The 'Daddy' of the Metrosexual, the Retrosexual, & spawner of the Spornosexual

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Category: announcement (page 3 of 4)

‘Male Impersonators’ Gets Digitally Dressed Up: now available on Kindle

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.’

On Elvis…

‘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



‘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


– 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.’

  • Lambda Book Report



A Taste of Honey: Still Sweet Half a Century On

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.

Out magazine’s tribute to Mark Simpson

Out magazine have run a tribute to my work for them over the years here.

I’m very touched. And it’s richly deserved, of course. But I can’t help but wonder: did I die?

Idling into the Future

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.

Metrosexual Reflections on have run an edited version of the introduction to metrosexy.


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