Interviewed by Spyros Chatzigiannis in the Greek national newspaper Eleftherotypia (18 Nov, 2007, Edited)
SC: What inspired you to come up with the term ‘metrosexual’ back in 1994? Was it the outcome of an obsession? You have said in the past that your writing is based on your own obsessions…
MS: Well, I’d obviously spent far too long thinking about men and masculinity. In fact, back then, anyone who used the word ‘masculinity’ was a little bit suspect….
I was attending an exhibition in London organized by GQ magazine called, with no irony, ‘It’s a Man’s World’, for the Independent newspaper, and it dawned on me that I’d seen the future. And it was moisturized.
Back then no one believed me. It wasn’t until I returned to the subject in 2002 for the then very popular American online magazine Salon and outed Mr Beckham – someone even I couldn’t have made up – as flamingly metrosexual that the word caught on. Alarmingly.
Is a man who adopts the way of life of a metrosexual more acceptable to women and can that improve his relationships with them? Or is it simply a mask behind which the 21st century man/hunter offers a camouflaged ‘bait’ to the woman/prey in an ongoing gender battle, as an evolutionary psychologist might argue?
I’ve always thought it would be fun to put a bunch of evolutionary psychologists in the Big Brother House, without any food, and see who gets eaten or raped first.
Metrosexuality isn’t about women – it’s about men. Of course, most metrosexuals are rather interested in women, but they’re even more interested in themselves. That’s the nature of metrosexuality. It’s a logical development of individualism and an end to the sexual division of labour in looks. The hallmark of the metrosexual is a certain independence from women: he actually buys his own clothes, can operate a washing machine and cooker and doesn’t regard beauty and sensuality as something that women embody on his brutish behalf. In other words: the metrosexual doesn’t see life as a Beauty and the Beast cartoon.
In a post-feminist world, where women no longer depend on men for their daily bread and protection, men can no longer depend on women to be women for them – so men are being women for themselves, in much the same way that women are being men for themselves.
Do you think that the term ‘metrosexual’ reflects/promotes the changing attitude of Western society towards a more complex view of masculinity or is it simply another useful tool for the market research companies to create another category of consumers with special needs?
It’s both – because it’s impossible nowadays to separate ‘Western society’ from consumption. In a sense, the metrosexual is the product of marketing: it’s intolerable to our post-industrial economy that half of the population should be impervious to advertising and not do its duty at the shopping mall. So men are dutifully buying glossy mags full of ads, religiously visiting the gym and going shopping for pleasure.
But, on the other hand, the metrosexual is also a response to marketing and the product of hitherto pent-up male wants, such as vanity and sensuality – and getting away from the buttoned-up, bottled-up male that is terrified of pastel colours and headed for a heart-attack at forty-five.
If the modern man identifies himself as metrosexual do you think he has less stereotypes both about his own identity and that of gay men? What is his attitude towards homosexuality?
If he identifies as metrosexual then he’s already dissenting from the male convention that any kind of difference is deviance – and that deviance is the worst possible thing that could befall a man. Besides, he’s like to get flak from both straight and gay people for messing with their gaydar.
The metrosexual is generally less paranoid about homosexuality than the retrosexual since his identity is based less on his sexual preference – and the disavowal of anything ‘faggy’ – than on his consumption patterns, tastes and lifestyles, pectorals. Which are often rather ‘faggy’.
He’s also inviting the gaze in a way that many, particularly Americans, frequently find disturbing – because this kind of male flirtatiousness/tartiness can’t be straightened or gendered out. To homophobes, the metrosexual is worse than a fag. He’s letting the anti-fag side down. He’s the prostate gland of heterosexuality: Satanically putting unmanly thoughts in the straight male body politic instead of projecting them onto the unmanly/unnatural gays out there.
Is being a pop star the ultimate fantasy/dream of a metrosexual man? In the past you have said that ‘it was a bloody pop star that encouraged me to make words my profession’. Did the term ‘metrosexual’ make you a pop star of words?
Metrosexuality is the end for pop and rock music. Stars like Little Richard and Elvis and Brando achieved such fame and devotion in part because they were so narcissistic and mascaraed at a time, the homebuilding 1950s, when men were definitely not supposed to be. In fact, abandoning your narcissism is one of the first steps traditionally required of little boys to become big boys and then small men.
Until recently, young male fans projected their own abandoned narcissism onto the radiant rock or film star who so clearly had not abandoned his and lived vicariously through him.
Nowadays though, it’s no longer necessary to worship from afar. Boys no longer necessarily give up their narcissism, or their auto-eroticism. And you don’t need a rock and roll career or budget to become a local celeb down the gym, at the disco or in the workplace. Or get yourself on Big Brother….
Those pop stars that are left are not actually pop stars at all: they’re footballers, like David Beckham.
Can he be popular in Arab/Islamic and non-Western countries? (Judging by David Beckham’s global success the answer is yes!)
I’ve been interviewed about metrosexuality by newspapers and TV stations in Brazil and India and asked to speak at a birthday bash in Beijing for China’s FHM magazine, so I think it’s clear that it’s not just a Western phenomenon, especially in countries that are rapidly urbanising. Even Cuba’s youth newspaper recently ran a big feature about Cuba’s macho men turning metrosexual – which, frankly, is no mean achievement when you’re being blockaded by the US and you’re living in a Marxist-Leninist country where queuing for essentials, let alone moisturiser, is so common.
As for metrosexual muslims: well, Pakistan is apparently undergoing what their media has termed a ‘metrosexual revolution’ at this very moment, despite the disapproval of the hairy mullahs.
Would a metrosexual be respected and accepted in the ancient Athens of Plato and Socrates?
I’ve been told that metrosexual is a Greek/Latin hybrid that means ‘motherfucker’, so I doubt he’d have been popular. Except maybe in Thebes.
The Greeks didn’t recognize the concept of ‘sexuality’, the notion of a psychology and aesthetic determined by your sexual preference, but they did recognize the universal attractiveness of the fit, youthful male. So the metrosexual would have been unnecessary.
Mind you, they probably would have been scandalized by the way that our metrosexual times seem to make boys of all men. Have you noticed how every male celeb now has exactly the same cute little toy beard? And that they all look, whatever their actual age, precisely 17?
Is your metrosexual vision challenged by the various ‘new’ concepts that have come along, such as the ‘heteropolitan’, the ‘ubersexual’ or the ‘ecosexual’? Or are they offsprings of your original idea?
Poor relations, more like.
Now that men have been commodified by metrosexuality it’s inevitable that there should be ‘new’ models out more often than vacuum cleaners. Practically every month we’re told the metrosexual is ‘so over’ and now replaced by something remarkably similar – but somehow completely different and, of course, so much better….
Even the so-called ‘metrosexual backlash’ and ‘menaissance’ which came and went a year or so ago, mostly in the god-fearing, fag-hating US, and which supposedly saw the re-ascendancy of the retrosexual, is just more metrosexuality, but with added mendacity. When I first used the term ‘retrosexual’ back in 2003, apparently coining the usage, I merely meant men who were not metrosexual, so-called ‘regular guys’ – now though a retrosexual seems to mean just a metrosexual with shaped chest hair.
Masculinity has been so commodified that even ‘regular guys’ are now just another fad.
A critic in Britain once called you ‘the skinhead Oscar Wilde’. Do you agree with the comment and was Oscar the metrosexual bloke of his time?
I think he probably meant ‘balding homosexual’.
Wilde the married-with-kids aesthete and dandy about town whose greatest work was about mediated male narcissism – ‘The Portrait of Dorian Gray’ – would probably have preferred ‘metrosexual’ to the, then newly-coined, label he got lumbered with: homosexual. In fact, after his downfall, Wilde was seen as The Homosexual. The original. The Homo Adam.
It was Wilde, after all, who said that ‘To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.’ Which is practically the motto of metrosexuality.
You came up with the term ‘sporno’, which The New York Times named as one of the best ‘Ideas of the Year’. Are the worlds of sports, porn and homosexuality so closely allied together nowadays?
Sporno, where advertising and sports meet and produce a spectacular money shot, is really an intensification of metrosexuality.
Metrosexuality is so common these days that it’s not in itself arresting as an advertising image – we’re used to young semi-naked men inviting our gaze on the side of buses – or down the pub.
Sporno is a hardcore metrosexuality that promises you a gang bang in the showers after the match with your favourite humpy athlete.
Is the advertising industry just illuminating more brightly what was always there, the homoerotic subtext of male sportsmen/ sport fans?
Yes, sports has probably always had a male-male erotic dimension – the Olympics were conducted in the nude for the benefit of the male spectators as well as the, er, freedom of the sportsmen.
Gymnasiums – another wonderful Greek gift to the world – were one stop shops where Ancient Greek males could work out and pick up, or perhaps, if they were Plato, just be very inspired.
Sports today is a very peculiar place: a world where open homosexuality is still largely taboo, and often reviled, but also world in which homoerotics and male narcissism is being nakedly exploited by consumerism. A world in which the barely-clad bodies and tightly-clad packets of male sportsmen like Becks, and Ljunberg, are being pimped out globally by advertising: making them fabulously wealthy, and even more successful sportsmen.
And leaving non metro sports fans even more confused.