And British kinkstyles. (The safe word is ‘Simon Cowell’)
Category: commentary (page 1 of 18)
(First appeared in Sweden’s SvD newspaper, 17/06/2017; published here in English with permission)
The ‘crisis of masculinity’ is really a form of male emancipation argues Mark Simpson
Back in the late 20th Century, when I first began writing about masculinity – which seems an epoch away now – everyone knew what masculinity was. Or rather, what is wasn’t. And what masculinity wasn’t was very, very important. As a man, your balls depended on it.
Masculinity wasn’t sensual or sensitive. It wasn’t good with colours. It wasn’t talkative, except about football. It wasn’t passive. It wasn’t nurturing. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t feminine. And it certainly wasn’t gay. Masculinity was uniformity – difference was deviance.
Yes, I’m grossly stereotyping here. But that’s exactly what cultural expectations did to men.
And yes, masculinity could also be stoic, altruistic and heroic – but these ‘positive’ masculine qualities, which of course we’re all terribly nostalgic about in this selfie-obsessed century, were also based on repression. Being a man was much more about ‘no’ than ‘yes’. If you said ‘yes’ too much you might as well be a woman – or gay.
Because everyone knew what masculinity was – or wasn’t – hardly anyone talked about it. Apart from feminists and gays. Anyone who used the ‘m’ word was a bit suspect, frankly. And I was very suspect indeed – especially when I insisted that the future was metrosexual. Masculinity was supposed to be taciturn and self-evident not self-conscious and moisturised. No wonder I was laughed at.
More than a decade and a half into the nicely-hydrated 21st Century, everyone is now talking about masculinity. There is also a great deal of media chatter, from both ends of the political spectrum, about a so-called ‘crisis of masculinity’ – and a tendency to suggest that today’s generation of men are in a bad way compared to their forefathers, and also compared to women.
I couldn’t disagree more. There has never been a better, freer time to be a man. Which is precisely why we’re actually able to talk about the ‘m’ word. Yes many men, particularly older men who grew up with a model of masculinity that isn’t working for them any more, do of course face new and real problems in our rapidly-changing world – and sexism is, as the word suggests, a two-way street. But today’s ‘crisis of masculinity’ is basically the crisis of a man whose cell door has been left ajar.
In a sense, masculinity has always been ‘in crisis’ – a degree of hysteria was in-built because it was about living up to impossible, nostalgic expectations. Even the Ancient Greeks were worrying that men weren’t what they used to be: Homer’s Iliad is essentially a love letter to the ‘real’ men of the Bronze Age – heroes that made Iron Age men look like proper sissies.
Today’s men are probably less in ‘crisis’ than they have ever been before because those impossible, ‘heroic’ expectations have largely fallen away, and along with them the masculine prohibitions. Even that reactionary trend for lists of ‘man code’ ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ is just another sign of this. If you have to spell them out in a prissy list then they’re really not working any more. They were supposed to be completely internalised.
Everyone is asking ‘how to be a man’ now because no one really knows the answer. Which is actually great news! Rather than something to worry about. It means that everything is up for grabs. Men today are beginning to aspire to what women have been encouraged to aspire to for some time now – everything.
Repression, once the bedrock of masculinity, is definitely out of fashion. After all, we live in a hypervisual, social me-dia world where expression is the lingua franca. If you don’t express yourself you don’t exist. Today’s young men are mostly much more interested in being and feeling and sharing than in denying and hiding. They have tasted the forbidden fruits of sensuality, sensitivity, taking an interest in their own kids (if they have them), being good with colours, or having a prostate massage, and want more, please.
In fact, for the younger generation most of these masculine ‘transgressions’ are now pretty much taken for granted. Metrosexuality – the ‘soft’ and ‘passive’ male desire to be desired – is the new normal. Products, practises and pleasures previously associated – on pain of ridicule – only with gays and women have been more or less fully-appropriated by guys.
The most obvious, flagrant example of this is what has happened to the male body. No longer simply an instrumental thing labouring in darkness, extracting coal, building ships, fighting wars, making babies and putting out the rubbish, it has been radically and sensually redesigned to give and especially receive pleasure. It has become a pumped and waxed brightly-lit bouncy castle for the eyes.
Today’s eagerly self-objectifying young spornosexuals – or second generation, body-centred metrosexuals – toil in the gym in their own time to turn their bodies into hot commodities that are ‘shared’ and ‘liked’ in the online marketplace of Instagram and Facebook. Which is certainly needy, but also very generous of them. Young straight(ish) men today have taken the gay love of the male body and buffed it up – and want to share that love.
There is no crisis of masculinity – but rather, a long overdue crisis of the heterosexual division of labour, looking, and loving with which the Victorians stamped most of the 20th Century. Freed from the imperative to be ‘manly’ and (re)‘productive’, men have blossomed into something beautiful. A word that until very recently was absolutely not supposed to describe men.
Obviously the rise of feminism and gay rights have helped changed men’s attitudes. But perhaps the boot is on the other foot. Men in general are much less hard on gay men and on women now because they are no longer so hard on themselves. In a sense, women and particularly gays existed to project all men’s own forbidden ‘weaknesses’ into.
Nowadays, having been allowed to discover the pleasure they can bring, men want those ‘weaknesses’ back, thanks very much.
Someone simulating coitus behind you while you were potting a tricky black on the pool table was a popular part of the game. Grabbing one another’s lunchboxes as a form of greeting was another. Often this was accompanied with a loud John Inman/Dick Emery ‘OOOOH!!’ noise, which somehow proved that what you were doing was, in fact, totally and utterly straight.
Me in the Daily Telegraph contrasting my teenage school days with a new study showing how much ideas about masculinity have have changed amongst teenage boys today. And how masculinity isn’t in ‘crisis’, or ‘toxic’, or ‘hegemonic’, or ‘fragile’. It’s turned out to be very flexible and adaptable – and likes a nice hug.
Read the piece in full here.
Delighted to announce that I’ll be appearing at Denmark’s famous Heartland Festival, Egeskov Castle, 2-4 June. I’ll be discussing that hot topic of contemporary masculinity – and it’s need to be hot – along with the Danish designer Mads Norgaard, with the journalist Adrian Lloyd Hughes charing. More info here.
The festival promised in the video below looks charming. Not sure I’m flexible enough for the yoga, but the hot tubs look fun.
About a decade ago, I visited my Queen is Dead pen-pal/co-author Steve Zeeland when he was living in the largely-forgotten US Navy town of Bremerton, WA. Forgotten, that is, save by the self-described ‘lover of sailors’.
In the early 1980s, before he discovered his true, bell-bottomed love, Steve had been the frontman for industrial-electro band Zyklon (‘America’s answer to Throbbing Gristle, according to one critic). He still had several synths and sequencers which we fooled around with at his place in a 1940s apartment building, conjuring up aural ghosts from the 1980s.
For some reason Steve got it into his head that I should record a cover: ‘Mark, you have a lovely speaking voice – I’m sure your singing voice is even better.’
As the careers of several mediocre UK pop acts bears testament, Americans can be absurdly over-generous to their transatlantic cousins.
Despite a heavy cold and very English reluctance, I eventually complied – choosing to cover Divine/Bobby O’s 1983/4 hit ‘Love Reaction’. Which of course was a kind of re-gayed, Hi-Energy cover version of New Order’s de-gayed, low-energy ‘Blue Monday’. One the Mancs liked so much they reportedly played as an encore at one of their own gigs. Or perhaps they were just being ironic.
I’m decidedly no Divine, so I decided to take my cover of ‘Love Reaction’ in a more Bernard Sumner/Dame Edith Sitwell direction.
This – after tireless editing and remixing by Steve – was the result. I’d like to think of it as my own stab, two decades too late, at early 80s synthpop. (The doggie-style concrete ballet vid, dancing around whirring blades, was shot by Steve out of his apartment building window, after I returned to the UK.)
I’m now on Patreon.
If you would like to help a stray writer keep on straying – in a world in which the traditional structures for the monetisation of words are, shall we say, in ‘flux’ – you can do so for as little as $1 a month.
At the moment there are no special ‘rewards’ offered. Except of course the warm, priceless knowledge that you are a good and generous person with truly excellent taste.
Mark Simpson on the sweet fetishism of Coca Cola’s ‘delightfully slutty soda ad’
How much Coca Cola ads have changed since the famous singalong, smiley, folksy, innocence of the famous 1971 commercial! How much the world has changed. If it were remade today you’d be forgiven for thinking that song would have to be retitled: ‘I’d Like to Teach the World to Perve (In Perfect Harmony)’.
‘Pool Boy’, the latest ad in Coca Cola’s current ‘Taste the Feeling’ campaign, has prompted a veritable geyser of complimentary press for its ‘gay-friendliness’. But there’s quite a bit more going on than just ‘gay friendliness’ in this delightfully slutty soda commercial (and Coca Cola have anyway done ‘gay friendly’ before).
So I think it’s worth undressing it. Even more.
Central to understanding what’s going on here is grasping, firmly, yet caressingly, that this is a Diet Coke ad – albeit without Diet Coke (though it does feature, briefly, a Coca Cola Light – a name used for Diet Coke in many markets). All the elements of the classic Diet Coke ads are here. The Hunk toils in the heat, his muscular, ripped body glistening, all drunk in thirstily by women, the camera, and the viewers.
Diet Coke aimed until now at women (apparently only women dieted in the past), effectively identified itself in the Chippendale/Take That 1990s with the emergence of active, assertive, voyeuristic female sexuality and passive, exhibitionistic male sexuality. This was updated and ‘refreshed’ a few years ago with ‘The Gardner’. In it a group of young, slim, attractive women, sitting on a small hill in a park, perve over a young, fit, attractive man cutting the grass below them, offering him a sabotaged can of Diet Coke that ejaculates all over him when opened, ‘forcing’ him to take his shirt off.
Coke are reportedly now taking a ‘one brand’ approach to their products, and ‘Pool Boy’ is in effect a globally-targeted (hence no dialogue) ‘Diet Coke’ ad for Coca Cola products in general – in which the ante is even further ‘upped’. In ‘Pool Boy’ the porno promo aesthetic of ‘The Gardner’ is still very much present and erect, but the ‘Ladies’ voyeuring are a teen girl and her mother. And her teen brother.
The definition of ‘Diet Coke Ladies’ has now been widened to include The Gays. Who of course were always part of the unspoken audience anyway. After all, Diet Coke ads have long been using the tropes of gay porn to sell product to women, and the phenomenon of straight women and gay best friends sharing their appreciation of – and disappointment with – men is widely established now.
‘Pool Boy’ begins with the camera lingering over The Hunk, his shredded, smooth body shiny with sweat and Baby Oil, flashing out of his unbuttoned uniform – as he works his big pole in a suburban American swimming pool under the blazing American sun. He’s being admired out of the window by a pretty, skinny teen girl, who is eagerly distracted from her studies – her head propped up daintily on her fingertips, smiling broadly.
Then the camera pans upwards to show a pretty, skinny, similar-looking young man doing exactly the same thing from an upstairs window (the traditional lofty vantage point of Diet Coke Ladies), with the exact same rapt, pretty smile and the same head dainty head-propping. So we assume it’s her Gay Brother – though of course he could be bi, or trans.
Straight (another assumption) Sister glances at her No Sugar Coke, has a Eureka moment, and rushes off, practically spilling her homework onto the floor. The next shot is from inside the big American fridge in the big American kitchen, as she opens the door. Coke bottles are displayed across a whole shelf (as products are in adland). I make out, with some freeze-framing, two ‘No Sugar’, two ‘Original Taste’, one ‘Light’ and one ‘Life’. The entire Coca Cola range – though ‘Diet’ is here represented by ‘Light’, in this global ad.
Coke’s future is Diet – which is itself reportedly becoming ‘gender agnostic’ after all these years of being marketed as ‘one for the ladies’. Likewise, ‘No Sugar Coke’ which replaces poorly performing Coke Zero – or ‘Bloke Zero’ as it was dubbed after its launch in 2006 – seems now to also to be ‘gender agnostic’ after all that money spent trying to tell us it wasn’t for girls. Straight Sister in ‘Pool Boy’ is drinking No Sugar.
Meanwhile, back inside that big American fridge, straight Sister, a wild gleam in her eye, grabs an Original Taste Coke. But Gay Brother has obviously had the same idea – at that moment he appears behind her grabbing the same bottle. The aroused, intense looks on their faces makes clear that the slippery Coke bottle symbolises objectified, pool/fuck boy. Straight Sister finally wrenches it out of Gay Brother’s hand and rushes off.
A dejected Gay Brother then grabs the other bottle of Original Taste (going out of his way not to grab a bottle of No Sugar) and chases after his sister.
They race through the large, suburban house, tripping one another up, before finally arriving at the pool. Only to find The Mother already offering The Hunk a plate of sandwiches, while he glugs a bottle of Original Taste Coca Cola (which magically refills when cutting to The Mother shrugging), his Adam’s apple moving suggestively in his muscular, shiny throat above his muscular shiny chest as he poses rather uncomfortably, to show off his body to best effect.
Mother gives a shrug to her kids, who are staring at her in shock and defeat. This isn’t her first time at the rodeo.
It’s a funny, well-made and provocative ad that is memorable in an age where everything is instantly forgettable, that succeeds in making a beleaguered brand – sales in the US are falling, and are stagnant in the UK – seem sexy and now.
But I was left with a burning question. Why is everyone – sister, brother, mother – so sure the pool boy drinks Original Taste Coke? And don’t think to ask him, especially since they have a fridge full of different varieties?
Perhaps it’s because The Hunk is a Real Man doing Real Work so he must drink Original Full Fat Sugary Coke. Even when the body being admired belongs to a raging spornosexual and is clearly the result of religious gym attendance and meticulously planned diet programs.
Likewise, although the desires of the women and the gay brother are emphasised, the wants and tastes of The Hunk are irrelevant. He’s an object, a fetish. He’ll swallow whatever he’s given, no gag reflex.
The house, its furnishings and the cast’s clothes are set in an imaginary, ironic 1950s-70s – Coke’s heyday. Long before the demonization of sugar as sinful and Satanic. The only modern things allowed are the pool cleaning machine, the fridge and the loose sexual mores (and No Sugar Coke). Even the soundtrack is a sweetly romantic Italian song from the 1950s. Most retro of all: everyone is white. Even the pool boy.
Fizzy, sugary drinks have lost their soda fountain innocence. They have increasingly been blamed for a host of health problems, including most particularly the worsening obesity epidemic. An ugly problem that of course doesn’t exist anywhere in this ad. Everyone here is slim and sugar-free.
In part because of moves to tax sugary drinks to discourage their consumption, Coke Zero has recently been rebranded as No Sugar Coke – to emphasise that it doesn’t have any of the naughty stuff (lots of people didn’t realise the ‘Zero’ stood for calories). With a reformulated taste that is supposedly ‘even more like the original!’
Which is the tagline to the simulacrum of 21st Century life. Along with ‘taste the feeling’.
Given all this, perhaps the real porn in this ad isn’t where it appears to be after all. Perhaps the real reason The Mother and The Straight Sister and The Gay Brother, who are all slim but leisured and middle class, scramble to offer the sweating, pumped proletarian an Original Taste Coke isn’t because they want to play with his pole. It’s much more depraved than that.
They want to watch someone actually drink a proper sugary coke and enjoy its wicked sinfulness vicariously and voyeuristically – and calorie-free. Sugar porn.
Not to mention removing the sweet temptation from their fridge before they glug it down themselves.
England rugby captain Dylan Hartley was spotted bonding on the touchline with Jonathan Joseph at the England v Scotland match last weekend, Hartley playfully teasing Joseph’s pretty mouth. They’re both highly edible. Even more so sandwiched together.
The touching scene put me in mind of this documentary some years ago about the arresting (rom)antics of a Lancashire amateur rugby club and their pride in their well-endowed captain.
And also the time I attended the Army & Navy rugby match at Twickenham and saw more flirtatious male affection and tenderness on the terraces in five minutes than I did in three hours at an international gay rugby tournament.
Though admittedly I may not have been looking as hard.
h/t Ruckus Rugby & Rupert S
Male grooming seems to be growing a pair. I recently wrote about a rather ballsy TV ad for Below the Belt antiperspirant gel – for testicles.
Here’s another, viral ad for the same brand, the butch Scottish voiceover perhaps playing naughtily on Gerard Butler’s hairy grooming forays.
It’s exciting to see that at last, male grooming is getting up close and personal. And also that now possibly the most important but hitherto most overlooked male consumer of all is stepping out of the shadows and finally being given a voice.
On the 22nd March I’m appearing on a panel at Birmingham City University with John Mercer and Dr Clarissa Smith, chaired by Jose Arroyo. We’re discussing ‘What it Means to Be a Man in the 21st Century‘.
I have no idea of course what it means to be a man. So I’ll wear some camouflage trousers and big boots.
The event begins at 6.15pm. Admission is free.
Because I’m such a dedicated fan of yoga (in kilts) I’m overlooking the beards and posting this very uplifting BBC Scotland video of Finlay, a yoga teacher from Dundee, and his pupil Justin, practising their inspirational moves in the bracing Caledonian countryside.
And while we’re all inspired, I thought I would also post this spornographic video ‘The Homoerotic Side of Wrestling’ below.
To be fair to the wrestlers, the homoerotics is mostly in the naughty editing here. And also the design of wrestling singlets: apparently, unlike kilts, it’s extremely tricky to get comfy in one. Even if some of the wrestling moves at the beginning look extremely snug to me.
Thank goodness the decision to drop wrestling from the 2020 Olympics was reversed.
Last year, in the run-up to the Rio Olympics I wrote, only slightly feverishly, about the inspiring way modern men’s gymnastics is responding to our hyper-visual culture and the spornosexual trend of eager male self-objectification by shyly taking its top off, going back to its naked/’gymnos’ Greek roots and showing us its ‘totally jacked’ body. And selling us jeans and cornflakes.
The globally-transmitted HD spornographic pleasures of the Olympics last Summer naturally only served to accelerate this shredded strip-tease – US gymnast Danell Leyva famously performing a Magic Mike routine on the parallel bars to a cheering universe.
As a result, gymnastics, once a rather uncool sport for boys, at least in the UK, is becoming ‘hot’. And is creating its own celebs, in the form of lithely leotard legends like Louis Smith (MBE), Nile Wilson and Max Whitlock, the latter winning two gold medals for gymnastics at Rio. (Previously the UK had won precisely zero gold medals in the sport.)
Gymnasts are after all superheroes without CGI or, officially at least, steroids. Unlike conventional bodybuilding – which of course has conquered the world, shaved it and put it in a posing pouch – gymnastics uses the human body as its ‘weights’, the skills and muscles it cultivates enable the human form to defy gravity. You’ll believe a man can fly.
Though it helps if you’re somewhat small – gymnasts are generally compact superheroes. But boy, do they walk tall.
The video below stars three of them walking tall and flying high: top-flight young British gymnast Nile Wilson (21 years old and 5’4” tall), with his chalk-dust brothers Brinn Bevan (19) and Jay Thompson (20) larking about in the gym in Leeds, West Yorkshire (where Nile’s charming accent hails from), with their tops off in front of a camera on Wilson’s popular YouTube channel.
Although titled ‘Ultimate Gymnastics Challenge’, instead of practising their skills on the parallel bars and pommel horse, they’re competing to see who can do the fastest rope climbs, the longest handstands and the best jumps. The clip is only few weeks old but has had over a million views already. Many of the comments are of course admiring of their physiques. Some more, ahem, explicitly than others. Some of the comments are from young men wondering how long it would take for them to get a ‘shredded’ body like theirs.
And one is from a chap who seems worried about the effect the video is having on him:
‘Atleast wear a fucking tanktop people will think that im gay’.
Fortunately, it’s not very likely Nile & Co. will save his blushes – and lose all those other fans – by covering up. Of course, although many if not most of their fans are female, and probably most of their male fans aren’t gay, there is something a bit ‘gay’ about this video and about modern men’s gymnastics, regardless of the sexuality of gymnasts. But clearly it’s not something that seems to worry Nile and his flexing topless buddies – quite the contrary. Like many of their generation, they seem very happy to flirt with it. Heavily.
It is after all this ‘gayness’ that has helped make the sport ‘hot’.
I’m not though posting the video just for the eye-candy – honestly. No, I’m posting it for the shameless sense of fun and joy on display –the lyrical motion of muscles moving bodies through the air that is sadly lacking from the heavy-metal, earth-bound muscle factories we are all labouring in these days.
And also the eye-candy.
Update: Since making this video, while training on the parallel bars Nile had a ‘freak accident’ badly injuring his ankle ligaments and putting him out of action for several months. Proving that even superheroes are mortal. You can follow his rehabilitation here – now wearing a clunky, earthbound surgical boot, but still frequently sans tank top.
Further update: Good news, Nile isn’t going to let his injury stop him making the Ultimate Gymnastics Challenge videos: here’s Episode 2: ‘Who is the strongest, the fittest and the prettiest gymnast?’
Nile in a glittery top and a surgical boot is probably the most eye-catching. But his buff mates put up some stiff competition.
By Mark Simpson
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. Whenever the co-author of Style Wars and The Sloane Ranger Handbook popped up on telly, as he often did back then, talking about trends or ads in a dapper Saville Row suit, his hair looked like it should be powdered and bowed, and his upper-lip beauty-spotted.
In BBC Four’s recent TV doc The Hipster Handbook – which I was asked to contribute to but was unfortunately unavailable – York seems relatively unaffected by the vulgarities of time, sartorially or even much physically, given that he’s now in his 70s. That imperious ‘high’ hair is still there, if greyed. Though who knows? Maybe it really is a wig now.
His almost drag queen hauteur is still also present and incorrect, enabling him to be wonderfully rude and direct – but entirely politely. I have no idea about York’s sexuality, but in an odd way his persona reminds me slightly of Quentin Crisp (or rather, Hurtian Crisp).
When he visits Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NYC, the birthplace – though perhaps we should call it curationplace – of hipsterism he explains in clipped tones to a local complimenting him on his ‘fashionable’ Olde Worlde overcoat: ‘It’s the national dress of my country’.
York was an anachronism in the 1980s but also strangely, sharply (post)modern. Now that we’re living in a ‘post-postmodern’ world he looks like a time-traveller. Dr Who as market researcher. In Williamsburg he discovers that a decade or so on from their arrival, hipsters and even beards are now thin on the ground, having moved on to pastures more affordable – and are not much missed. Asked to define a hipster a young, clean-shaven man dismisses them as: ‘creatives about to turn into yuppies.’
York also travels to Shoreditch, London where hipsters are, as in most other ‘cool’ enclaves of large cities in the Western world, apparently still very much ‘a thing’ – after all these years of peak hipsterdom and regular pronouncements of its death. It’s full of young creatives being uniquely individual and amazingly authentic in their identical plaid shirts, compulsory facial-hair and passion for really-like-difficult-to-source coffee beans and expensive frosted cereals.
York like any good dandy, aspires to be as artificial as possible. Culture is nature’s enemy and vice versa. Hipsters however, perhaps because they usually have no idea about nature at all – and seem only to have the same ‘ironic’ idea about culture for that matter – are obsessed with authenticity.
‘It’s SO not me’ drawls York.
Paradoxically, the clean-shaven, sharply-dressed old man of slightly camp artifice seemed much more substantial than the young, earnestly ironic men in their ill-fitting beards and table-cloth shirts. Then again, I imagine Mr York is very substantial financially (according to Wikipedia, in addition to his best-selling books he works as a management consultant).
And yes, the doc was entirely focused on the male hipster: the only women interviewed were social commentators, academics or sales staff in hipster clothes shops. To the point where it sometimes looked like a documentary about a bear cub commune. But most people are only interested in the male hipster – and as York points out, most women can’t grow the hipster hallmark: a beard.
York’s mere presence offered a kind of mocking critique of our hairy young creatives – even without the impish glitter he had in his eyes when listening to them as they droned on about the ‘tradition’ and ‘craft’ behind the expensive bottled beer they like to drink and make.
The money shot came when he visited a barbershop in East London, now specialising in ‘facial-hair management’, observing a handsome man-bunned twenty-something chap reclining in a retro barber’s chair getting his bushy brunette beard ‘managed’.
‘Would you like it rounder at the bottom – a lumberjack finish?’ asked the bearded, inked, young barber solicitously.
At the climax of the ‘management’, the barber rubbed beard conditioner into the customer’s pride and joy.
Regardless of what the actual, existing sexuality of these two young men is it’s difficult to see how this scene could be any gayer. In fact, if it had been properly gay, with your actual gay sex – cocks agogo – it would somehow have been considerably less gay.
And what’s more, it was gay threesome – with York as the older voyeur/punter (in a double-breasted blazer).
‘What does “lumberjack” mean?’ asked York, with a heroically straight face. The barber patiently explained that it’s a ‘wild’, ‘rugged’ look. He mentioned the ‘lumbersexual’. But pronounced it ‘lumbosexual’. Which is, actually, the way it should be pronounced.
The barber, who I think may not have been so much a true believer as just someone trying to make a living, made the salient point that a lot of his customers ‘work in media, architects, or web design, that type of thing’, who ‘spend a lot of time in front of a PC screen so don’t have that feeling of being in touch with their, like, masculine side’.
Amidst all this plaidery and lumbering York’s voiceover tells us that the shelves in the barber shop are positively groaning with beautifully-packaged product: ‘This is not a lumberjack’s cabin – this could be Mayfair’.
He suggests that hipsters’ laborious obsession with ‘masculine authenticity’ produces a look as constructed as what he terms ‘the metrosexual look that went before it’. He also admits that he can’t quite get the ‘beardy thing’ and that it strikes him as ‘a bit steampunk, a bit homosexual – a bit Clone Zone, a bit Tom Selleck in Magnum PI’.
This is probably where I would have popped up saying something unkind. Though I’m not entirely sure that I would have been needed.
All the same, I’ve listed seven unkind thoughts on hipsterism below:
1. Everyone hates hipsters – including & especially hipsters.
They’re far too special and unique and knowing to be captured in a word. Let alone that word. Hipsters want to be the curators never the curated. Which is why everyone delights in pinning the ‘H’ word on them as they try to wriggle away. It’s Kryptonite to their eclectic superpowers. Or garlic to a vampire.
2. Hipsterism is a cult with no credo
As that that big beardy Karl Marx put it: ‘Hipsterism is the sigh of the badly-dressed, a longing for authenticity in an inauthentic, online world. It is the OxyContin of the creative classes.’
3. Hipsters think they’re totally worth it.
And so should you. ‘Artisan’ means: ‘double the price coz expensively-educated kids got their hands dirty – and wrote something amazing on a chalkboard’.
4. Hipsterism is not locally-sourced.
It’s a thoroughly American cultural franchise. Hence hipsters in London or Brighton or Barcelona or Berlin or Rome laboriously replicate the obsessions of American hipsters – such as ‘gourmet burgers’, ‘craft ales’ and ‘real coffee’ – that were a reaction to the Budweiser blandness of American consumerism. Regardless of the fact that in Europe we already have amazing ‘real beer’ and ‘real coffee’ outlets. Called ‘Germany’ and ‘Italy’.
5. Hipster masculinity is also not locally-sourced.
It is imported, assembled and accessorised – curated – largely from officially ironic but rather anxious-looking retro ‘authentic’ American signifiers such as ‘the trucker cap’, or ‘the lumberjack’. Signifiers which are fairly meaningless in the UK – except perhaps as a Monty Python sketch.
6. Hipsterism is the anti-sexual wing of metrosexuality.
Maybe it depends on how aroused you are by gingham, but hipsterism sometimes looks like a form of male self-love that seems to be oddly self-loathing. Flannel shirts as hair shirts. Hipsters generally have big beards and big data allowances instead of bodies. (This is perhaps why some hipsters like to make ‘gender flip’ memes mocking the objectification of women which depend on the notion that men aren’t and can’t be objectified.)
7. The hipster beard is not a beard.
It’s far too heavily overdetermined to be mere face fur. There’s something magical and quasi-sexual about it. At least for hipsters. For all their famous love of irony, most don’t seem terribly ironic about the hairy thing on their chin that they treat like a prized, pampered pet.
The plain, unvarnished, but nicely-conditioned truth is that the hipster beard is a fetish – in the classic Freudian sense of a penis-substitute. This is why they have to be so BIG, and why they can’t leave them alone.
And also why we can’t stop staring at them.
By Mark Simpson
You’re stuck behind a MG Rover that is going a little slower than you would like. It’s driven by someone with white hair, glasses, and perhaps a hat and driving gloves. They are taking their time at junctions and traffic lights while peering over the steering wheel like that ‘Kilroy Was Here’ Second World War graffiti that they are probably old enough to have drawn themselves.
Suddenly the idea of bringing in compulsory re-testing of drivers who are over 70 becomes very appealing. Anything that thins out those doddery drivers from our roads must be a good thing, no? Especially now they’re getting so crowded.
Every few years, usually after some gruesome collision reportedly caused by an older driver, sections of the media launch a BAN OLDER DRIVERS NOW! campaign. Polls are conducted in which, unsurprisingly, most people who are not themselves older drivers say that people who are older drivers should have compulsory re-tests when they turn 70, and every three years after.
Currently, drivers over 70 have to renew their license every three years, but there is no medical or driving test. They only have to declare that they are fit to drive, and that they meet the minimum eyesight standards. There is also no upper age limit for driving. In 2015 there were 230 UK licence holders over the age of 100.
Earlier this year Prince Philip, aged 94, drove the President of the United States and the First Lady, along with the Queen of England, in his Range Rover. Though admittedly it was only 400 yards and on private – or rather, Royal – land.
Older drivers are certainly becoming more noticeable. As the number of younger drivers is falling, the number of older drivers on our roads is rapidly rising. In 1975 only 15% of over-70s had a licence. By 2010 the figure had risen to nearly 60%. Over the next 20 years the number of male drivers over 70 is predicted to double, while the number of women drivers will treble. By 2030 90% of men over 70 will be behind the wheel. By 2035 there will be c.21M older drivers on our roads.
This seems like a terrifying statistic. Until you realise that despite the tragic stories you’ve read about in the papers – often involving a confused pensioner driving the wrong way down a dual carriageway – older drivers are not necessarily more dangerous drivers just because they’re older.
In actual, statistical fact older drivers are no more likely to be involved in collisions than other drivers.
Research by the RAC Foundation suggests drivers aged 75 and over make up 6% of all licence holders but account for just 4.3% of all deaths and serious injuries. By contrast, drivers aged 16-20 make up just 2.5% of all drivers but 13% of those killed and seriously injured.
Older drivers are less inclined to speed, or take risks – or be distracted by gadgets. Many older drivers avoid driving at night, in the rain or on motorways. Just 7% of over 65s admitted to using a mobile phone while driving, compared to 21% of drivers in general. Only one in 10 over-65s said they had looked for something in the glovebox while moving, compared with twice as many drivers of all ages.
Older drivers are also more likely to have an eye test once a year than the rest of the driving population.
Perhaps most counterintuitively of all, older drivers are half as likely to have memory lapses while driving – the ‘how did I get here’ syndrome – than younger drivers. (Though perhaps older drivers felt less free to admit such lapses than younger ones.)
The RAC did however find that some drivers over the age of 70 struggle at high-speed junctions, high-speed roundabouts and slip roads – locations where drivers are required to look around quickly and make quick decisions. Another study by Swansea University, published in September this year, confirmed these findings.
The Swansea University study also found that older women are more likely to have small accidents when doing tight manoeuvres. Older people are also more likely to be involved in accidents involving other older drivers, suggesting they make similar errors.
Forcing older drivers to get re-tested has been tried in Australia and Denmark without improving results.
Educating older drivers about new risks they may face and encouraging them to refresh old skills and developing new ones, rather than singling them out and subjecting them alone to compulsory re-tests, is generally accepted as the best way forwards. Though perhaps as the road safety charity Brake have suggested, a compulsory eyesight test when reapplying for your licence – regardless of age – would be sensible.
The older you get the more your independence and social life tends to depend on your car, if you have one. It’s something you can rely on when everything else is failing. Men in their 70s make more trips as drivers than do men in their late teens and 20s.
Of course, this may mean that some older drivers refuse to voluntarily give up their licence – even when they really should.
But it also means that younger licence holders should be less keen to deprive older drivers of theirs simply because they’re older – and show some consideration to more mature road users slowing them down.
Particularly since one day that crumbly old bastard dawdling in front will be them.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has a website for older drivers to help them assess how their driving is changing, where to find a local driving assessment or refresher training – as well as how to take the decision to stop driving.
Joe Orton has been pricking up my ears lately.
On a recent visit to London, thanks to the randomised wonder of ‘dating apps’ – or online cottaging – I found myself, as you do, visiting someone I didn’t know terribly well but wanted to get to know much better. He happened to live very close to Noel Road, Islington. This is the road where, at No.25, the 1960s queer playwright and keen old skool pre-internet cottager Joe Orton famously lived – and died, fifty years ago next year – in a bedsit with his rather less successful, less attractive, less popular, but possibly more talented, older partner and co-conspirator, the would-be novelist and dodgy toupee enthusiast Kenneth Halliwell.
Having walked the length of it on the way to my ‘meet’, and past No.25 with its plaque, I can report that Noel Road is no definitely longer the slightly slummy street of rooming houses it was in Orton’s time. Full of new Porsche’s and Jaguars, the street’s rooming houses seem to have mostly been turned back into very wealthy, if rather lonely family homes. With no doubt the very latest in Wallpaper magazine interior design and decor.
But I expect none of them have anything like the seriously classy wallpaper that Joe and Kenneth had in their bedsit flat at 25 Noel Road. Apparently angered by the ‘rubbish novels and books’ – and perhaps by the poor quality of the general culture they found themselves sentenced to in late 50s early 60s Britain – they used plates culled from books purloined from Islington Central Library to cover the dingy walls of their 16 x 12 room.
Public-spirited vandals, they selflessly improved the dust-jackets of some of the dusty books with their own collages – replacing them on the library shelves, Orton sometimes observing at a distance people’s reaction to their irreverent sabotage: ‘I used to stand in the corners after I’d smuggled the doctored books back into the library and then watch people read them. It was very fun, very interesting.’
The art deviant odd couple eventually had their collars felt by Lilly Law and were sentenced in 1962 to six months imprisonment – a harsh tariff for first offenders which Orton put down to the fact that the judge had realised ‘we were queers’. The case made the national press, with Orton’s working class family in Leicester only hearing about it after reading a report in the Daily Mirror: ‘Our Joe’s been nicked!’ exclaimed Mr Orton to Mrs Orton. The custodial sentence, served in separate prisons, seems to have broken Halliwell, who tried to commit suicide, but was the making of Orton who emerged determined to shock more than just a few fortunate readers at Islington Central Library.
In a sense, their criminal collage was the only joint work which was a ‘success’, or at least reached a wider audience. It was also Orton’s first, minor taste of notoriety, before his first play ‘Entertaining Mr Sloane’ became a huge hit and scandal three years later in 1964, with its dramatic ‘collage’ of British hypocrisies. It was also Halliwell’s last. Not counting his posthumous fame for murdering Orton by attacking his celebrity head with a hammer in 1967 in a drug-fuelled, possibly jealous and/or paranoid state – splattering his brains all over the collage-covered walls.
Last Sunday BBC Radio 3 also pricked up my ears, airing ‘The Visa Affair’ (which you can listen to for the next month) – a fine adaptation by the novelist Jake Arnott of a previously ‘lost’ and incomplete work of Orton’s about his Byzantine attempts in 1965 to obtain a visa to visit the US to oversee the Broadway translation/production of ‘Mr Sloane’.
The prison sentence he’d served for the collages, together with the nature of the crime itself – denoting, in disapproving American official eyes, ‘moral turpitude’ – meant he had to go through a series of darkly comic interviews with US bureaucrats and doctors at the US Embassy in London, which as Arnott points out in his introduction to his adaptation, closely resembles the kind of officious absurdities his own plays lampooned.
This is much more than just an adaptation, however. Partly because, as Arnott explains in his introduction to the play, ‘The Visa Affair’ was incomplete, and partly because it could not, pre decriminalisation of male homosexuality (which happened in the UK in July 1967 – the month before Orton’s death) ever be really completed. Orton could not be ‘completely’ honest with either the US Embassy or the British public about the real nature of the ‘conspiracy’ between him and Halliwell and the motivation for their cultural sabotage.
Hence Arnott adds scenes set in the infamous tiny bedsit that deftly and touchingly explore Orton and Halliwell’s conspiratorial (“‘breath together’ – that’s what ‘conspire’ means”) relationship, how Halliwell cultivated and tutored Orton’s talent, and their shared darkly comic – ‘camp’, if you will – sense of humour. Anatomising their ‘crime of passion’.
Although I very much enjoyed the film version of Alan Bennett’s play ‘Prick Up Your Ears’ when it was released in 1987, I think Arnott captures something much more convincingly intimate. As well as a boyish vulnerability in Orton that Oldman’s swaggering, slightly renty portrayal obscures with bravura. Sexy bravura to be sure, but perhaps bravura all the same.
Arnott’s ‘The Visa Affair’ achieves something remarkable: it lets you glimpse what Joe might have seen in his bald, impossible, unpopular and ultimately murderous ‘flatmate’.
(PS. Despite appearances, it’s not actually an ad for extra strong condoms – it’s promoting topless spiritual uplift, apparently.)
by Mark Simpson
‘What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! in apprehension how like a god!… And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?’ – Hamlet
There has been a lot of soul-searching about what it means to ‘be a man’ nowadays. Because no one really knows the answer. Defining ‘man’ and ‘masculine’ in a world in which phallic certainties have dramatically deflated like a dirigible disaster is an endless and probably pointless task. It is the philosopher’s stone of marketing. The quintessence of dust.
Coach, a weekly free UK men’s fitness/lifestyle magazine produced by Dennis publishing (also behind the stalwart spornosexual monthly Men’s Fitness), recently produced some research on the elusive nature of the modern male that defined him by un-defining him. It claimed to show that the ‘alpha male’ stereotype is largely a thing of the past, replaced by an ‘alta male’ who is less interested in money and career than in a healthy work/life balance, self-improvement and personal relationships – ‘higher’ things.
Most of all, he prefers to follow his own lights, rather than compare himself to traditional models of masculinity which are now seen as largely obsolete. Modern man is defined, in other words, by his lack of definition.
Last month I was invited by Coach to appear on a panel in Soho, London discussing the findings. As I said at the time, what most interested me about the research was that, in addition to proving me, in my humble opinion, completely and absolutely right about everything – which is always gratifying – it seemed to finally dispel the over-hyped, almost hysterical, notion that men are undergoing a ‘crisis of masculinity’. Though I’m sure many of the people in crisis about this ‘crisis’ will continue to have a cow about it.
Masculinity has always been in crisis. This has been its ‘natural’, anxious, paranoid, Hamletian state. It’s why it always had something to prove. But probably less so now than ever before.
As I’ve argued for some time, instead of a crisis, what we’re really going through is a revolution. A revolution against mostly restrictive, repressive ideas of what being a man is. A metrosexual revolution – or ‘male lib’. In fact, this revolution has been going on for the last few decades and for most of the younger generation its achievements are largely taken for granted.
Hence the Coach found that: ‘Friendliness, intelligence, being funny, caring are all attributes man wants to be seen possessing – in contrast with toughness and strength of the man of yesteryear.’
This is underlined by how ‘masculine’ is the No.2 quality today’s men attribute to ‘man of yesteryear’ (48%) – but doesn’t make it into the top 12 attributes he likes others to see in him (23%).
This sentiment is loudly echoed in a recent YouGov survey (cited in the Coach research) that found only 2% of 18-24 year olds see themselves as ‘completely masculine’ – compared with 56% of 65+ men.
A whopping 47% (the largest segment) see themselves as 2s on a scale of 0-6, where 0 = completely masculine 6 = completely feminine, while a sizeable 17% see themselves as 3s, i.e. somewhere in the middle. (This is similar to a previous YouGov survey on sexuality which found that most young people in the UK now consider themselves something other than ‘100% heterosexual’.)
For comparison, 14% of 18-24 women see themselves as ‘completely feminine’, which is seven times as many men of the same age who see themselves as completely masculine. While 12% see themselves as 3s.
The remarkably low figures for young men seeing themselves as ‘masculine’ may be influenced by the way that masculinity has had a bad press lately – and indeed the majority of 18-24 men have a negative impression of masculinity, with 42% perceiving it negatively compared to 39% positively. Interestingly, 18-24 women mostly don’t share young men’s critical view of masculinity and are as positive about it as young men are negative (42% positive to 27% negative). In this regard, young men seem to be more ‘feminist’ than young women.
By the way, YouGov’s figures for the US show that American men are much more likely than UK ones to think of themselves as ‘completely masculine’, 42% overall compared to 28%. As I’ve pointed out before, despite being very much involved in its creation, the US has been resistant to metrosexuality and the revolution it represents – or at least terribly conflicted about it. The US is of course the home of ‘manning up’, bearism, ‘bro-nuts‘, and IT professionals who think they’re lumberjacks.
Back in the effete UK, while discussing its findings on men’s attitudes towards masculinity, the Coach report concludes: ‘But even though man is more comfortable with who he is on the inside, there’s a struggle to define ‘masculinity’. (61% find it ‘hard to define exactly what masculinity means’.)
I think this statement is phrased wrongly. There’s no ‘but’ about it. And not much of a ‘struggle’. I don’t think many if not most young men can be bothered. Which is a good thing. It’s precisely because masculinity can’t be easily defined nowadays that men have much more freedom than their forefathers – and can thus be ‘more comfortable with who he is on the inside’. In the past, really only a couple of decades ago, everyone knew what being a man was – and what a ‘regular bloke’ looked like. And who wasn’t.
Although trad masculinity had many admirable qualities, such as self-sacrifice, stoicism and DIY – they were largely based on repudiation. Most of trad masculinity was defined by what men were not – not soft, not tender, not nurturing, not passive, not feminine, not good with colours, not gay. As a result, most young men today don’t ‘struggle’ to define masculinity – rather, they get on with living their lives how they want to live them.
Finally, a slightly tedious word about demographics. The Coach research was based on a focus group of 21 men aged between 22-59 in London, and a survey of 1000 men and women across Britain. Although the focus group apparently included many men originally from around the UK (and some who still lived outside London), it’s probably true that the research – like the magazine itself – had a metropolitan bias.
It also seems to have had, unsurprisingly, a middle class one – 79% of the respondents were ABC1 (compared to c.54% nationally according to 2015 figures). However, I don’t think this invalidates their findings, especially since the aspects of their research which most interested me seem to be backed up by the more demographically representative YouGov research – which when you drill down into their C2DE/ABC1 breakdown, mostly shows no great differences between them in regard to attitudes towards masculinity.
It’s one of the hallmarks of the metrosexual revolution that it cuts across all classes, with working class men often on the coalface of change.
Can’t say that Kevin Spacey has quite the same effect on me as he appears to have on this Italian act called Gabriele. But I’m very glad he did.
The Hollywood actor was a guest recently on Italian talent show Amici di Maria De Filippi. And what talent they have in Italia! That very shy lad in white, who keeps licking his fingers and playing with his own endowments, is a veritable masterpiece.
(As ever when watching footage of armies of naked young men offering us their perfect pecs, packets and buttocks on prime-time it’s important to remember that male objectification doesn’t exist and in fact is impossible.)
For some reason, the Italian TV clip minded me of this ageless moment from a few years back where another group of shirtless young men entertained another famous older man in Rome: