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Category: masculinity (page 1 of 6)

Male Lib is Nothing to Be Scared Of

(First appeared in Sweden’s SvD newspaper17/06/2017; 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.

Mark Simpson at Heartland Festival

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.

 

Man Down – Defining Deflated & Liberated Masculinity

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.

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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.

Mark Simpson at Men in Movement, Barcelona

I will be in Barcelona this week for an international workshop organised by the University of Catalonia, titled ‘Men in Movement: Transforming Masculinities in Politics, Care and Media’.

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)’.

Entrance is free (Captain Peacock).

Why Men Are Getting Fatter AND Fitter

Men are increasingly expected to have beach-ready bodies. But some men have given up. 

by Mark Simpson

Britain is getting bigger. Positively massive, if recent reports are to be believed.

Last week, the World Health Organisation published some hefty, earth-shaking figures which publically body-shamed the UK as having one of the highest obesity rates in Europe and suggesting that by 2030 a whopping 74 per cent of British men and 64 per cent of women will be overweight or obese.

Both sexes are getting fatter, according to the data, but men seem to be getting fatter faster than women. Which represents yet another reversal of traditional sex roles – until recently, women in the UK, like most women around the world, tended to be more likely than men to be clinically obese. Two decades ago, just 13pc of men, a mere sliver, were defined as obese, compared to 17pc of women.

By 2010, however, the last year for WHO figures, UK men had finally caught up with women – who had also been getting larger: 26pc of men and women were now considered clinically obese. But in the next 15 years men are predicted to overtake women in obesity, reaching rates of 36pc, compared to 33pc for women. Finally, men are ahead of women in something.

How did this come about? Particularly in a world in which men are more image- and body-conscious – and increasingly gym-obsessed – than ever before?

According to Laura Webber of the UK Health Forum which helped compile the figures, the continuing rise in obesity for both sexes was down to the “obesegenic environment’ which ‘encouraged the over-consumption of energy dense foods and discouraged physical activity”. Which I suppose means sitting around and eating crisps and drinking fizzy soda.

Of course, this in itself doesn’t explain why men are overtaking women in the over-eating department. But perhaps a clue is to be found in the fact that the phenomenon of male obesity and being overweight (defined as BMI -> 25 kg/ms) is closely associated with high-income countries, such as the UK, US and those of Western Europe – which tend also to have the highest rates of obesity for both sexes.

In low- and lower-middle-income countries – which of course make up the vast majority – obesity among women was approximately double that among men (and considerably lower overall).

Combine this with the fact that UK male obesity began to catch up with and overhaul female obesity in the last 20-30 years – when many working-class and manual jobs were being automated or ‘outsourced’ – a strongly suggestive picture emerges of male obesity being related to not just cheap, readily available, heavily advertised, highly-profitable high-calorie food, but also the decline of traditionally “masculine” jobs. Or to put it glibly: call centres replacing pits. Offices are, after all, “obesegenic environments”.

But why is male obesity now overtaking the female variety? How come men are apparently sitting around eating more ready-salted crisps than women? Perhaps because we still tend to have anachronistic ideas about “man sized” portions. In a world in which men were usually expected to put in a day’s physical, often back-breaking labour, this made a certain sense. But when so many jobs are now “unisex” and keyboard-based, and car ownership so widespread, those man-sized portions can just make you super-sized.

Since the 1980s “consumption” has, in most Western countries and the UK in particular, largely replaced “production” – so men are, in a sense, merely doing their duty in consuming more food and getting dangerously fat. Even the unemployed can contribute.

The calorie surplus begins early. Physical education at school today is, officially, often not terribly physical, or strenuous – and children are less likely to walk there than in the past. And then less likely to play in the street or garden when they’re home.

You can be sure that despite the advertising, high-calorie candy bars like Snickers are not usually being eaten after a game of footie. Makers of high-calorie food aimed at boys and men love to suggest that their “obesegenic” product is “man food” and masculinising – “Get some nuts!”. Or rather, that not eating their product is emasculating. If you don’t eat one, you’ll turn into Joan Collins. When the reality may be that because you’ve eaten too many Snickers you can’t run at all.

For all its calculated casualness, a lot of this kind of “man food” advertising merely highlights the way that men and boys now increasingly tend to have a “relationship” to food in the way that only women were supposed to have in the past.

The irony, or possibly tragedy, for men is that at a time when many of them are putting on weight so rapidly, the world has become very visual and has got very judgy about their appearance. Men are expected to have beach-ready bodies too. Part of the reason for a growing number of men’s increasing obsession with gym-ing and dieting is that in a post-industrial digital world, their body is not something that merely “happens” any more – men no longer merely “act”, they, like women, also have to “appear”. Going down the gym has replaced working in the factory – and also, in many cases, playing sport.

So we seem to be seeing an increasing polarisation between (often middle aged) “fatties” who have given up or don’t care, and (often younger) “fitties”, who are perhaps trying a bit too hard and care way too much – though I am not complaining about the eyepopping results.

Of course, quite a few men make the quasi-religious transition from being fatties to fitties – frequently sharing their “before” and “after” pics online, or in Men’s Health magazine.

Which brings us to a possible paradox. All those sweat-soaked gym sessions and protein drinks (a rapidly-growing market expected to reach £471m in the UK by 2018) may actually have contributed to those alarming WHO figures for male “obesity”.

Body Mass Index is a very blunt – flabby even – statistical instrument indeed. Calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of their height in metres, this formula, devised in the 19th century, doesn’t actually “measure” fatness at all, merely indicates it.

Muscle is denser than fat, so if you are totally buff from all those gym sessions, then your BMI could class you as being “overweight” or even “obese” – despite being “totally shredded”. Fat, particularly abdominal/visceral fat, has a host of documented health problems associated with it – lean muscle, however, brings increased strength, higher metabolism, increased immunity and even life expectancy. Not to mention increased “sexiness”.

BMI is a statistical convention that has been useful in a generalised way – but one that may have to be changed to reflect the changing body composition and shape of men (and women). Without research, it’s impossible to know how much men getting “massive” down the gym has tipped the UK’s male obesity scales, but given how much more muscular many men are today compared to 20 or even just ten years ago, it seems likely to have been a factor.

If so, the coming fatso-pocalypse, serious as it is, may have been slightly over-egged.

How The Prostate Came Out of the Closet

Mark Simpson snaps on the latex gloves and gives men’s prostates a thorough examination

(Originally appeared in a shorter, more tasteful form in The Daily Telegraph, 12 Nov 2014)

‘Movember’ is upon us again, and so are the ironic and perhaps not so ironic upper lip pubes, reminding us of the very important, very worthy – and until recently very overlooked – issue of prostate cancer. A disease which affects 42,000 men in the UK each year, and kills 11,000.

But this is perhaps also a good time to remember that prostates don’t just get cancer – and they’re not just for November, or for producing an alkaline secretion which helps sustain ejaculated sperm in the vagina. They can also give a great deal of year-round pleasure. Mind blowing, leg-shaking, eye-rolling, neighbour-panicking pleasure.

While the very existence of the female G-spot remains a matter of hot debate, the male G-spot is mighty real. Situated just below a chap’s urinary bladder, wrapped around the urethra, the prostate is a walnut-sized button conveniently placed about a finger’s length from the anal opening – proof positive of ‘intelligent design’.

And more and more are being reached regularly – not just by medical practitioners looking for ‘enlargement’. The 21st century is shaping up to be the century of the prostate.

‘Reach’ it and you – and possibly your bedroom walls – will be left in no doubt as to its existence. As Seann Scott William discovered in the college comedy ‘Road Trip’ – released in 2000, around the time Movember was just getting bristly – when his arrogant frat-boy character ‘EL’ attempts to make a sperm donation, and is ‘helped out’ by a slightly sadistic, latex-gloved female nurse.

‘That was awesome!’ he says, dazed-amazed afterwards. And by the film’s end he’s instructing his girlfriend to ‘use three fingers’. Probably provoking many a young man’s interest in his own prostate.

2000 was certainly a busy year for that ticklish gland. In ‘Me, Myself & Irene’ another comedy released later the same year, Jim Carrey plays a split personality Jekyll and Hyde character – his obnoxious egoist half also turns out to enjoy anal insertion: this time in the form of an eye-wateringly XXL dildo during a night of passion with Renee Zellwegger.

Yes the male anality on display in these Millennium movies was largely at the expense of the males concerned, but because the men being prostatically pleasured were straight, both movies effectively told their audiences that in the new century men enjoying their rears being played with was not specifically ‘gay’. Just ridiculously intense.

Which seems to have been all the permission that straight men needed. A decade or so on from its Hollywood ‘outing’, that hitherto hidden gland definitely has no sexual orientation – and little or no shame. ‘I’m going to stick my whole thumb up your ass this evening’ says a newly-engaged women fairly randomly to her lucky boyfriend in the TV drama ‘Fargo’. [And a couple of months after this piece was published, the sit-com ‘Broad City’ featured an episode in which a man asks his female date to use a strap-on on him – after some initial uncertainty, she kindly obliges.]

‘Prostate massagers’ of all shapes and baffling sizes (vibrating and non-vibrating) fill the pages of on-line sex toy stores. Men’s mags such as Esquire and Men’s Health interrupt their guides to the mysteries of the female body to give advice on how to get your girlfriend to massage your prostate just right while giving you a blow job. Entire books are devoted to the subject, promising you ‘The Ultimate Guide to Prostate Pleasure’.

And a giant green butt plug was inflated in Paris last month – the city that in another epoch was famous for Mr Eiffel’s phallic Gallic tower.

Not wanting to be, ahem, behind the curve, Harvard University is now offering seminars on anal sex titled: ‘What’s What in the Butt: Anal Sex 101’, where you can learn ‘anal anatomy and the potential for pleasure for all genders!’

The back bottom is the new front bottom – as a peek at straight on-line porn will confirm. It’s possibly not without significance that the orifice that straight men seem most interested in women these days is one they share themselves. After all ‘anal sex’ is a highly reversible concept.

This was graphically and noisily demonstrated in the leaked vid of the pro footballer a few years back which appeared to show him being ‘scored’ by an ex female partner with a ‘strap on’. The tabs talked then of course about how ‘bizarre’ and ‘kinky’ his private past-time was – but as with William’s ‘Road Trip’, his loud enjoyment of it will have just made many football fans wonder what they’ve been missing by always playing up front instead of at the rear.

Certainly the possibility of male passivity is advertised everywhere you look now. After all spornosexuality, hard-core, body-centred, second generation metrosexuality, is as much about the lunge-sculpted ass as it is the tits and abs. Straight Essex boy Dan Osborne kindly offered the readers of gay mag Attitude his naked muscle butt recently in a generous double-page spread – with the strap line ‘Sex is fun. Be safe and enjoy it.’

Dan offers his bum (safely) to Attitude readers. 'Enjoy!'

Dan offers his bum (safely) to Attitude readers. ‘Enjoy!’

Posh boys are also at it. The male rowers of Warwick University have just released their latest nude charity calendar, aimed at women and gay men, and ‘fighting homophobia in sports’ – rammed with plenty of arse shots (because there’s no penis in their nude calendar, they’re all bottom). In these prostatic times the male derriere has been thoroughly sexualised. Mostly by the men attached to one. Or as one of the rowers puts it in their promotional video: ‘Regardless of gender or sexuality we are inviting you into that moment with us.’

Some stick-in-the-muds will of course harrumph that male anal play and passivity is ‘unnatural’ and ‘sodomitical’. To which I always reply: If God hadn’t intended men to try anal play he wouldn’t have given them prostate glands. Unless he just wanted to really mess with their heads.

And He – or naughty, naughty She – gave them to all men, whatever their sexual orientation and whatever their sexual hang-ups. Your prostate gland doesn’t care whether you’re straight, gay, bi or homophobic – just whether or not it’s loved.

But then, that quaint old homophobic rallying cry ‘Backs against the wall lads!’ was always a bit of a give-away. Ever so slightly hinting that if ‘the lads’ didn’t press their rears against something solid they wouldn’t be able to resist impaling themselves on the ‘poof’.

Yes, of course, despite some of the prostatic propaganda – including this article – not all men enjoy their prostates being massaged. Whether they are straight or gay. But the outing of the prostate gland as a potential organ of (passive) male pleasure – of male versatility – regardless of sexuality frees gay and bisexual men from the very heavy burden of representing all male anal pleasure. And straight men from having to be full-time ‘studs’.

So next time you see a Village People moustache in November, remember that the prostate is a gland men should be proud of. And in touch with. One way or another.

Meat the Spornosexual

The second generation of metrosexuals are cumming. And this time it’s hardcore

Dan-Osborne-Spornosexual

by Mark Simpson

What is it about male hipsters and their strange, pallid, highly ambivalent fascination with bodies beefier and sexier than their own? Which means, of course, pretty much everyone?

You may remember last year that last year the Guardian columnist and TV presenter Charlton Brooker had a very messy bowel-evacuating panic attack over the self-sexualisation of the male body exhibited in reality show Geordie Shore.

Now the hipster bible Vice have run a long, passionate – and sometimes quite funny – complaint about today’s sexualised male body by a Brooker wannabe (and lookalikee) titled ‘How sad young douchebags took over modern Britain’.

At least the Vice writer isn’t in total denial. Brooker was so threatened by the brazen male hussies on Geordie Shore and the confusion their pumped, shaved ‘sex doll’ bodies, plucked eyebrows and penises the size of a Sky remote provoked in him that the poor love had to pretend that they didn’t exist outside of reality TV. That they were some kind of science fiction invented to torment and bewilder him and his nerdy body. Perhaps because he’s rather younger than Brooker, Mr Vice on the other hand has actually noticed that these guys really do exist and are in fact pretty much everywhere today, dipped in fake tan and designer tatts and ‘wearing’ plunging ‘heavage’ condom-tight T-s.

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In a media world which largely ignores what’s happened to young men Mr Vice is to be commended that he’s clearly spent a great deal of time studying them. Albeit with a mixture of envy and desire, fear and loathing – and a large side order of self-contradiction and sexual confusion.

He laments that these ‘pumped, primed, terrifyingly sexualised high-street gigolos’ have been imported from America, but uses the execrable imported Americanism ‘douchebag’ to describe them – over and over again. What’s a douchebag? Someone with bigger arms than you, who’s getting more sex than you – and probably earning more than you, despite being considerably less expensively educated than you.

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But by far the most infuriating thing about ‘sad young douchebags’ is that they are so very obviously not sad at all. They and their shameless, slutty bodies are having a whale of a time, thank you very much. They’re far too happy being ‘sad young douchebags’ to sit down and write lengthy, angry rationalising essays about why someone else’s idea of a good time is WRONG. Or read one. Or read anything, in fact. Apart maybe from Men’s Health.

A strong smell of nostalgia emanates from this Vice jeremiad, like a pickled onion burp. The writer laments a lost Eden of masculine certainties and whinges that these young men with their sexualised ‘gym bunny wanker’ bodies have replaced older, more ‘authentic’ English masculine archetypes, ‘the charmer’, ‘the bit of rough’, ‘the sullen thinker’ (which, I wonder, applies to him?) and that as a result:

Nobody wants to be Sean Connery any more. With their buff, waxed bodies and stupid haircuts, the modern British douchebag looks more like a model from an Attitude chatline ad than a potential Bond.

Ah yes, Sean Connery – the former Mr Scotland gym bunny wanker ex chorus boy who wore a wig and fake tan in those glossy, slutty Bond films. Masculinity is never what it used to be. Even back in Ancient Greece everyone was whining that real men went out of fashion with the Trojan War. And what’s so wrong with wanting to look like an Attitude chat line ad, rather than a hired killer?

Oh, that’s right – coz it looks gay.

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All this moaning, along with the writer’s complaints that these buff young men are disappointingly ‘soft’, crap in a fight and don’t have nearly enough scars, reminds me of those gays on Grindr who stipulate in their profile ‘I like my men to be MEN!!’. Or the camp queens who over the years who have solemnly informed me: ‘If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s camp queens!!’ Actually, it reminds me of myself when I was much more hopelessly romantic than I am today, and before I realised real men were really slutty.

There is nothing gayer than the longing for masculine certainties like this. Especially since they never really existed anyway. It’s like believing that the phallus is the real thing and the penis is just a symbol. It’s Quentin Crisp’s Great Dark Man syndrome, but sans the self-awareness, or the archness and the henna.

In fact Mr Vice is so nostalgic – and so young – that he seems to think metrosexuality is something prior to, distinct from and more tasteful than these sexed-up shamelessly slutty male bodies that insist on grabbing his attention, wistfully contrasting how the ‘natural confidence’ of metrosexuality ‘has been replaced by something far more flagrant’. Take it from metrodaddy, today’s flagrantly sexualised male body is merely more metrosexuality. More sexy, more tarty, more porny, more slapped in your face. So stop bitching and suck on it. Metrosexuality has gone hard-core -the ‘sexuality’ part has gone ‘hyper’.

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The metrosexual was born twenty years ago and had to struggle to survive in an untucked ‘no-homo’ 1990s – but the second wave take the revolution he brought about in masculine aesthetics for granted. Steeped in images of male desirability from birth and masturbating furiously to hard-core online porn from puberty, they have totally sexed-up the male body and turbo-charged the male desire to be desired, which was always at the heart of metrosexuality rather than expensive fashion spreads and fastidious lists of ‘dos and don’ts’. Their own bodies rather than clobber and cosmetics have become the ultimate accessory, fashioning them at the gym into a hot commodity. Nakedly metrosexy.

If we need to give this new generation of hyper metrosexuals a name – other than total tarts – we should perhaps dub them spornosexuals. These mostly straight-identified young men are happy to advertise, like an Attitude chat line, their love of the pornolised, sporting-spurting male body – particularly their own. Along with their very generous availability to anyone’s gaze-graze. Especially at premium rates.

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And everyone is calling their number. Though admittedly not many do it via the extremely kinky route of writing long essays denouncing them and explaining why they’re TOTALLY NOT INTERESTED. Hipsters, who of course think themselves above the vulgarity of sexiness, are simply the ironic, anti-sexual wing of metrosexuality – which is to say, absolutely fucking pointless.

It’s the obvious, if often oblivious, visual bi-curiosity of today’s totally tarty, hyper metrosexuality that alarms people even more than its ‘vulgarity’. Male bisexuality is still largely a taboo precisely because it threatens the final, fond, sacred, and highly phallic myth of masculinity: that it has an (heteronormative) ‘aim’ and ‘purpose’. The scattershot sluttiness of spornosexuals signals a very sticky end to that virile delusion.

Mr Vice argues repeatedly that these young men enjoying their bodies and their lack of inhibition compared to their fathers and grandfathers, are having a ‘crisis of masculinity’. This just smacks of more middle class resentment dressed up as ‘concern’ – a pissy, passive aggressive way of calling them ‘sad douchebags’ again. Or ‘gay’. When people talk about a ‘crisis of masculinity’ they’re usually talking about their own – in dealing with the fact that masculinity isn’t what they want it to be. And particularly when working class chaps aren’t what middle class chaps want them to be.

It’s true that our post-industrial landscape often doesn’t know what to do with the male body apart from shag it or sell it, but that’s not necessarily such a terrible contrast with the ‘glorious’ past. For a younger generation of young men no longer afraid of their own bodies there’s no crisis – but rather a liberation. From the dehumanising, sexist constraints of their forefathers. Men’s bodies are no longer simply instrumental things – for fighting wars, extracting coal, building ships, scoring goals, making babies and putting the rubbish out that must renounce pleasure, vanity, sensuality and a really good fingering and leave that to women and pooves.

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Instead the male body has been radically redesigned, with the help of some blueprints from Tom of Finland, as a sensual sex toy designed to give and particularly to receive pleasure. Maybe it’s not terribly heroic, and admittedly some of the tatts are really grotty, but there are much worse things to be. Such as a slut-shaming writer for a hipster magazine.

Of course, I would say that. Because I find these spornosexual, totally tarty young men fuckable. But that’s kind of the point. They desperately want to be found fuckable. It would be extremely rude and ungrateful not to find them fuckable when they have gone to so much trouble doing all those bubble-butt building barbell lunges at the gym for me.

And in fuckable fact, it’s their fuckability which makes the unfuckables hate them so fucking much.

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© Mark Simpson 2014

Mark Simpson’s Metrosexy: A 21st Century Self-Love Story is available on Kindle.

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Totally tarty Dan Osborne gifs from here – h/t DAKrolak

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Metrosexuality & the Selfie

Mark Simpson was recently email interviewed by Beverly Parungao for a Sydney Morning Herald piece titled ‘Are Men Becoming Too Metrosexual?’ . Below are his unapologetic, uncircumcised replies.

BP: What is driving the metrosexual movement?

MS: Self-love – and a certain amount of self-loathing – is certainly a powerful dynamo.

But ultimately what we’re seeing here is nothing less than a revolution in masculinity in particular and gender relationships in general.

Metrosexuality isn’t about flip flops, facials or manscara, or about men becoming ‘girly’ or ‘gay’ – it’s about men becoming everything. Everything that they want to be.

Why are men today more concerned with their appearance?

Because they’re worth it. As advertising has told women for decades. Men make up c. 50% of the marketplace and need to pull their weight in the shopping mall if consumerism is to survive. They certainly seem to have upped their game rather a lot in the last decade or so….

We’re also living in a culture in which women have enthusiastically taken on previously ‘male’ preserves – from drinking pints to joining the world of work to actually having orgasms. Men, especially younger men who’ve grown up with all this as the norm, have worked out that they too can now appropriate products, practises and pleasures once deemed ‘gay’ or ‘girly’ and therefore out of bounds. The much greater acceptance of gay people has also reduced the stigma associated with men stepping out of their stereotype.

Most of all, we’re living in a visual, looking-glass culture of selfies, Facebook, Twitter, reality TV and Men’s Health covers. Metrosexuality represents men’s adaptation to this new world order – men can’t just ‘act’ any more they have ‘appear’ too, to be looked at. To be noticed. To be a brand. To be wanted. Male vanity isn’t empty and indulgent – it’s a survival strategy.

In our shiny, highly reflective 21st Century the sexual division of looking has thoroughly broken down, and men now ache to ‘objectify’ themselves.

Even and especially sportsmen who used to be the embodiment of ‘blokes’ and ‘regular guys’ who were supposed to be only concerned, ‘at the end of the day’, with ‘the team’ and ‘doing their job’, have become glossy, inked, pneumatic sporno stars.

You might be forgiven for thinking a lad only plays football or rugby these days as a way of starring in those saucy ads for Armani underwear and those tarty rugby and rowing calendars.

Manscaping is one the rise, but so too is male cosmetic surgery (in Australia and America). Do you view this as trend as part of the metrosexual movement?

Absolutely. The male body, once the last frontier of consumerism, has been totally commodified. Masculinity has been thoroughly aestheticized. I would add to the trend for cosmetic surgery and manscaping man-bits the way that men uses tattoos to shade and emphasise their worked-out muscles. The male body has become a living work of art.

Ironically the total ubiquity of beards at the moment is proof of that. No longer a secondary sexual characteristic or badge of blokedom they’re just another sweet male accessory. Another way today’s chaps ask you to adore them.

Should women be concerned that the metrosexual male is now mainstream?

They should certainly get used to it!

Many women I know welcome the fact that men nowadays are not only better turned out, more worked-out, sensual creatures who are rather better in bed as a result – but also the fact they’re more independent. Self-maintaining. They might spend forever in the bathroom but they are much more likely to be able to operate a cooker or washing machine and even buy their own underwear. Which is an advantage in a job market where women might be working while their partner is not – and where men might be staying at home looking after the kids.

Though for some women, perhaps with more traditional ideas about sex roles and the ‘complementarity’ of the sexes, adjusting to the new metrosexual order could be difficult. But then, a lot of chauvinistic men had trouble adjusting to the changes brought about by women’s lib.

In their quest to be desired have men become too sexy, too feminised and therefore less desirable to women?

You should probably ask women about that…. Though women aren’t always completely truthful in their answer to that question. Quite a few assert that they find a man who spends longer than them in the bathroom – which probably means just as long as them – a total turn off. But then they go completely bananas over a guy who clearly spends hours in the bathroom and every evening in the gym. Trust me, men have noticed this discrepancy!

The only hope for heterosexuality is double ensuite bathrooms.

Mark Simpson’s Metrosexy: A 21st Century Self-Love Story is available from Amazon in Kindle form and also in physical/fondle form.

Selfie Narcissus image taken from here

‘Get Your Filthy Hands Off Me!’ Gorgeous George’s Glamorous Legacy

Rather than watch the Olympics, and all that noble, serious sporting uplift, I’ve been reading a book about a carny, corny, shameless 1940s-50s American wrestler: Gorgeous George: The Outrageous Bad-Boy Wrestler Who Created American Pop Culture, by John Capouya.

My American chum Chris Supermarky recommended it to me, thinking it would be of interest. He wasn’t wrong. It was nothing less than a revelation. It was like finding the Rosetta Stone of metrosexuality. Or at least, post-war male glamorousness.

George Wagner was a baby-faced brunette, pint-sized, somewhat unremarkable 1940s US wrestler who decided he needed a gimmick to get noticed. And boy, did he find one. By turning himself into Gorgeous George, a vain, primping, preening peacock who peroxided his hair, had it meticulously tonsured, fussily held in place by gold-painted ‘Georgie’ pins, and wearing flamboyant robes that were outrageous creations of lace and silk and chiffon in mauves and pale pinks, he succeeded in inventing perhaps the most persistent and successful gimmick of the post-war world: The glamorous, decadent, ‘effeminate’ male star.

Before Beckham. Before Boy George. Before Bowie. Before Jagger. Before Elvis. Before Liberace. Before Little Richard. Before James Brown there was Gorgeous George.

Under the shrewd guidance of his Svengali wife Betty (there’s no evidence, aside from his gorgeousness, that George was anything other than heterosexual), who made many of his most daring robes herself, The ‘Human Orchid’ as he liked to be known, had deduced that the best way to get ‘heat’ from a wrestling audience – and thus bookings – was to transgress 1940s gender norms. Wildly. And cheat. Equally wildly. Not for nothing was his favourite slogan: ‘Win if you can. Lose if you must. But always cheat.’

The Sensation of the Nation’s pantomime performance of sissyness was a kind of cheating in itself: in 1940s and early 50s America men, particularly the blue-collar kind that Wagner wrestled for, were not allowed to enjoy chiffon and affectation. George was bending the rules and gender.

To help milk his act, and multiply his crimes, Wagner would hold his pre-match press conferences in local beauty parlours while having his hair marcelled and employed a tail-coated valet (a device later appropriated by GG fan James Brown) who would snobbishly spray the ring with cologne before George would deign to grace it with his aristocratic presence. When the referee tried to search George before the match as required by wrestling rules he would recoil offended, shouting ‘GET YOUR FILTHY HANDS OFF ME!!’

Such were the passions aroused by George’s gorgeousness that his incendiary appearance often led to fights and sometimes mini-riots when incensed members of the public would storm the ring in an indignant fury and try to take him on themselves. The director John Waters recalls watching GG on TV as a kid, spellbound by this apparition of queeniness – while his offended parents yelled insults at the lacey freak. GG was someone that America loved to hate but ended up just loving.

Although largely forgotten today, GG was about as famous as you could get back then: a by-word for fame itself – even making an appearance in a Bugs Bunny Warner Bros cartoon (as ‘Ravishing Ronald’), and one of the first proper stars of the new medium of television. Wrestling had been taken up by the early networks as a cheaply-staged way of interesting the masses in this new-fangled gadget. The small screen turned out to have been made for GG’s big glam head.

Many claimed to have been influenced by GG (including Bob Dylan of all people) but perhaps his most famous disciple was a young, relatively downbeat Mohammed Ali, who decided to adopt GG’s vainglorious, provocative persona – to devastating effect:

‘I made up my mind after [meeting] Gorgeous George to make people angry at me…. I saw fifteen thousand people comin’ to see this man get beat. And his talking did it. I said this is a gooood idea!’

And so Ali became the mouthy black boxer who bragged about being the ‘prettiest thing you’ve ever seen’ – ‘The Greatest’. Ali really was gorgeous. Facially and bodily. Wagner on the other hand… slightly less so. I’m not suggesting of course for one moment that GG was ugly – but at 5′ 9″, with a Roman nose and a bit of a pot belly his gorgeousness was perhaps more aspirational than Ali’s. Particularly in the latter part of his career George’s appearance puts me in mind of Freud’s famous phrase: ‘His majesty the baby.’

There was a dark side to all this glamorousness. Wagner reportedly began to believe his own publicity and insisted his own children refer to him as ‘Gorgeous George’, or ‘GG’. He was also, even by the standards of the time and his profession, a hardened drinker. After both his marriages failed he took to drinking even more. And as TV fell out of love with wrestling, and the years – and the boozing – took their toll, he of course drank even more.

By the late 50s early 60s Gorgeous George was reduced to novelty fights in which he was billed as forfeiting his lovely locks if he lost. And of course, he did – submitting to the indignity of being clippered seated on a stool in the centre of the ring, like a latter day Samson. A great box-office success the first time, this ritual humiliation became less and less so the more he repeated it. Even seeing Gorgeous George finally getting what had been coming to him all these years wasn’t enough of a draw second or third time around.

When the final bell rang in 1963 and George Wagner died of liver disease and heart failure, aged 48, all the large wedges of cash that had passed through his hands during his stunningly successful career had vanished without trace: he was penniless. But family and friends made sure he was given a glamorous send off.

The Human Orchid was dressed in his favourite purple satin robe (the ‘George Washington’), his hair was tonsured and pinned one last time and he was exhibited in a highly polished purple casket – before being ‘planted’ in the ground.

While he may have been largely forgotten, George’s glamorous ‘gimmick’ of course took root in the culture, and lives on.

 

 

Winsome, Losesome, Mansome

It’s always tricky as a writer talking to a researcher for a TV or film documentary. On the one hand you want your ideas to be taken seriously and the historical record to be as accurate as possible. And of course we all like attention. Especially from a visual medium we probably don’t belong in.

On the other hand, you don’t want to give everything away for nowt.

But you can hardly blame researchers for trying. For every ‘expert’ who appears on-screen in a doc, probably a dozen or more had their brains picked.

I don’t recall much of what I gabbled down the phone when I was contacted a couple of years ago by a female associate of the indie documentary maker Morgan Spurlock about a documentary she was helping him develop about the ‘male-grooming industry’. But I do remember that after speaking to her for about an hour I politely wound up the call – after getting that familiar brain-pick feeling. Or maybe I was just embarrassed at how talkative I’d been.

And that was the last I heard from Spurlock & Co. Which didn’t surprise me as I live in the UK, and it’s an American doc (with an Indie budget). True, I’m credited/blamed not just for coining the ‘metrosexual’ back in 1994 but also introducing him to the US ten years ago this Summer, kicking off the national nervous breakdown America had over masculinity in the Noughties and from which it is yet to fully recover. (Sorry ‘bout that, guys!)

But if there’s one thing the USA has no need to import from Blighty it’s talking big heads. They produce even more of those themselves than they do male beauty products.

Last April Mansome as it is now officially dubbed, emerged glistening and groomed at the TriBeCa film festival. With the publicity poseur: ‘In the age of manscaping, metrosexuals, and grooming products galore – what does it mean to be a man?’ And of course they found plenty of States-side experts, plus several celebs, such as Paul Rudd, Judd Apatow and John Waters to answer that question – along with Jason Bateman and Will Arnett, both executive producers of the doc and unashamed pedicurists.

I haven’t seen Mansome myself yet (an enquiry to the distributor’s press office some weeks ago has yet to produce a response), but going by the trailers, the advance reviews – and the title – I have a hunch that even if I’d lived within eyebrow-plucking distance of Spurlock and had been interviewed on camera for days I still wouldn’t have made the final nip and tuck of Mansome.

That ‘ironic’ music in the trailer, reminiscent of Desperate Housewives, seems to be there as a reassurance that none of this is to be taken seriously. That – relax dudes! – Mansome won’t goose you with any pointy ideas or insights. After all, even an indie film costs actual money to make and you have to get bums – waxed or just clenched – on seats to have a hope of getting any of it back. Mansome is selling itself as light entertainment not heavy enquiry. Or as Jessica Bennett at the Daily Beast put it in her review: ‘pseudo-documentary’.

So probably the last thing poor Spurlock would have wanted was the English and queer Metrodaddy insisting that metrosexuality is not only male vanity swishing triumphantly out of the closet, but tarty male passivity flaunting itself everywhere too. How men’s now flagrant-fragrant desire to be desired means that modern masculinity is quite literally asking for it.

But I wonder a bit how many bums, male or female, clenched or otherwise Mansome will actually lure into the multiplex. Arnett and Bateman are very droll in their towelling dressing gowns, but really, in 2012 who genuinely finds the notion of Hollywood actors visiting spas or shaving their backs remarkable? Or terribly snigger some? Even in America?

What’s more, the trailers, the credits and the hairlines suggest the masculinity being spotlighted here is mostly middle-aged. (It takes one to know one.)

One reviewer complained Mansome is ‘cute’ but has ‘nothing to say’. I doubt anyone would have bothered to make that complaint if we were talking Mikey Sorrentino’s abs. Or Channing Tatum’s buttocks. Or Justin Bieber’s dimples (Bieber, by the way, was born the very same year as the metrosexual). I certainly wouldn’t.

In the UK many if not most of the younger generation of males have taken metrosexuality as a given and literally fashioned their own bodies into a desirable, marketable product – and facial hair into less of a secondary sexual characteristic, or fetish of manhood, than just another sweet male accessory. Rather than try to define ‘what makes a man’ most would rather visit the gym or the tanning salon. Again.

Or show Metrodaddy their depilated pubes, balls and pierced John-Thomases in the pub. While their girlfriends look on, rolling their eyes. (No, really, this happens to me ALL the time. It’s just one of the many crosses I have to bear….)

Despite all this carping I’m still keen to see Mansome. America – or maybe just America of a certain age – does still need to talk this stuff through, honestly and openly. Especially after the mendacious ‘menaissance’ anti-metro backlash of the late Noughties that shut down the (admittedly rather skin-deep) conversation by shouting: ‘MAN-UP!!’.

Or the retreat into a slightly creepy if meticulously observed hipster waxwork version of Madison Avenue in the 1960s.

And there are some encouraging signs that Mansome might have something to say after all. Executive producer Bateman was quoted saying something rather refreshing in the WSJ the other day, cutting through much of the marketing froth around ‘male grooming’ – i.e. male beauty:

‘What this film confirmed for me was that men are not allergic to the mirror at all, We want to be as pretty as females. Body-hair removal, skin care—men basically do the same things, but are more secretive about them.’

Mind you, in the same article Spurlock himself was quoted as blaming Adam’s vanity on Eve again – in a very familiar and fruitless attempt to straighten out male narcissism:

“Men do crazy things for women, to get them and to keep them,” he said. “If all women were like, I want to have sex with a big, hairy Neanderthal, next thing you know one of the most popular products would be stuff that grows hair on your back and forearms.”

Not so sure about that, darling. (Though I do know a few bears who are already hot for hairy backs.)

And then there’s the manly strap-on euphemism chosen as the title for his doc. The Wiki page for Mansome includes this helpful paragraph about it:

‘Mansome’ is a relatively new word in pop culture. It is defined by UrbanDictionary.com as ‘an adjective that describes a man who is both manly and handsome.’ Mansome, the documentary, attempts to clarify exactly what makes a man “mansome”.

Obviously this is intended as a clever, ironic deconstruction of the way the ‘man’ word is too often stuck on a ‘girly’ product so that unadventurous fellows don’t think their nads are going to fall off if they buy it.

After all, ‘handsome’ is a traditional, acceptable ‘manly’ euphemism for ‘masculine beauty’. Or ‘attractive male’. One that a chap can use to describe another chap without calling into question one’s own whopping manhood.

So, needlessly strapping ‘man’ on an already essentially ‘male’ word would be something you would only ever do to point up the ridiculously camp and self-defeating nature of all these ‘man’ words, wouldn’t it?

I mean, effectively calling your documentary about male beauty Handsome (No Homo) is something you could only be doing to satirise the juvenile homophobia of American culture.

Isn’t it?

 Mansome goes on general release in the US later this month.

Mark Simpson’s Metrosexy: a 21st Century Self-Love Story is available now.

 

Postscript

I’d forgotten about this hilarious clip of Dean Martin Orson Welles gossiping under hairdryers at a ‘male hairdressing salon’. It puts Bateman and Arnett to shame. And it aired c. forty years ago.

The Few, The Proud: A Jarhead memoir of the First Gulf War

The mythology, the rituals, the dogma, the cult of masculinity and most of all the haircut, set US Marines apart. Mark Simpson takes a look at a memoir of the First Gulf War.

(Independent on Sunday 23/03/2003)

It may seem odd that the United States Marine Corps, the elite fourth branch of the US Armed Services, larger and better equipped than the whole British Army, heroic victors of Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal, spearhead of the last and current Gulf War, should be best known for, and most proud of, its hairdo. But then, the USMC is a peculiar institution. Magnificent, but very peculiar.

“Jarhead”, the moniker US marines give one another, derives from the distinctive “high and tight” buzzcut that Marine Corps barbers dispense, leaving perhaps a quarter of an inch of personality on top and plenty of naked, anonymous scalp on the sides. Like circumcision and the Hebrews, the jarhead barnet has historically set US marines apart, marking them as the chosen and the damned: monkish warriors. Or as one of the Corps’ mottos has it: “The Few, The Proud”.

Image is important for US marines, perhaps because of the burden of symbolism – for many, the USMC is America. Or perhaps more particularly because the USMC is John Wayne. Jarheads, or rather, actors in high-and-tight haircuts, are invariably the stars of Hollywood war movies; the other services just don’t have the glamour and the grit of the devildogs. As a result, the mythology, the rituals and the dogtag dogma of the Marine Corps cult of masculinity – boot camp, the DI, sounding-off, cussing and hazing, tearful graduation, test-of-manhood deployment, and that haircut – are probably more familiar to British boys than, say, those of the Royal Marines.

The relationship of real jarheads to their actress impersonators is confusingly close. When 20-year-old Lance Corporal Anthony Swofford and his buddies in a scout/sniper platoon get the order to prepare to ship out to Saudi Arabia in 1990 in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, they spend three days drinking beer and watching war movies. Ironically, their favourite films, such as Platoon, Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket are ostensibly “anti-war” liberal pleas to “end this madness”, but for fighting men they only serve to get them hot: “Filmic images of death and carnage are pornography for the military man,” explains Swofford, “with film you are stroking his cock, tickling his balls with the pink feather of history, getting him ready for his First Fuck.” Take note, Oliver Stone, you pink feather dick-tickler: “As a young man raised on the films of the Vietnam War, I want ammunition and alcohol and dope, I want to screw some whores and kill some Iraqi motherfuckers.”

In fact, Swofford’s ”Jarhead: A Marine’s chronicle of the Gulf War’’ is an avowedly “anti-war” memoir, powerfully written (pink feathers aside) and well-crafted, by someone who was clearly embittered, not to say damaged, by his experience of the USMC and his participation in the First Gulf War. Nevertheless, it isn’t clear whether Swofford, for all his reflectiveness, and of course his authenticity, is much more successful in demystifying war in general or the Corps. Telling us that war is hell (again) is rather counterproductive: hell is after all a rather interesting place, certainly more interesting than heaven, or civilian “normality”. Moreover, the quasi-religious, dramatic tone Swofford strikes of despair and ecstasy, loneliness and camaraderie, and the awful- but-fascinating baseness of war is not so different from that of Stone or Coppola (or for that matter, of Mailer). And while there are not quite so many explosions, there’s no shortage of pornography.

When sweating in Saudi in 1990 waiting for the war to start, Swofford’s unit find themselves being ordered to perform for the media, playing football in rubber NBC suits in 100-degree heat. To sabotage the hated propaganda op, they start a favourite ritual of theirs, a “Field fuck”, a simulated gang rape, “wherein marines violate one member of the unit,” Swofford tells us. “The victim is held fast in the doggie position and his fellow marines take turns from behind.”

Getting into the spirit of things, the jarheads shout out helpful remarks such as: “Get that virgin Texas ass! It’s free!” The victim himself screams: “I’m the prettiest girl any of you has ever had! I’ve seen the whores you’ve bought, you sick bastards!” The press stop taking notes.

Swofford reassures us that this practice “wasn’t sexual” but was instead “communal” – however, even in his own terms it seems that the distinction is almost superfluous: it’s the hallmark of military life that what’s sexual becomes communal. Elsewhere he tells us about the “Wall of Shame” on base: hundreds of photos of ex-girlfriends who proved unfaithful – frequently with other marines.

Swofford’s obsession with the marines had a media origin, beginning in 1984 when the USMC barracks in Lebanon was bombed, killing 241 US servicemen. He recounts watching the news bulletins on the TV and how he “stood at attention and hummed the national anthem as the rough-hewn jarheads… carried their comrades from the rubble. The marines were all sizes and all colours, all dirty and exhausted and hurt, and they were men, and I was a boy falling in love with manhood…”. Manhood in Swofford’s family was intimately linked to the military: his father served in Vietnam, while his grandfather fought in the Second World War. The desirability of manliness was the desirability of war.

It is probably not so strange that his obsession should have begun with an almost masochistic image of suffering and death: taking it like a man is an even more important part of the military experience than giving it. Sure enough, at boot camp Swofford finds his Drill Instructor to be a fully-fledged sadist of the kind that civilian masochists can only fantasise about: “I am your mommy and your daddy! I am your nightmare and your wet dream! I will tell you when to piss and when to shit and how much food to eat and when! I will forge you into part of the iron fist with which our great United States fights oppression and injustice!” Like many recruits, Swofford signed up to get away from a disintegrating home life and the flawed reality of his father and found that he had married his superego made barking, spitting, apoplectic flesh.

The DI’s job, as we all know from the movies, is to humiliate and break down the recruit, shame him, strip away his civilian personality and weaknesses and build him up into a marine. The DI is obsessed with inauthenticity: finding out who is not “really” a marine. He asks Swofford if he’s “a faggot… you sure have pretty blue eyes”. During one of these hazings, Swofford pisses his pants – an understandable reaction, but intriguingly it happens to be the same one that he mentions earlier in the book, when, as a young boy living in Japan (his father had a tour of duty there), he received “confusing and arousing” compliments on his blue eyes from Japanese women.

For good measure the DI also smashes Swofford’s confused shaved head through a chalkboard. Later, when this DI is under investigation for his violent excesses, Swofford shops him. However, he feels guilty about this and daydreams about running into the DI and “letting him beat on me some more”. Like I said, the USMC, God bless it, is a peculiar organisation.

Of course, Swofford isn’t your average jarhead. “I sat in the back of the Humvee and read the Iliad” is a memorable line. Other days might see him buried in The Portable Nietzsche or The Myth of Sisyphus. Swofford also seems a little highly-strung: he attempts suicide, Full Metal Jacket- style, fellating the muzzle of his rifle after receiving a Dear John letter from his girlfriend. He’s saved by his returning roommate, who takes him on a run “that lasts all night”. More physical pain to salve the existential variety. By the book’s end, we are left with an image of Swofford, long discharged, wrestling with despair, not least over the sights he saw in action in Kuwait, but now without the distraction of physical suffering and discipline. Sisyphus without the rock.

Mind you, “jarhead” does suggest something that can be unscrewed: brains that can be easily spooned out. It may be true that some men become soldiers to kill; but it may equally be the case that some join to be killed, or at least escape the burden of consciousness. Swofford appears to feel cheated that life not only went on after the Gulf War (like most U.S. ground combatants he was a largely a spectator of the massacring potency of American air power) but in fact became more complicated and burdensome.

Under these circumstances, I think most of us would miss our DI.

© Mark Simpson

The New Bromanticism

Just over half of British and American men are currently in or have had a ‘bromance’ in the past according to a survey, not by Dr Kinsey, but by Badoo (‘the world’s largest social network for meeting new people’).

The Badoo press release – issued on Valentine’s Day last week – claims that the survey of 2000 men ‘reveals the extent to which British men have embraced the “bromance” phenomenon’. We’ll get to that bit later.

What’s immediately and gratifyingly clear is that the Badoo survey doesn’t insist, as many would and have done, very loudly, that a bromance is a close friendship between two STRAIGHT men – no gayers or gayness allowed, thank you very much.

Instead, Badoo defines bromance as ‘a close platonic relationship with someone of the same sex’. And we all know about that Plato guy and those Greeks….

Badoo’s British respondents listed these famous male friendships in their ‘top ten’:

1. Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson

2. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

3. Ant and Dec

4. Buzz and Woody (Toy Story)

5. Harry Potter and Ron Weasley

6. George Clooney and Brad Pitt (Ocean’s Eleven)

7. Gavin and Smithy (Gavin and Stacey)

8. Joey and Chandler (Friends)

9. Frodo and Sam (Lord of the Rings)

10. Simon and Will (The Inbetweeners)

Some of these male friendships are more platonic than others. You don’t have to be a slash fiction writer to see something slightly erotic in, for example, Frodo and Sam’s smouldering on-screen relationship – or Newman and Redford’s. I have to say I was pleased but a little surprised that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid made it into second place (that movie was released 43 years ago) – I suppose there must have been a lot of respondents as middle-aged as me.

It’s a crying shame that Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin didn’t make the list – but then the era that they reigned supreme as the world’s favourite ‘platonic’ male lovers was well over half a century ago. And they were probably too explicit for today’s tastes.

It’s also a shame also that the great, passionate early twentieth century psychology male double act of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung was ignored. But I suppose that the recently-released A Dangerous Method didn’t pull in quite as many punters as Sherlock Holmes 2. And besides, it has a unhappy ending: Freud and Jung have a very messy divorce.

But Freud and Jung personify in an oddly neurotic fashion the way no ‘bromance’ is ever quite ‘pure’ of libidinal impulses: Freud famously fainted more than once in the presence of his anointed successor the young Jung, blaming it on some ‘unresolved homosexual attachment’ – the cigar aficionado considered homoerotic attraction the basis of all male bonding. And although the split occurred because Jung rejected Freud’s all-embracing libido-theory, emphasising instead ‘spirituality’, it was Jung who had the major nervous breakdown after they parted.

It was the non-Freudian Michel Foucault who, as I recall, attributed the emergence of ‘the homosexual’ to the decline in the institution of male friendship. Foucault was immensely interested in friendship:

‘As far back as I remember, to want guys was to want relations with guys. That has always been important for me. Not necessarily in the form of a couple but as a matter of existence: how is it possible for men to be together? To live together, to share their time, their meals, their room, their leisure, their grief, their knowledge, their confidences? What is it to be “naked” among men, outside of institutional relations, family, profession, and obligatory camaraderie?’

(Michel Foucault, ‘Friendship as a Way of Life’)

For Foucault, experimental friendship and ‘new relations’ was what male homosexuality was for. Or at least the bit of it that he was interested in that wasn’t about leather and whips.

The arrival of companionate marriage in the early twentieth century left increasingly little room for close male friendships – friendships which, along with greater physical affection such as kissing and holding hands, occassional passionate declarations of love, and also the custom of chums sharing bed (see Abe Lincoln), had meant that the difference between a sexual relationship and a non sexual one was largely invisible to the world. Close male friendships cover the pre-gay past with a blanket of discretion.

Perhaps the popularity of ‘bromance’ even just as a buzzword represents a resurgence of interest in close male friendship, as the medical, legal and social force of ‘the homosexual’ and for that matter ‘the heterosexual’ declines. A quarter of the Badoo respondents admit to having ‘the most fun they have with anyone’ with their bromance partner, and ‘just like Holmes and Watson’ over one in ten are ‘often mistaken to be more than friends’, while 10% of them claim to get stick from their partner for it.

Marriage is also now in steep decline, of course. Fewer and fewer people are getting hitched and if and when they do it’s usually much later than their parents or grandparents. (According to Badoo, 28% of single British men are currently in a bromance, with this figure dropping to 10% for marrieds and 15% for co-habiters.)

Before the Second World War, when working class men tended to get married in their late twenties and early thirties, the now-defunct institution of ‘trade’ gloriously filled the gap between adolescence and domesticity. And despite the name, the traffic between ‘normal’ working class lads and queer gentlemen was not always commercial or hedonistic – surprisingly often it developed into a long term and emotionally close friendship.

After being initially rather sceptical, I’ve begun to re-evaluate my attitude towards ‘bromance’. Over time it seems that the ‘romance’ part of ‘bromance’ is becoming less irritatingly ironic – and the ‘bro’ part less annoyingly fratty. And also less insistently hetty. In this Badoo survey at least, ‘bromance’ cuts right across ‘sexuality’.

Like that other annoying word ‘metrosexual’, ‘bromance’ seems to be potentially acting as a solvent of gay/straight boundaries, giving men whatever their sexuality permission to express stuff that they otherwise might not. Facilitating and encouraging close, emotional friendships between two straight men. Or between gay and straight men. Or straight and bi men. Or maybe even between – one day, in the far distant Utopian future – gay men.

The recently launched ‘Bromance’ app, a location-based network ‘that helps you organize activities with friends and nearby people with shared interests’ was mocked by many (including me until I found out more about it). The people behind the app, like Badoo, don’t insist on the heterosexuality of their ‘bros’ – and go one step further in suggesting that ‘bros’ don’t have to be male, either.

Many commenters on gay blogs seemed to think the Bromance app would be only used by ‘closeted gay men’ seeking sex on the ‘downlow’ – while the Brobible agreed, ‘aggressively opposing’ this ‘men seeking men’ app for polluting the heterosexual purity of their bro-ness.

I’ve no idea whether it will be popular or not, but the gayist and bro-ist scorn which greeted the Bromance app seems to be precisely down to the way it might facilitate new kinds of platonic friendships. And new kinds of sexual relationships. Under a blanket of smart-phone discretion. And we won’t know which is which.

Despite all the name-calling, it’s precisely the inability to define what’s going on or the people taking part that is the ‘problem’. I suspect Foucault would have been one of the first to download the Bromance app, in his  fervid search for ‘experimental friendships’. I get the feeling Michel was quite a lonely guy. (Or ‘FUCKING LOSER’ as the Brobible would put it.)

The new technology of information and communication and the new social networks it has spawned seem to be enabling new kinds of relations and experimentation away from judging eyes – and exploiting it, of course. At the same time as perhaps making us all lonelier.

A Badoo spokesperson explained why they commissioned their survey:

‘Everyone always talks about relationships and dating – but actually a bromance buddy is also really important to men. For the 44% of British men that have never had a bromance – Badoo.com offers them the chance to meet someone that’s like minded – whether that’s for bromance or romance.’

It’s not clear where Badoo found their respondents from, and I’m not sure their findings are terribly scientific. I’m not even sure what Badoo is, to be honest. But something is definitely afoot with male friendship.

Another survey published this week should certainly be taken very seriously indeed for what it says about the yearning of British men for close, intimate friendship. According to Travelodge, half of the men they asked admitted they still have a teddy bear from their childhood. A quarter admitted to sleeping with their teddy bear when ‘on business trips’. While 15% confessed they ‘treat their teddy as their best friend’ and ‘share their intimate secrets with their bear’.

Does bearmance stand in for bromance with British men? Or t’other way round?

 Tip: Lee Kynaston & Topak

Let me Hear Your Body Talk

Are men the new women? I’ve always avoided using that line until now. As the (hetero)sexual division of labour and loving and looking continues to fall apart, men are the new everything. Just as women are.

But in the last few months we’ve been told men now take longer getting ready than women, mercifully deleting at a stroke most of the material of stand-ups like John Bishop. We’ve also been told that gents are more likely to take travel irons, hairdryers and straighteners on holiday than ladies. Now there’s new evidence they may be as body-conscious as women too. In fact, according to a widely-reported study of 394 British men published last week, lads are now more concerned with their body image than lasses.

A third said they think about their appearance more than five times a day, 18% were on a high-protein diet to increase muscle mass, and 16% on a calorie-controlled diet to slim down. While a Faustian 15% claimed they would happily trade 2-5 years of their life if they could have their ideal body weight and shape. (Probably because they hoped the years would be sliced off the end of their lives — when they’re old and crumbly and not very likely to go on Big Brother anyway).

Some we’re told were undertaking compulsive exercise, strict diets, using laxatives or making themselves sick in an attempt to lose weight or achieve a more toned physique. And although the survey didn’t cover this, other data suggests a surprisingly large number of men are also taking steroids, growth hormones and other prescription drugs to achieve a more aesthetically pleasing appearance.

Which generally means tits and abs. Men’s main preoccupation, the survey found, was their ‘beer belly’ and lack of muscles, with a whopping 63% saying they thought their arms or chests were not muscular enough. And people never believe me when I tell them that while some women are size queens, all men are.

‘Geordie Shore’s Jay knows what you want

Clearly a lot of men are gazing avariciously at the flaunted porno pecs and abs of hit TV shows like Jersey/Geordie Shore (Geordie Shore is back for a second season on MTVUK at the end of this month). We already know they’re buying Men’s Health magazine as it became the biggest-selling men’s mag recently. All those tarty, shouty Men’s Health front covers promising BIGGER ARMS! PUMPED PECS! and RIPPED ABS! in a fortnight may be as laughable as they are repetitive, but they’re clearly, lucratively tapping into 21st Century man’s deepest, darkest and beefiest desires.

Men may or may not be the new women, but men’s tits and abs are the new eye candy. Men have become their own High Street Honeys.

They’re also rather bitchy. Apparently 80.7% of the survey respondents talked about their own or others’ appearance in ways that draw attention to weight, lack of hair or slim frame. It also confirms that men of whatever sexual orientation look rather a lot at each other’s bodies, comparing and contrasting, desiring and detracting.

Dr Philippa Diedrichs of the Centre for Appearance Research at UWE in Bristol who led the survey, described this conversation between men about their bodies as ‘body talk’ (which makes me think of both Olivia Newton John beating up the fatties in ‘Physical’, and also that single from the same era by the incredibly camp dance band Imagination.)

‘Body talk reinforces the unrealistic beauty ideal which reinforces leanness and muscularity. This is traditionally seen as an issue for women but our research shows that men are feeling the pressure to conform too.’

Rosi Prescott, chief executive of Central YMCA which commissioned the research also sees this as ‘damaging’:

‘Historically conversation about your body has been perceived as something women do, but it is clear from this research that men are also guilty of commenting on one another’s bodies; and in many cases this is having a damaging effect. Men’s high levels of body talk were symptomatic of a growing obsession with appearance, she added.

Some three in five men (58.6%) said body talk affected them, usually negatively.’

I’m a bit conflicted here. Probably because as an ‘avid fan’ of the worked-out male body I’m part of the problem. On the one hand I welcome this kind of research and the publicity it’s received because it’s both putting the spotlight on both how much men’s behaviour has changed of late, and also undermining sexist assumptions about ‘men’ and ‘women’, which many feminists, like lazy stand-ups, buy into. And it’s always good to draw attention to the Patrick Batemanesque dark side of the metrosexual revolution – and its costs.

On the other hand, I’m not entirely sure that applying the problematising, pathologising and sometimes Puritanical, dare I say ‘Wolfian’ (as in ‘Naomi’), discourse that’s been used on women’s bodies wholesale to men would be something to welcome. Men aren’t the new women, but they might be the new moral panic.

This ‘body talk’ amongst men isn’t necessarily a sign of ‘guilt’ as was suggested. It might be a healthy honesty. And whilst obviously this kind of critique and competition might push some into anxiety and obsession and self-destructive behaviour, or conformity to rather narrow ideals of male beauty, the generalised, compulsory, traditional self-loathing that existed amongst men before ‘body talk’ and (male) body interest became acceptable was in many ways worse. It was also, remember, ‘normal’.

After all, not wanting to talk about their bodies is part of the reason why men historically have been very reluctant to visit their GP and tend to die much earlier on average than women. Until very recently the male body was simply an instrument that was to be used until the mainspring broke. Barely giving men time to rewind their horribly symbolic retirement clock.

And certainly, men didn’t look at one another’s bodies. Unless they were queer.

Not anymore. Men’s ‘body talk’ has become deafening. On the hit ITV reality series The Only Way is Essex Arge, who is a little on the husky side, was always gazing longingly at Mark (above) and asking how he gets his ‘fit body’ and whether he can help him get one too.

A married squaddie mate who is an occasional gym buddy always subjects my body to a close scrutiny in the changing rooms after our workouts, appreciatively commending, say, my deltoid or tricep development, and mercilessly criticising, say, my forearms’ failure to keep up with them. And my belly’s general miserable flabbiness. Part of me dreads the scrutiny, but another welcomes the frank ‘body talk’ too. I’m glad he gets all Olivia Newton John on my ass. If he didn’t, I might have to pay someone to do it.

Mind you, his wise observation about gym culture to me one day sticks in my mind: “It’s all about ‘ow you look isn’t it, Mark? Nobody really cares whether any of this makes you fit or not. You could be rotten underneath but if you look great no one gives a fook.” He’s right. The metrosexy cult of male beauty is all a bit Dorian Ghey.

Which reminds me, apparently a quarter of the respondents in this survey were gay (well, it was sponsored by the Central YMCA). Of course, some people will hastily seize upon that to disqualify its findings. And while it probably is reason to treat them with at least as much caution as those of any other survey, I’m inclined to see the large sample of gay men included as a sign of this survey’s relevance and inclusiveness. After all, it’s gays that are to blame for the cult of male bloody beauty….

Gays like The Village People. Love it or loathe it, the body-fascist foundations for the metrosexy male culture we’re living in were laid in the early Eighties. And I’m deliriously happy the Central YMCA commissioned this survey as it’s a perfect excuse for me to post (below) my Favourite Music Video of All Time. I suspect it was part of the inspiration for Olivia’s ‘Physical‘ video. (And both were almost certainly inspired by this epic.)

Every frame is a joy, but the Busby Berkeley (or is it Leni Riefensthal?) shot of the swimmers diving one after the other into the pool as if they were perfectly-formed poppies scythed down by the camera’s gaze never fails to send me into paroxysms of delight. For me, it’s always fun to stay at the YMCA.

Which is just as well. In the 21st Century we’re all checked in there. Permanently.

 

Traditional Masculinity Has a Stroke – ‘Burly Rugby Player’ Transforms Into ‘Gay Hairdresser’

My friend Michelle, formerly the male stripper known as ‘Stud-U-Like’, alerted me to this ‘freaky’ tale of transformation reported in this week’s freaky Daily Mail with this priceless headline:

Burly rugby player has a stroke after freak gym accident… wakes up gay and becomes a hairdresser

It then teases us with a couple of ‘shocking’ bullet-pointed facts

Chris Birch loses eight stone and transforms himself from skinhead to ‘preened man’

Gives up job in bank and retrains as a hairdresser

 

Cutting to the chase:

Mr Birch recalled: ‘I was gay when I woke up and I still am. It sounds strange but when I came round I immediately felt different.

“I wasn’t interested in women any more. I was definitely gay. I had never been attracted to a man before – I’d never even had any gay friends.

‘But I didn’t care about who I was before, I had to be true to my feelings.’

Before the accident Mr Birch, of Ystrad Mynach, South Wales, had spent his weekends watching sport and drinking with his mates.

But he said: ‘Suddenly, I hated everything about my old life. I didn’t get on with my friends, I hated sport and found my job boring.

‘I started to take more pride in my appearance, bleached my hair and started working out. I went from a 19-stone skinhead to an 11-stone preened man.

‘People I used to know barely recognised me and with my new look I became even more confident.’

The copy and a supportive quote from a neuroscientist seems to suggest only two explanations: ‘he was gay all along but didn’t know it before the stroke’; or ‘his stroke made him gay and good with colours’.

I’m not a neuroscientist, but it seems to me that there are more than two possible explanations here.

Maybe Mr Birch was just fed up with being the big Welsh boyo everyone wanted him to be and when it almost killed him he decided: ‘Sod THAT for a game of soldiers! Life’s too short. I’m gonna be a FLAMER!!’

Maybe Mr Birch simply resolved, albeit unconsciously, to be about Mr Birch from now on, not what his family, friends and fiancée expected of him. Maybe he chose to reject heterosexuality because it made too many demands on him. And what better way to escape its demands in a small Welsh town by waking up from a near death experience as the only gay in the village?

Being a bloke’s bloke isn’t always as much fun as it looks. And being honest, it usually doesn’t look that much fun anyway. You don’t have to be a ‘secret gay’ to find it miserable and oppressive. And more often than not you’ll be punished if you try to escape. Look at what happened to Shane Warne, whose own transformation from beer-bellied Aussie stereotype to flaming metrosexual has been regularly pilloried in the papers, including the one in which this latest sporting transformation story appeared.

Though of course nowadays it’s sometimes possible to be a rugby-playing Welshman and something of a flamer too. Maybe Mr Birch should have taken a leaf out of fellow Welshman Gavin Henson’s bachelor book and continued playing with odd-shaped balls but as a ‘preened’ rugby player. But then again, perhaps he didn’t have the legs for it.

And as for Mr Birch’s new-found interest in chaps. Well, I’m sorry but I don’t think it very surprising when males find other males sexually interesting. Or something that needs to be explained by a stroke. At least not the kind the Daily Mail reports.

There is though yet another possible explanation for all this. That this story is complete twaddle. It did after all appear in the Daily Mail. And the writer is the same one who reported pretty much every important fact about this infamous ‘gay orgy in the bushes’ story incorrectly, apparently pandering to the imagined Daily Mail reader’s worst fantasies.

Also, the stroke that ‘turned him gay’ (instantly, apparently), happened in 2005. Why wait six years to tell the national press? Especially if you told your parents and fiancée when you came round in the hospital.

And I seem to recall that when I first read this story about Mr Birch online yesterday it mentioned that he and his fiancé/girlfriend were ‘taking a break’ before the accident. The piece was ‘updated’ today and this detail is nowhere to be found.

And then we have the banner headline which talks about a ‘freak gym accident’ causing his injuries but the copy talks instead about ‘him attempting a backflip in front of friends on a field when he fell down a grass bank, breaking his neck and suffering the stroke.’ Or the way the ‘before’ picture appears to have been manipulated/squashed to make him look burlier.

But my favourite dodgy passage is this one:

‘He was taken to hospital where his fiancée and family spent days waiting anxiously at his bedside before he delivered the shocking news.’

What? More shocking than breaking his neck, suffering a stroke and nearly dying?

UPDATE 18/04/12

Last night BBC3 aired ‘I Woke Up Gay’, a documentary about Mr Birch. It was an hour long, but apart from some local Welsh colour, some more snaps of Birch pre-stroke when he was straight and very chunky (“Oh! That’s AWFUL!!'” was today’s slimline Birch’s horrified response to them) and more close-ups of Birch’s remarkable hairdo, which looks like a badly ironed dead badger, the doc didn’t really add anything to the Mail’s story. Or really clarify the ‘confusions’. (Birch says he ‘can’t remember’ much of his pre-stroke past.)

It did however leave you feeling that the whole thing wasn’t just cooked up by the Mail, and that Mr Birch seems to believe his own story. Or perhaps needs to believe it. Though it’s still not entirely clear when exactly he decided on it. His family were notable by their absence in the doc – apparently he has become estranged from most of the people he used to know before the stroke.

I don’t wish to suggest as many have done that Birch is ‘lying’, or was a ‘closet queen’ before the stroke. Or that he’s simply attention-seeking (though he certainly doesn’t seem to mind it). I do think though that he may be deceiving himself – but then, we all do that. To some extent probably most coming out stories are fictional if necessary narratives. What’s interesting is not what his story says not about dubious ‘brain science’ but about how difficult it can still be for some to accept themselves in places like the Valleys as gay, or just not a boozy rugger bugger.

In that kind of situation a stroke might even be a stroke of luck. At least in the sense of giving you a chance to reinvent yourself.

The ‘highlight’ of the doc was when Birch travels up to London to see the Wizard of Oz – or rather, a highly controversial scientist called Quazi Rahman who believes that gay men’s brains are innately different to straight men’s (this in turn is based on dubious assumptions about ‘men’ and ‘women’ that are increasingly being questioned). The narrator told us that Rahman has tested “hundreds of lesbian, gay and straight volunteers” (no bisexuals, note – and for the purposes of this entire documentary they simply don’t exist) and “can tell if a person was born gay or straight, despite their current lifestyle”.

In other words, Rahman is God.

The narration continues, cheerfully telling us:

“Though controversial, some scientists believe that our genes and hormones may determine sexuality before birth and personality traits too. These traits can be tested and this means that Dr Rahman can work out whether or not a person was truly born gay.”

Truly born gay.

In other words, Rahman is even bigger than God. He’s Jeremy Kyle.

(Note how BBC3 throws in a reluctant ‘controversial’ at the beginning of the first sentence but by the end of the second, knowing most BBC3 viewers have already long forgotten it, seems to be expressing nothing short of a divine revelation.)

So it was touching to see two people who both fervently believe in ‘gay brains’ come together – but unfortunately for Birch, it wasn’t a marriage made in heaven. Rahman talks to Birch about testing him to find out “how gay your brain is” (no, really, that’s actually what he says), but was clearly disappointed with his own results, which showed that half Birch’s responses fell within the ‘normal range’ for a gay man and the other half within the ‘normal range’ of a straight man. Whatever that means.

Birch though is delighted with the results because he sees it as an endorsement of his narrative of the stroke ‘turning his brain gay’. But Rahman seems set against the idea, despite his mixed findings. Perhaps this is because for the gay neuroscientist (who is the author of a book called ‘Born Gay’) the whole point of ‘gay brains’ seems to be that you’re born with them, rather than being something you can acquire, even by accident. Like I said, everyone has their own necessary coming out fiction.

Birch’s boyfriend, who accompanied him to the Gay Brain Detector’s lab, seemed to be the only one who had his head screwed on. He was gently sceptical of his partner’s belief that the stroke made him gay, but was patiently sympathetic to the psychology of it. “He’s based his whole life on the stroke making him gay,” he said whilst Birch’s brain was being ‘tested’ for ‘gayness’.

“If he wasn’t, it would almost be like having to start from scratch again.”

Anders Breivik: Metro-Psycho


When I first saw the images of Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Breivik, the ones he had so helpfully included in his press pack that accompanied his ‘manifesto’, two thoughts immediately popped into my net-addled head:

a) They look photoshopped. Especially the soft-focus glamour one in the Lacoste jumper with the collar turned up

b) The ‘action man’ dressy-uppy photos look like they’ve been pulled from a gay fetish dating website. Look at all my sexy accessories!

When I compared them with the pictures of the inanely grinning, boringly bovine balding 31-year-old male being driven away in handcuffs in the back of a police car I congratulated myself that I hadn’t arranged to meet him.

Deluded as he is, Breivik seems very aware of the disconnect between the ‘Justiciar Knight’ image he wants to present to the world – which may appear laughable to others, but clearly turns him on like the Blackpool Illuminations – and the more hum-drum reality. According to The Daily Telegraph:

A narcissist and a fantasist, Breivik, 32, refuses to have his prison ‘mugshot’ taken to ensure that the carefully stage-managed photographs he took of himself – in full Masonic regalia or clutching his rifle – are not replaced by more humbling images.

Given his yen to stage-manage everything, even from behind bars, it’s perhaps not so surprising that costuming seems to be a continuing preoccupation of his:

Having been refused permission to wear a combat uniform, he has demanded to wear a red Lacoste sweater for his public outings to court or to the police station. He will not wear anything else.

Well, if you know your signature colour and you have a brand that you feel at home in, why change?

I have no desire to read Breivik’s manifesto. It’s over 1,500 pages long. It’s demented. Worse, it’s badly spelled. Plus there’s the small matter of his murdering scores of people, most of them children, to make me and you do just that. To make us take his delusions of grandeur and purpose seriously. So forgive me if I don’t feel like curling up with him.

There isn’t a ‘mystery’ to Breivik that needs to be unlocked, except perhaps by mental health professionals. And even then, it certainly wouldn’t be in his rambling, ranting cut-and-pasted scrapbook of (mostly American) right-wing nut-jobbery.

But plenty of people seem to take a different view. Legions of journalists and commentators and sociologists are reading the manifesto avidly, searching for clues. Explanations. Keys to unlock the ‘enigma’ that is Breivik and make sense of his senseless slaughter. Perhaps it’s the media’s job to try and find meaning where there isn’t any, but even in seeking to refute or ridicule his arguments – or hold him up as an example of what happens when right wing extremism or misogyny is allowed to flourish as many liberal papers have done – I think they are in danger of flattering him.

There are no ‘lessons’ to be learned from the pathetic creature that is Breivik, no matter how much he might want us to think so and no matter how tempting it is to pander to that. He’s criminally insane. End of.

And yet. Maybe I’m in danger of being a big fat hypocrite here, but it’s increasingly difficult for me to ignore some of the stuff in his manifesto that keeps being discussed. From a nice middle-class Norwegian background, the perpetually single (and “100% hetero”) chap laments that modern men spend so much time worrying about their clothes and their colognes.

He also bemoaned metrosexuals, seeing them as part of the ‘feminisation’ of the culture in general and men in particular which was leaving Europe (wide) open to Islamification:

…men are not men anymore, but metro sexual [sic] and emotional beings that are there to serve the purpose as a never-criticising soul mate to the new age feminist woman goddess.

Other reports tell us that he was an avid gym-goer, took steroids and visited tanning salons. There are also claims that he had plastic surgery in his early twenties on his nose and chin. And then we have those carefully staged, possibly photoshopped images and his refusal now to have his mugshot taken or wear anything in public he considers unflattering.

Breivik was clearly in pathological denial about all sorts of things – his own metrosexuality was perhaps the least of them. But he went to and continues to go to a great deal of trouble to present himself to the world, however camply, however grotesquely, as a ‘real man’, a Christian warrior, while using and displaying many of the characteristics of his hated ‘passive’, ‘weak’, ‘feminine’ metrosexuality to do that.

And in this, alas, he isn’t so unusual – just rather more extreme. There are a lot of metros in denial. Not all of them are out and proud. Quite a few are self-loathing as well as self-loving and diss ‘girlie-men’ metros in the hope that this will prove they’re not ‘that way’ themselves. A bit like how it works, in other words, with your actual homosexuality.

Much of Breivik’s politics was gleaned from right wing US websites, where chaps are always whining about not being able to find a ‘real man’ these days (in much the same way gay bears do), and where ‘metrosexual’ is used as the worst kind of insult. A fag who isn’t actually a fag. Worse than a fag, in fact. A heterosexual who allows himself to be penetrated by the weakness and effeminacy of gay men – spreading the disgusting disease of unmanliness.

So, in a sense Breivik’s anti-metro tirades are just copying and pasting again. Likewise his camply conflicted personal presentation seems to European eyes very American.

You don’t need to read A European Declaration of Independence to know that this ‘Christian warrior’ mass-murderer clearly desires to be desired. The manifesto, those glamour shots and probably even the awful crimes are one enormous, mega-creepy personal ad. Not so much metrosexual as metro-psycho.

The worst of it is that to some extent Anders Breivik has achieved what appears to be his main goal. Not starting a war against the Islamic invasion of Europe and ‘cultural Marxism’. Nor getting people to read his bloody manifesto.

He’s become a celebrity.

Tip – Bat020

 UPDATE 17/04/12

It seems Breivik tired of the red Lacoste jumper and decided to go for something more formal, but still designer (with very padded shoulders) for his court appearance this week. And a fashion beard that accentuates his ‘heroic’ jaw-line. Quite the dashing ‘Christian warrior’.

From his meticulously crafted appearance, his rehearsed clenched fist salute, to the tears on viewing his own propaganda film, to to his lack of response to the tapes of the final moments of the people he slaughtered to get this gig in front of the word’s media, it’s obvious that Breivik is thoroughly enjoying the attention and won’t let the small matter of all those dead bodies spoil his week.

UPDATE 24/08/12

Breivik was originally diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and thus not responsible for his actions – i.e. criminally insane. This caused an outcry in Norway and, highly unusually, two more forensic psychologists were called in. This time a much more popular diagnosis was delivered: they declared that because of the way he meticulously planned his attacks he couldn’t be crazy.

Today the Oslo district court where he has been on trial for mass murder went with the second diagnosis, declared him legally ‘sane’ and sentenced him to 21 years in prison – though he is unlikely to ever be released.

Everyone seems happy with this verdict. The survivors. The families. Norway. The media. Breivik is perhaps the happiest. Unless he was playing an Oscar winning Br’er Rabbit, the thing he appeared to fear most was being ruled insane and thrown in a specially built psychiatric unit indefinitely. In his mind he is now a ‘political prisoner’ not a highly dangerous mentalist.

I can’t say I blame Norway for perhaps moving the goalposts to make sure he was found criminally responsible. But in a sense, his ‘Christian warrior’ delusions have been endorsed. 

The Earring Wars are Over

Last Saturday’s The London Times Magazine ran an extract from ‘The Man in the Gray Flannel Skirt’, a memoir by Jon-Jon Goulian ‘the New York Review of Books first cross-dressing staffer’. I haven’t read it yet, but the extract inclined me to do so very soon.

Here’s Goulian on the semantics of earrings in the 1980s – a semantics which I also recall as having a very definite and decisive import when I was at school in the UK back then which you ignored at your peril, but which now seems as daft as Crystal and Alexis mud-wrestling:

In 1984, in La Jolla, California, as was true in most places in this country, a huge amount of significance was attached to which ear an earring appeared in. If it was in the left ear, that meant you had a liberal conscience, and that you wanted people to know it. It was essentially like having a bumper sticker on the back of your VW bus that said NO NUKES. It was a gesture. Nothing more. So no one took it seriously.

An earring in the right ear, on the other hand, meant that you were gay, and that you wanted people to know it. That, people took more seriously. An earring in the right ear could get a bag of Tater Tots thrown at your head, which I saw happen to a gay kid at La Jolla High School. In La Jolla, Tater Tots. Other places, bats and bullets.

Earrings in both the right ear and the left ear were unclear. They meant that you were a) gay; or b) that you were not only gay but also a budding transvestite; or c) that you were not gay but only a budding transvestite; or d) that you were not gay and not a budding transvestite but, just weird and confused and in need of some sort of counselling.

When my mother set eyes on me, the same thought ran through her mind as would have run through the mind of any middle-class woman who grew up in Park Slope, Brooklyn, in the Fifties – ‘Oh, my God! I don’t understand! Is he a or b or c or d? Or all the above? This is not a fair test! I don’t understand the question!’

His poor mother.

Nowadays, the monosexual semantics of earrings on boys has broken down. The earring war is over. It ended, like most things have in this new century, not in white doves and petals and earrings being beaten into plowshares but incoherence.

Or as someone on this thread put it, in answer to a quaint question about which side was ‘gay’:

‘Um. Are you stuck in the 80s? It doesn’t mean anything any more.’

Which is perhaps bad news if you wanted like Jon-Jon seems to have back in the day, to make a statement that ‘people took seriously’. But then, it’s not just earrings that have suffered that fate.

 

Henry Finally Throws in the Towel

Much-loved British heavyweight boxer Henry Cooper died this week.

Unborn in 1963, the year he nearly defeated Cassius Clay (the Brits love near-winners much more than winners), I remember him for the curious Brut TV commercials he did in the 1970s that helped usher in the world of male product aisles in supermarkets and spornographic advertising we know today.

‘Enery’s ‘omely features and working class man’s man status, along with the ironic play on Brut/brute, guaranteed that there was nothing poofy about men using cologne as more than just an aftershave — ‘splash it on all ovah!’ Which was an important statement for one of the first mass market male colognes to make at a time when such vanites were generally still frowned upon in the rather pongy UK. In the Dick Emery, Are You Being Served? 1970s it was inconceivable that ‘enery could be ‘omo.

But the ‘omosocial reassurance that something isn’t ‘omo can look a lot like ‘omosexuality sometimes.

Here’s one of the happily married Henry having a sweaty workout, shower and towel-flicking sesh with footballer Kevin Keegan. Which is manly man’s man stuff, but with a surprisingly pronounced (intergenerational) homoerotic sub-text. The fact I still vividly remember it from my youth suggests that the sub-text was there all along, and not just something the filthy-minded 21st Century has projected on the past.

It even seems like they’re about to kiss at one point. But then, in the 1970s footballers did this to one another after scoring. Because again, it was inconceivable that they could be ‘omo.

Thirty years on, it’s hardly a surprise that Brut is no longer trailblazing. Brut, which was never exactly a ‘refined’ fragrance, is marketed in the US today as a slightly ironic retrosexual throwback.

Though maybe I’m mistaken. Perhaps the retrosexual at the end of the ad below is really a butch lesbian.

 

 

Assume the Position: A Queer Defence of Hazing


Mark Simpson wants to be be soundly smacked with a paddle

(Out magazine, 2006)

When I joined my local rugby team, I was made to do terrible, awful things. Even now, all these years later, I feel distressed and choked up recounting what happened. I had to stand on a chair as a full pint of beer was shoved in my groin, soaking it. I then had to drink a yard of ale (three pints in a yard-long horn-shaped glass) with a bucket in front of me. Later, several of us had to run around the rugby pitch stark naked. In January.

I was traumatized. I may never recover. This wasn’t what I had signed up for! You see, it was a terrible, awful, unforgettable, wounding disappointment.

It was just all so… restrained. I had been hoping that we would be performing some of the other bonding and initiation rites that I’d heard about, such as the one where one naked team-mate bends over and a pint is poured over his ass, down his crack, and over his sack while another sits underneath him with head back and mouth open. Or the soggy biscuit game: a circle jerk over a cream cracker where the last one to come has to eat it. Or perhaps the carrot game, where a root vegetable is shoved up the rookie’s ass and a pink ribbon tied around his erect penis (something to do with the carrot I suppose), which he has to keep on for two weeks, to be checked at each training session.

Frankly, I would have even been happy with the relatively vanilla hazing that all new recruits to a crack U.K. Army regiment have to participate in: According to a straight soldier pal of mine, the “old-timers” rub their asses and genitals over the faces of the new recruits or “crows”, as they’re called.

But, alas at my rugby club all that was on offer was a wet crotch on my jeans and a frost-shrivelled penis. Judging by the excited media reports, things would have been very different if I’d been a college freshman in the United States and joined the football team or one of those kinky fraternities with those Greek names.

At the University of Vermont the “elephant walk” is, or was, rather popular: Pledges drink warm beer and walk naked in a line, holding the genitals of the lucky lad in front of them. At Tiffin University in Ohio the soccer team has been known to strip their freshmen players to their underwear, handcuff them together, scrawl vulgarities on their bodies, and make them lick one another’s nipples. Sometimes the fun isn’t just reserved for members of the team. At a Utah high school two wrestlers stripped a male cheerleader in the school locker room and “attempted to shave his pubic hair” with an electric clipper. Attempted? Does that mean they didn’t succeed? That’s some cheerleader.

truth be told, even in the United States, hazing isn’t what it used to be. This ancient rite is under attack from all sides: the media, feminists, mothers, educational authorities, legislators, police—and also many gays. Hazing is being shamed up and stamped out. The only reason we know about the sordid goings-on in frat houses across the nation is because the authorities were involved, litigation was initiated, criminal charges brought, and the media mobilised. A big stink, in other words. Most respectable people seem to agree hazing is wrong, sexist, and homophobic and must be stopped.

Now, perhaps I’m not terribly respectable, or maybe I enjoy championing lost causes, but I think hazing can be a valuable, venerable masculine institution that is worth defending, particularly by men who are interested in other men. Hazing is the last rite of passage left for boys in a world that doesn’t seem to want boys to grow into men any more, a very physical form of male bonding in a society that wants us to remain as disconnected as possible, an antidote to individualism, which in this atomized day and age tends to just mean alienated consumerism.

Yes, I realize that hazing can be dangerous. It can turn into abuse and bullying or outright sadism, as in those widely reported instances of boys being sodomized with mop handles and pine-cones. Boys, like men, can be plain dumb and dangerous and occasionally fatal. Jocks can be obnoxious, arrogant little shits, especially to male cheerleaders. But my point would be that this is all we ever hear about. Hazing has been tarred with one self-righteous puritanical brush.

Scandalized media reports and a proliferation of anti hazing Web sites such as BadJocks.com and StopHazing.org have helped to decisively turn public opinion against hazing (though in some cases with an admixture of voyeurism for the very thing that they are campaigning against). Hazing is now the subject of a full-fledged moral panic about “our children”. This September sees the First National Conference on High School Hazing—and you can be sure they’re not teaching delegates how to conduct a successful elephant walk. Most states now have anti-hazing laws, and most universities have draconian anti-hazing policies.

Here’s the University of Vermont’s all-embracing definition of what hazing is and thus what is verboten:

“any act, whether physical, mental, emotional, or psychological, which subjects another person, voluntarily or involuntarily, to anything that may abuse, mistreat, degrade, humiliate, harass, or intimidate him/her, or which may in any fashion compromise his/her inherent dignity as a person”.

Which sounds to me like a recipe for a very dull Saturday night indeed.

Don’t we all want our “inherent dignity as a person” to be compromised sometimes – especially at university? And why on earth would you join a fraternity, or an ice-hockey team, or in fact any all-male group if you were so concerned about your inherent dignity as a person? Wouldn’t it be wiser just to stay at home knitting? Hazing is used by these groups for precisely that purpose: to put off those who aren’t really serious about putting the group or the team above their own damn preciousness or good sense.

Note how hazing is defined as “voluntarily or involuntarily”: Consent is irrelevant to the powers that be in their zeal to stamp out hazing (just as it used to be with homosexuality). They know best. Nor is it merely extreme cases such as sodomizing with pinecones that the anti-hazing zealots are against but “any act, whether physical, mental, emotional, or psychological” that might be kind of naughty, kind of dirty, kind of fun. In itself a rather convincing argument for hazing, at least for young people. Mom and the cops and the college dean don’t like it? Great! Bring on the handcuffs, warm beer, and Jell-O!

Which brings me onto the aspect of hazing that, as you may possibly have guessed, I have a fond fascination for, and is a central part of my desire to defend the practice—and probably why my defense will probably succeed in finally killing it off: the homoerotic dimension, the “gayness” of what these mostly straight guys like to do to one another and their private parts.

Granted, a lot of hazing, especially with the crackdown going on today, has little or nothing to do with homo-erotics. It may be just Jackass-style craziness involving oncoming traffic, gallons of water, and jumping out of trees. Mind, hazing does, like me, keep returning to men’s butts and penises and testicles (anyone for “tea-bagging”?) even when it tries not to. Obviously, I think this is entirely understandable and requires no explanation whatsoever, let alone pathologizing it and criminalizing it. But clearly plenty of people think otherwise.

So why is hazing so homo? Perhaps because all-male groups, according to Freud, are bound together by barely sublimated homoerotic feelings. It’s what inspires them to such heart-warming loyalty, such passionate self-sacrifice and heroic endeavour—Eros can wrestle the instinct for self-preservation to the ground. The hazing rituals with their simulated homo sex could be seen as a symbolic group fuck that gets the “sex” over with yet turns all the members of the team or fraternity into a band of lovers. Of course, I would prefer that they followed the exemplar of the Theban Band, or the Spartans of ancient Greece, the warrior-lovers who didn’t stop at simulated homo sex (and were widely regarded as invincible). But you can’t have everything.

There are also putatively Darwinian explanations for the homo-erotics of male groups. In our prehistoric past the bonding of hunters and warriors was vital to the survival of the tribe. Those tribes that survived and thrived and passed on their genes were those in which men were willing to sacrifice breeding opportunities and comforts of life with the chicks back at camp for weeks and months of intimacy with men and a willingness to serve and take orders. Prehistoric man, in other words, was a bit of a leather queen. This is probably the reason why hyper-masculinity is sometimes difficult to separate from homosexuality, especially during Hell Week.

Alas, many gays see hazing as necessarily homophobic and appear to buy into the simplistic feminist analysis of power and domination. In an online article Cyd Zeigler Jr. of Outsports.com recognizes that hazing is often deeply homoerotic (and lists some of the same scandals I have), but sees it as essentially homophobic: “Whether it’s sodomizing them or making them wear women’s panties, the notion of forcing younger players to submit to team veterans comes right out of the handbook of anti-gay stereotypes.” Clinching the matter, homoerotic hazing apparently “emasculates the victim”.

Leaving aside that the out-and-proud gay world isn’t exactly free of power, domination, and humiliation, or for that matter anti-gay stereotypes, this assertion about the emasculation of the victim doesn’t always hold true. While I have some sympathy with this approach, in its attachment to victim-hood it seems to be rather more rigidly homophobic than hazing is.

The curious paradox of hazing is that while it may well regard “fagginess” and “softness” as undesirable, it actually makes the homoerotic central to membership of the group. Besides, rather than emasculating the new members of group, the veterans wish to ‘masculinize’ them, and they use homoerotics to that end. Hazing itself is not an act of hostility but of affection: tough love. While hazing can be homoerotic and homophobic, this is not—and it’s difficult for us self-centered homos to realize this—its point.

The famous Sambia tribe of New Guinea (famous because anthropologists won’t leave them alone) don’t simulate homosexuality in their own hazing rituals: they practice it. Adolescent boys are taken from their mothers by the older youths and required to repeatedly give oral sex to them—they are told that the semen will masculinize them. In today’s universities, of course, the semen is replaced by warm Budweiser and protein shakes. From a Sambian point of view, the dominance of the anti-hazing lobby today would probably represent an insufferable victory of the protected domestic world of Mom, who deep down doesn’t want her cherished baby boy to ever be exposed to anything extreme or distasteful or dangerous or… male.

But then, it sometimes seems that our contemporary culture has less and less use for, or appreciation of, masculinity that isn’t merely decorative or good at DIY. Paradoxically, as the toleration and visibility of newfangled gays and gayness in our culture has risen, intolerance of oldfangled homoerotic masculine rituals has also increased. Very often, society’s preoccupation with hazing is, like mine, a preoccupation with its “gayness.” But in reverse.

When a private video of drunken off-duty U.K. Royal Marines running around naked together in some godforsaken place was sold to the tabloids in 2005, it caused an outcry. Officially, it was because one of the Marines was shown being kicked in the head by a drunken officer, and this was evidence of bullying. But as the repeated printing of the naked pictures showed, it was mostly about the fact that they were fit young marines, naked together, being gay.

The (extremely hot) victim, 23-year-old Ray Simmons, came forward to say he didn’t hold the officer (who was now the subject of a military police investigation) responsible, and it was just a bit of fun that got out of hand. However, the host of reader letters that the stories prompted showed the real preoccupation was not the bullying but the gayness. A typically hissy example from one male reader:

“I am utterly disgusted by the behavior of our so-called Marines…. This kind of thing would be better suited to a gay 18–30 holiday on a remote island somewhere. Our enemies across the globe must be laughing at us.”

So society apparently still expects Marines to go and kill and be killed anywhere in the world at the drop of a daisy-cutter to defend our enervated suburban—and voyeuristic—lifestyle, but ridicules and condemns them for doing what men have to do and have always done to bond and let off steam. Fortunately, the Marines aren’t taking any notice: “People think a load of men getting naked together is a bit gay,” said Simmons, “but we don’t care what others think. It’s just Marine humor.”

Well said that man. Don’t let the square civvies—or the envious homos like me—try to shame you into being as joyless, lonely, and bereft of real camaraderie and human contact as the rest of us. It’s a sign of our isolated times that most people today could never say the words “we don’t care what people think” because:

(a) they don’t belong to a group, or in fact to anything except a supermarket loyalty scheme; and

(b) they care about what people will think rather more than they do about their buddies.

The homoerotics of hazing are not, in fact, necessarily homophobic or gay. They’re just guy.

And I don’t know about you, but I’m all in favor of guys.

Touching Another Dude Dudely

I’m not sure I entirely believe the preamble from the overly dudey – if very easy on the eye – presenter and star of this ‘experiment’ in ‘touching dudes softly’. Particularly the bit about ‘nothing makes me uncomfortable!’

But it is interesting to watch the responses of the men he decides to monster with ‘inappropriate’ tenderness – or ‘touching another dude softly’.

I’m also personally interested in why I found it very uncomfortable to watch. Is it because I’m worrying the men will freak out? Or is it just because I’m very uptight about physical tenderness myself? Or is it simply because of the painful self-consciousness of the setup?

I’ve watched drunken straight lads do much ‘worse’ things to one another and not felt in the least bit uncomfortable about it. And nor did they, apparently.

I attended a gay rugby tournament some years ago and was struck by the way that there was on the whole rather less in the way of physical affection and tenderness between men than you’ll find at ‘straight’ rugby matches. I still remember watching a sozzled young chap at the Army & Navy match batting his mate’s gilfriend’s hand away from his chum so HE could hold his hand as they left Twickenham.

In fact, many of the players I spoke to at the gay ruby tournament seemed to be disappointed that the gay rugby teams were missing one vital rugby ritual: post-match homoerotic horseplay.

Sometimes being straight means that you can get away with much more. Because it’s all ‘a laugh’. Dude.

Tip: Pug Bear

The Men’s Zone: Where Guys Can Feel Pretty

There are now so many ‘grooming’ – i.e. male beauty – products on the market in the US they’ve begun to introduce entire aisles in supermarkets devoted to men’s tartiness. Even in Texas.

Shoppers will find “more than 530 grooming products, including razors that sculpt beards, two shelves stocked with rinses to color gray hair, at least 15 body washes with names such as Swagger and Komodo, lotions that promise to smooth wrinkles, sprays to mask body odors, and eye roller gel to lighten dark circles.”

Called ‘Men’s Zone’ (which sounds, I can’t help but point out, like a gay leather bar) and apparently sponsored by cosmetics giant Procter and Gamble, the concept seems to be separating men’s ‘grooming products’ from women’s beauty products — so that men feel less anxious, and more manly, about their metrosexuality.

And buy even more beauty products.

Tip: DAKrolak

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