just get in the way’.

Also because I’m a big homo, I thought the campery was poorly ‘executed’. The Emperor’s skinny assistant Dominus who presides over the games has obviously been cast and dressed to look like Kenneth Williams but isn’t really cutting it. They should have cast Julian Clary – who would know that ‘Not many men enter the Emperor’s ring’ is a setup, not a punchline.

David McIntosh and admirer.

That said, the casting of former Royal Marine Commando and now pectastic pro sporno (i.e. ‘fitness model’) David McIntosh, a man who can only be described as terrifyingly beautiful, as ‘Doctore’, the gladiator drill-sergeant, was perfect. His job is to beast the boys over the next seven weeks for our pleasure, and possibly theirs too. I’m sure lots of people would pay for the privilege of feeling the lash of his whip.

McIntosh certainly had the most awesome eyeliner of anyone on Bromans, which as in Love Island, was careful to include clips of some of the male contestants discussing their grooming routines: ‘I spent two hours to look this good, know what I mean?’ boasted one male hussy.

Tom and Rhiannon

Tom Trotter, a posh semi pro rugby player and humpy fitness model with really great hair was also shown telling us that he is ‘quite feminine, really’. I was especially taken with Tom and also inked Brandon Myers, another fitness model and Instagram personality, who was funny and vulgar in a broad Estuary accent: ‘I just did a nervous fart’. He’s an avid follower of fashion too, Mr Myers: ‘I loved the Roman fashions,’ he has said. ‘I was the stylist of the palace for both the boys and the girls. The men’s togas made my tattoos look really good.’ And they did.

Brandon Myers

I think both Tom and Brandon have real star quality – though actually I’m not sure that my brains is much involved in that opinion.

So I got even more excited when I thought I noticed that Tom and Brandon seemed to be quite taken with one another, bromantically speaking. Probably more out of wishful-thinking than anything else, I tweeted that they were the Chris and Kem (the couple that really won this year’s Love Island) of Bromans.

So imagine how I felt when Brandon found my tweet, gave it a thumbs up – and tweeted Tom about it, asking ‘what you reckon Tom?’.

Tom reckoned yes. ‘I’ll take that’ he tweeted back.

(FYI according to the tabs, baby-faced Brandon, like Love Island’s Chris, is supposed to have an XXL penis that he’s not shy about showing off. I am of course following him now. Avidly.)

Straight after Bromans, Chris and Kem appeared on the ITV2 game show Celebrity Juice, where they had a chocolate eclair strapped to their groins and were instructed by the host Keith Lemon to lick the icing off each other’s strapacaketome as quickly as possible. They obliged, in a 69 position – camera zooming in for extreme close-ups, as they sucked on each other’s cream-filled treats. Expertly, as it turned out.

I can’t wait to see Tom and Brandon going at it. I bet they gobble down each other’s fondant topping in an even faster time.

Bromans is on ITV2, Thursdays, at 9pm.

Spain Spammed By Spornosexuals

A feature in yesterday’s El Pais, the main Spanish daily, by Marita Alonso on the ‘plague’ of spornosexuals (or ‘espornosexuales’) in gyms, on reality TV and dating shows – and the triumph of spornowear (alias spray-on ‘clothes’).

I get the blame for it in the first line. Quite rightly.

h/t Begonya

How ‘I’m Too Sexy’ Foretold The All-Too Sexy Future

by Mark Simpson 

1991’s big, busty novelty hit ‘I’m Too Sexy’ was as zeitgeisty and bitchily funny as it was ear-wormingly annoying.

I remember it playing everywhere in London that summer: builders’ vans, barber’s shops, caffs, pubs, nightclubs, funeral parlours. OK, I didn’t actually hear it in funeral parlours but I’m sure that even the dead didn’t escape it’s strutting beat and croaking vocal. A perfect trashy radio song for a then still trashy London that was, back then, all mouth and no trousers. Of course, today it’s all oligarch trousers and hipster mouth.

Cruelly, Right Said Fred – who were all leather trousers – saw their cheeky, giggly song about self-love cheated of the No.1 spot in the UK. They were pinned down at No.2 for six weeks by Bryan Adam’s heavyweight paean to his own altruism: ‘Everything I Do I Do It For You’. A ballad to end all ballads which selflessly hogged the top spot for sixteen weeks that felt like years of Canadian winter.

‘I’m Too Sexy’ was the camp, saucy music-hall dance pop counterpoint to the naff north American mawkishness of EIDIDIFY. Though in truth we Brits deserved Mr Adam as much as anyone could deserve that fate: the UK pop music scene, like the UK economy, was in a right post-80s, post acid-house state. Right Said Fred were the only living British act in the top five top-selling UK singles that year. At No.1 was EIDIDIFY (natch), No.2 a reissue of Queen’s 1975 hit ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (after Freddie Mercury’s death that year from Aids-related illness), at No.3 Cher’s ‘It’s in His Kiss (The Shoop Shoop Song)’, at No.4 ‘I’m Too Sexy’, and at No.5 ‘Do The Bartman’ by The Simpsons.

Even a cartoon American managed to sell sold more records in the UK that year than any British act that wasn’t wearing just leather trousers. Britpop, which got underway a couple of years later, in large part as a reaction to a US-dominated UK hit parade, was of course all about cartoon Mancunians.

Right Said Fred are back in the news after Taylor Swift’s recent acknowledged use of ‘I’m Too Sexy’ baseline in her latest single ‘Look What You Made Me Do’. Everyone it seems likes a bit of ‘I’m Too Sexy’: the Guardian, along with many others, recently ran an interview with Richard Fairbrass, lead singer (middle in photo) about the hit.

There’s some interesting background: I didn’t realise that it got to No.1 in the US (in 1992). I also enjoyed the anecdote Richard Fairbrass relates: ‘In Texas, there was a fight in a bar because some girls played the video for eight hours, and when a guy tried to turn it off, they attacked him.’ I wonder though whether after eight hours of ‘I’m Too Sexy’ anyone would have been capable of doing much more than drooling insensately. I also didn’t realise Right Said Fred were still performing and recording.

But it was the (slightly edited) pull-quote at the top of the article that grabbed my attention.

‘Everyone thought we were sad gym queens… but we were proper musicians’

Now, I have nothing to say about the Fairbrass brothers’ musical prowess. But I do want to mention that out bisexual Richard and his slightly shorter straight brother Fred (left in the pic and on guitar in the vid) were gym queens, and as Richard mentions in the article, actually owned one – which is where part of the inspiration for the song apparently came from: watching people interact with the gym mirrors.

Their own gym queeniness though was very much part of the novelty of their very gay looking novelty act – you had to hire muscle by the hour in London in 1991: pub culture not gym culture ruled back then, even in the gay world. London had not yet turned into a rainy version of Southern California with no parking spaces. Everyone smoked. Everyone drank like fishes. No one ate anything except crisps and chips and the occasional kebab. And no one had seen the inside of a gym since school – except for escorts and bouncers. The Fairbrass brothers looked like both, but even gayer. It’s why if they wore anything on stage apart from leather trousers it was just waistcoats. Really awful waistcoats.

And why I’m pretty sure I tried chatting one of them up in a gay pub in West London not long before their hit. The straight one of course. Fred or someone the spitting, salivating image of him actually was a bouncer back then, working on the door of the Penny Farthing in Hammersmith at the time. As I recall he was very patient and indulgent with me. And soon he would have a much bigger fan-base, some of whom would be even more annoying than me. I think he may have told me about being in a band and having recorded a single, but I can’t be sure because of the passage of time – and because I was anyway mightily distracted by his biceps.

The early nineties was an era when metropolitan male vanity – something celebrated and mocked but mostly, in spite of the lyrics, celebrated with ‘I’m Too Sexy’ – was just beginning to get into its stride in the UK. It was almost a soundtrack to my book about male narcissism and homoeroticism in a mediated world, Male Impersonators (which I wrote 92-93). ‘I’m Too Sexy’ was probably still ear-worming in my head in 1994 when I predicted, after attending an exhibition organised by GQ magazine called ‘It’s a Man’s World’, that the future was metrosexual.

True, the model of the song (‘I’m a model, you know what I mean’) and their little tush they shake on the catwalk, who is ‘too sexy for Milan’, their car, their cat, their hat, their love, their shirt and even the song, is gender non-specific at a time when models were generally assumed to be women. And the official story about the lyrics is that my short-lived imaginary boyfriend Fred was dating an American female model when the song was written. But the song was performed by the Fairbrass brothers. In leather trousers (sorry, I can’t stop mentioning them). And in 1991 London’s idea of a Chippendale body that was too sexy for their shirts.

In the promo the boys sashay topless on the catwalk and down the street followed by female pappers – a reversal of Duran Duran’s early 80s ‘Girls On Film’ moment, and also of course the usual clichés about the ‘male gaze’ (which wasn’t entirely new then, but a quarter of a century on some still think they are the first to subvert).

‘I’m Too Sexy’ started out satirising the fashion industry, but ended up massaging the muscles of male exhibitionism and narcissism – a noble cause the boy band Take That were to eagerly further evangelise later in the 1990s with their leather harness rent boy aesthetic. But ‘I’m Too Sexy’ for all its apparent silliness also turned out to be strangely prophetic about our 21st Century shirtless selfie-obsessed culture and the e-catwalk of Instagram – before most people even had a mobile phone, let alone one that could take really cool, app-filtered photos of their favourite gym changing room mirror. We’re all now way too sexy for not just our shirts but real life.

Which reminds me. Although they were kind of proto-spornos, the Fairbrass brothers’ bodies, which were glad-handled and devoured by the great British public’s eyes at the time as if we’d only just come off the meat ration, don’t look terribly ‘shredded’ to our much more jaded and judgey 2017 eyes. After all those back issues of Men’s Health/Fitness, and the ever-increasing refinement of what is supposed to be a ‘sexy’ male body, they look somewhat ‘watery’ – to use a technical term that only a handful of keen bodybuilders knew back then but probably your granny knows now. Were they eating clean? Were they doing enough cardio? Planking? And where’s the ink, bro?

But then, as someone who used to spend too much time hanging around gyms in London then, ‘watery’ was very much the look. I channelled it myself.

Brighton, 1990 (Photo credit M Blighton)

And yes, I did work as a bouncer for a while – just one of the so many things Fred and I had to talk about.

This month also happens to be the 20th anniversary of the surprise 1997 hit UK movie The Full Monty, about laid-off working class men in the (largely former) steel-making city of Sheffield, South Yorkshire, who decide to put together a male strip troupe to entertain the women that they used to provide for.

It was a serious (possibly overly-didactic) ‘crisis of masculinity’ movie which used male stripping as a visual metaphor for changing gender roles, particularly in the wake of 80s de-industrialisation. But it was also about male ‘sexiness’ as a kind of salvation. The whole point is that most of the guys are not vain, or conventionally sexy, or much wanted at all – and in fact have been dumped on the scrapheap of the late 20th Century.

But in learning how to act as if they were ‘too sexy’ – and move their hips to Donna Summer’s ‘Hot Stuff’ – they have somehow re-skilled themselves for the brazen new world and century bearing down on them.

 

Danish Hairstyles

And British kinkstyles. (The safe word is ‘Simon Cowell’)

The Smiths is Dead – Long Live The Smiths!

“The Smiths are sooooooo depressing!” said every naff twat you knew in the Eighties – which was millions upon millions. But, annoying as it was, every time you heard that lazy dismissal it confirmed something deeply, almost sexually satisfying: that most people simply didn’t deserve to be Smiths fans.”

I wrote an essay for Rolling Stone celebrating the 30th anniversary of the demise of The Smiths, explaining why we’re really lucky that they split in 1987.

‘Love Island’ – ITV’s Primetime Spornotopia

‘Utopian fantasies have long gripped the human imagination. Famous, brainy – but sadly, not very buff – thinkers such as Plato (in the 4th Century BC), Thomas Moore (in the 16th AD) and HG Wells (in the 20th), sketched out what an ideal society might look like. But their philosophical visions were never realised.

It wasn’t until the early 21st Century that someone finally had the brilliant idea of ditching ethics for aesthetics, taking a sun-drenched island, covering it in decking, astroturf, pools, lip gloss, and musical, steel-reinforced double beds. And then adding cameras. Lots and lots of cameras, to catch all the love-hate action between the goodly, beauteous creatures that inhabit this brave new world. And who mostly speak with an Essex accent.’

My take on ITV2’s Summer hit reality show Love Island in today’s Daily Telegraph. Read the essay in full here.

 

Heavy-Handed Muller Light

As you will know all too well if you’re a regular visitor to this blog, I don’t have a problem with male ‘objectification‘. More please.

But there’s objectification and there’s objectification. Despite not being altogether innocent of sadistic tendencies, I’m not sure I’m also cool with treating hot ‘objects’ that gladden the eye as idiots who deserve a good slapping for making us perve over them.

OK, I might think it sometimes, but I probably wouldn’t say it out loud.

But food giant Muller have no such inhibitions. They’re acting out this sadistic ambivalence loud and proud in front of millions. In their latest TV ad a young, attractive, nearly naked pole vaulter with a smooth, edible body is scoped by the camera in extreme close-up while a young, pretty, also fit – but less naked and less ‘objectified’ – blond woman scoffs the smooth, rather less edible-looking product.

She is so excited by the ‘fat free’ claim for the product that she yells it out loud – ‘FAT FREE!’ – distracting the vaulter, who hits his buff chums in the head – and in the butt – with his BIG POLE.

It’s slightly reminiscent of the recent Bonmarche TV ad campaign, in which random men were ‘accidentally’ beaten up by sassy ‘ladies’ – to communicate ‘female empowerment’ and sell clothes.

Though in the Pole Vaulter ad, apart perhaps from the fact he glances at the yoghurt scoffer and raises a wolfish eyebrow, there doesn’t appear to be much of a pretense at some kind of dubious feminist statement. And of course, the smacked about men are objectified as well.

We could, if we were inclined to give a giant multinational the benefit of the doubt, perhaps treat this as a one-off by Muller (annual turnover 5BN Euros). But this is not the first time Muller have beaten up on (fit) men.

In fact, there’s a whole series of ads from the last few years flogging their (apparently female-targeted) food product, all using the same formula: gawp at men’s bodies to get the viewer’s attention, and then punish the male trollops for being so damn hot and making us drool over them.

HUR-HUR the dishy lifeguard I was drooling over fell on his arse!

 

LOL! the hot volleyballer I was eating up got hit in the head!

 

HAR! The tasty swimmer I was drinking in fell off the diving board!

 

OMG! The delish Greek god lost his big ball!

Now, I don’t think these ads are something to report Muller to the ASA over – though they would be in a flash if it was a bloke eating yoghurt and sexy women were getting get hit in the head. And I’m certainly not ‘offended’ by them – but I am intrigued how Muller and their ad agency clearly think this is such a cool and successful format that they keep repeating it.

Perhaps the fact that Muller is a Bavarian company needs to be factored in here. Bavaria has a strong tradition of ‘physical comedy‘. In other words, men falling over is fucking funny in the land of lederhosen and slapsticked thighs. And at least in this regard, Bavarian humour is globalised humour – it doesn’t need dialogue/dubbing.

But it’s the way that slapstick sexualisation is used here that is key. In most of these ads the (idealised) female consumer appears oblivious to these (even more idealised) males – she only has eyes for Muller Light. But the camera lingers over the ripped, lean, nearly-naked male at least as much as over the product – because the viewer is likely not quite so interested in gazing at fat free yoghurt as they are in feasting on mouthwatering man-flesh.

(Full disclosure: this is probably the only reason I noticed the ad.)

Of course, the close-ups on the woman eating the yoghurt are ‘sexualised’ too, in that orgasmic, Cadburys Flake fellatio advertising cliche. But this is mostly to portray the plastic pot of aerated dairy products as even ‘yummier’ than the ‘hunks’.

That’s, like, totally objectifying. But pretty much a standard trope in mainstream advertising these days, and rather more common on TV than the ‘real’ or traditional form of objectification, i.e. of women. Apart from anything else, it doesn’t provoke protests – and anyway, most TV viewers are female and most TV ads target female viewers.

Where the Muller ads go further is in debasing the male love-object. The hunks need to be punished for being so damn tempting. They obviously ‘love themselves’ – who wouldn’t, with those ‘fat free’ muscular bodies? So they need to be taken down a peg or two. Or just hit in the head.

After we’ve eaten them alive.

Male Lib is Nothing to Be Scared Of

(First appeared in Sweden’s SvD newspaper17/06/2017; published here in English with permission) 

The ‘crisis of masculinity’ is really a form of male emancipation argues Mark Simpson

Back in the late 20th Century, when I first began writing about masculinity – which seems an epoch away now – everyone knew what masculinity was. Or rather, what is wasn’t. And what masculinity wasn’t was very, very important. As a man, your balls depended on it.

Masculinity wasn’t sensual or sensitive. It wasn’t good with colours. It wasn’t talkative, except about football. It wasn’t passive. It wasn’t nurturing. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t feminine. And it certainly wasn’t gay. Masculinity was uniformity – difference was deviance.

Yes, I’m grossly stereotyping here. But that’s exactly what cultural expectations did to men.

And yes, masculinity could also be stoic, altruistic and heroic – but these ‘positive’ masculine qualities, which of course we’re all terribly nostalgic about in this selfie-obsessed century, were also based on repression. Being a man was much more about ‘no’ than ‘yes’. If you said ‘yes’ too much you might as well be a woman – or gay.

Because everyone knew what masculinity was – or wasn’t – hardly anyone talked about it. Apart from feminists and gays. Anyone who used the ‘m’ word was a bit suspect, frankly. And I was very suspect indeed – especially when I insisted that the future was metrosexual. Masculinity was supposed to be taciturn and self-evident not self-conscious and moisturised. No wonder I was laughed at.

More than a decade and a half into the nicely-hydrated 21st Century, everyone is now talking about masculinity. There is also a great deal of media chatter, from both ends of the political spectrum, about a so-called ‘crisis of masculinity’ – and a tendency to suggest that today’s generation of men are in a bad way compared to their forefathers, and also compared to women.

I couldn’t disagree more. There has never been a better, freer time to be a man. Which is precisely why we’re actually able to talk about the ‘m’ word. Yes many men, particularly older men who grew up with a model of masculinity that isn’t working for them any more, do of course face new and real problems in our rapidly-changing world – and sexism is, as the word suggests, a two-way street. But today’s ‘crisis of masculinity’ is basically the crisis of a man whose cell door has been left ajar.

In a sense, masculinity has always been ‘in crisis’ – a degree of hysteria was in-built because it was about living up to impossible, nostalgic expectations. Even the Ancient Greeks were worrying that men weren’t what they used to be: Homer’s Iliad is essentially a love letter to the ‘real’ men of the Bronze Age – heroes that made Iron Age men look like proper sissies.

Today’s men are probably less in ‘crisis’ than they have ever been before because those impossible, ‘heroic’ expectations have largely fallen away, and along with them the masculine prohibitions. Even that reactionary trend for lists of ‘man code’ ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ is just another sign of this. If you have to spell them out in a prissy list then they’re really not working any more. They were supposed to be completely internalised.

Everyone is asking ‘how to be a man’ now because no one really knows the answer. Which is actually great news! Rather than something to worry about. It means that everything is up for grabs. Men today are beginning to aspire to what women have been encouraged to aspire to for some time now – everything.

Repression, once the bedrock of masculinity, is definitely out of fashion. After all, we live in a hypervisual, social me-dia world where expression is the lingua franca. If you don’t express yourself you don’t exist. Today’s young men are mostly much more interested in being and feeling and sharing than in denying and hiding. They have tasted the forbidden fruits of sensuality, sensitivity, taking an interest in their own kids (if they have them), being good with colours, or having a prostate massage, and want more, please.

In fact, for the younger generation most of these masculine ‘transgressions’ are now pretty much taken for granted. Metrosexuality – the ‘soft’ and ‘passive’ male desire to be desired – is the new normal. Products, practises and pleasures previously associated – on pain of ridicule – only with gays and women have been more or less fully-appropriated by guys.

The most obvious, flagrant example of this is what has happened to the male body. No longer simply an instrumental thing labouring in darkness, extracting coal, building ships, fighting wars, making babies and putting out the rubbish, it has been radically and sensually redesigned to give and especially receive pleasure. It has become a pumped and waxed brightly-lit bouncy castle for the eyes.

Today’s eagerly self-objectifying young spornosexuals – or second generation, body-centred metrosexuals – toil in the gym in their own time to turn their bodies into hot commodities that are ‘shared’ and ‘liked’ in the online marketplace of Instagram and Facebook. Which is certainly needy, but also very generous of them. Young straight(ish) men today have taken the gay love of the male body and buffed it up – and want to share that love.

There is no crisis of masculinity – but rather, a long overdue crisis of the heterosexual division of labour, looking, and loving with which the Victorians stamped most of the 20th Century. Freed from the imperative to be ‘manly’ and (re)‘productive’, men have blossomed into something beautiful. A word that until very recently was absolutely not supposed to describe men.

Obviously the rise of feminism and gay rights have helped changed men’s attitudes. But perhaps the boot is on the other foot. Men in general are much less hard on gay men and on women now because they are no longer so hard on themselves. In a sense, women and particularly gays existed to project all men’s own forbidden ‘weaknesses’ into.

Nowadays, having been allowed to discover the pleasure they can bring, men want those ‘weaknesses’ back, thanks very much.

Sixth Form Boys Will Hug Boys

Someone simulating coitus behind you while you were potting a tricky black on the pool table was a popular part of the game. Grabbing one another’s lunchboxes as a form of greeting was another. Often this was accompanied with a loud John Inman/Dick Emery ‘OOOOH!!’ noise, which somehow proved that what you were doing was, in fact, totally and utterly straight.

Me in the Daily Telegraph contrasting my teenage school days with a new study showing how much ideas about masculinity have have changed amongst teenage boys today. And how masculinity isn’t in ‘crisis’, or ‘toxic’, or ‘hegemonic’, or ‘fragile’. It’s turned out to be very flexible and adaptable – and likes a nice hug.

Read the piece in full here.

Just For Men & Hipsters

Remember Just For Men? Or ‘JFM’ as it likes to call itself now. Well, it never went away – and it’s all over social media. Though perhaps it’s just my social media – because those pesky algorithms know how old and grey I am now.

Launched in the late 1980s by Combe Incorporated of White Plains NY (who also market Grecian 2000), Just For Men was a pioneering mainstream male vanity brand. If incredibly cheesy. They became a byword for camp in the sense of failed seriousness. And that quasi religious American style of a life transformed by a slightly shonky product.

Middle-aged men popped up on our TV screens concerned about their grey hair – but also concerned about dyeing it. About being inauthentic and feminine and fussy. What a dilemma!

Just For Men to the rescue! As the name suggested – nay, insisted – it wasn’t at all feminine. And it ‘naturally’ ‘shaded’ away grey hair. So you wouldn’t look Too Gay. Even better, your wife – and let’s be sure to emphasise here that every single man who used JFM had at least one – gave you permission!

‘I REALLY didn’t want my husband to colour his grey hair!’ exclaims the over-excited wife in the ad below from 1993. (Why? Because people might guess he’s an actor?)

Husband: ‘But then I discovered this, the hair colouring called Just for Men!’

And lo, with no fuss or faffing – in just five minutes! – the grey is ‘blended away’ in the privacy of your own family home for a ‘totally natural look’.

Cue hysterically happy heterosexual couple.

As a final heterosexual reassurance, we’re told ‘Eight out of ten women prefer the Just For Men look to the grey look.’

Things have changed in the Just For Men universe in the intervening decades, just as cultural attitudes to male beauty and ageing have changed. They’re now also targeting men in their late 20s and 30s concerned about the appearance of a few grey hairs. That I can’t even see.

Though of course they are still emphasising that JFM isn’t ‘hair dye’ – and isn’t ‘fussy’. Hence manly names like ‘Autostop’, and applicators designed to look like garage tools.

A big ‘growth’ area recently has been beards, of course. Though again, euphemisms are still in fashion: ‘fuller’ is manvertising for ‘dyed’.

But the wife has gone. She, along with the endearing naffness of the original ads, has been replaced by a spotless hipster kitchen – with really cool chemistry lab style coffee filters! ‘The Husband’ is as attractive and cool and singular as his fittings. If Patrick Bateman had a beard – and you just know that he would today, and that it would be the best beard ever – I guess it would be getting a bit grey now.

I also initially read PREP with a lowercase ‘r’. I guess Just For Men are no longer so anxious about appearing like they’re just for men, after all.

On the subject of beard fetishism, the quest for a ‘fuller’ beard seems to be something of a widely-shared obsession. You can even buy supplements like the one below ‘Man Up’ from ‘Beard Daddy’ that promise to make your pride and joy thicker. Buying it may or may not make your beard ‘fuller’ but it will definitely make you look like a bit of a prick: ‘Fear the daddy beard’.

Oh, I do. I really do.

 

Gymder – The Spornosexual Social App

Finally! Spornosexuals no longer have to run the risk of socialising with people who don’t work out, own no Lycra, and think that whey isolate sounds absolutely vomitous.

Now, thanks to a Munich-based company, spornos have their very own ‘social’ app that will allow them to find, locate and interact with other spornos in their vicinity. Which of course is likely to be someone sweating on the machine next to them in the gym they spend their lives in.

Read the rest of the article by yours truly on the new spornosexual ‘social’ app – denounced by Gizmodo and Mashable as ‘creepy’ and ‘terrifying’ – in today’s Daily Telegraph 

 

Cristiano Ronaldo The Electronic Sex Doll

This ad starring Cristiano Ronaldo flogging body exercise electrodes called SIXPAD – or SEXPAD? – has been airing UK television for some months now, but every time it comes on it still makes me gape – pardon my French.

It’s both funny and disturbing, and in truth I had avoided writing about it until now because I hoped it was just a bad dream (I usually glimpse it on late-night TV). But it isn’t going away.

The ad itself is incredibly camp. Or kitsch. Or cheesey. Or all of the above. Likewise the voiceover intoning ‘Bwody Rewolution!’ It’s almost as if the ad seems to know that its premise – you can get a body like Ronaldo’s and grow yourself a six-pack by spending £350 on a souped up vibrator and not moving a muscle – is hilarious and just decides to go with that.

But all this is eclipsed by the crazy campery of Ronaldo apparently playing the part of a Japanese sex robot – wearing only his own brand designer underwear. Or a male Seven of Nine from Star Trek Voyager. Though this is perhaps the uncanny valley where spornosexuality is taking us.

Unlike Seven of Nine however, Ronaldo is entirely passive. Animated only by the pulses of electricity from the black leathery things that seem to have attached themselves like a kinky Sci-Fi leech to his abs and bis. The pulsing of his muscles in time to the music is kinda creepy – but also kinda sexy. There is something sex toy cam-show about it all.

The (post) money-shot is the bit where he wipes his abs down and grins at the camera. Or maybe he’s just advertising his easy-maintenance qualities.

Some might describe Ronaldo’s performance as ‘wooden’ – or possibly ‘silicone’. But his acting is still better than David Beckham’s in ‘King Arthur’.

And some might cite this ad as more proof of Ronaldo’s egotism. But I would rather take it as evidence that he’s a good sport.

For the right fee.

UPDATE 28/05/2017

It seems SIXPAD read this blogpost and decided to actually go ahead and make a Ronaldo sex doll. Albeit one that looks like Pietro Boselli:

 

Driven Dotty

The Psychopathology of Everyday Driving

by Mark Simpson

Do you fantasise about roadside executions when someone fails to indicate?

Find yourself talking back sarcastically to motorway dot matrix signs talking down to you in HUGE LETTERS?

Abandon all hope for humanity whenever you visit the Hobbesian horror of your supermarket car park?

Hate cyclists when you’re driving – and motorists when you’re cycling?

Are you surprised and hurt when your wise advice and running commentary on your friend/partner’s driving isn’t gratefully received?

If so, then Mark Simpson’s Driven Dotty, an acerbic, confessional exploration of the psychopathology of everyday brum-bruming, the strange lusts and loathings that possess us when we get behind the wheel, is for you.

Or perhaps for someone you know, but wish you didn’t.

Driven Dotty is a last hurrah for the human-driven motor car. Before such silliness was abolished by automation and algorithms.

Driven Dotty, a collection of my blog-musings on the madness of motoring, is available on PDF for download for free on the link below – but a donation would be nice. Say a quid? *flashes headlights in acknowledgement, despite Highway Code*

 

Mark Simpson at Heartland Festival

Delighted to announce that I’ll be appearing at Denmark’s famous Heartland Festival, Egeskov Castle, 2-4 June. I’ll be discussing that hot topic of contemporary masculinity – and it’s need to be hot – along with the Danish designer Mads Norgaard, with the journalist Adrian Lloyd Hughes charing. More info here.

The festival promised in the video below looks charming. Not sure I’m flexible enough for the yoga, but the hot tubs look fun.

 

Pre-Activated Glutes – With Added Sleet

Not entirely sure how useful their fitness advice is – nor how you ‘pre-activate’ your glutes without using lube.

But full marks to the Kilted Coaches for doing their kilted/un-kilted vids in Scottish sleet. Next to what looks like a busy A-road.

 

Love Reaction (Give Me Satisfaction)

About a decade ago, I visited my Queen is Dead pen-pal/co-author Steve Zeeland when he was living in the largely-forgotten US Navy town of Bremerton, WA. Forgotten, that is, save by the self-described ‘lover of sailors’.

In the early 1980s, before he discovered his true, bell-bottomed love, Steve had been the frontman for industrial-electro band Zyklon (‘America’s answer to Throbbing Gristle, according to one critic). He still had several synths and sequencers which we fooled around with at his place in a 1940s apartment building, conjuring up aural ghosts from the 1980s.

For some reason Steve got it into his head that I should record a cover: ‘Mark, you have a lovely speaking voice – I’m sure your singing voice is even better.’

As the careers of several mediocre UK pop acts bears testament, Americans can be absurdly over-generous to their transatlantic cousins.

Despite a heavy cold and very English reluctance, I eventually complied – choosing to cover Divine/Bobby O’s 1983/4 hit ‘Love Reaction’. Which of course was a kind of re-gayed, Hi-Energy cover version of New Order’s de-gayed, low-energy ‘Blue Monday’. One the Mancs liked so much they reportedly played as an encore at one of their own gigs. Or perhaps they were just being ironic.

I’m decidedly no Divine, so I decided to take my cover of ‘Love Reaction’ in a more Bernard Sumner/Dame Edith Sitwell direction.

This – after tireless editing and remixing by Steve – was the result. I’d like to think of it as my own stab, two decades too late, at early 80s synthpop. (The doggie-style concrete ballet vid, dancing around whirring blades, was shot by Steve out of his apartment building window, after I returned to the UK.)

Mark Simpson Now on Patreon

I’m now on Patreon.

If you would like to help a stray writer keep on straying – in a world in which the traditional structures for the monetisation of words are, shall we say, in ‘flux’ – you can do so for as little as $1 a month.

At the moment there are no special ‘rewards’ offered. Except of course the warm, priceless knowledge that you are a good and generous person with truly excellent taste.

A Taste of the Forbidden – Coca Cola’s ‘Pool Boy’

Mark Simpson on the sweet fetishism of Coca Cola’s ‘delightfully slutty soda ad’

How much Coca Cola ads have changed since the famous singalong, smiley, folksy, innocence of the famous 1971 commercial! How much the world has changed. If it were remade today you’d be forgiven for thinking that song would have to be retitled: ‘I’d Like to Teach the World to Perve (In Perfect Harmony)’.

‘Pool Boy’, the latest ad in Coca Cola’s current ‘Taste the Feeling’ campaign, has prompted a veritable geyser of complimentary press for its ‘gay-friendliness’. But there’s quite a bit more going on than just ‘gay friendliness’ in this delightfully slutty soda commercial (and Coca Cola have anyway done ‘gay friendly’ before).

So I think it’s worth undressing it. Even more.

Central to understanding what’s going on here is grasping, firmly, yet caressingly, that this is a Diet Coke ad – albeit without Diet Coke (though it does feature, briefly, a Coca Cola Light – a name used for Diet Coke in many markets). All the elements of the classic Diet Coke ads are here. The Hunk toils in the heat, his muscular, ripped body glistening, all drunk in thirstily by women, the camera, and the viewers.

Diet Coke aimed until now at women (apparently only women dieted in the past), effectively identified itself in the Chippendale/Take That 1990s with the emergence of active, assertive, voyeuristic female sexuality and passive, exhibitionistic male sexuality. This was updated and ‘refreshed’ a few years ago with ‘The Gardner’. In it a group of young, slim, attractive women, sitting on a small hill in a park, perve over a young, fit, attractive man cutting the grass below them, offering him a sabotaged can of Diet Coke that ejaculates all over him when opened, ‘forcing’ him to take his shirt off.

Coke are reportedly now taking a ‘one brand’ approach to their products, and ‘Pool Boy’ is in effect a globally-targeted (hence no dialogue) ‘Diet Coke’ ad for Coca Cola products in general – in which the ante is even further ‘upped’. In ‘Pool Boy’ the porno promo aesthetic of ‘The Gardner’ is still very much present and erect, but the ‘Ladies’ voyeuring are a teen girl and her mother. And her teen brother.

The definition of ‘Diet Coke Ladies’ has now been widened to include The Gays. Who of course were always part of the unspoken audience anyway. After all, Diet Coke ads have long been using the tropes of gay porn to sell product to women, and the phenomenon of straight women and gay best friends sharing their appreciation of – and disappointment with – men is widely established now.

‘Pool Boy’ begins with the camera lingering over The Hunk, his shredded, smooth body shiny with sweat and Baby Oil, flashing out of his unbuttoned uniform – as he works his big pole in a suburban American swimming pool under the blazing American sun. He’s being admired out of the window by a pretty, skinny teen girl, who is eagerly distracted from her studies – her head propped up daintily on her fingertips, smiling broadly.

Then the camera pans upwards to show a pretty, skinny, similar-looking young man doing exactly the same thing from an upstairs window (the traditional lofty vantage point of Diet Coke Ladies), with the exact same rapt, pretty smile and the same head dainty head-propping. So we assume it’s her Gay Brother – though of course he could be bi, or trans.

Straight (another assumption) Sister glances at her No Sugar Coke, has a Eureka moment, and rushes off, practically spilling her homework onto the floor. The next shot is from inside the big American fridge in the big American kitchen, as she opens the door. Coke bottles are displayed across a whole shelf (as products are in adland). I make out, with some freeze-framing, two ‘No Sugar’, two ‘Original Taste’, one ‘Light’ and one ‘Life’. The entire Coca Cola range – though ‘Diet’ is here represented by ‘Light’, in this global ad.

Coke’s future is Diet – which is itself reportedly becoming ‘gender agnostic’ after all these years of being marketed as ‘one for the ladies’. Likewise, ‘No Sugar Coke’ which replaces poorly performing Coke Zero – or ‘Bloke Zero’ as it was dubbed after its launch in 2006 – seems now to also to be ‘gender agnostic’ after all that money spent trying to tell us it wasn’t for girls. Straight Sister in ‘Pool Boy’ is drinking No Sugar.

Meanwhile, back inside that big American fridge, straight Sister, a wild gleam in her eye, grabs an Original Taste Coke. But Gay Brother has obviously had the same idea – at that moment he appears behind her grabbing the same bottle. The aroused, intense looks on their faces makes clear that the slippery Coke bottle symbolises objectified, pool/fuck boy. Straight Sister finally wrenches it out of Gay Brother’s hand and rushes off.

A dejected Gay Brother then grabs the other bottle of Original Taste (going out of his way not to grab a bottle of No Sugar) and chases after his sister.

They race through the large, suburban house, tripping one another up, before finally arriving at the pool. Only to find The Mother already offering The Hunk a plate of sandwiches, while he glugs a bottle of Original Taste Coca Cola (which magically refills when cutting to The Mother shrugging), his Adam’s apple moving suggestively in his muscular, shiny throat above his muscular shiny chest as he poses rather uncomfortably, to show off his body to best effect.

Mother gives a shrug to her kids, who are staring at her in shock and defeat. This isn’t her first time at the rodeo.

It’s a funny, well-made and provocative ad that is memorable in an age where everything is instantly forgettable, that succeeds in making a beleaguered brand – sales in the US are falling, and are stagnant in the UK – seem sexy and now.

But I was left with a burning question. Why is everyone – sister, brother, mother – so sure the pool boy drinks Original Taste Coke? And don’t think to ask him, especially since they have a fridge full of different varieties?

Perhaps it’s because The Hunk is a Real Man  doing Real Work so he must drink Original Full Fat Sugary Coke. Even when the body being admired belongs to a raging spornosexual and is clearly the result of religious gym attendance and meticulously planned diet programs.

Likewise, although the desires of the women and the gay brother are emphasised, the wants and tastes of The Hunk are irrelevant. He’s an object, a fetish. He’ll swallow whatever he’s given, no gag reflex.

The house, its furnishings and the cast’s clothes are set in an imaginary, ironic 1950s-70s – Coke’s heyday. Long before the demonization of sugar as sinful and Satanic. The only modern things allowed are the pool cleaning machine, the fridge and the loose sexual mores (and No Sugar Coke). Even the soundtrack is a sweetly romantic Italian song from the 1950s. Most retro of all: everyone is white. Even the pool boy.

Fizzy, sugary drinks have lost their soda fountain innocence. They have increasingly been blamed for a host of health problems, including most particularly the worsening obesity epidemic. An ugly problem that of course doesn’t exist anywhere in this ad. Everyone here is slim and sugar-free.

In part because of moves to tax sugary drinks to discourage their consumption, Coke Zero has recently been rebranded as No Sugar Coke – to emphasise that it doesn’t have any of the naughty stuff (lots of people didn’t realise the ‘Zero’ stood for calories). With a reformulated taste that is supposedly ‘even more like the original!’

Which is the tagline to the simulacrum of 21st Century life. Along with ‘taste the feeling’.

Given all this, perhaps the real porn in this ad isn’t where it appears to be after all. Perhaps the real reason The Mother and The Straight Sister and The Gay Brother, who are all slim but leisured and middle class, scramble to offer the sweating, pumped proletarian an Original Taste Coke isn’t because they want to play with his pole. It’s much more depraved than that.

They want to watch someone actually drink a proper sugary coke and enjoy its wicked sinfulness vicariously and voyeuristically – and calorie-free. Sugar porn.

Not to mention removing the sweet temptation from their fridge before they glug it down themselves.

 

I Don’t Bite – Unless You Ask Me To!

England rugby captain Dylan Hartley was spotted bonding on the touchline with Jonathan Joseph at the England v Scotland match last weekend, Hartley playfully teasing Joseph’s pretty mouth. They’re both highly edible. Even more so sandwiched together.

The touching scene put me in mind of this documentary some years ago about the arresting (rom)antics of a Lancashire amateur rugby club and their pride in their well-endowed captain.

And also the time I attended the Army & Navy rugby match at Twickenham and saw more flirtatious male affection and tenderness on the terraces in five minutes than I did in three hours at an international gay rugby tournament.

Though admittedly I may not have been looking as hard.

h/t Ruckus Rugby & Rupert S

The Ultimate Male Consumer

Male grooming seems to be growing a pair. I recently wrote about a rather ballsy TV ad for Below the Belt antiperspirant gel – for testicles.

Here’s another, viral ad for the same brand, the butch Scottish voiceover perhaps playing naughtily on Gerard Butler’s hairy grooming forays.

It’s exciting to see that at last, male grooming is getting up close and personal. And also that now possibly the most important but hitherto most overlooked male consumer of all is stepping out of the shadows and finally being given a voice.

(Probably NSFW)

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