By Mark Simpson
(The Guardian, 8 Aug 2007)
The Phalliban, America ‘s killjoy campaign against the male body’s, er, maleness, strikes yet again.
The 2008 Fire Department of New York Calendar of Heroes, the eleventh in series of snaps of buffed young firemen stripped to the waist which produces mass hysteria on the streets of NY on its release every year – along with large amounts of cash for the FDNY – will be the last.
Why? Because it might make the good people of New York think of firemen’s hoses.
Calendar cover-boy 22-year-old Michael Biserta (above) has caused a scandal because he briefly got his semi-erect hose out in the video Boys Gone Wild in 2004 – some time before he even joined the FDNY.
For the sake of research, you understand, I’ve viewed the clip (it’s because in the Net Age images never go away that this scandal has happened). And let me just say that Biserta’s fire-fighting equipment will have no trouble extinguishing the tallest flames.
Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta is not impressed, however, and has ordered the scrapping of future calendars. Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes, himself a former fire commissioner (and, judging by his penchant for double entendre, also an avid fan of Are You Being Served?) agrees, telling the press straight facedly: ‘You can’t allow anything that tarnishes the reputation of the people on the job.’
Not being American, I’m not sure how the fact that a fireman flashed his large axe to consenting adults before he became a fireman tarnishes the reputation of the people ‘on the job’, or anywhere else.
Unless you’re just jealous. Or penises frighten you. (Admittedly, Biserta’s is slightly scary.)
And, Captain Peacock, isn’t a spot of polishing, French or otherwise, the usual way to deal with tarnishing?
I could understand if the FDNY was worried that Biserta’s hot body might be starting more fires than it puts out. Instead it seems like just another example of the puritanical American Phalliban trying to turn back the commodification cock that American consumerism started ticking. In the UK its difficult to imagine that a topless fireman calendar would be banned because one of them had once got their big pump out on video. Instead, they’d probably be given their own TV show. Over in France, the Dieux du Stade calendars featuring starkers professional rugby players covered in baby oil with their balls out sells like hot croissants – and no scandal erupts.
The US clearly has a different attitude towards the male member, even if many people are convinced it’s currently led by one. Recently the city council in Kaiser, Oregon was forced to promise to remove some traffic bollards because people complained they looked ‘too much like penises’. In other words, bollards. During the filming of last year’s Superman Returns the biggest production preoccupation was how to keep Superman’s Spandexed bulge from… bulging.
This year the posters for a film called Pride about Philadelphia ‘s first black swim team were nearly banned by the hawkeyed American Motion Picture Association because they were convinced that the package of one of the black swimmers in the background had been ‘digitally enhanced’. (It hadn’t, and it wasn’t even particularly ‘proud’.)
I realise that post 9-11 the FDNY has been sanctified. That they are now all ‘heroes’. But nowadays amateur porn stars can be heroes too. Especially if they’re hung as heroically as Biserta.
The real problem here is that Biserta’s showing-off before he became a fire-fighter was a little too explicit. The fact the cover-boy had got his actual cock out instead of his symbolism outed the pornolizing of the male body going on in the culture that the FDNY calendars themselves are part of. Which freaked out the top brass who probably never liked those faggy calendars anyway.
Many of the glossy images in the calendars, like the one on the cover, are deliberately phallic and fetishistic. Look at the way a ‘pumped’ and ‘ripped’ Biserta is holding his big shiny red fire axe with both hands, over that huge butch metal clip apparently keeping his utility belt and flies together.
Even the Statue of Liberty, looking on, has erected her arm – which has, understandably, burst into flames. Unlike the old grey men who run the FDNY, she’s an American who knows how to salute a prodigiously well-equipped young fireman when she sees one.
You can see that incendiary Biserta clip on Xtube here.
This essay is collected in Metrosexy: a 21st Century Self-Love Story