The tennis ace is being shoved up against the (unplastered) wall and then thrown down and hammered on the builder’s bench. Twice.
By the camera. Which chops up his body into sexy, slippery bits and pieces. Tits and ass and abs. Total, rampant, ruthless objectification. Which Mr Nadal – like many young men today – appears to relish.
And that liquid he’s half-drowning in. Is it bodily fluids? Or is he being water boarded by our gaze?
Could this video in fact be any sluttier, without actual penetration? Then again, wouldn’t your actual, standard-issue penetration diminish the sluttiness by making it both ‘hard’ and banal? Instead of the grainy non-specific sluttiness that drips off everything in our mediated, metrosexy world.
The skipper of the nuclear-powered carrier and Star Trek namesake the USS Enterprise seems to be in danger of being keelhauled for ‘raunchy’ on-board videos he made to entertain the crew back in 2007 when he was second in command. The videos included male-male and female-female pairs pretending to soap one another up in the showers. I’ll admit I haven’t been able to watch all the video, which is full of in-jokes and far too much Capt. Honors and not enough shocking footage for my liking, but according to the Virginian Pilot:
‘In other skits, sailors parade in drag, use anti-gay slurs, and simulate masturbation and a rectal exam. Another scene implies that an officer is having sex in his stateroom with a donkey.’
Sailors and Marines behaving like sailors and Marines! Whoever would have thunk? As someone else once put it:
“The Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale, and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have ever seen. Thank God for the United States Marine Corps!”
No, that wasn’t my friend ‘military-chaser’ Steve Zeeland, but First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
I don’t rate Capt. Kirk’s — I mean, Owen Honors — chances of surviving this scandal since it catches him between the Scylla of American political correctness and the Charybdis of American Puritanism. ‘Inappropriate conduct’ being the magical phrase used to bring these two crushing forces together. These are straits from which few mariners return. Never mind that the videos were apparently very popular on board the USS Enterprise – and were never intended to be seen by anyone on land. This was another, relatively more benign kind of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell — but one that seems in this day and age just as doomed as the other.
As the sailor who made the videos for Capt. Honors put it:
‘”In his defense, I’ll say that sometimes, when you’ve been out to sea for a while, cut off from everything, you start to think things that you would never normally do are actually a good idea,” he said. “You do stupid stuff to stay sane.”‘
Or as the old Navy saying has it: It’s never queer unless you’re tied to the pier. But these days, you’re always tied to the bloody pier.
‘…electronic communication with the rest of the world while at sea can be difficult; it was nearly impossible to e-mail or upload videos from the carrier in 2006 and 2007.
“He probably figured they’d never get off the ship.”‘
What happens in Fight Club doesn’t stay in Fight Club any more.
I originally viewed the video in the tiny format of the box on the Norfolk Pilot website. Seeing it on YouTube in larger resolution I now realise that all three characters you see sitting in Capt. Honor’s stateroom at the beginning of the vid are in fact Capt. Honors. That the second in command of the USS Enterprise saw fit to split his personality into a nerdy ‘gay’ SWO and a macho, cool air jock is ‘fascinating’, as Spock would put it. Or would be if I fancied Honors more.
I jest of course. The staff at Men’s Healthwish they looked like that.
Even if I’m sure quite a few of them dance like that — when the readers can’t see them (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell may be about to be repealed in the US Armed Forces, but not any time soon at Men’s Health publisher Rodale Inc.).
The topless, somewhat top-heavy chaps miming to Kylie in the vid are actually models from a gay porn outfit. The clip is called ‘A Tribute to Kylie’ – but should probably be called ‘A Tribute to My Tits’.
Then again, lots of things today should probably be called that, including Men’s Health, Strictly Come Dancing, and Mikey Sorrentino’s wannabe narcissists’ self-help book, Here’s the Situation.
Get outta their way!
Especially now that narcissism is officially no longer a mental illness. Earlier this month it was announced that the next edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, the bible of therapists and psychiatrists, would no longer include narcissism in its list of personality disorders.
Being English, and therefore by definition irredeemably effete to most Americans, I’m fascinated by the way our colonial cousins appear to love rolling hysterically hirsute words like ‘macho’, ‘manly’ and the double-furry, XXL ‘manly men’ around in their mouths.
When they’re not exhorting everyone to ‘man up!’, whatever that means. The self-consciousness of all this man-lurve, and the ticklishness of those androgenic adjectives, tend to make us fey English just giggle and roll our eyes. Or gag.
In the UK the notion of ‘manly cupcakes’ and a ‘Butch Bakery‘ would be a Little Britain sketch. While compiling a list of our ‘manliest cities’ could only be a Monty Python sketch. But in the US it’s a serious business.
‘The COMBOS® “America’s Manliest Cities” study ranks 50 major metropolitan areas, using manly criteria like the number of home improvement stores, steak houses, pickup trucks and motorcycles per capita. “We’re excited to release the second installment of the COMBOS® ‘America’s Manliest Cities’ rankings,” said Craig Hall, general manager, Mars Chocolate North America. “Charlotte is NASCAR country so we’re not surprised that they’ve taken over the top spot. After all, COMBOS® has been the ‘Official Cheese-Filled Snack of NASCAR’ since 2002.”’
Now, I would like to imagine that even in the US the notion that a metropolitan area can be ‘manly’ is meant to be a little tongue-in-cheek. Taken to be a bit of a laugh. But there isn’t too much evidence of this. The list of America’s Manliest Cities is in its fourth year.
Perhaps I’m not the best judge of these things, but I’m not entirely sure what is so ‘manly’ about this list anyway – compiled, you’ll note, on the basis of consumption: ‘…using manly criteria like the number of home improvement stores, steak houses, pickup trucks and motorcycles per capita.’
With a large, ‘man-sized’ slice of generosity we might say this list is celebrating ‘blue collar’ towns. Without the generosity, and noting the mammoth candy producing sponsor Mars Chocolate North America and their ‘cheese-filled snacks’– and the weighty fact that 31% of US males over the age of 15 are already obese, most of them from the lower end of the social spectrum – we might say this list should be renamed ‘America’s Fattest Cities’.
Since America stopped making things its working class have been turned by corporate design into its over-eating class. Consumption, particularly of processed food, is now its job. In the US every other ad on the radio and TV is for processed food of some kind – reminding America to get back to work. Eating. So perhaps it only makes sense that the masculine pride that used to go with blue-collar professions has now been transferred, by Madison Avenue, to stuffing yourself with fast-food, candy and cheese-filled snacks while sitting on your broadening ass. Man up to oral insatiability! is the real tagline of pretty much all this kind of advertising (e.g. the famous ‘Manthem’ ad for Burger King of a few years back.)
There seems to be an overlap here with bearism, the gay American cult for supersized furriness, which knows a thing or two about oral insatiability. American gays live, of course, in the same America as other Americans. Exposed to the same advertising and the same cheap, always-available fast-food, many gay men in the US are also obese. In a sense, bearism was the gay world’s own advertising campaign to recast a shaped beard standing in for a missing jawline as ‘manly’ – and therefore desirable. Though as I like to say to bears who think that their fetish represents ‘real’ and ‘authentic’ masculinity compared to ‘those queens’, bearism isn’t about being a manly man – it’s about becoming a fatter, hairier version of your mother.
Gay or straight, empty calories are used to fill the manly emptiness inside. Mars also produce Snickers – a highly fattening product that is sold to boys as being a ‘manly’ antidote to general faginess with the tagline ‘Get some nuts!’. (In your mouth.) Perhaps this is why San Diego, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco come at or near the bottom of Mars’ list of ‘manly cities’.
The UK for all its ticklishness about ‘manliness’, is fast catching up with the US in the obesity stakes, and similar strategies are being employed (often by the same giant US food processing corporations) to make over-sized man portions seem less about insatiability than about virility. Mars itself ran into trouble here a few years ago for making their candy bars ever bigger and contributing to childhood obesity.
Of course, supersizing yourself actually diminishes your virility. Obesity lowers your levels of testosterone, as well as causing you to lose sight of your John Thomas, while growing man-boobs.
The epidemic of obesity amongst pre-pubescent young boys on both sides of the Atlantic means that many of them never really experience puberty. Oh, their voices break, they get furrier and their genitals mature, but their body won’t really change shape. It will be ovoid and lipid – and ‘momsy’ – forever. Until they’re put in a super-sized casket. Possessing a masculine body will always be just a dream.
But not to worry, advertising can sell them even more comforting processed food as… ‘manly’!
Dire warnings of how men are doomed because more chapesses are now in work than chaps, are more educated, and now earning more (in large cities), prompted a special ‘Man Up!’ issue of Newsweek a few weeks back on the ‘crisis of masculinity’. The centrepiece was an interesting, lengthy – and oddly-conflicted – essay titled ‘Men’s Lib’ which seems to identify America’s continuing love-affair with machismo as holding American men and America back from adapting to a changing world.
It calls for a ‘reimagining’ of masculinity. Men need to jettison their prejudices and pride and embrace ‘girly’ professions and ‘changing diapers’ to adapt and survive:
… as women assume positions once occupied exclusively by men, and the more ‘manly’ sectors of the U.S. economy continue to shrink, a more capacious notion of manhood — the product of both new policies and new attitudes — is no longer a luxury. In fact, it may be exactly what’s needed to keep the American male, and America itself, competitive in the 21st century.
Which sounds splendid, if somewhat late in the day: this argument could have been made at any time since at least the 80s when ‘masculine’ heavy industries began to be replaced by ‘feminine’ service industries. It’s also charming to see that ‘reimagining masculinity’ is cast as a patriotic project: Uncle Sam Needs YOU to change diapers!
The authors of this piece, Andrew Romano and Tony Dokoupil are very into changing diapers. And reproduction generally. Which is perhaps why they assume when talking about ‘reimagining masculinity’, even at such length, that it is entirely heterosexual. I don’t mention this to score points. And reproduction is a wonderful, if slightly scary thing. I mention it because fear of being thought homo – and thus emasculated, and thus outside the world of men – has long been one of the chief ways in which traditional notions of masculinity have been maintained. Long past their use-by date – particularly in the US.
The battle over the Pentagon’s ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’, still raging after nearly twenty years, is a very public example of this. Whatever arguments traditionalists might martial in public against the repeal of this policy, such as ‘unit cohesiveness’, ‘lack of privacy’ and ‘operational readiness’, everyone knows that this is just a polite smokescreen, as much to spare their sensibilities as anyone else’s. However reasonably Don’t Tell-ers state their case we can all hear quite clearly the apopleptic D.I. superego shrieking inside their heads over and over, spraying their cerebellum with spittle: ‘Fags AREN’T MEN! They take it UP THE ASS, for chrissakes! And they ENJOY IT! They bat for the OTHER SIDE!!’
How the devil can you motivate American men to be men and do the ultimate ‘manly’ thing if they are serving alongside open sodomites who aren’t punished, can’t be drummed out of the ranks of men in disgrace, and in fact have every legal right to the same respect and protection as any other soldier? (As with gay marriage, hardly anyone is terribly worked up about lesbians – but unfortunately for the ladies who love ladies they are, once again, lumped in with gay men for the sake of ‘consistency’, and also to avoid having to actually acknowledge the, y’know, bum-sex obsession.)
The connection between machismo and homophobia isn’t, in the words of the somewhat phallic cliché, rocket science. Likewise, tackling homophobia is something you have to do if you want to take on machismo. Sweden, the country cited so approvingly in the Newsweek piece for its paternity leave programme is also one of if not the most gay-friendly countries in the world (and the US one of the least gay-friendly in the Western world), though this goes unmentioned.
All in all, Newsweek’s clarion call for ‘men’s lib’ is sounding somewhat muted. So perhaps it’s not entirely ridiculous that the name given its project for ‘a more capacious notion of manhood’ (that doesn’t appear to include anything non-heterosexual and non-reproductive), is ‘The New Macho’.
This moustachioed moniker has been wheeled out before – most amusingly in the form ‘machosexual’ – when the US was having its gigantic national nervous breakdown over metrosexuality in the mid Noughties, either as a reactionary knee-jerk response to that ‘girly man’/fag stuff. Or as a mendacious repackaging of metrosexuality for the older, more clenched gentlemen.
Perhaps it’s a really clever piece of marketing by the Newsweek authors, packaging their call for radical change as something reassuring. Maybe ‘New Macho’ is what you need if you want to tempt the old machos aboard the Twenty First Century. Or even just aboard the latter part of the Twentieth Century. We probably shouldn’t forget that at the height of their fame the Village People were a band whom most of the US thought were just wholesome archetypes of all-American virility. And in a funny way, they were. Either way, they certainly knew a thing or two about repackaging machismo. And packets.
By contrast, I’m not so convinced by Newsweek’s spruced up handlebar moustache.
‘It’s clear that we’ve arrived at another crossroads—only today the prevailing codes of manhood have yet to adjust to the changing demands on men. We’re not advocating a genderless society, a world in which men are “just like women.”
Well, c’mon guys you so are! At least in the sense that men should be able, just like women today, to go against traditional expectations. (I know, know, you have to say these daft things because otherwise you’ll sound… un-American.)
‘We’re not even averse to decorative manhood, or the kind of escapism that men have turned to again and again—think Paul Bunyan, Tarzan, and bomber jackets—when the actual substance of their lives felt light. If today’s men want to be hunters, or metrosexuals, or metrosexuals dressed in hunting clothes, they should feel free.’
Yes, there are rather a lot of metros dressing in hunting clothes these days. Particularly at Newsweek. But ‘feeling free’ is the key here, of course. Which is why this really is in the end about a kind of ‘men’s lib’. But my hunch is that a system as rigid, repressive – and now as cloyingly sentimental – as machismo can’t be reformed, or re-styled by putting the word ‘new’ in front of it. Like medallions and signet rings it just. Has to. Go. (West.)
A new study of puckering practises reported in today’s Daily Mail (‘How men kissing each other on the lips in friendship is “no longer taboo”‘) suggests that the majority of male students in the UK think nothing of giving one another a big wet one on each other’s lips in all sorts of social situations.
Which is a bit much for this old bugger: I can barely kiss men in bed.
Researchers at the University of Bath found that 89 per cent of white undergraduate men at two UK universities and one sixth form college said they were happy to kiss another man on the lips through friendship.
It sounds though as if they may have been talking to members of the university rugby team:
They found that 36 per cent of respondents had also engaged in sustained kissing, initially for shock value, but now they occurred just for ‘a laugh’.
Dr Eric Anderson, the academic behind the survey claimed, plausibly enough, that heterosexual men kissing one another is a result of the decline of homophobia:
‘At these universities, overt homophobia has reduced to near extinction, permitting those men to engage in behaviour that was once taboo.’
University in the UK is now probably one of the most gay tolerant environments imaginable. Which of course would impact on how non-gay men behave towards one another too, since homophobia is one of the key ways in which male-male relations in general are made to conform to traditional ideas about what is ‘normal’ and ‘masculine’. Even though quite a few homos — such as this one — don’t kiss other men as freely as these young straight men appear to.
‘The kiss is a sign of affection in student social spaces, a sign of victory on the pitch, or celebration at a nightclub but it does not have a sexual connotation in any of these spaces.
‘It seems generally younger people are becoming more and more open minded with each generation.’
Perhaps I’m hopelessly optimistic, but I would generally go with Mr Anderson here about what this metrosmooching signals. Though I’d add that it also probably also represents the spread of Continental habits, like croissant-munching. And I’m not entirely certain that men snogging other men on the pitch or nightclub ‘does not have a sexual connotation’. I mean, wouldn’t it depend on how hot they looked?
Joking aside, however much attitudes may have changed towards manlove at UK universities, if the comments section is anything to go by, readers of the good old in-Continental Daily Mail haven’t changed much at all.
The ‘best rated’ comments are those expressing spluttering disbelief and assurances from random men that they only ever kiss ladies, thank you very much. While the ‘worst-rated’ comment was the shocking: ‘Men kissing men shouldn’t be a taboo anyway’.
What are little boys made of?
“Snips and snails, and puppy dogs tails
That’s what little boys are made of!”
What are little girls made of?
“Sugar and spice and all things nice
That’s what little girls are made of!”
This popular kids nursery-rhyme, and the popular notion that men and women are different species from entirely different worlds, may have to be re-written in the light of recent findings.
Several books recently have taken a scalpel to ‘neurosexism’, or rather the neuroscience of ‘innate’ and ‘inborn’ – or ‘hardwired’– differences between men and women. It seems that most of what we have been told about ‘male’ and ‘female’ brains over the last few decades is, to use a highly technical term, bollocks.
It turns out there is little or no sound scientific evidence for the sweeping claims that have been made about sexed brains – even if they make for easy headlines for copy-editors and provide endless material for lazy stand-up comics. In fact, the very notion of a ‘male brain’ and a ‘female brain’ is misleading. Shockingly, it turns out that the human race, in all its billions and billions, doesn’t actually resolve itself into just two kinds of people. One made of snips and snails and the other made of sugar and spice. One from Mars, the other from Venus.
Yes, there are some differences between adult male and female brains, but these are not, it seems, so much inborn in the way we think of anatomical sexual difference as being inborn – there’s little solid evidence of sex differences in children’s brains. Instead they’re the result of our highly ‘plastic’ brains adapting to the culture and expectations they are born into. Learning the syntax of sex and gender.
Having read one of the most publicised books, Dr Lise Eliot’s (ironically titled) Pink Brain, Blue Brain, I can report I thoroughly enjoyed the way she methodically dices and slices the mounds and mounds of dodgy neuroscience papers that have gone before her, like some kind of white-coated Ellen Ripley figure. It’s always a thrill to see scientific scepticism in action – especially in a particularly egotistical field such as neuroscience that seemingly just can’t resist making several whopping great tendentious claims before lunchtime. Neuroscientists sometimes come across like a real-life Pinky and The Brain, but more ridiculous.
Eliot’s argument is that small physical and temperamental differences between the sexes at birth are exaggerated by cultural attitudes – and by bad science based on cultural attitudes, providing a depressing feedback loop. She certainly makes a forceful case for it, showing how so much of the data in this area has been cherry-picked or unreasonably extrapolated from studies on rats. Essentially, for the vast majority of children, how they are raised and educated and the cultural expectations they are born into are of much greater importance for their psychological development than the amount of testosterone they were or were not exposed to in the womb.
But perhaps what is most interesting is that while she might be characterised by some (though not as far as I’m aware by herself) as a ‘feminist scientist’, if only because she’s female and a scientist and taking on gender stereotyping, she’s not so much riding to the rescue here of girls, as boys.
The biggest losers as a result of latter-day ‘neurosexism’ aren’t the girls who are discouraged from being physically adventurous by their over-protective mothers, or tacitly persuaded that maths isn’t for them, but the boys who are talked to less than girls, left on their own longer and not expected to be interested in books. We can glean an idea of who is really losing out in the figures which show that boys are falling further and further behind girls at every level of education. It’s not so much that education has been ‘feminised’ as some would have it, it’s that education has been branded ‘not for boys’ by bad science and even worse popularizations of it.
The notion/prejudice that girls are ‘hardwired’ for communication and boys’ for aggression is doubtless very unfair indeed to girls – but it’s downright abusive for boys. Our assumptions that boys as a ‘species’ are ‘naturally’ much less empathetic than girls, less social, less literate, less sensitive – less ‘human’ in other words – are a self-fulfilling prophecy/nightmare. Snips and snails…. Boys are, in effect, being ‘hardwired’ into failure by adult prejudice – and scientific hogwash.
Neuroscience has ended up saying some very strange, very damaging things about boys. Leading neuroscientist Simon Baron-Cohen (yes, he’s the cousin of the other one) actually argues that autism is ‘an extreme form of maleness’, caused by exposure to high levels of pre-natal testosterone. Put another way, he’s in effect arguing that ‘normal’ maleness is a mild form of autism (rather like most of the novels of Nick Hornby). Dr Eliot does a particularly nifty job of despatching this argument, concluding that far from being some kind of excess of maleness, we still just don’t know what causes autism.
But my favourite part of the book was this anecdote, used to illustrate how five-year-olds tend to define and enforce gender in a manner entirely consistent with the ‘What Are Little Boys Made Of?’ nursery rhyme:
Psychologist Sandra Bem cites a perfect example of such gender-defining stereotypes in the experience of her own son, Jeremy. She and her husband had gone to great lengths to raise their two children in a gender-neutral way, so when Jeremy announced one day that he wanted to wear hair slides to nursery school, she simply put them in his hair and let him go. Expecting him to be teased, she was surprised that he said nothing about it when he came home that day. Later, however, she learned from his teacher that Jeremy had indeed been hounded by on boy, who kept asserting that Jeremy must be a girl “because only girls wear hair slides.”
“No,” Professor Bem’s well-taught son had countered, going on to insist that he was indeed a boy because he had “ a penis and testicles.” To prove the point, Jeremy even pulled down his trousers.
But the other boy was not persuaded and replied: “Everyone has a penis; only girls wear hair slides.”
Given what Dr Eliot reports here about many of her colleague’s work, it’s difficult not to conclude that the ‘only girls wear hair slides’ bossy little boy is going to grow up to be a neuroscientist.
As a boy growing up in the 1960s and 70s I was raised to fight The Second World War all over again. Airfix models. Commando comics. Air tattoos in June. Watching The Battle of Britain and The Longest Day on telly with my dad, just so I’d know what to do if I ever found myself pinned down on a Normandy beach or with an Me 109E on my tail.
All of which made me easy prey to an RAF recruiting film about a buccaneer squadron training sortie from Gibraltar, set to a Vangelis soundtrack. I promptly signed up to the air cadets and spent Tuesday afternoons and a week or two in the summer hols wearing itchy shirts and a Frank Spencer-style beret, learning how to march without falling over. I loved it, and would probably have signed up for the real thing if it hadn’t been for a sixth-form flirtation with Quakerism.
Alas, that old recruiting film isn’t included in They Stand Ready, a new collection of Central Office of Information (COI) armed forces recruitment and propaganda shorts made between 1946 and 1985, released by the BFI. But several similar ones are, including Tornado (1985), about a simulated attack on a Warsaw Pact surface-to-air missile site, and HMS Sheffield (1975), about life onboard a Royal Navy frigate (that was later hit by an Exocet during the Falklands war with the loss of 30 lives).
With their promise of escape from humdrum life, opportunities for new mates, good times, foreign travel and playing with really expensive toys – though strangely silent on the possible physical cost – these films offer a glimpse into the listless, regimented world that was mid-to-late 20th-century civilian Britain, waiting impatiently for Xboxes, EasyJet, the internet and proper drugs to turn up.
Perhaps it’s because prime minister David Cameron is around the same age as me – or possibly because the armed forces, or at least the army, are still largely run by lah-de-dah Ruperts like him – that he seems so nostalgic for this vanished old world. Cameron recently vowed to make the forces “front and centre of national life” and “revered” again, in a speech to UK personnel in Afghanistan.
Not that increased prominence is a guarantee of increased reverence, however. A short celebrating national service, They Stand Ready (1955), which dates from a year before the Suez debacle punctured the UK’s global pretensions, recalls the last time that the armed forces really were front and centre of national life. Yet conscription proved to be highly unpopular – both with most of those who had to do it and those who had to find something to do with them.
Once the last national servicemen left the ranks in 1963, army life could then be sold as something glamorous and exciting instead of an onerous black-and-white duty. This is exactly what Ten Feet Tall (1963), a rock’n’roll-soundtracked recruiting film does in glorious Technicolor. It showcases a matinee-idol young Scottish squaddie’s ruddy complexion, perfect white teeth, and the (now ominously) nicotine-stained fingers of the army careers officer.
Way back in the last century, before the Interweb swallowed everything, my friend and accomplice in literary crime Steve Zeeland were visiting, as you do, Camp Pendleton, the giant US Marine Corps base in Southern California with some jarhead friends.
We spent the afternoon watching the Marine Rodeo – scores of grinning fit Texan boys in tight Wranglers and high-and-tights bouncing up and down on broncos and slapping each other’s butts. Perhaps you’ll understand why, after having seen this, the Details fashion shoot that was Brokeback Mountainleft me cold.
We then headed to the enlisted men’s club for a much-needed and, I’d like to think, well-earned drink. While we were there, some Marines came in from a week’s exercise in the field, still in their combats, camouflage paint still on their young sunburned faces. They were in high spirits, enjoying their first beer of the week, and when the DJ played the opening fanfare of The Village People’s ‘YMCA’, like Pavlovs’ dogs they instantly and instinctively understood what was required of them.
They flocked onto the dance-floor, scrambling to outdo one another in their 1970s disco dance moves, and joyously spelling out the letters of the camp classic extolling the pleasures of getting clean and hanging out with all the bo-oys. ‘Hey buddy,’ one jarhead shouted to me, slapping me on the shoulder and grinning in my face, ‘you having a good time?’
At this point Steve produced his mid 1990s, large, cumbersome and very, very obvious camcorder and started filming the jarhead hi-jinks. ‘Steve,’ I hissed in his ear, palms moistening. ‘Don’t you think this might, er, get us into trouble?’
We escaped unscathed – though we did hear reports a year or two later that the Commandant of Camp Pendleton had ordered, like an angry Old Testament God, that enlisted men’s club be razed to the ground because it was ‘a cesspit of sodomy’.
I needn’t have worried about Steve’s camcording. But the Commandant did have reason to worry – and his Biblical efforts proved in vain. In just a few years time, military boys would be enthusiastically filming themselves acting way ‘gayer’ than dancing to YMCA – and posting it on YouTube for the entire world to see.
You’ve probably already seen the video tribute to Lady Gaga’s ‘Telephone’ made by US soldiers in Afghanistan, which has gone virulently viral. It’s part of a well-established craze by dusty, bored and stressed military boys letting off steam, taking time out from buttoned-down masculine norms and channelling a little glamour instead. Having a scream, in other words. But the fact they are videoing it and putting on YouTube suggests that, like most like most young people in a mediated world, they want to draw attention to themselves.
Way back in the Twenieth Century again I wrote, only slightly tongue in cheek: ‘The problem with straight men is they’re repressed. The problem with gay men is they’re not.’ In the metrosexual 21st Century I think it’s pretty clear that even straight soldiers aren’t that repressed any more. While of course gays are getting married and becoming Tory MPs.
I don’t know about you, but the scene where the soldiers are standing around admiring one another’s home-made House of Gaga outfits will stay with me forever. There’s something about Lady Gaga that seems to make funny, flaming flamboyance – Gagacity – irresistible to men, women, children, civilians and soldiers and small animals. Gay or straight.
Quite rightly, hardly anyone has suggested that these soldiers being hyper and hilariously camp are ‘really gay’. Some might be, of course. But their appearance in a video of this kind doesn’t prove any such thing. Even the gay-banning US Army put out a statement approving the video, or at least trying to exploit its popularity.
Compare this with what happened a few years back when it emerged that some US soldiers had been ‘acting gay’ on video for private consumption rather than YouTube. Gay porn videos made by a company called ActiveDuty. A global scandal errupted and several young soldiers were arrested, courts martialed, fined and dishonourably discharged. A lot of people – particularly gays – seemed convinced that the soldiers ‘must’ all be gay because they appeared in such videos. When in fact many did it like the soldiers in the ‘Telephone’ video – for giggles, for fun, for a dare. And, in this case, also for the not inconsiderable sums money they were paid.
Like the discharged soldier said to the shell-shocked waitress who recognised him from the ActiveDuty website and demanded to know how he could have done such a thing: ‘It was no big deal. And besides, I got paid.’
If you think my comparison far-fetched, consider that the soldiers courts martialed for ‘acting gay’ on video (Certificate 18) were paratroopers in the 82nd Airborne based in Fort Bragg. The same elite unit that the chaps ‘acting gay’ in the ‘Telephone’ video (PG) are from.
The latest YouTube video of soldiers ‘acting gay’ called ‘The Army Goes Gay’ (below) has been curiously claimed by some gay blogs as an example of straight soldiers ‘ridiculing’ Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. There isn’t really any evidence for this reading however – and in fact it could be more easily read as an endorsement of the ‘Gay Bomb’ fears of the Pentagon.
Almost certainly it doesn’t have any message at all.
It’s just soldiers being silly and naughty. And ‘gay’.
In the Far East young men continue their rush headlong towards a totally metrosexed society. According to the Korea Times, South Korea, young men, including soldiers, are now wearing ‘colour lotion’ (a messy combination of foundation, ‘lotion’ and sun screen). Over in Japan my spy on Japanese metrosexuality Daniela K informs me that many Japanese men are wearing skirts and dresses on a daily basis. Similar things are reportedly happening in China.
Over here in the UK, skirts are rather less common, but a blog at so-called ‘lads’ mag’ FHM admits that their readers are metrosexual – along with, in fact, most young men today. I happen think the conflation of dandies with ‘new men’ and both with ‘metrosexuals’ in the piece is mostly specious, but it’s a refreshingly direct and honest piece that you would never find on the Men’s Health website. Unless they were hacked.
But slowly, slowly even America, the country that gave the world the oiled male tits of Men’s Health magazine, seems to be finally recovering from the gigantic national nervous breakdown it had over metrosexuality a few years back. But this being the God-fearing USA where Bush won an election on an anti-metro/anti-fag ticket in 2004, make sure you don’t use the ‘m’ word, especially if you’re an American marketer marketing metrosexual products. ‘Metrosexual’ makes too many Americans think of ‘homosexual’. And that’s not good when you’re in the holy business of selling things. Besides, marketers are generally happier with euphemism. When they’re not just lying.
Nevertheless it turns out – surprise! – that the market for male vanity products has continued to grow very strongly indeed in the US, even during the anti-metro ‘menaissance’, and the subsequent recession. To try and cash in Madison Avenue is about to unleash a record-breaking ad blitz – trying to persuade American men that what they’ve really been missing in their lives is Dove and (manly, techno-styled) buff-puffs.
One of the more interesting things to emerge from the Advertising Age feature is that Marlboro, as a filtered low-tar cigarette, was originally designed for women in the 1920s, but when evidence mounted in the 1950s that tobacco caused cancer Philip Morris commissioned Leo Burnett to change the ciggie’s gender.
Arguably American fags did this again themselves in the 1970s when they appropriated the clone look, modelled on the butch Marlboro Man ads, perhaps unconsciously picking up on the slightly camp, er, drag king quality that it turns out the Marlboro man had all along.
…acccording to a headline in today’s Sun newspaper. Glad to see they’re finally reporting the news that people really want to hear.
Far be it for me to contradict Britain’s best-selling tabloid, but I wonder whether Danny Young isn’t more ‘vers’.
You can watch his topless Rocky on the tragically awful and apparently endless ITV reality show Dancing on Ice here. Danny is favourite to win because he and his perky nipples (I’m sure it’s the ice) are the only reason anyone watches it.
I’d like to see him skating with Johnny Weir. Then we’ll really find out who’s top.
A profile on the truck driving Republican Presidential hopeful from Boston Scott Brown in Vanity Fair caused a few chuckles last week with his wife’s cheeky revelation about the pink leather shorts he wore to his first date with her in the 1980s. Here’s the money shot:
“The pinkish color drained from [Brown’s] face when I asked him about it during a conversation in his campaign office just before we took off in the truck. He clarified that the shorts weren’t something that he went out and purchased — it wasn’t like that at all. ‘I did the couture shows, and instead of paying in cash, they paid in clothes,’ he said. ‘And one of the things I had to wear were leather shorts. And these happened to be pink.’”
It’s certainly a relief to know Mr Brown didn’t buy them – that would be kinda faggy – that instead he was given the pink leather shorts for sashaying up and down the catwalk at a couture show.
How funny to think that the US was the only country that had anything approaching a serious backlash against metrosexuality, back in the mid-Noughties. Oh, come on now, surely you remember? That so-called ‘menaissance’? Those prissy lists of ‘manly’ ‘do’s and don’ts’? And those completely non-ironic ‘Reclaim your manhood – go shopping in a Hummer’ ads? It got lots of coverage in the press at the time. Supposedly metro was out and retro ‘regular guys’ were back in. Oh, and George W. Bush was re-elected in part on an anti-gay marriage anti-metro ticket (his Democrat opponent was portrayed by the Republican machine as a girly-man metrosexual passifist).
And yet, just a few years on, faux Texan ‘bring it on!’ George Bush has been replaced by a svelte mixed-race President who starts every day with a workout, who ran a campaign based on slogans printed in the GQ font, and who is, for all Michelle’s prettiness, something of his own First Lady.
And now the great white hope of the Republicans, who whipped Obama’s skinny ass in a Democrat stronghold, is a former Cosmo centreforld and male couture model who liked to wear pink leather shorts because they showed off his tanned legs.
But perhaps the most interesting thing about Scott Brown’s very successful 1980s male modelling career, looking at the pictures, is this: he wouldn’t get the work today. He’d have to do hardcore gay porn. And certainly not Falcon or any respectable studio – no, Scott would have to do fetish/extreme stuff. Fisting in black (not pink) leather, that kind of thing. Or cash-in on his surname. And he still wouldn’t get paid very much. Though they probably would let him keep one of the XXL toys.
I’m not being bitchy. No, really. I’m just being realistic. And anyway, it’s not about him; it’s about us.
He was nice enough looking in a wooden sort of way, but since the 1980s an entire generation of young men have been raised to be male models – and they work at it a lot harder than Scott evidently did. They also look at themselves a lot harder. Scott had it relatively easy because there was much less awareness of what was ‘desirable’ in the male body back then – amongst women and men. Young men as a sex hadn’t learned to desire to be desired. That was still officially women’s role. And because there was probably also rather more in the way of stigma attached to his profession there was even less competition.
Yes, it looks like Scott had a pert bum and what they used to call back then a ‘hunky’ physique – but today it would be a case of ‘Don’t call us dear, we’ll call you.’ Such is the choice available of absurdly desirable, obscenely fit young men, I doubt anyone would even bother to tell him what he so obviously needed to do: get down the gym and take steroids and crystal meth. (And if you work really hard and you’re really lucky you’ll end up on Jersey Shore.)
His body looks far too natural to be credible today as a idealised male image: the lack of porno pecs, a six-pack and ‘cum-gutters’ is heinous. The untrimmed, un-waxed body hair is grievous. The unbleached teeth unforgiveable. He wouldn’t make the audition for today’s male Cosmo – Men’s Health – let alone the cover.
In fact, the most buffed and pumped thing about the young Scott Brown to our critical 21st Century eyes is his hairdo.
After all those ads in which Becks thrusted his giant Armani wrapped package in our faces if not down our throats, an Italian satirical TV show decided to do a little consumer product testing. You know that in Italy they like to handle the sausage and tomatoes – and haggle over the price – before they part with their Euros.
Both parties are clearly unimpressed.
For those who don’t speak the most beautiful, most musical language in the world: the rubber-gloved lady shouts at a hooded, glowering Beckham driving off in his (ridiculously large) car full of minders: ‘HOW COULD YOU TAKE US FOR A RIDE!!??’
The incident has caused some anger in the UK, and some see it as outright sexual assault. But if you are paid very large wedges of cash to put your lunchbox on the side of buses to sell overpriced underwear to the masses then perhaps the only shocking thing is that more punters don’t cop a feel of the goods.
Amidst the swathe of drearily predictable ‘decade in review’ pieces that appeared at the end of December this one by Amanda Hess at The Sexist stood out as one which actually managed to offer some observational cultural insight, rather than just recycled cuttings and cliches:
Think boys are simply born into their masculine gender role? Consider, for a moment, how quickly the cultural norms of acceptable maleness can change. The past decade of masculine fads saw cultural expressions of manliness range from finely-groomed boy bands to shlumpy stoners to blowed-out “guidos.” The versions of masculinity that gained popularity in the aughts saw an infusion of traditionally feminine traits—along with a heavy dose of hyper-masculine compensation.
Sharply observed and well-informed (after all, she quotes me) Hess is one of the few decade-end commentators to notice that the Noughties signalled a major, if not epochal shift in masculinity — but perhaps this isn’t so surprising since as I know very well myself the media in general is highly resistant to any serious analysis of the subject, despite or perhaps because of the space it gives to women’s issues.
Hess’ section on ‘bros’ is worth quoting at length:
Like the metrosexuals who rose alongside them, bros incorporated some traditionally feminine aspects into their own version of masculinity—think pink polos, pastel ribbon belts, and store-bought scents. But bros differentiated themselves from the metro set with a healthy dose of crippling homophobia that encouraged both aggressive heterosexual behavior and subversive homoerotic displays among the bros. And so—we got aggressive heterosexual sexual conquests (banging some chick in the frat house), alongside decidedly homoerotic sexual conquests (banging some chick in the frat house with three of your best bros). We got extreme masculine contests (CHUG! CHUG! CHUG!) alongside absurd homosocial displays (fraternity initiation paddling). At least women got a reliable warning sign of likely brodom—the double-popped collar.
I would submit however that most of Hess’ listed masculine trends, particularly ‘boy bands’, ‘bros’ and ‘Guidos’ are more like fads or subspecies within the wider trend of metrosexuality itself and the breakdown of traditional male gender and sexual norms that it represents. Bros and Guidos for instance seem to be examples of how metrosexuality is being assimilated (and resisted — often in the same gesture) in different areas of American life, according to class, ethnicity, age etc.
The homophobia of bros for example, looks very familiar and very ‘gay’ to me: it’s the homophobia of ‘straight acting’ gay men towards ‘queens’. While Jersey Shore looks to me very much like metrosexuality for boys who love their Momma’s cooking too much to go to college. They also look a lot like metrosexual young men from matriarchal working class backgrounds in the UK, such as Geordies — who tend to be just as orange and plucked and just as prone to fights and making fun of men who cook). [Prophetic words: Geordie Shore launched a year after this post in 2011 was the UK’s version of Jersey Shore.]
Hess lists the ‘peak year’ of metrosexuality as being ‘2003’ — in reality, this was the peak year not of metrosexuality but of metrosexmania, the global media’s insatiable craving for literally skin-deep stories about male spas and sack-and-crack waxes — and trying to wear out the ‘m’ word with empty repetition.
Metrosexuality, men’s passionate, epoch-making desire to be desired, is a long, long way from peaking. And the Twenty First Century is going to have to get used to it.
I’ve often thought that Bear Grylls’ ‘survival’ programs with his frequent nakedness and subby eagerness to put all sorts of eeeurgh! things in his mouth in extreme close-up while generally putting his body on display and in harm’s way are really a form of fetish porn. Bear Grylls: Nature Gimp.
Yes, it’s true that I see porn everywhere – especially if it involves fit young chaps – but in this instance I think it’s quite deliberate.
The clincher is Grylls’ terrible acting. It’s passionately unconvincing. Acting so bad that almost by itself it renders what you’re watching pornography, even on the rare occasions he keeps his clothes on. And as in porn, his bad acting is a major part of the sadistic pleasure of voyeurism.
I would describe Bear as taking the role of the bottom in gay porn but this probably isn’t accurate enough. Bottoms in gay porn generally don’t make nearly as much noise as Bear: it would be a bit of a turn off. No, Bear makes as much noise as women in straight porn. Bear’s job, like female porn stars, is to act out (very, very badly) the pain, pleasure and degradation – and glamour – of being on the receiving end. Of being ‘the bitch’. For the male viewer.
Every time Bear the rufty-tufty ex-SAS explorer jumps naked into an ice hole or eats dung the ridiculous noise he makes lets us know that we’re watching something much kinkier than a survival programme.
But this clip in which he gives himself an enema ‘Only as a last resort’ takes everything to a whole new level. The noise he makes as he ‘lies back and thinks of England’ should get him an Adult Video Award. I’m sure that giving yourself an enema with seagull poo-flavoured water in a chunky plastic hose is a trifle uncomfortable, but Bear manages to make it sound like he’s being fisted by a Rhino.
Bear Grylls: Use only as a last resort – if you can’t find any proper porn.
This story about men sealing their texts with a kiss got a lot of coverage around the world: Here’s the Sydney Morning Herald:
New research from mobile phone firm T-Mobile reveals nearly a quarter of men (22 per cent) regularly include a kiss on texts to their male mates, T-Mobile said in an emailed statement.
“Metrotextuality” is most widespread among 18-24 year old males with three quarters (75 per cent) regularly sealing texts with a kiss and 48 per cent admitting that the practice has become commonplace amongst their group of friends.
Nearly a quarter of this age group (23 per cent) even appreciate an “x’ in a text exchange from people that aren’t close friends.
Ever the keen/obsessive observer of masculine trends, I mentioned the phenomenon of young straight men signing off their text messages with kisses very briefly towards the end of this piece two years ago on The Sun’s attempt to queerbash footballers for holding hands (and I also mention how this old poof can’t quite bring himself to respond in kind.)
Thanks to technology and consumerism, male behaviour is changing extremely rapidly, despite what some of us might like to think of as ‘hard-wired’ and ‘immutable’ characteristics. This recent story from Radiolab about what happened in a community of baboons in which most of the alpha males were killed off by TB, is also illuminating in this area: the surviving males, instead of fighting and spitting at one another, started grooming one another – which in baboon terms ‘would be less shocking than if they had grown wings and started to fly.’ Even more remarkable is the way in which males joining the group from outside also adopted the new non-aggressive male-grooming routine – despite growing up outside this culture in the baboon-bite-baboon world. It suggests that even for apes a great deal of behaviour is socially mediated. And perhaps affection between male baboons can be as strong as competition.
Back in the world of the naked ape, because of the private, intimate yet long-distance nature of text messages men needn’t fear being humiliated and kept in line by the pack for daring to groom one another with xxx’s and within this discrete-indiscrete techno-ecosystem this practise has apparently become widespread. Now that it has been outed, note the baboonish response of many of the male commenters, who can’t quite choose between deriding the men who do this and denying it happens at all. Either way, their violent response is completely impotent and far, far too late.
These ones posted below a similar article in Canada’s National Post seem to have been made by very red faced baboons indeed:
Wattowattowatto: BS! Homosexual men may do such a thing, and they may text in disproportionate numbers amongst other homosexual men. Normal men would never do such a thing. Once again, a non-story using misleading data to shock readers.
Jocko2: How gay! I don’t know why they need to invent a word like “Metrotextual,” when plain old “homosexual” will do. T-Mobile’s research that nearly 22% of men (and 75% of 18-25-year-old men!!) do this is clearly abject bull. This looks like something put out by The Onion. I smell a hoax here, bigtime!
And I smell someone panicking because they’re beginning to realise that their painfully uptight lifelong investment in homophobic ideas about masculinity might have been a complete waste of ulcers.
It isn’t just the way that men are using kisses at the end of their text messages to other men that is such a departure from expectations of ‘innately’ masculine behaviour – it’s the fact they’re sending these messages at all. Back in the 90s baboonish stand up comedians made a good living out of awful jokes about how phones revealed the strangely reassuring differences between men and women: men were monosyllabic and practical and women wouldn’t’ shut up. Men used phones as an instrument; women used them as an end in themselves. Now a generation of young men have grown up who wear their pretty phones as accessories they’re never seen without and are always chattering pointlessly on them.
Usually at the gym, looking in the mirror, while sitting on a piece of equipment this old poof wants to use.
Mark Simpson attends an epic UFC event and finds himself turned on to the charms of ‘gay porn for straight men’
(Originally appeared in Out magazine, June 2008)
IMAGINE THE SPACE SHUTTLE taking off with a really fat customized exhaust pipe. Or Visigoths sacking Ancient Rome with kicking bass tubes fitted to their 4-by-4s. Or 20,000 supercharged male orgasms. Simultaneously. And you have some idea what it sounds and feels like in Montreal’s famous Bell Centre tonight for Ultimate Fighting Championship 83, as a spunky young carrot redhead in shorts pins an auburn lad on his back with his heels somewhere around his ears.
I think the technical term for this is a “full mount.” Or maybe it’s “ground and pound.”
As the chiselled and blond bad guy with the low-slung shorts (Cam Gigandet) in the recent mixed martial arts (MMA) exploitation flick Never Back Down says leeringly to the doe-eyed brunet boxer good guy (Sean Faris) new to MMA, the good news is that in this sport you can choke, kick, punch, pin, and throttle. “The bad news is that it’s gotta end with you looking like a bitch in front of everybody.”
Perhaps it was bad news for him – and for the auburn lad in the ring tonight – but certainly not for the 22,000-strong overwhelmingly young-male audience for the biggest-ever UFC event.
Over 2,500 miles away in Las Vegas, Brit boxer Joe “slapper” Calzaghe is tonight defeating light heavyweight Bernard Hopkins on points. In the long-established world of boxing, there is rumoured to be an ancient and secret tradition called the “perk,” or “perquisite” – by which the losing man may be required later to literally give up what he has lost symbolically. In other words, the fucked gets… really fucked.
I don’t know how much truth there is to the “perk,” though the breathless trash talk of modern-day boxers in the run-up to a fight – “I’m gonna make you my bitch/girlfriend/punk” – certainly doesn’t discredit it. But I’m fairly certain that the “perk” doesn’t exist in the “full-contact” brave new world of mixed martial arts (MMA), an omnivorous blend of boxing, freestyle wrestling, judo, tae kwon do, kick-boxing, karate, jujitsu, and Thai boxing that is rapidly replacing boring old traditional boxing, especially among young men, as the fighting sport. The perk isn’t needed. Because in MMA you get perked in the “ring” in front of everybody. On pay-per-view TV. The “perk” is the whole perking point, man. And UFC, by far the most successful purveyor of MMA fights for the cable TV voyeur, looks remarkably like gay porn for straight men: ultimate fuck-fighting.
In the octagonal UFC cage set up over the Bell Centre ice hockey rink — octagonal perhaps because it better affords multiple viewing angles than a square boxing ring – Mac Danzig is still on his back; his sweaty, pumped, almost translucently white torso is flushed with the auburn heat that auburn skin produces when it is aroused. His panting, fetching head has been pushed up against the cage by redhead Marc Bocek’s energetic pounding, as if the cage were in fact a headboard. Bocek isn’t making love, however, or at least not the vanilla kind. He’s hammering the living daylights out of Danzig, stoking the crowd into ever-higher waves of frenzy. Although the Octagon is right in front of me, I’m watching all of this on one of the giant screens overhead: MMA is mostly a horizontal sport — one that requires multiple zoom lenses and a big TV to enjoy properly.
Bocek pauses for a moment to grab his partner/adversary by his hips, almost tenderly, and drag him backward while still kneeling between his legs, not wanting to break contact and negotiate that tricky “re-entry.” It isn’t, though, out of consideration for his chum’s cricked neck. He’s worried that Danzig will use the cage to get up off the canvas — and then get him in the “bitch” position. MMA is all about fighting for top. (Or maybe for extremely truculent bottom.)
Unfortunately for Bocek, Danzig succeeds in breaking away anyway, jumps to his feet, and deftly, impersonally, brings up his knee and smashes it against Bocek’s left eyebrow, which provokes another roar of excitement from the crowd and opens up a very nasty laceration that spills hot blood everywhere, streaming into his eye, across his face, down his chin, and splatters across his lily-white chest — and all over his opponent. MMA is definitely not safe sex. The ref pauses the fight to examine Bocek’s eye. If the blood is preventing him from seeing, the fight will be declared in Danzig’s favor.
Turning to my beautifully produced glossy fight program, which includes full-page colour images of the topless young fighters arranged opposite one another and their vital statistics, I learn that Danzig is 5 foot 8 and 155 pounds, 28, and a Cleveland native. His feisty opponent, Bocek, from Woodbridge, Canada, is 26, and is also 5 foot 8 and 155 pounds. As someone who has a thing for redheads and short-asses, I’d say they are well matched.
The ref continues the match – and why not? Blood looks good on TV. There are only a few seconds left of the third and final round (UFC fights only go to a maximum three rounds at five minutes each — about the average length of a porn scene). Bocek, despite the turned tables and his pasting and what must be deathly tiredness, is still putting up an astonishing fight. Danzig scores a take-down almost immediately and moves, as they say in MMA, “directly to the mount.” Bocek “gives up his back” to try to save his ruined face from further punishment but is then caught in a “rear-naked choke” by Danzig’s powerful, fatally inviting arms. He “taps out” (submits) at 3 minutes, 48 seconds.
I don’t know about Bocek, but these were some of the longest 3 minutes, 48 seconds of my life. I’m aroused and inspired and exhausted and confused. For my money, Bocek won that fight – morally speaking. Which of course means that he lost very badly. His face is roadkill. He is really fucked. But he displayed that quality you hear people talk about reverently in MMA: heart.
Despite the gore, MMA is generally safer than boxing – there are fewer fatalities and brain-damage is less common. Because the fight is “full-contact,” the head doesn’t take all the violence. When it does, though, it’s pretty gruesome. Yet amid all the mayhem, there is a touching tenderness to MMA. Not because it looks to my twisted, queer eye like very rough sex — but because of that “heart” business. After a bout is over, most fighters hug each other in a pseudo-post-coital embrace that re-enacts the warlike hug earlier, only this time it’s a hug of warm brotherhood.
Another huge, manly Gallic roar. The arena’s giant screen is now tuned to the locker room; a rangy young blond skinhead fighter has peeled his shirt off, revealing a well-oiled fleshly fighting machine. The light behind him and his piercing blue eyes gazing into the camera, not to mention the low position of the locker-room cam, give him the cast of a demigod. It’s Georges “Rush” St-Pierre, the handsome, stylish 26-year-old local Montreal boy who tonight is hoping to seize back his UFC Welterweight belt from Matt “the Terror” Serra, 33, the no-nonsense Long Island master of Brazilian jujitsu who dispossessed him of it last year with what some people said was a lucky punch.
We’ve only been watching the hors d’oeuvre. All this blood has just been so much foreplay.
“STOP LOOKING LADIES!” some funny guy in the audience shouts. It’s the weigh-in, a day earlier. Ed “Short Fuse” Herman, another 20-something boy-next-door red-headed fighter, from Vancouver, Wash., is naked on the stage under the spotlight, a towel held up by two lieutenants to shield his “short fuse.” Funnily enough, it’s mostly men rather than ladies doing the looking here in this packed auditorium. Though some are perhaps doing more looking than others: From where I’m seated at the side, I manage to catch a glimpse of Ed’s white butt as he bends over to slip off his briefs (a day later he will fight in shorts cheekily advertising ‘CONDOM DEPOT’ – across his butt).
Several guys have had to take their underpants off – to cheers. I can’t help but wonder whether the UFC officials, for showbiz’s sake, pretend some of these guys are closer to the weight limit than they are.
UFC knows all about showbiz. According to Forbes magazine, its pay-per-view shows have drawn well over 2 million viewers, most of them male and ages 18 to 49. Formidably shrewd, motor-mouthed former boxing promoter Dana White hosts The Ultimate Fighter, UFC’s hit PPV series on Spike (a men-only Big Brother with grappling gloves), which has taken MMA, essentially a semi-organized barroom brawl in the ’90s, cleaned it up, introduced some rules – including no stomping, no spitting, no throat strikes, no punches to the back of the head, and “no groin attacks of any kind” – and made it into a hot, multiangle, high-impact PPV commodity.
Described memorably by John McCain in 1998 as “human cockfighting,” and under threat of a total ban, MMA has become a different, more saleable, less relentlessly violent kind of “cockfighting” in the nurturing hands of the UFC – so much so that McCain himself recently relented: “The sport has grown up.” As a measure of just how grown up, UFC – for which casino owners the Fertitta brothers paid $2 million in 2001 – is today valued at roughly $1 billion. Cultural respectability has arrived too in the form of a recently published $2,500 MMA art book titled Octagon with a foreword by man-loving straight playwright David Mamet, who wrote and directed the MMA-themed movie Redbelt. MMA is also coming to major-network TV: CBS recently announced plans to air four MMA fights (non-UFC) annually — despite the disapproval of CBS chairman Sumner Redstone. “I’m a lover, not a fighter,” he said, perhaps missing the way UFC brings loving and fighting spectacularly together.
There is a lot of passionate hero worship in the world of MMA, not so much homoerotic as hero-erotic – or herotic. Straight male fans and fighters themselves will enthuse with shining eyes about “my idol”, in a way that in most other contexts would be considered much too ‘gay’ to keep a straight face. But perhaps that’s not so surprising, since MMA owes a lot to those notorious warrior homos, the ancient Greeks. Although today’s MMA came to us via Brazilian jujitsu (alas, not conducted in Speedos, as the name may suggest), many consider it the modern version of pankration, a combination of boxing and wrestling that was the basis of combat training for Greek soldiers and an original Olympic sport. With lethal purity, pankration had two primary rules: no eye-gouging or biting. Fingers were often snapped off. Sometimes death or unconsciousness was the only form of submission (rather like this year’s Democratic primaries).
MMA’s younger fans are not likely to acknowledge their sport’s homoerotic heritage. For most of these young men, many of them blue-collar and swooningly in love with masculinity, gay means unmanly and passive and emasculated – and therefore major turn-off. MMA is gay porn for straight men because its violence not only justifies the intimate, protracted, eye-popping physicality of the sport but also preserves its virility – the very thing that gets many of its fans hot. These fighters can’t be fags – look how fucking tough they are, dude! It’s a bit like how in gay porn “real” tops never bottom – for the sake of the bottoms watching.
Sometimes the MMA fighter really is homo – like professional MMA fighter Shad Smith, who was recently profiled in The New York Times. From a tough blue-collar background, Smith was desperate to hide his sexuality at first. “I was petrified because I didn’t want anyone to find out,” he told the Times. “And I would try to be the toughest person around. That way no one would suspect. No one would ever say it. No one would think it.” Doubtless there are quite a few Shad Smiths who became very good, very determined, very motivated scrappers because they weren’t escaping to college or opening a hairdressing salon.
The tough-guy image is something of an illusion – if an entrancing and convincing one. Surprisingly often, fighters turn out to be sensitive, introspective loners – “fags” who aren’t actually fags — such as Mac Danzig, the beefy auburn-haired killer who is in fact a vegan and whose main pastime, when he isn’t turning another lad’s face into tenderloin, is nature photography. That’s also the story of Georges St-Pierre, a bullied slight boy at school who turned to MMA for salvation, who with his tight, wiry body, immaculately groomed presentation and designer clothes looks rather metro. As one observer put it: “He’s the kind of flash Europunk you might think you could wipe the floor with if you came across him in a bar, but you’d be very, very wrong.”
Likewise you might expect a fight between Serra and St-Pierre to be billed as good ol’ USA versus Frenchy “fag,” but you’d be wrong. Because GSP – to give St-Pierre his brand name – is generally considered to be an exceptional fighter, genuinely excellent in several disciplines, or maybe because this is such a visual medium, he has begun to look like the David Beckham of UFC, albeit one who actually reads books and is, heaven forfend!, interested in philosophy (that’s the French for you). His photogenic face and body and his workouts have been splashed across countless health and fitness magazines.
His opponent, Matt Serra, may be breezily unpretentious and resemble an unpainted fire hydrant, but he is definitely no idiot: “I think they look at Georges as the Crest poster boy with the sparkle in his teeth, the looks, the physique, the body and the athleticism…the real version of what Van Damme was doing,” he’s said. “And then comes me – the Joe Pesci–style ‘Heyooo!’ But it’s cool, man. I’m down with it. I fit in those shoes real well. I’m just looking forward to having another good fight.”
When he turns up for his weigh-in, a relentless tidal wave of boos greets him. An Italian-American pocket battleship at 5 foot 6, Serra weighs in at 169.5 pounds; he appears indifferent to the roiling sea of hatred around him. The booing doesn’t stop when the host offers him the microphone, and whatever he says is completely drowned out. So he offers the crowd two fingers, meaning “two times” and V for victory – and, perhaps, “fuck you.”
Ecstatic cheers greet his challenger St-Pierre, who’s taller by four inches but in stature by several feet. St.-Pierre fluidly strips down to his tasteful and tastily filled-out black underwear and also weighs in at 169.5 pounds. Offered the mike, he graciously tells the crowd they shouldn’t hate Serra and that “I don’t fight with angerrr – I fight with my ‘eart.” The two men pose for the cameras in a fighting stance and then they hug, GSP kissing Serra’s huge neck.
There was no trash talk in the quieter surroundings of the press conference the day before. The fighters had been polite, respectful, even friendly. “C’mon, I’ve got nothing against the French,” protested Serra when the journalists dug up some “Frenchy” quotes from the past. St.-Pierre, for his part, was touchingly open. “I am nervous and scared to fail but that’s normal,” he admitted. “I ‘ave butterflies. but I ‘ave to make the butterflies fly in formation.”
The Bell Centre outdoes itself as Georges St.-Pierre, surrounded by his lieutenants, makes his way to the stage in a natty red jujitsu jacket. Climbing into the Octagon, he peels off his silky, tight black T-shirt, and then his baggy trousers come off, revealing tight black trunks with just a white fleur-de-lis on the side of his firm right buttock. It matches the arty tattoo on the back of his steely calf.
Cheers turn to boos. Matt Serra has arrived in a baggy black T-shirt with big white lettering: BUY GUNS SELL GUNS — GUNSAMERICA.COM. The stats on the big screen make difficult reading for Serra: GSP is taller and younger and has a longer reach. Worse, he is more popular and better-looking and has nicer pants. He’s the favourite in every way.
The bell rings, and they touch gloves. In a flash St.-Pierre has Serra on the canvas. All that frustration, regret, resolve, training — and heart — have exploded. All over Serra. To tire him out, St.-Pierre lets him get up, keeping him within range of his own fists but out of Serra’s. Then he takes him down again. St.-Pierre’s purposeful, ominous shoulders rise up like medieval armour, like Joan of Arc seriously narked.
End of round 1. Serra’s eye is swelling up badly. He looks beaten already.
Round 2. Plucky Serra tries a kick. St.-Pierre catches it and takes Serra down. After Serra stands up again, St.-Pierre lets fly a barrage of punches. Serra is too groggy to parry them. St.-Pierre — part panther, part lethal ballet dancer — comes in for the kill, easily taking his opponent down again. Serra offers his back, and St.-Pierre knees him repeatedly, athletically in the ribs in a manner which somehow manages to be as passionate as it is impersonal.
The ref stops the match, and it’s all over: technical knockout. Canada has won. Montreal has beaten Long Island. The butterflies flew in formation. Terrifying formation. And judging by the noise from the crowd, the entire world and its dad have just climaxed.
A grinning St.-Pierre executes a winning somersault. The crowd chants, “FUCK YOU, SERRA! FUCK YOU, SERRA!” He has been fucked. He was fucked. He is fucked. He is without any doubt whatsoever the fuckee. But he exhibits no resentment. The warriors embrace warmly, another kiss from GSP to that huge, now sweaty neck. Serra holds St.-Pierre’s arm up for the crowd, then hoists him on his shoulder, carrying him for a few staggering steps.
If MMA is gay porn for straight men, then tonight a part of me wonders whether, for all its spilled blood and mashed faces, it isn’t the better kind.
After all, no one could seriously accuse gay porn of having “heart.”
Last Sunday’s News of The World carried a ‘JORDAN’S LOVER BOMBSHELL’ expose on Jordan’s ‘hunky cage fighter boyfriend’ Alex Reid. What was the bombshell? He’s sexually open-minded.
‘”I’M TRY-SEXUAL: JORDAN’S MAN SAYS “I’LL TRY ANYTHING ONCE!'”’ was the shocking headline for the two page spread. The piece, cobbled together from interviews with ex-friends, and some snaps of him in drag with his mates – obviously for a lad’s night out – did its best to keep the (now old) tranny story going, further undermine his masculinity and suggest that he’s even worse than a tranny – he’s probably a poof! After all, any bloke who says he’s a ‘try-sexual’, even one who doesn’t wear women’s clothes, is obviously a bender….
So far, so NOTW. It is, after all, a famously narrow-minded newspaper catering to people who don’t get much.
But rather confusingly, the front of the NOTW glossy magazine inside the very same edition that mocked and ridiculed Reid for his cross-dressing and daring to step outside prescribed gender roles featured TV celeb Myleene Klaas shaving her face on the front page, the with the come-on coverline: ‘MYLEENE MANS UP! – Tough talking and too feisty even for Cowell. Yes, this girls got balls.’ Inside she poses for a glamorous photo shoot in a suit and a side-parting.
Klaas doesn’t describe herself as ‘try-sexual’ in the interview (though she does talk about comparing ‘boob sizes’ with female friends in toilet cubicles), but if she did it would probably have been presented in the same yay! good on ya! girl power!! fashion as her ballsiness. ‘Try-sexuality’ when undertaken by women now seems, even in the NOTW, to be both a measure of both female empowerment and also their new assertive sexuality. It tends to enhance their femininity rather than bringing it into (fatal) question.
But when men try to join in the experimentation and step outside gendered sex roles themselves, by for instance cross-dressing or expressing an interest in same-sex fantasy, the opposite appears to be true, at least in the public sphere. They are merely deviant, ‘gay’ or ‘sad’ – and instantly shorn of their masculinity. A joke. Even cage fighters. Attitudes towards male bi-curiousness show that for men being ‘half gay’ is tantamount to being ‘half-pregnant’.
This new double standard for male and female sexual behaviour which in contrast to the old ‘stud/slut’ one, penalises men rather than women was documented earlier this year by Canadian sociologists, who found that men were expected to be up for sex all the time – but only very straight sex. Women were allowed much more latitude in both whether they actually wanted to have sex – and what kind of sex they wanted to have.
This double standard is endemic in the UK, as is painfully evident in the recent case of the barmy woman boxer (also Canadian) found guilty of a violent and unprovoked attack on a couple of drunken squaddies at a disco for kissing and dancing with one another and ‘pretending to be gay’ screaming ‘THIS SHOULDN’T BE ALLOWED IN THE BRITISH ARMY!’.
Despite being a violent foreign criminal on the run from the law for assaulting British soldiers (from behind) – and moreover a woman who stepped outside of gender stereotypes herself – she was feted by the British popular press as some kind of have-a-go a heroine.
Why? Well, partly because she was quite ‘tasty’ (in the sense of ‘not looking like a dyke’), but mostly because she was punishing men for daring to break the gender rules themselves.
Twenty-First Century trysexuality is, you see, just for girls.
Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the best footballers ever to play in this country – and one of the best looking – brought out the worst in the English.
He prickled you see, our ugly, mean-minded, spiteful, spitting jealousy. We were jealous of his talent, his looks, his body, his youth, his money and most of all of his total lack of interest in what the English media and terrace culture thought of him and his dress sense and the way they kept shouting ‘winker!’, ‘poof!’, ‘twinkletoes!!’ to try and get his attention.
It just made us even more frenzied and passionate and helpless that the way we obsessed over everything about him from the darkness of his tan to the size of his beach shorts meant nothing to him. He ignored our stalkerish behaviour, and our playground bullying, and just kept on being Cristiano. He didn’t need us. He didn’t even bloody notice us. He was hot. He knew he was hot. And worst of all, there was nothing we could do about it. No wonder we hated him.
And now it seems he’s leaving us behind for good – and will probably forget about us before he even lands in Madrid. The bastard!
Our most popular tabloid The Sun has run a particularly bitchy campaign against him for years. Most recently, they devoted pages of phoney outrage to the fact that he wore a pink baseball cap on holiday in LA, and had the effrontery to wear a flower in his ear. Apparently he’s also personally to blame for turning today’s pro footballers into metrosexuals and is the evil ‘queen’ behind what they like to call ‘The Campions League’.
In short, Ronaldo has been on the receiving end of abuse that would be deemed ‘homophobic’ in a trice if it were directed at someone actually gay. But this isn’t just homophobia in the form of metrophobia, this is good old English hypocrisy at work: The Sun exploits the way young footballers look today to sell papers, filling their pages almost daily with pictures of them being tarty – and then of course damns them for making us look at them.
Ronaldo united the English in ways that few other things do these days. The editor of snooty Esquire for instance, a magazine that likes to see itself as being the opposite end of the media and social spectrum to The Sun, recently joined in the national gang bang of Ronaldo, taking aim at his pretty pouting face in a piece sniffing at the vulgarity of English footballers, and the way they ‘pile on the designer labels with gay abandon (Ronaldo), accessorise with far too many sparkly things (Ronaldo) and haven’t yet discovered that logos a go-go have gone out of fashion (Ronaldo).’
Yes dear, but Ronaldo has more natural beauty, sexiness and vitality in his left foot than a hundred back issues of Esquire – a magazine that would benefit enormously from a little vulgarity: I mean, it might be mistaken for something actually alive. It’s probably Ronaldo’s ‘gay abandon’ which is the most wonderful and insufferable thing about him to the English. After all, it’s the sign that someone is genuinely free – they genuinely don’t care what the neighbours/bloke down the pub/The Sun/Esquire think, and they do and wear what they like, damn them.
This is also probably the reason why he was hated so much for his on-pitch naughtiness – not so much the cheating itself, but the brazenness of it. The flamboyance of it! Ronaldo was hated and envied because he broke the rules in plain view. And could behave like a spoilt child. The English you see can never forgive someone for doing publicly what they have to spend so much time and energy hiding.
As Ronaldo said, matter-of-factly, in response to the English media’s frenzy over the pink hat with the flower: ‘I don’t see what is wrong with that if you are comfortable with your sexuality.’ But the English aren’t comfortable, Ronaldo. In any sense. Don’t remind us of it!.
David Beckham managed, more or less, to get away with sarongs and nail polish and worse. But that was partly because Beckham wasn’t as talented a footballer as Ronaldo, wasn’t as pretty, or as young – and, unlike Ronaldo, was very, very concerned with handling the English press and his public image: he really cared about us and what we thought, and so was generally regarded as ‘nice’. Most importantly, in the end Becks was English. He may have been a tart, but he was our tart (though at the moment he appears to be Mr Armani’s.)
The problem with Portuguese Ronaldo, and the reason ultimately why he was so resented and the target of such passionate ambivalence, was that he wasn’t ours. He was always only on loan – which is why whenever rumours of a move abroad surfaced the hate campaign in the press would reach new, tremulous heights.
But now he’s really going. And we’re really going to miss him. But being English, the way we’ll express that is by saying: ‘Good riddance, you WINKER!!’
Banning gay propaganda can backfire. Spectacularly.
“All Saints should be presumed guilty until proved innocent.”
The book that changed the way the world looks at men
It's a Queer World
A warped look at a fin de siecle world of pop culture where nothing is quite as straight or gay as it seems.
This book will change the way you think about sex. It may even put you off it altogether.
Male Lib is Nothing to Be Scared Of
Notes on Hipsterism
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