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*
So I checked the register of historical facts, and was shocked and ashamed to discover The Queen is Dead was released thirty years ago.
To commemorate/commiserate three whole decades of vicars in tutus and boys with thorns in their sides – though we’re still waiting on Charles appearing in his mother’s bridal veil – the Kindle edition of my ‘psycho-bio’ Saint Morrissey is available to download for the next couple of days from Amazon US/UK for just 99 cents/pence.
There will be a range of very interesting, esteemed and knowledgeable contributors, and I will have the slightly unnerving honour of presenting the opening lecture, ‘From Metrosexual to Spornosexual: A Spectacular, Permanent Revolution’, on Wednesday 18th November at 6pm. So I’ll be sure to show plenty of slides and video clips of much hotter chaps than me.
The following day at 15.30 I’ll be on a panel discussing Men and Representations, presenting a short, mostly clean talk probing ‘Mainstream Male Anal(ity)’.
Back in the 1980s, when the Conservative Government of Margaret Thatcher banned the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality, gays were still semi-criminal – as well as immoral, ridiculous, disgusting, diseased and after your kids.
The UK’s ban on homosexual propaganda failed – spectacularly. Gays have been promoted more rapidly and giddily than almost any persecuted, despised group in history. In just a generation or so UK gays have achieved legal equality, civil rights and even respectability. Today they are gay married by the Tory PM, David Cameron, no less. Homosexuality has joined the golf club.
But, asks Mark Simpson in this provocative Kindle essay, maybe gay people are a victim of their own success. Perhaps the biggest problem that gay people face in the UK and much of the West today is no longer overt homophobia, but rather the rapid falling off of it. At least for their survival as a distinct group with their own identity, culture, clubs, hankie semaphore and sensibility.
‘The Gays’ have been shaped and defined by their long struggle against prejudice. But what’s left of gayness when the homophobia stops?
In his full-frontal follow-up to his widely acclaimed It’s a Queer World, Mark Simpson dispenses with the monkey business of sexuality and gets to grips with the organ grinder itself: SEX.
Subjecting our saucy new god to his sacrilegious satire, Simpson sins against every contemporary commandment about doing the nasty: It must be hot. It must be frequent. It must wake the neighbours. And it must be Who You Are.
Simpson argues that we all put far too much faith in sex these days, and that in actual fact sex is messy, confusing, frustrating, and ultimately disappointing.
Especially if you’re having it with him.
Along the way he gets worked up with Alexis Arquette over Stephen Baldwin’s bubble-butt, gets intimate with Dana International, Aiden Shaw and Bruce LaBruce, and – very gingerly – confronts Henry Rollins with those ‘gay’ rumours.
Praise for Sex Terror:
“MARVELLOUS… open Simpson’s book at any point, as many times as you want, and you’ll find the sort of gem-like sentences that Zadie Smith would give her white teeth for.”
– Suzi Feay, Independent on Sunday
“A chainsaw cock of wit… blisteringly, endearingly honest… insightful and valuable. VERY FUNNY INDEED.”
– Dermod Moore, The Hot Press
“Setting common sexual sense on its ear, Simpson’s Swiftian proposals strike at an emotion dear to us: sexual desire. His anarchic mission is to free sex from sermonizing, convention, egoism, and cultural bias. But unlike Foucault, his deconstructing weapon is built of ribald humour and potshots at pretension. Simpson’s essays produce rancour and HILARIOUS LAUGHTER, DISBELIEF AND DELIGHT. Some call him wonderful, and some call him outrageous, but I call him A TRUE ORIGINAL and YOU SHOULDN’T MISS THIS BOOK.”
– Bruce Benderson, author of Pretending to Say No and User
“BRILLIANT… With surgical precision Mark Simpson peels away the layers of modern masculine culture, leaving few iconic figures un-scarred. This book is certain to provoke and likely to offend; we would expect nothing less from one of the most important voyeurs of contemporary life.”
– Bob Mould, Musician and Songwriter
“When the culture of sex breathes its final breath, Mark Simpson will be there to deliver the eulogy with great zeal. And what a GLORIOUSLY SARDONIC AND INSIGHTFUL farewell it will be!”
– Glenn Belverio, Dutch magazine
“One of those books that bounces up and down on your knee yelling ‘read me, read me…. Brutal honesty and razor wit – a perfect feast. QUOTABLE GENIUS.”
“BLOODY GOOD… every outrageous insight is just that – an insight into the modern condition that often makes you laugh out loud and, if you are not entirely beyond hope, think. Simply some of the best writing on modern culture around.”
– Brian Dempsey, Gay Scotland
“One of England’s MOST ELOQUENT AND SARDONIC commentators.”
– Bay Windows
“Mark Simpson won’t be every reader’s cup of tea, but those who enjoy a biter blend of DARK HUMOUR AND KEEN SOCIAL OBSERVATION will want to drink deeply.”
– Washington Blade
“…never fails to amuse, bemuse, stun and stir… a writer at his peak, a SHAMELESS SUMPTUOUS SERVING OF SOCIAL SATIRE you’ll be digesting long after you put the book down”
Tom Cruise is reportedly working on a script for a sequel to Top Gun. In case he’s mislaid his well-thumbed original copy of Male Impersonators: Men Performing Masculinity, the book that outed the flaming queerness of the original movie, he needn’t worry.
Tom can now download it in an instant as a Kindle eBook, in a ‘2011 Director’s Cut Edition’.
In fact, Top Gun and Tom Cruise’s swishingly sexually ambiguous career only make up one of the chapters (and one of the weaker ones at that, it seems to me now). Published in 1994 Male Impersonators examined the way men were represented in popular culture as a whole – movies, ads, mags, music and comedy – filtered through, of course, my trademark ‘bent’. Showing how ‘unmanly’ passions such as homoerotics, male narcissism and masochism were not excluded but rather exploited, albeit semi-secretly, in voyeuristic virility.
Essentially, Male Impersonators is an X-ray of what late-Twentieth Century mediated culture was doing to masculinity. Elbow deep.
Unlike most ‘Director’s Cuts’ I have actually cut instead of adding stuff. Chiefly, I’ve axed the long introduction I didn’t want to write in the first place and that probably no one read anyway.
WARNING: Commissioned by an academic publisher, Male Impersonators, my first book, is often heavily referenced and freighted with theory. This was the last time I wrote that kind of book.
It was also the high summer of my love-affair with Freud. So there’s rather a lot of what Gore Vidal sniffingly dubbed ‘the Jewish dentist’ in this work. My heart still belongs to Siggy and his theory of universal bi-responsiveness, of course. But I’m no longer, as they say, ‘in love’.
Written in 1993, a lot of MI is naturally very dated now. It really was a different century. ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ had just been enacted in the US, while even properly closeted homosexuality was still a dismissal offense in the UK Armed Forces. The age of consent for two civilian males was 21 (lowered haltingly, reluctantly, to 18 in the same year as MI was published). Section 28, the 1980s law introduced by Margaret Thatcher that outlawed the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ by local authorities was still in force, along with all the grim panoply of ‘gross-indecency’ and ‘importuning’ anti-homo legislation of the Nineteenth Century.
The HAART therapy cavalry was yet to arrive and Aids was still perceived as a (gay) death sentence in the West, and had ‘executed’ a number of friends of mine: including one of the dedicatees, Imanol Iriondo (who died just after MI was published).
So it’s only understandable that I should have been a little more preoccupied with ‘homophobia’ back then than I am these days. Particularly the hypocritical way it was often used to keep homoerotics pure. I was a lot gayer then.
That said, some of MI stands up surprisingly well, I think. Often, my feeling as I went through it was: WHY did I write that? Quickly colliding with HOW did I write that? MI was written in the space of three months, when I was still in my 20s. Ah, the energy of youth….
For all its datedness, there is something timeless about the book The ‘male objectification’ it analysed has become so dominant and everyday that even New York Magazine (and then Details) notices it.
And MI did after all give birth to that attention-seeking, damnably pretty creature that was to own the 21st Century: the metrosexual. Though I never use that word in MI. Instead I talk about male narcissism (and masochism). A lot. It wasn’t until I wrote an essay for UK newspaper The Independent in late 1994 to publicise MI that I used the ‘m’ word – which turned out to be its first appearance in print.
I deployed ‘metrosexual’ as journalistic shorthand for the freighted theory of MI. Reading MI you may decide that the shorthand said rather more than the longhand. If Male Impersonators was the theory of metrosexuality, Metrosexy, my recent collection of metro journalism, documents the way metrosexuality went on to conquer the culture over the next decade or so – and also the half-hearted, men-dacious backlash against it in the late Noughties.
Sometimes I have to pinch myself today. Watching the pretty boys hugging and crying on X-Factor and American Idol, or the straight muscle Marys flaunting their depilated pecs and abs on Jersey/Geordie Shore, or the orange rugby players spinning around topless in glittery tight pants on Strictly Come Dancing – or Tom Hardy doing much the same thing in Warrior – it’s as if I’ve died and gone to a hellish kind of heaven.
Men Performing Masculinity
The book that changed the way the world looks at men.
Why is bodybuilding a form of transsexualism? What do football and anal sex have in common? Why is Top Gun such a flamingly ‘gay’ movie? Why is male vanity such a hot commodity? And why oh why do Marky Mark’s pants keep falling down?
In his influential first book Male Impersonators, first published in 1994, Mark Simpson argues for the vital centrality of homoeroticism and narcissism in any understanding of the fraught phenomenon of modern masculinity. A highly penetrating, ticklish but always serious examination of what happens to men when they become ‘objectified’.
From porn to shaving adverts, rock and roll to war movies, drag to lads’ nights out, Male Impersonators offers wit and reader-friendly theory in equal measure in a review of the greatest show on Earth – the performance of masculinity.
On male strippers…‘
‘The myth of male stripping mesmerises precisely because it contradicts itself with every discarded item… No matter how freakish his genital attributes, no matter how craftily engorged and arranged with rings and elastic bands, no matter how frantically it is waved and waggled, the stripper’s penis, once naked, never lives up to the promise of the phallus: the climactic finale of the strip is… an anti-climax.’
‘The world does not need a ‘gay Elvis’, for the original, with his black leather suit, pomaded pompadour, come-fuck-me eyes and radiant narcissism, was quite queer enough.’
On porn stars…
‘Visually, Jeff Stryker resembles nothing so much as an illustration of the human nervous system in a medical textbook where the size of each region and appendage represented is related to the number of nerve endings. Thus Jeff on-screen is remembered as a huge face, a vast pair of hands (all the better to grab and slap ass with) and grotesquely outsized genitalia.’
Praise For Male Impersonators
‘Simpson pulls the pants off popular culture and wittily winks at the Freudian symbols lurking beneath.’ (FOUR STARS OUT OF FOUR) – The Modern Review
‘This set of high-spirited essays displays more insight into the masculine mystique than has the decade of earnest men’s studies that preceded it. Simpson has an unerring eye for the inner logic and pretences of a wide range of masculine enterprises and symbols. THIS IS QUEER THEORY WITHOUT THE JARGON AND IS A MUST FOR ANYONE INTERESTED IN THINGS MALE. GENERAL AND ACADEMIC READERS AT ALL LEVELS ‘– Choices
‘What is happening when men and their sexualities become the focus of the camera’s gaze? Mark Simpson’s brilliant, witty, up-to-the-minute analysis shatters complacencies, old and new.’ – Alan Sinfield, University of Sussex
‘Mark Simpson detects and dissects the myths of machismo and its attendant media circus with refreshing gusto and wit.’ – John Ashbery
‘It’s not only women who don’t have the phallus – men don’t have it either – just the inadequate penis! This book cheered me up with the reminder that when it gets down to it, both sexes are just great pretenders.’ – Lorraine Gamman
‘Like me this book plays with men. Provocative, irreverent, acerbic and witty, it offers one gigantic intellectual orgasm after another.’ – Margi Clarke
‘A brilliantly-positioned array of firecrackers, elephant traps and banana skins designed to trick conventional maleness into showing it’s true hand, or some extremity…. SIMPSON CAPERS LIKE ROBIN GOODFELLOW, STRIPPING OFF THE FIG LEAVES WITH EXUBERANCE.’ – The Observer
‘CLEVER, ENGAGING, INCISIVE.’ – The Guardian
‘EMINENTLY READABLE.’ – My Prime
‘Mark Simpson’s Male Impersonators could do for male sexuality what Camilla Paglia did for women, finding latent homo subtexts to Marky Mark, Clint Eastwood and Tom Cruise’s baseball bat.’ – Melody Maker
‘Male Impersonators quickly reveals itself to be different and, arguably more insightful than many previous ‘Masculinity books’. Male Impersonators makes a timely and exemplary addition to cult stud’s ‘Return to Freud’. It has an excellent readability factor compared to many others freighted with dull writing.’ – Perversions
‘A DEFT AND PERSUASIVE DISCUSSION ON THE SUBJECT.’
– Stage and Television Today
‘These smashingly provocative essays by the spunky Brit writer Mark Simpson detonate myths, stereotypes and icons, gay as well as straight. The psycho-social line separating homo and hetero maleness, he fulsomely shows, is much fuzzier than Robert Bly and Pat Buchanan find it to be.’
Hard to believe, but this year Tony Richardson’s wide-eyed 1961 ‘neo-realist’ masterpiece A Taste of Honey, based on a play by Salford playwright prodigy Shelagh Delaney is half a century old.
Filmed on location in lyrical black and white when Manchester was still connected to its chimney-stacked ‘dark Satanic’ past, it tells the story of Jo, a gawky, dream-filled, pregnant, unmarried working class teenage girl thinking about life and thinking about death and neither one particularly appealing to her.
This Sunday the Liverpool-based queer arts festival Homotopia will be holding a 50th anniversary screening of this classic film followed by a Q&A session with Rita Tushingham, who played young Jo in what turned out to be the performance of her life. (As part of the same festival, yours truly will be ‘in conversation’ with April Ashley on Nov 23.)
Back in the 1980s, when it was almost forgotten, A Taste of Honey had a big mouthed, bolshy, blousey northern champion — the singer Morrissey, who fashioned pretty much the entire world of his first couple of albums out of it. And famously lifting several lyrics from it:
‘Hand in Glove’: And I’ll probably never see you again (‘I’ll probably never see you again. I know it!’)
‘Reel Around the Fountain’: I dreamt about you last night/and I fell out of bed twice (‘I dreamt about you last night. Fell out of bed twice’.); You’re the bees knees/but so am I (‘You’re the bees knees, but so am I’.)
‘You’ve Got Everything Now’: As merry as the days were long (‘As merry as the day is long’.)
‘Shoplifters of the World Unite’: Six months is a long time (‘It’s a long time, six months’.)
‘I Don’t Owe You Anything’: (‘I don’t owe you anything’.)
‘Alma Matters’: It’s my life/to ruin/my own way (‘Anyway, it’s your life, ruin it your own way’.)
‘This Night Has Opened My Eyes’ The dream has gone but the baby is real (‘Oh, well, the dream’s gone but the baby’s real enough.’) And I’m not happy and I’m not sad. (I’m not sorry and I’m not glad.’).
The title I gave the chapter in Saint Morrissey examining Moz’s doomed little love-affair with Shelagh/Jo — ‘Dump her on the doorstep, girl’ — was yet another Moz lyric inspired by Taste. As the man himself admitted in the 90s: “Even I — even I — went a bit too far with A Taste of Honey.”
Here’s an excerpt from that chapter, explaining the impact and freshness of the film in 1961, how Delaney’s sparkling script sets Taste apart from the rest of the so-called British New Realism cinema of the 1960s, and why despite the passing of time and all its heinous crimes (and the normalisation of many of the taboos it tackled) it has hardly dated at all:
Unlike the other works by Fifties (usually northern) working class authors that were turned into films in the early Sixties, such as Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, Billy Liar, and Room at the Top, A Taste of Honey was written from a female perspective, or rather intro-spective. Unashamedly self-absorbed, it manages to be genuinely ‘shocking’ and contemporary in its subject matter: adultery, promiscuity, teenage pregnancy, maternal irresponsibility, abortion, miscegenation, homosexuality, congenital madness . . . (if this list reads like an episode of Brookside, perhaps this is why, in the late Eighties, Morrissey made a cameo appearance in a spin-off of that show called South).
However, Taste managed to cover all these themes without being sensationalist, refusing to hide behind pompous gestures and pseudo politics. It isn’t a play about an angry young man, but a vaguely anxious young girl — a much more ‘universal’ subject, since most of us are vaguely anxious young girls at some point in our lives.
And all of these characteristics — poetic naturalism, shocking without sensationalism, refusal of pompous gestures, dreamy introspection, a freshly feminine perspective — were to be features of Morrissey’s own work.
Almost hidden in a forest of glossy beards, the brand spanking new issue of UK GQ Style (not available, I think, online) carries a feature by yours truly on the increasing popularity of the micro-blogging site Tumblr — which today officially overhauled Wikipedia in terms of page-views — and the idle rise of the ‘e-flaneur’. Thanks to everyone who contributed to the piece.
My good friend the novelist Jake Arnott presents next Saturday’s instalment of BBC Radio Four’s antidote to grumpiness series ‘Reasons To Be Cheerful’. He looks at the astonishing changes in attitudes towards sexuality and masculinity in the past few decades, arguing they offer men much greater freedom of choice and expression than in the past.
Because he’s a good friend and because he’s a very generous and charitable chap he invited me to contribute. I tried my best to be grumpy, but Jake is so charming I couldn’t quite keep it up. I think I may even have ended up talking about how much I liked Soho.
A distinctly not-for-profit tribute to the late great Divine, dance genius Bobby O, synth-scallywags New Order, and my American writer pal and former alt-pop star Steve Zeeland, recorded late-night in his living-room in Bremerton, WA a couple of years back. (The ‘promo’ video in which a construction worker ‘dances’, on all fours, to the synth-beat, was also shot by Steve — out of his apartment window.)
For all Steve’s production skill, there’s no disguising that the vocalist isn’t as talented as Divine.
If, for some reason, you find yourself missing The Queen is Dead, the out-of-print doom-laden and bleakly humorous fin-de-siecle transatlantic epistolary romance with a martial theme between myself and ‘military chaser’ Steve Zeeland, or fancy the idea of being the owner of an extremely rare double-signed copy of an extremely rare book, or would like to find out why letter-writing died out – or would just like to help out Mr Zeeland – copies are available from Steve via PayPal and international money order.
Books by Mark Simpson
The Psychopathology of Everyday Driving
A biography of the metrosexual. By his dad.
End of Gays?
Banning gay propaganda can backfire. Spectacularly.
“All Saints should be presumed guilty until proved innocent.”
The book that changed the way the world looks at men
It's a Queer World
A warped look at a fin de siecle world of pop culture where nothing is quite as straight or gay as it seems.
This book will change the way you think about sex. It may even put you off it altogether.
Male Lib is Nothing to Be Scared Of
Notes on Hipsterism
While everyone else in the 80s wanted to look like they’d walked off the set of Blade Runner or Top Gun, Peter York looked and sounded like he’d stepped out of Dangerous Liaisons. […]
Sixth Form Boys Will Hug Boys
Why masculinity isn't 'in crisis'.
Invasion of the Driverless Cars
Mark Simpson on the headless horsemen of the coming ‘carpocalypse’
Pride & Prejudice
I think the time has come to share a secret about my past I’ve kept hidden for far too long.…
‘Love Island’ – ITV’s Primetime Spornotopia
Mark Simpson undresses the gayest straight dating show on telly
Cristiano Ronaldo’s talent & prettiness are intolerable.
Hairdresser Cars on Fire
Feeling envious or threatened by someone else’s motor? Unable to afford it? Resentful of the pleasure and joy it clearly brings them? Allergic to bold style, design, and nice colours? Never fear! […]
Get Hur! How Gay Subtexts Became Ancient History
We don’t really do subtexts in the see-through, digital 21st Century. Sextexts, definitely. Subtweets, possibly. Subtexts, not so much. Who has the time? Who can even be bothered with having a subconscious? Subtexts are so analogue. […]
Inside Spornosexual Pride
Mark Simpson goes to BodyPower, the UK’s biggest fitness expo, & tries not to stare too hard. Even though staring is…
Stripping Down the Male Body
Disability charity Scope have been airing a cheeky ad this summer designed to encourage people to donate clothes. It’s a…
Union Street Blues: Plymouth’s Last ‘Run Ashore’?
Mark Simpson goes in search of a drunken sailor in Devon's historic, salty Naval port. […]
1983: The Last Summer of Synth-Pop
From the gender-bending antics of Eurythmics and Culture Club to the propulsive synthpop of Depeche Mode, New Order, and the…
I’d F*ck Me: Mirror Man-Love
Top Gun Turns Thirty – How Did It Get So Gay?
Mark Simpson on the (self) sexualisation of today’s male body & why straight young men crave gay adulation
How young men fell out of love with the motor car
Captain Kirk’s Bulging Trousers
The pointed queerness of the original Shatner/Nimoy Star Trek series – & the PC limpness of all the spin-offs.…
From Metrosexual to Spornosexual – Two Decades of Male Deliciousness
‘Metrodaddy’ Mark Simpson on the evolution of male vanity
The Rise & Fall of Monosexuality
Ten Iconic Car Ads
Ten unforgettable car ads that transcended both cars and advertising and came to symbolise an age
You & Your iPhone: The Perfect Relationship?
Imagine the perfect relationship. Imagine a relationship so perfect that it will be the only one you need. Or have.
The Swishy Villainy & Psychodrama of Skyfall
Mark Simpson fondles the pecs and thighs of James Bond’s latest ‘outing’
Quentin Crisp & Hurtian Crisp
The Naked Civil Servant is the best and funniest TV drama ever made. And I’m sorry, but it’s a scientific fact.
How The Prostate Came Out of the Closet
Pietro Boselli – Spornosexual Philosopher
Mark Simpson sits at the feet of ‘The Bona of Verona’
Keyless Entry & Male Versatility
“I call him lollipop” The sexualisation of the male body probes new, perfectly-rounded depths
‘Bare Thrills’ Strips Masculinity Down To Its Skidmarks
Maybe I suffer from what Freud described as man’s tendency to devalue what he desires, but I find anything touched by TV…
The crusade against ‘fapping’ is eerily reminiscent of the anti-masturbation movements of the 19th century says Mark Simpson (Originally appeared in the Daily Telegraph 29 April, 2016) Those annoying porn ‘pop-ups’ are impossible to avoid these days. Especially when browsing serious newspapers. PORN HORROR! headlines zoom repeatedly into our sightlines, warning us that pornography is ‘addictive’ (despite an inconvenient lack of evidence), ‘ruins relationships’ and ‘rewires men’s brains’, turning them into sex zombie automatons. Whether or not it’s addictive for people who watch it, porn […]