I’m a little late to the party, but this sketch tells you everything you need to know about America’s attitude to tea – it’s luke-warm quaint effeminacy, which is never ever brewed in a pot. And also, more particularly, America’s Hummersexual advertising to men.
“Join the Navy and feel a man!” exhorted the famous Royal Navy recruiting slogan from the early 1980s.
Or at least, the famous RN recruiting slogan according to us Air Cadets when we were trying to score banter points over the Navy Cadets at my school. Even though I thought the slogan probably made up, it still made me wonder if I’d chosen the wrong service to spend Tuesday afternoons parading around with.
Besides, historic naval recruitment posters promised so much….
And then there was this famous US Navy recruiting ad from 1979:
I’m only half joking. The US Navy provided the Village People with a frigate and some decorative seamen for the ‘In the Navy’ video in exchange for the rights to use it for recruiting purposes. Reportedly the admirals changed their mind when they saw the finished product. Nevertheless, the song and promo continued to be a toe-tapping recruiting sergeant for them in the charts.
Come on and join your fellow man In the navy.
Part of the appeal or the marketing of male military service, in addition to uniforms and camaraderie – and regular scoff and dough – has long been related to the idea of a kind of male finishing school. Or, to use the more traditional terminology: a rite of passage. About selling the prospective recruit a more desirable image of themselves in the future. Their dream version of themselves.
Where can you find pleasure, search the world for treasure Learn science technology?
Despite currently being smaller than at any point in its history, the Royal Navy has been airing on UK television some extremely well-made and cleverly manipulative – well, they brought a tear to my eye – recruitment ads titled ‘Made in the Royal Navy’. They promise today’s young chaps that the Navy will make men of them. Better men. Fitter men. More popular men. More successful men. Celebrities.
Joining the RN in the 21st Century is still sold as a way to make a young lad feel manly, and become part of a (patriotic) ‘team’. But this is a century of reality TV and social media, so joining the RN has apparently become less about serving, than a kind of full makeover that turns you into a star.
The ads profile an actual serving (photogenic) RN sailor, and his ‘story’ – going back to his gritty, no prospects hometown, X-Factor backstory style, showing how joining the Navy rescued him and helped him realise his true potential – or ‘his dream’ as reality TV would put it. And become the subject of an affecting TV mini-movie. The RN as your very own selfie-stick or Facebook memories timeline. (Contrast with this 1979 RN ad for submariners in which none of the serving seamen are allowed a face and everything is about ‘the team’.)
Though part of the task modern RN recruiting ads have, ironically, is to persuade today’s young men to apply for a job that will severely restrict their access to uploading selfies on social media for months on end.
As ‘Michael’ tells us (with some help from the ad agency copywriters and, I assume, an actor voice over) in the latest ad:
“Helping to turn him [shot of sullen young tearaway in hoodie] into – HIM [proud young rating in uniform on deck, sun glinting off his chin] … This is the new me… introducing the true me.”
The ad finishes with the line: “I was born in Blyth, but made in the Royal Navy.”
As with X-Factor, authentic, gritty-but-charming North Eastern accents are popular – and it’s certainly true that a lot of lads from the NE do join the the Forces as a way of escaping some of the highest male unemployment levels in the country – or under-employment in a pub.
If you like adventure, don’t you wait to enter The recruiting office fast
Though in the case of ‘Ben’s Story’ (below), a similar tale to ‘Michael’ – except that joining the Navy also gave him fashionable face fur (something RN regulations permit, damn them) – the advertising agency gave a Durham accent to a lad from Carlisle. This caused understandable outrage in Carlisle, which is in the north, but west of the Pennines and endowed with a completely different accent. Apparently the bearded matelot (whose real name is Gareth) gets asked all the time why it isn’t his voice in the ad, he explained to his local paper:
“Basically, we had a short amount of time to film, about three weeks. And I don’t think they like our accent.
“I knew it was going to happen – while I was filming they were away doing the voice-over.
“I know for a fact there were a couple of lads from Carlisle who auditioned for it.
“They changed it from a lad from Chester to a lad from Durham at the last minute.”
You just know the (London based) ad agency decided that the bit between Manchester and Scotland should all be Big Brother Voiceover Land so as not to confuse the punters.
But apart from the wrong accent – and a different name – most of the biographic details seem to have been accurate. And I don’t doubt, by the way, that the RN is a great way for some young chaps to ‘better’ themselves, learn a trade, make some mates, see some sights, get drunk and into some epic scrapes.
The end-line for ‘Ben’s Story’ is: “Sure, I was born in Carlisle. But I was made in the Royal Navy.” The “sure” here sounds a misstep – or giveaway – on the part of the copywriters: it suggests that being from Carlisle isn’t something to be proud of. This formulation seems to have been dropped for the more recent ‘Michael’s Story’, which just ends with him saying: “I was born in Blyth, but made in the Royal Navy”.
In ‘Gareth’s Story’ (below) it seems the matelot has been allowed to voice the ad himself in his fine Welsh accent – the script is also more naturalistic. Though the same, rather endearingly, can’t quite be said for some of Gareth’s movements in front of the camera: being natural, as Oscar Wilde said, is such a very difficult pose to keep up.
But obviously he really can move when he’s not thinking about the camera or being told by the director to walk slowly so as to stay in shot – seeing as he made the RN rugby team. (Though his opposite squaddie number as he enters Twickers stadium for the Army & Navy rugby match [0:48] made this viewer want to join the Army.)
Another, more recent ad in the series stars ‘Modou’, a black lad who is also given the mini-movie treatment about bettering himself – ‘Born in Blackpool. Made in the Royal Navy’. Though he isn’t given much of a biography or even copy-written lines and an inaccurate accent – instead we hear the voice of a posh, old-fashioned, very charismatic chap, talking about self-improvement:
“It all comes down to this basic question: can I improve me?”
It’s actually surprisingly effective – ‘Modou’s Story’ is perhaps the most emotionally powerful of all the RN ads. It’s also the most homoerotic.
Although all the ads sell the Navy as a kind of floating Crossfit, where you will harden your body and get fighting fit as one of its many attractions, ‘Modou’s story’ emphasises this much more. Handsome, muscular Modou appears shirtless for much of the 1.20 min ad – the camera zooming in for an extreme close-up on his sweat-drenched back muscles rippling as he does pull-ups (0:54), even joining him in the shower.
As the posh chap on the soundtrack tells us:
“There is this urgent feeling that I must improve me. Now you may say I need some help in this process…”
At this very moment the very inspiring RN Physical Training Instructor’s encouraging hand touches Modou’s exhausted naked shoulder in the romantically-lit gym (0:37).
Modou’s story is one of mind and body – but mostly body:
‘Apprentice. Qualifications. Personal bests. Modou got them all.’
The posh bloke speaking in spellbinding fashion is the late Alan Watts, an English philosopher and prominent Buddhist in California in the 1950s-60s. Yes, that’s right: a Buddhist is being used to sell the Royal Navy as a career option – and a free personal trainer. (You can hear Watts’ fascinating and frequently hilarious original lecture ‘Improving Yourself’ used for this ad here: though be warned, there’s not a lot of diet or dead lift technique advice.)
Women have been allowed to serve on board RN ships since 1993 (and submarines since 2013) – much to the distaste of some Navy wives. But male RN personnel still vastly outnumber women by a factor of nearly 10 to 1 and the RN is clearly targeting young male recruits much more than women.
There are though recruiting ads in this series specifically aimed at women – and perhaps at advertising the RN’s modern credentials. ‘Tammi’s Story’ (‘Born in Croydon. Made in the Royal Navy’) doesn’t go for a biographical storyline but instead sells her desk job of Writer (the RN title for HR) as almost an amalgamation of the jobs done in the other ads – “While the crew are looking after the ship, I’m looking after them”. A kind of action-packed maternalism.
Finally, as a reminder of what joining the Navy used to actually entail and perhaps where the ‘Join the Navy and feel a man’ jibe came from, here’s a documentary about the actual as opposed to advertised living conditions on board a 1950s USN destroyer: “70 men and their personal effects and miscellaneous ship’s equipment are accommodated in 800 square feet – 11.5 square foot per man”.
They certainly don’t make men like that any more.
In the navy Yes, you can sail the seven seas In the navy Yes, you can put your mind at ease In the navy Come on people, fall an' make a stand In the navy, in the navy Can't you see we need a hand
Wannabe starting something (after spending night in MP barracks, Camp Pendleton USMC)
Even at the end of the 20th Century letters were of course already a quaintly dated if not actually dead format. Email had seen to that. Now, two decades later, after the two-horsed apocalypse of social MEdia and smartphones, email is no longer immediately gratifying enough and anyway involves far too much commitment. While snail mail seems like an artefact of a vanished civilisation. Which it is.
You can currently download these old fossils for $2.99/£2.99.
“Something of a masterpiece…. One of the most congenial, winning, intelligent and original ‘gay’ publications for many years.”
“The best gay book of the year.”
Time Out New York
“Simpson and Zeeland resurrect the lost art of letter writing with this engaging collection of correspondence….Compelling, moving and frequently hilarious. 5/5 Stars”
“So appealing… highbrow porn combined with a thoughtful critique of masculinity and the urban gay lifestyle, scattered with witty epigrams that are pure entertainment.”
“Marvellous, witty, dry… Quite why a pair of cynical armchair philosophers writing about military men’s bottoms and cats should make an enjoyable read is a mystery, but it does.”
“Clear and sharp… the wit of a broken champagne bottle pressed against your neck.”
“Some books rock our world, so pull up a barcalounger, turn on that good reading light – since it turned up in our postbox The Queen is Dead. Zeeland and Simpson’s correspondence is maximum juicy.”
San Francisco Bay Area Reporter
“Profound and hilarious… Simpson and Zeeland analyse love, loss, cats, killers, and the joys of military trade through a three-year long, transatlantic correspondence… Simpson playing the detached, amused Voltaire to Zeeland’s Rousseau…. A wealth of insight, wit and warmth”
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.
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