Middle class metrophobia keeps rearing its ugly, anxious head and leaving a really bad smell in the air. Maybe it’s because some middle class men are happier pretending that they don’t have bodies, just giant self-propelled brains (that are always right), but men’s new-found desire to be desired and the attendant rampant sexualisation of the male body in the media seems to literally scare the shit out of a few of them.
‘The world’s leading liberal voice’ this week ran two curiously metrophobic articles in the space of a few days (while this older blogpost features numerous other examples). Today’s Guardian carries a piece by an Olly Richards pegged to the new stripper movie Magic Mike, ostensibly about male nudity in the movies.
At the top of the piece he announces:
‘We all know the nude male form is essentially ridiculous, built only for floppy comedy.’
Speak for yourself, Mary.
This assertion of the writer’s contempt for the male body – and de facto dismissal of anyone who thinks differently – is the only thing the article has to say. An article on male nudity in the movies has nothing to say about male nudity in movies – because if it did then the author would have to be interested in the male body.
But Olly is a paragon of self-awareness and insight compared to a bizarre rant earlier in the week by the Guardian’s star columnist and TV celeb Charlton Brooker, which also seemed to take it as a given that the sexualised male body is ‘essentially ridiculous’.
Charlton’s column pretends it’s about the hatefulness of reality stars – and let’s face it, they are fair, if embarrassingly easy game. But it’s telling that he has nothing specific to say about the female reality stars in his piece. At all. None of them are mentioned, no female pronouns are used. It’s all about judging the men. For how they look. For plucking their eyebrows. For using product. Fake tan and make-up. For working out. For ‘sexualising’ their bodies.
‘But let’s not judge them by the content of their character. Let’s judge them by the colour of their skin, which is terracotta. Mostly. Apart from the pale ones. The way they look is the second unbelievable thing about them. Not all of them; most of them are sort of normal. But one or two of the men look … well they don’t look real, put it that way. They’ve got sculpted physiques, sculpted hairdos, sculpted eyebrows, and as far as I can tell, no skin pores.’
They’re not real men or normal because Charlton says so. Here’s a picture of him looking normal and real (from his Wiki page).
Charlton (41) saves his most passionate, most fundamental attentions for a contestant called James (21), whom he describes as resembling a ‘vinyl sex doll’. Born and bred in the Home Counties, living and working in London’s medialand, Brooker is also an expert on Newcastle:
‘I’ve been to Newcastle. There’s no way James is from Newcastle. He’s from space. Deep space. My guess would be he’s actually some form of sentient synthetic meat that crudely disguises itself as other life forms, but only to an accuracy of about 23%. He’s awesomely creepy to behold. Seriously, if James popped up on the comms screen of the USS Enterprise, Captain Kirk would shit his own guts out. And that’s the sort of behaviour that can undermine a leader’s authority.’
Yes, I realise it’s faintly ridiculous taking this kind of ‘comic prose’ seriously. And part of the irony here anyway is that Brooker is ridiculing reality TV for its vulgarity while his job description at the Guardian is to be as vulgar as possible about vulgar TV shows and use words like ‘shit’ and ‘cock’ a lot. Pour epater les bourgeois – at the same time as appealing to their snobbery.
But in the wider context of the Guardian’s middle class problem with metrosexuality and the male body, and Brooker’s role in many people’s eyes as right-on liberal superhero, I think it’s worthwhile examining what’s going on here.
James of course doesn’t look like any of the things Brooker says he looks like. Here’s a picture of James (who lives with his mam and who according to the Geordie Shore website ‘isn’t ashamed to call himself a mummy’s boy’).
Now, I know this is very subjective. But I would much rather look at James in HD widescreen in my living room than Charlton. Especially if it comes down to shagging, as Geordie Shore often does. And before you accuse me of being bitchy: which TV celeb was it again who said earlier that we should judge only appearances?
What’s more, James is not at all unusual, let alone ‘non-existent’ as Charlton would like to believe. There are loads of lads like James in the North East. And I know this because I didn’t visit for a book-signing once but because I live here. There are several down my gym. One of them, a really nice, chatty bloke who’s always got a canny smile, was shortlisted for this year’s Big Brother. It could easily have been him that Charlton was railing against for plucking his eyebrows and having plunging necklines. So forgive me if metrodaddy feels a bit maternal.
As with the blue-collar guys turned strippers in Magic Mike, in the post-industrial North East working class lads happily work on their own bodies instead of someone else’s property and, unlike London hipsters, aren’t afraid to flaunt it and make themselves pretty. Especially since they don’t generally have many other routes to celebrity – not being likely to land themselves a place on a C4 panel show being snarky and painstakingly scruffy in a dowdy corduroy jacket.
So why the passionate rage against James for being a very common (these days) mixture of masculine and feminine beauty tricks? Why the desperate need to pretend he doesn’t exist? That he shouldn’t exist? That he should be banished to outer space?
There can only be one answer. The sad, tawdry truth is that Charlton can’t trust himself in a world with James in it. He has to tell himself these wicked lies about James because otherwise he might find himself being turned on by him.
James the ‘sex doll’ is the one, by the way, who famously has a cock the size of a Sky remote.
Here’s a simple test – one that you can apply to almost any instance of liberal metrophobia, however ‘jokey’ or ‘ironic’ it presents itself as being. Would someone like Brooker still rage on and on about James’s ‘unmanly’, ‘creepy’, ‘alien’ appearance and how worthy he was of hatred because of it, if James was gay instead of straight? Would he still describe a gay James as ‘synthetic meat’ and a ‘polished turd’? Or someone who would make Captain Kirk ‘shit his guts out’? (The anxious anality here is all Charlton’s – definitely not Captain Kirk’s, who wasn’t afraid to shape his eyebrows and sideburns, or wear a corset.)
Wouldn’t Charlton the liberal superhero in fact be the first to loudly ridicule himself for his own homophobia and repressed homosexuality? And, drunk once again on his own self-righteousness, call himself a farty old reactionary cock?
In fairness though, it can’t be denied that one of the truly awful things about metrosexuality is the way it gives uneducated, shamelessly tarty young men with regional accents a way of getting gigs on TV shows with more viewers than yours.
Rovex: Brooker’s wife Huq was presenting ITV reality show The Xtra Factor in 2010, the year she married him. With shaped eyebrows and plenty of slap. But I take your point. She’s not VULGAR.
Charlies wife isnt overtly plastic looking and is actually an ex Blue Peter presenter. Mark your bias is showing in a vain attempt to support your love of walking cosmetic advertisements. If he was married to Chantelle Houghton id sympathise, but his wife is fairly normal looking for a TV presenter.. She certainly isnt a gross, plastic TOWIE type.
Given some of the comments defending Brooker’s violently phobic raging against pretty, vulgar male reality TV stars with shaped eyebrows I think it’s not entirely inappropriate to mention that according to Wikipedia Brooker is married to a pretty former reality TV presenter with shaped eyebrows.
Female, of course. And privately educated.
In the end it’s not Charlton’s hypocrisy that interests me so much – even though it is on an impressively cosmic scale – it’s his assumption that Guardian readers would not only let him get away with it but applaud him for it.
An assumption that proved entirely correct.
Im all for male beauty, its one of natures greatest marvels, but to an extent Brooker is right. The types he mentions are not beautiful, they are gross, plasticized, fake and ugly.
If you were to sleep with one of these guys at no point would you make contact with any actually skin or hair, its almost like they have on a full body condom, and feels like it.
This isnt mysogeny. Girls who wear excessive make up are no better, since girls are quite capable of being beautiful without make-up that effects their BMI.
This isnt about making the best of yourself. Judicious use of product can make a man look amazingly sexy, excessive use makes him look ridiculous.
Jon: “I would like men’s bodies to be appreciated for their own virtues, and not only after they are smoothed of all the rough edges that make them so distinctly and wonderfully male.”
Exactly. Also, how many of the men who think men’s bodies are “ugly” or “ridiculous” understand that adult women’s bodies in their natural state have pubic and underarm hair, visible hair on their legs and sometimes around their nipples, and faces without makeup.
It’s not all modernity’s “fault” that we (people, men and women) change or enhance our appearance–that’s been going on probably since the beginning of humankind. But I sometimes think there’s less of a divide between gay and hetero than between men and women in how they view images of what they desire.
The rules of polite society still dictate that women aren’t supposed to apply makeup in public. There’s a taboo against revealing the work, the effort, that goes into turning a woman into a work of public art. Men are happier thinking we all come that way out of the box, no assembly required.
Now we’re seeing, with metrosexuality, some of that thinking being applied to men, too.
While I agree that Olly Richards’ views are mind-bogglingly ridiculous (the entire history of sculpture and painting seems to have evaded his notice), I found myself rather warming to some of those put forward by Charlie Brooker. I don’t think his belong in the same category with Richards’.
I completely agree that the male body should be liberated from its patriarchal armor and openly sensualised, but at the same time I would like men’s bodies to be appreciated for their own virtues, and not only after they are smoothed of all the rough edges that make them so distinctly and wonderfully male. Men’s bodies today are thought to be awkward and unsightly unless meticulously sculpted into that tiresomely homogeneous look of underwear catalogues and gay magazines: the hairless cosmetically enhanced boys with bodies mangled into the form of a male mannequin by state-of-the-art fitness and dietary technology.
True, the idea of male beauty propagated in magazines and advertising has allowed men’s bodies to become visible, once more, as things of sensual contemplation. But that same idea is also complicit in the patriarchal marginalisation of men’s bodies, and desires inclined towards them. The sterile look of smooth perfection passively encourages the attitude externalised in Richards’ article, that male bodies in their natural state are so hideous they must be made presentable in a way more or less corresponding to the feminine code of sensuality.
I am suddenly reminded of the rugged sensuality of Playgirl models in the 1970s. Those images are revolutionary in their caressing treatment of (fairly) ordinary male bodies in stereotypically masculine settings. They show that men can be erotic in their own right, without imposing on their bodies a model of female sensuality.
Men of Brooker’s generation—a half a gen below mine, the first to grow up with a working knowledge of feminism—specialise in covert misogyny. Being against male grooming is a coded way to say don’t act like a girl. You’re right to call both writers on that, Mark.
But it goes further than misogyny disguised as misandry, IMHO. Andrew hit it on the head when he talked about the dismissal of male beauty as a form of (probably false) humility.
It’s a charming British habit to joke against oneself. But this self-deprecating humour has a dark side. Just because you make a joke at your own expense, it doesn’t give you license to slag off everyone else. Let’s call this the My Word school of British wit. Brooker is a more anarchic version of it.
But who is Brooker slagging off, really? Men who act like girls? Or any man who tries to make the best of himself?
Mark, you ask if Brooker would put the boot into James if he were gay. Just as legit to ask if Brooker would put the boot in if James worked for Credit Suisse, Clifford Chance, or Interpublic. Or, if he were a member of the aristocracy, idle not through unemployment but through inherited wealth.
Would it be OK for a successful businessman or rich socialite to take such meticulous care over his appearance? My bet, is that Brooker wouldn’t even think to comment on the vulgarity of upper class men. Few do.
Booker takes great pains to stress in his biographical writings that he doesn’t come from a posh background. But it’s still a cut above James and his Mum. And that seems to show.
Booker’s classsism annoys me much more than any issues around gender politics.
I hate to be the voice of dissention here but I think your criticism of the Brooker article is both inept and myopic. The central target of the piece is not the cast of the show but the show itself – a common thread in Brooker’s work.
Your central focus is vapid: ‘Who would I rather look at on a TV screen?’ I wouldn’t dare assert if your ethos is situated or invented. I care much more about the content, the plot, the originality and the sheer magnificence of drama and documentary that television has and sometimes continues to provide when funding goes to artists who are capable of producing a series that rises above these half-baked semi-reality freak shows.
Does Brooker hope to change the mind of the drooling idiots who are obsessed by the various spewings of the reality TV productions companies? No, he probably doesn’t.
What he does do with his colourful rants is offer a level of comfort other people who feel the same way. People who are sick of the talentless no-hopers who are rolled out across the screen in an unending conveyor belt of runny orange shit.
You see, there are lots of tacit clubs and cliques out there who like to identify with their peers: gay, lesbian, emo, hipster, metrosexual (if you must) – why cant free thinking, intellectual atheists (and others who like to use their brains) have a media spokesperson too? And that’s who Brooker is – a Peter Tatchell for those with an IQ in triple figures.
The First article explains that men are unattractive and need to remain covered up as the nudity makes the writer Olly Richards feel uncomfortable (he assumes his readers will agree) In my opinion it’s about time men caught up to the amount of fresh that females have exposed on film for decades. My issue with the female nudity is that it has been without a plotline merely to hope a male audience would run to watch it.
Equality has arrived ? Magic Mike is about stripping….it’s supposed be about removing clothes. What’s The Guardian’s problem?
As for reality TV, it’s an easy target. To pick on the males and not the females is quite sexist. I only know of Amy Childs, groomed and paraded about like a barbie doll but she is only doing what Kate Middleton is doing!
Picking on the working class again.
Yes Mark, I agree with the other views here, which I had agreed with before even reading them: plain jealousy is the motive here. The young guy (who is in the media, as is the journo here – can’t be bothered going back up to see their names, sorry) is getting WAY more attention for his looks and whatever than this sorry sordid bumfluff moustache sex dwarf ripping the piss out of him. He’s just plain jealous, and older, and ugly, and that says it all, pretty much.
I think you’re right with your assumptions Mark; it sounds catty and jealous. Reminds me of ‘The Women’, by Clare Booth Luce. I really wonder what would prompt such a blatantly obvious column? Charlton’s picture is just sad-I think it’s the Spock-like eyebrows.
Personally, I think it’s great that some guys go to such lengths to polish their appearance. It depresses me that I’m attracted to it and at the same time, know that I’m invi,sible to them, at 56.
It seems plausible right off the bat that Ms.Brooker is motivated more by evny at having not accomplished much of any semblance of masculine attractiveness than anything.
Gag on that scrimpy metro-beard which is surely not there out of any need other than to appear fashionably masculine- no doubt he would also shave his skull if he didn’t have such a peculiarly shaped noggin. I’m willing to bet that he be the first one to run to plastic surgeon if there was any hope.
James reminds me of some of the young men in my own gym. Needless to say one of the nicer things about youth is that it bestows males with often soft and lovely skin-indeed muscles shape and testosterone are the major thin that distinguish them from women.
Magic mike actually got quit a bit of criticism here in the U.S. for sparse nudity.
I don’t think exactly what significant point Charlton could have been making other than to present an embarrassing self revelation as a failed metro-male. Unfortunately it doesn’t sound as if he was trying for humor.
Hmmm, interesting, but I must add a point. Maybe Charlton is not just displaying veiled homophobia, but also a bit of the bitchiness ascribed without thought to aging women? Maybe James is not particulary desired, but is actually competition? Lets face it, most of us would still rather chat, flirt or sleep with a 21 yr old cutie than Mr Frumpy-and-Fortyone, however many newspaper columns he had under his belt..
Interesting, but I’m not sure that you’re right.
If you watch Brooker’s recent TV series Black Mirror you will find that all three episodes are effectively riffs on Heart of Darkness but with the heart of darkness itself being sex.
Brooker seems to see sex as a crucible of humiliation and dehumanisation and so he struggles to understand people who not only accept their sexual nature but invest the entirety of their identity in the fact that they enjoy sex and enjoy appealing to potential sex-partners.
I don’t think Brooker’s issue is with METROsexuality so much as it is with sexuality tout court… which is why he thinks that the male sexual form is something worthy only of mockery.
I have some sympathy for Brooker’s position but this is because I tend to find sex a bit boring and so think that people who invest a lot of themselves in sex are boring by extension. The same is true of motor sports and fishing.
The problem is that, while Brooker enjoys shocking people he wouldn’t say anything like what I’ve just said… he’d rather sneer at sex than suggest that it is over-rated. That makes him a coward and I think you and I may be in agreement on that 🙂
A fair piece for the most part, but Charlton has previously done numerous simiar pieces on female reality stars. He called the women of The only way is essex “plastic sex robots” on one tv show I saw. I think his dismissal of male beauty is intended as a form of humility, but I think he will take the critique well. He just wasnt thinking about it from this perspective