Read the interview on A Shaded View
Category: interview with Mark Simpson
Mark Simpson interviewed by Newsweek’s Teddy Cutler on the spornosexual movement and the leading role of Ronaldo’s pectorals in it (2/20/2016)
What exactly does ‘spornosexual’ mean?
The spornosexual is a man who has hammered and fashioned his own body into a hot, ripped, pumped, inked, vaguely lewd commodity at the factory of the 21st century—the gymnasium. He’s a man who aspires to be that ultimate male hero today —a Men’s Health cover model.
How do you spot one? You don’t. Their under-dressed body spots you—and then demands that you look at it, to admire its glutes and guns and dizzyingly low body-fat percentage. The spornosexual is that irksome, wannabe male glamour model who hogs your Instagram and Facebook feed. But strangely, you still haven’t got around to unfollowing.
How does “spornosexual” differ from “metrosexual”?
Spornosexuality is second-generation metrosexuality. A sexed-up, body-centred, “hardcore” form of metrosexuality. The spornosexual doesn’t want to be loved just for his wardrobe, clear skin and groomed beard. He wants to be wanted for his own body—something that he’s worked very hard to turn into the ultimate accessory.
Why did metrosexualism die out to be replaced by this newer concept?
It didn’t. It swallowed everything. Men no longer “act,” while women “appear.” Men do a great deal of appearing these days. Male vanity and product use is no big deal any more—in a visual, social media world, men have to be image-conscious or else they simply… disappear.
However, because the male desire to be desired—which is the self-regarding heart of metrosexuality—is so normal these days, it’s just taken for granted, especially by the younger generation. There’s little point in “outing” someone as “metrosexual” when pretty much everyone is. Likewise, and slightly paradoxically, being metrosexual isn’t in itself something that makes you stand out nowadays. Being spornosexual, though, does. After all, what’s more eye-catching than living, walking, talking porn?
How has 21st-century culture led to the rise of the “spornosexual”?
Metrosexuality was shaped largely by glossy magazines and advertising in the ‘90s. Then in the Noughties, celebrity culture, reality TV and Beckham and co. sent it into orbit. Spornosexuality on the other hand is shaped largely by selfie-obsessed social media—where young men are busy comparing body parts. Thanks to smartphones you can be the director and star of your own reality TV show.
What is the connection to sport? Is it just about fitness, or is there an element of narcissism, about fitness to look good rather than feel good?
Well, going to the gym is a kind of sport. And arguably, pornography is a kind of sport too—and not just a spectator sport any more. Spornosexuality is the interface between fitness and sensuality, feeling good and looking good, activity and passivity, heroism and sluttiness.
Sportsmen have played a big role in promoting spornosexuality themselves—with many of them appearing in their pants on the covers of magazines—including gay magazines—and on the sides of buses in their underwear. Many of them also use topless avatars on social media, the hussies.
They don’t regard their bodies as merely a “tool” for their trade of sports — they absolutely maximise its aesthetic/sexual potential too. Eager self-objectification is a major part of spornosexuality.
Why did you pick Cristiano Ronaldo as an example? How would someone like Ronaldo differ from the man you popularized as the ultimate metrosexual, David Beckham?
Although Beckham was never shy about taking his clothes off, and was of course an athlete, his body was never that buff. He doesn’t look like he spends a lot of time in the gym. Ronaldo on the other hand is totally shredded and hench and completely fits that advertising format. You wonder whether he scores goals just so that he can take his shirt off and flex for the roaring crowd. Like much of the younger generation of males, Cristiano seems very aware of his body as a sexualized object and very keen to enhance that effect.
In a nutshell: Becks, now 40, is metrosexual. Ronaldo, 31, is spornosexual.
Is there something about football especially that fits your term? Requiring a body to be athletic and muscular but not overtly so, defined yet lithe… would the footballer be the ideal of the movement?
Footballers in the U.K. didn’t use to go to the gym. In the 1970s and ‘80s some would spend most of their time in the pub. Many of them didn’t have upper bodies at all. The transformation today is quite astonishing.
That said, gymnasts probably more embody the ideal, with their defined muscles developed from moving their perfect bodies around in the air where we can get a really good look at them. After all, the word “gymnastics” derives from the Greek for “exercise naked.”
Football, of course, traditionally has a much bigger global following than gymnastics, which is not exactly the greatest of team sports. Hence Ronaldo, who has the body of a gymnast and is also one of the world’s best footballers, is such an arresting combination – and why he is no doubt persuading a generation of young men that they need to do more crunches.
Is the spornosexual out to gain the attention of the opposite sex, or is his sexuality more fluid?
The spornosexual usually prefers women in bed, but doesn’t mind who is enjoying their body in public. His body is an adult bouncy castle for the eyes. Everyone is invited. He might sometimes look a bit of a bruiser, but he’s still a cruiser. He’s always checking out who is checking him out.
In fact, the admiration of other men is often especially prized because other men are more likely to understand how much time and sweat has gone into getting those biceps. Or care. No matter how hetero, a spornosexual isn’t usually too squeamish about homosexuality. After all, his body advertises a deep understanding and study of the the sexiness of the male body. In fact, he often looks like a gay for pay porn star. Or is actually one.
(Available in in Castilian and Catalan – the interview was conducted through a very competent translator, but I fear some of my crap puns may not have survived.)
Mark Simpson interviewed by Clement Ghys in France’s Liberation newspaper about the evolution of his metrosexual offspring – and Justin Timberlake’s ass.
Unedited English email Q&A, April 2012
CG: In 1994, you coined the term “Metrosexual”. Looking back, how would you say the concept has evolved? In what way do you find this definition still relevant?
MS: Well, naturally the reason it’s still relevant, Clement, because I’ve recently published a book on the subject!
More seriously, metrosexuality is still relevant all these moisturised years later because the breadth and depth of the masculine revolution it represents has been obscured – often quite deliberately – in a lot of chatter about facials, ‘manbags’ and flip-flops.
Ironically, out-and-proud male beauty isn’t itself skin-deep. Metrosexuality represents a profound change in how we look at and think about men. The emergence from its closet of the male desire to be desired has revolutionised the culture and also opened up the options of what a man can be.
Metrosexuality isn’t about manbags. It’s not about men becoming ‘girly’ or ‘gay’. It’s about men becoming everything. To themselves. In much the same way that women have been for some time.
For all its faults, metrosexuality represents a kind of ‘male liberation’. It’s the end of the sexual division of labour in looking and loving – of bathroom and bedroom labour. And of ‘sexuality’ itself.
Male ‘passivity’ is the flip side of female ‘activity’ – and should be welcomed or at least accepted as much as the latter, but is mostly mocked instead. Metrosexuality has too often provoked a kind of reverse sexism.
How has the metrosexual man blurred the boundaries between the “gay” and straight” labels?
Irretrievably. To quote metrodaddy’s own definition of the metrosexual:
‘He might be officially gay, straight or bisexual, but this is utterly immaterial because he has clearly taken himself as his own love-object and pleasure as his sexual preference.’
There’s nothing ‘straight’ about metrosexuality. Even though most metros definitely prefer women in bed.
Narcissism was supposed to be the female quality par excellence. ‘Vanity thy name is woman’. It’s considered ‘feminine’ because inviting the gaze/exhibitionism is ‘passive’. Likewise homosexual men were considered deviant and ‘womanish’ because of their – real or perceived – passivity. In a sense, homos existed to lock up male passivity in the homo body and keep it away from ‘normal’ men.
Men were officially supposed to be always desiring, never desired. Always looking, never looked at. Always active, never passive. Always hetero never homo.
Metrosexuality queers all of that. By outing the ‘passivity’ in men, their desire to be desired, and also their keen visual interest in other men and their bodies. It’s precisely because of this blurring between gay and straight that many older and more traditional types have reacted with phobic and often hysterical hostility to metrosexuality. What indeed is straight a man to do – who in fact is he to be – if he can’t define himself as NOT a gay?
Particularly in the monosexual US, which had a gigantic national nervous breakdown over the metrosexual in the mid-late Noughties, precisely because of the queerness of metrosexuality – producing a so-called ‘menaissance’ backlash against it.
Though the backlash was largely a phoney one. Metrosexuality continued to conquer that conflicted continent, albeit on the down-low, and even the US is now led by a sveltely handsome man who makes the world wait on his morning workout and who, despite Michelle’s prettiness, is in many ways his own First Lady.
Even in less traditionalist countries like Britain there have been reaction-formations too, but less pronounced, and the younger generation has generally been quicker to seize the freedom from gay/straight, male/female ghettoes and binaries that metrosexuality offers. Recent research claimed that most hetero young men at university enjoy kissing their male friends full on the lips as an expression of affection. Quite a turnabout for an Anglo country that sentenced Oscar Wilde to three years hard labour!
Recently in The Guardian, you said that “the metrosexual revolution has taken an increasingly physical, sensual form”. Can you comment on that?
Metrosexuality is consumerist and fashion-orientated, but it isn’t necessarily about clothes. In fact, these days it’s perhaps less about clothes than the ultimate accessory: the body. It’s almost as if male nakedness has been abolished at the very moment that acres of male flesh are displayed everywhere you look. Young men have invested a great deal of time, money and supplements ‘fashioning’ their bodies into something they ‘wear’ – and show off. Shaven (often everywhere), sculpted, intricately tattooed, pierced. Never, ever unmediated.
The near-global hegemony of ‘Men’s Health’ magazine with its Photoshopped covers of men’s sculpted torsos bears testimony to this, along with the massive popularity of reality shows such as ‘Jersey Shore’, which feature young men like Mikey Sorrentino showing off their tits and abs.
In this they’re also following in the footsteps of tarty sporno stars like David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo and Rafael Nadal, whose bodies are marketed and promoted by corporate consumerism.
A whole generation of young men have grown up with metrosexiness. As the recent hit LMFAO single that is a kind of metrosexy anthem puts it: ‘I’m sexy and I know It’.
In the same article you evoked the highest and heightened interest of men in their own bodies (diets, steroids, gyms). What do you think is driving this?
It’s partly an effect of post-industrialism. It’s interesting that its most pronounced amongst young working class males who in the past might have looked forwards to a life of selling their labour and working on other men’s property, but who now instead of going to the factory go to the gym to labour on their own bodies and turn them into a product. Their bodies remain the only thing they own – their only asset.
But now they turn their bodies into a commodity themselves. By making themselves desirable they give themselves value in a consumerist world. Not for nothing are athletes such as Beckham who willingly strip off and push their packets down our throats on the side of buses often from a working class background.
It’s also the effect of course of an increasingly visual world – of webcams, facebook, camera phones, widescreen HD TVs, and reality TV. The desire to be desired is also about the desire to be noticed. To be wanted. To be popular. To succeed.
And let’s not discount the importance of all the vast quantities of porn that men and boys are now downloading, in which the male body is fully on display. And is usually worked out, shaved, tattooed, de-pubed. Lots of men aspire to be male porn stars these days. Or at least many of them seem to be auditioning for that job….
In recent years, male bodies have been very much shot on screen.
Sometimes, even more than female bodies. I’m thinking of Ryan Gosling in comedies such as Crazy Stupid Love, Justin Timberlake in Friends With Benefits or Alexander Skarsgard in the TV show True Blood. How do you explain this?
Friends With Benefits was a feature film all about Justin’s ass! It was in almost every scene. We even heard from his girlfriend that he likes a finger up it. His character was working as an art-director for American GQ but had a body by Men’s Health. How metrosexual can you get!
Women, who make up the majority of TV viewers, have discovered an appetite for looking at men’s bodies on screen. In some ways the sexy scantily clad male has become a symbol of women’s consuming power and their new assertive sexual appetite. True Blood especially seems to ‘feed’ on that.
But men also as we’ve seen also enjoy looking at other men’s bodies, and admiring, desiring and aspiring to them.
What do you think of this quote? The actor Thomas Jane said, after appearing naked on screen, “I now know what it’s like to be a woman, because I now have to say during a conversation, ‘Hey, my eyes are up here!’ “
It’s a funny quote, but it’s interesting that the sex of the person he’s talking to with wandering eyes is left unstated.
Men are ‘sex objects’ now too. Some might put it in terms of ‘men are the new women’. But actually what metrosexuality has done is to break down the boundaries between ‘men’ and ‘women’.
Ironically many feminists are completely blind to this phenomenon of men willingly objectifying themselves and other males. Or they pretend it’s a marginal thing in no way comparable to the objectification of women. When clearly in mainstream media, particularly TV and cinema, it’s at the very least the equivalent of female objectification.
Male nudity and sex is now a full advertising argument. How do you explain David Beckham’s “package” on the Armani/H&M camaigns? Or the homoerotic Dolce & Gabbana ads?
This is what I dub ‘sporno’ – the place where sporn and porn get into bed while Mr Armani and Dolce and Gabbana take pictures.
Sporno represents an intensification of metrosexuality. Where early metrosexuality was soft-core, sporno is hardcore. Metrosexuality is now so mainstream and so ‘normal’ that male coquettishness isn’t in itself likely to turn heads. So instead you have to promise the punters a gang-bang in the showers. Or, more usually, a prone, passive image of a sporting star with their legs apart literally making themselves available for the viewing public.
And of course the ‘hardcore’ aesthetic of sporno is flagrantly gay.
Some have tried to dismiss all this as some kind of conspiracy by gay fashionistas to corrupt young straight men and ram their proclivities down their throats. If it is, it’s worked. Spectacularly. Sporno is the aesthetic of the 21st Century.
Likewise, metrosexuality is now so mainstream that to point to someone as a ‘metrosexual’ these days is almost redundant. That’s why I called my latest collection ‘Metrosexy’ – because what we’re talking now is not a ‘type’ but rather a whole new male way of looking and being looked at.
Do you think that gay imaging has now completely entered (predominantly straight) society? How do you explain the fact that it is now a commercial tool?
Well as I say, it makes people look. Which is quite an achievement in this jaded age.
But also ‘gay’ imaging is inevitable once the male body is commodified, and once men begin to objectify themselves and other men. This is part of the reason why it was banned or resisted for so long.
It’s impossible to straighten this stuff out. Of course, people try. Men sometimes pretend that their self objectification is ‘strictly for the ladies’. But even if this weren’t a bare-cheeked lie it wouldn’t solve anything. Because the ‘queerness’ is in the male passivity. It’s about as ‘straight’ as being fucked with a strap-on.
It even turns out that many women have male-on-male fantasies which increasingly commercial culture is pandering to. In other words, men are being encouraged to ‘act gay’ to turn the ladies on.
More cynically, or perhaps more realistically, gay ideals of male beauty and perfection are largely unachievable. That’s really the point of them. They promise endless desiring – and also anxiety. Which is what consumerism needs….
Mark Simpson’s ‘Metrosexy’ is available on Amazon Kindle.
English (unedited) version of Q&A with Mark Simpson by Michele Masneri for Italian cultural magazine Studio in which he talks about the Italian roots of sporno, the next stage of metrosexuality – and the Silviosexual
Studio: What do you mean by the word “sporno”?
Mark Simpson: The place where sport and porn get into bed while Mr Armani takes pictures. Beckham and Ronaldo’s bulging packets rammed down our throat on the sides of buses. Dolce & Gabbana hanging around the Italian football team’s locker room. That kind of thing. So once again we mostly have Italia to thank.
Metrosexuality, the male desire to be desired, has become so normal now that it’s pretty much taken for granted. So in order to get noticed you have to go hardcore – and promise the viewing public a gang-bang in the showers. Hence sporno.
Is Italy the most metrosexual country?
In a sense the wave of metrosexuality that swept the globe in the last decade or so was really just the rest of the world catching up with Italia and becoming a little bit more Italian.
Male narcissism is at the heart of metrosexuality – and in Italy unlike in the Anglo world this has never really been properly repressed. Italy, home of Michelangelo, Marcello Mastroianni and Dolce & Gabbana, never seriously pretended that ‘beauty’ was a word that couldn’t sit alongside ‘male’, and pat its well-formed knee.
In Italy, particularly Southern Italy, young men often have an almost swishy but entirely assured way of walking that few Anglos can ever hope to match. And if we try, it just ends up a silly sashay.
Nonetheless, I think full-throated metrosexuality does break down traditional or official ideas about the sexual division of loving and looking even in Italy by undermining machismo and ‘outing’ the queerness of it all. The way that women look at men and men look at other men – and how men get very turned on by all the attention.
Do you know the Fiat-Chrysler CEO, Sergio Marchionne? Is he hummersexual or retrosexual?
I’m afraid I had to look him up. Are you sure he’s Italian? He looks like Jeremy Clarkson’s dad. Do you think he has a wardrobe at home with 365 identical shapeless jumpers and shirts?
Hummersexuals are guys who over-emphasise their masculinity with ‘manly’ accessories in a way that makes you wonder what they’re covering up. Retrosexuals are merely pre-metrosexual.
Sergio seems more retrosexual than hummersexual. Partly because Fiat cars aren’t terribly popular with the US military or Hollywood action heroes – too small and ‘faggy’, I expect – but mostly because he reminds me of my old chemistry teacher.
And how about former Prime Minister Berlusconi?
He’s quite something, that Berlusconi! But at least, as he keeps reminding us, he’s not queer. Even if he does look like a drag queen.
I don’t think any of the categories really fit Silvio. He’s far too special. He’s in a category all of his own. Silviosexual.
Mind you, his old chum Tony Blair, our former PM and rock star manqué, shared the same drag queen smile. But ultimately Silvio is a reminder to an Anglo like me of the mysteries of ‘machismo’. How something so camp can imagine itself something so butch.
Perhaps we need to go way back in time to locate Berlusconi’s painted, dyed, stretched, terrifyingly cosmetic look. Back to the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt….
Is David Beckham still the epitome of the metrosexual?
Yes, albeit the ageing metrosexual. In English we have an expression, ‘mutton dressed as lamb’…. But then there are lots of men his age and older who also don’t want to give up their sex-object status – so they look to him for inspiration. Though he’ll have to offer them something a lot sexier than those daggy H&M pants and vests he came up with recently.
Beckham’s metrosexual crown has of course been usurped by younger, prettier players such as Cristiano Ronaldo – who also famously stole his Armani undies. At the same time you have a new generation of tarty male reality TV stars, such as Mike ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino and his ‘gym tan laundry’ metro mantra from Jersey Shore. And at the movies you have stars like Tom Hardy, with those pouty, Brando-esque lips, muscles and his openly admitted bi-curious past telling us ‘Don’t be a afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.’
Is metrosexy the “next stage” of metrosexuality? The word ‘metrosexual’ was born in the Nineties. What happened to male narcissism since then?
Funnily enough Justin Bieber was born the same year as the metrosexual. They’re both sweet seventeen. In other words, metrosexuality is still waiting for its voice to drop.
That said, men’s narcissism has become much so mainstream and accepted in the last decade or so, to the point where it is often taken for granted, especially by the younger generation who has grown up with it. Hence the word itself is likely to become defunct at some point in the not too distant future. To some extent Metrosexy is about a post metrosexual world.
However, there are still reaction-formations and kinky backlashes against metrosexuality, particularly in the US which, because of a passionately Protestant history and an equally passionate denial about its own screaming gayness, continues to work out her issues. E.g. those hummersexuals….
Essentially ‘metrosexy’ is the tarty male sensibility that metrosexuals have injected into the culture. Metrosexuality has gone from being a ‘type’ – ‘the metrosexual’ – to be spotted and pointed at, to being a pervasive ‘feeling’. A way of seeing and being seen.
Also, a glance at the newsstand, the billboard, the TV, and the queue at the bus stop tells us that with many young men the desire to be desired and embody male beauty has taken an increasingly physical, sensual form: their lovingly, painstakingly sculpted and shaved muscles and their elaborate, expensive designer tattoos.
Following the cues of sporno, many seem to aspire to be sexual athletes. Hustlers. Porn stars.
What’s the relationship between hipsterism and metrosexuality?
Although most hipsters would probably rather die than admit it, hipsterism is a form of metrosexuality. But a very middle-class and enervated – or ‘ironic’ – one. It’s patently narcissistic, but usually regards the body and ‘sexiness’ as ‘vulgar’. Which it is of course – if you’re lucky.
What’s the “gay bomb”, Abercrombie & Fitch or American Apparel or Apple?
Abercrombie & Fitch were perhaps the detonator – Apple and iPhones were the explosion. iPhones are of course the ultimate vanity product – they’re really MEphones. The app that comes gratis with every smartphone is dumb self-obsession. And they’re also a great way to take a picture of yourself topless in the gym changing room mirrors to upload to Facebook, or perhaps a more ‘discrete’ ‘social network’…
Are the social networks, i.e. Facebook and especially Twitter, a form of a sublimated metrosexuality?
Inasmuch as they’re all about MEEEEEE! yes. They’re where people compete for attention and try to turn themselves into brands and commodities and market themselves, a hallmark of metrosexuality.
In the case of Facebook, often the metrosexuality isn’t even very sublimated. Young men can and do upload hundreds of topless pictures of themselves, apparently auditioning for that Men’s Health cover.
You’ve written that “in some ways Obama is the first US President to be his own First Lady.” Is there any metrosexy candidate in the Republican party?
Not in the current line-up of hopefuls. Though Mitt Romney does look like a mannequin in the window of a particularly boring department store.
Aaron Schock on the other hand, the Republican Congressman who stripped off for Men’s Health magazine positively drips metrosexiness – for a politician. He’ll probably end up President one day. Him or Justin Bieber….
Mark Simpson’s Metrosexy is available for download from Amazon.
Why did you decide to collect these texts in a single volume?
I wanted to bring together my essays that document and analyse the profound revolution in masculinity that metrosexuality represents. But which has been mostly trivialized by the media as being literally skin-deep – Oooh! men having facials!! Oooh! Manbags!! That kind of thing. Metrosexuality isn’t about men becoming ‘girlie’ or ‘gay’. It’s about men becoming everything. To themselves.
It’s told-you-so vanity on my part, but I also thought it was necessary to bring these pieces together into one collection so that if someone wants to find out the real story of what has happened to men and to sexuality in the early 21st Century they can. Even if it’s just historians of the future trying to work out why civilization collapsed.
The kind of texts you write and the tone you use (ironic and camp) is not common in Portugal but as far as I know is common in English language authors. Could you comment? Is the tone of your writings autobiographical or is just a rhetorical mechanism?
Are you calling me camp, Bruno? I try my best to be entertaining when I write, as I’m extremely dull in person. Also, I think when it comes to subjects like sex, sexuality and gender a sense of humour is absolutely necessary. If someone can write about these subjects straight-faced then they probably don’t know what they’re talking about.
Did you realize you were creating a worldwide concept when you first wrote about “metrosexual” men in 1994? How proud do you feel about having seen before others a social tendency?
The newspaper article in which I apparently coined that term was written to publicise my first book Male Impersonators: Men Performing Masculinity. I used metrosexuality as a kind of shorthand for what I was talking about in the book – about the way that an increasingly mediated world was changing masculinity and how it was becoming much more narcissistic and exhibitionistic – and ‘objectified’ in that feminist-speak.
In other words, masculinity was no longer always heterosexual never homosexual, always active never passive, always desiring never desired, always looking never looked at.
The enforced association of masculinity with capital H heterosexuality was breaking down even in the early 90s – you only had to look around the culture to see it. And I’ve always been something of a voyeur. The desire of men to be desired wasn’t something I was going to ignore.
Though, of course, people don’t always want to see things that are happening around them. Which is probably why it took another decade for the concept to catch on.
And yes, seeing some things before others want to does give me a certain mischievous, perverse pleasure, but it isn’t necessarily something you’ll be thanked for. Look what happened to Cassandra….
You say in the 1994 text that “metrosexuals are the creation of capitalism’s voracious appetite for new markets.” Do you think sexuality is nowadays more an economic issue than a ‘natural’ or ‘primary’ behaviour?
Not really sure that sexuality has been a ‘natural’ behaviour since humans became social animals with elaborate rules and codes, languages – and religions. It’s certainly been even less ‘natural’ since the industrial revolution. What’s clear though is that the productive/reproductive impetus of early capitalism has been replaced by sensual/consumerist imperatives, even and especially for men.
You see this even in China, where after a period of rapid productive growth consumerism is now rampant and encouraged by the Party as the next step in China’s economic development – and hyper-metro behaviour has been observed amongst a lot of Chinese young men (the so-called ‘herbivore’ phenomenon). Plus of course, population growth is not something China exactly needs.
It’s fairly clear that men have always had a capacity for sensuality and vanity – and a desire to be desired – but for most of history it has been rather closeted. Especially since the Victorian era. Men were meant to be warriors or labourers or empire builders. They weren’t meant to be beautiful. The sexual division of looking that the Victorians codified decreed that women were beauty and men were action.
But now that men have been encouraged to get in touch with their vanity and sensuality it seems there’s no stopping it….
Is the concept of “sporno” a proof that our Western culture is being constructed around pornography and sex? Camille Paglia wrote some months ago that American middle-class society is desexualized: men act like children until 50 and women are so thinner that men hardly fell attracted for their bodies. What should we conclude?
America is a conundrum. Sporno doesn’t really exist in the US, except via imported Armani advertising campaigns (which don’t feature US sportsmen). Sporno is a European phenomenon. The Protestant component of American culture is still very strong today and America still makes a quasi religious fetish out the notion of the Real Man.
The US is the only country that had a backlash against metrosexuality in the mid-Noughties. In many ways the ‘menaissance’ as it was called was men-dacious and hypocritical – often it was just a more uptight version of metrosexuality that was being sold. And in fact the US as a hugely consumerist country has continued of course down the metrosexual path – it can hardly do anything else. But it’s still in terrible denial.
Sporno represents an intensification of metrosexuality – from a soft core to more hard-core gay porn sensibility. It’s too out-and-proud in its metrosexuality, ramming it’s designer-clad packet – or ass – down your throat. America’s not really ready for that. America is, as everyone knows, one of the ‘gayest’ countries in the world but it’s the last to know it.
Why do we see rugby and football players acting as “sporno” stars but rugby and football are still homophobic areas?
I’m not so sure that rugby is that homophobic – partly because it’s all about male-male physical contact. And it does have one or two out players/ex-players. Football is a different matter however. Pretty much the whole point of following football is to prove you’re not gay, my son….
To some extent the fashion houses deploying footballers in their spornographic advertising campaigns are exploiting the homophobia of the sport – the images are especially striking in their ‘gayness’ and their ‘passivity’ because they use men who live by ‘activity’ in a sport renowned for its homophobia.
In fact, David Beckham’s media career has also been based to some degree on exploiting the homophobia of football. If football wasn’t homophobic the notion of a footballer who ‘loves my gay fans’ and wears sarongs and his wife’s knickers wouldn’t be so newsworthy.
But of course sporno – and Beckham and Ronaldo – also change expectations and challenge prejudices. There is a time-lag between the pansexuality proffered by sporno images used to sell clothing to young football fans and attitudes on the terraces and in the changing rooms. But this will change. Things have already changed enormously in just a few years.
What is really, strikingly, shockingly apparent in these spornographic images is the lust young sporting heroes have to be… sluts. This apparently insatiable appetite for tartiness and sluttiness of men is something that metrosexuality has unleashed and isn’t going back in the closet any time soon.
How do you see the way gay men, or more accurately gay activism, behave today: they demand gay marriage, they want to adopt children and they claim family values? What’s happening? Has the “heterosexist” society just contaminated the previously subversive gay culture?
A lot of gays seem to have decided that they want respectability. Of course they call it ‘equality’. But perhaps they have an equal right to be respectable if they really want to be.
Just as straights appear to be going ‘gay’, given the chance, in the form of metrosexuality and recreational, kinky sex, gays seem to be going ‘straight’. It’s the inevitable result of the breakdown of the division between ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ and the crossover between the two. Sexuality no longer dictates lifestyle.
And it’s not so surprising that it turns out that a lot of gays have made a fetish out of ‘normality’ and respectability – because it was denied them for so long. I expect though that many will tire of it rather more quickly than a lot of heterosexuals have.
What’s your opinion about the apparently main-streaming of the transgender culture (last week Daniel Craig in drag; the Spanish magazine Candy, the recent success of the model Andrej Pejic)? Is trans the new sexual/aesthetic model? Are we going “transexy”, as you call it?
I think it’s becoming pretty apparent that in an increasingly intensely mediated culture everything is becoming hyper-real – especially gender. The increasing use of cosmetic surgery by both men and women, especially celebrities, is bringing about a kind of effacement of sexual difference. Not necessarily because men and women are becoming androgynous, although that is happening too, but because even the attempts to emphasize ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ with cosmetic surgery, designer tatts and beards, steroids etc. etc. tend to produce an ‘over-exposure’ which results in a kind of ‘transexy’ appearance. Sexiness has effaced sex.
Gender has become so artificial and so over-stated that we’re all Pammy-trannies now. Male-to-male and female-to-female transsexuals.
Who do you consider to be the most interesting, sexy, defiant and mythological public person of nowadays? Why?
That’s a tall order. I’m not sure I can think of anyone that really fits that description. But Tom Hardy was the best thing by far about ‘Inception’ and there is something quite inspiring about this pouty-faced yet ruggedly handsome Hollywood star’s open ownership both of his bi-curious past and his ambi-sexual persona. He looks like a good advert for metrosexiness: ‘Don’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.’
I think that’s an excellent motto for negotiating the metrosexy world we’re now living in.
metrosexy is available for your instant pleasure on Amazon Kindle
English author and journalist Mark Simpson on love-hating the metrosexual, why bromance lacks balls, and why women are strapping on Captain Kirk.
By Elise Moore (Suite 101, May 6, 2010)
If you could copyright neologisms, Mark Simpson would be a billionaire. Since you can’t, the British gay/gender issues and pop/culture commentator talked to Suite101 about the real definition of metrosexuality and gave his views on gay marriage legalization, slash fic, bromance, and more.
The Metrosexual Past and Present
Being responsible for the metrosexual could keep less hearty souls awake at night. But Mark thinks the guilt should be shared. “Probably consumerism, post-feminism, Men’s Health magazine and Jersey Shore should shoulder at least some of the responsibility for the normalization of male vanity. I mean, the fact the President of the US now makes the Free World wait every morning for him to finish his work-out, and is something of his own First Lady, isn’t entirely down to me.
“Like most people, I have a love-hate relationship with the metrosexual. I love it when he pays me attention, and hate it when he’s flirting with someone else. Then I call him ‘self-obsessed’.”
Speaking of love-hating the metrosexual, Jerry Lewis arguably made the first metrosexual movie, The Nutty Professor, in 1963. “The Nutty Professor is a remarkable film,” Mark agrees. “It’s a kind of proto-metrosexual sci-fi. Geeky, unkempt, invisible and unlaid, Lewis concocts a potion that makes him the centre of attention and irresistible – by boosting his narcissism to monstrous levels. It’s Viagra and Biotherme Homme for Men in one product – decades before either were invented.”
Metrosexuality and Consumerism
“Metrosexuality has lots of antecedents of course: the virile degeneracy of Brando, Dean and Elvis in the 1950s, Jagger ‘s petulant narcissism in the 60s, Bowie’s glittering glamness in the 1970s, the mirrored male world of Saturday Night Fever and American Gigolo – and the military gay porn aesthetic of Top Gun. But they didn’t coalesce into the mainstream, High Street, off-the-peg phenomenon of mediated, commodified, love-me-or-love-me masculinity known as metrosexuality until the late Eighties, early Nineties.”
This close correlation between the metrosexual and increasing consumerism is what gets Mark annoyed when he’s confused with the late 19th century dandy. “As if we can pretend that the sexual and aesthetic division of labour of the Nineteenth and most of the Twentieth Century didn’t happen. As if Oscar Wilde – perhaps the most famous and in many ways the last dandy – hadn’t been destroyed by Victorian morality for his ‘gross indecency’. As if male narcissism and sensuality hadn’t been associated with male homosexuality – and thus criminalised and pathologised – for the next hundred years.
“And as if a dandy would have done anything so vulgar as go to the gym and get sweaty.”
Manlove for Ladies and Bros
Mark is also up for equal-opportunity equal opportunity when it comes to women who like the idea of man-on-man, as exemplified by the fan fiction phenomenon known as “slash fic.” “I’m fascinated and sometimes a little scared by the way that women interpret and fantasize male-on-male sex. Manlove for ladies is very different to gay porn. For starters, it uses imagination. Gay porn never does that. Slash-fic also tends to have a lot of feelings. Which always, always cause loss of wood in gay porn.
“Sometimes it seems as if women are trying, rather fabulously, to escape their prescribed feminine subjectivity by projecting themselves into the bodies of their male protagonists. Captain Kirk as the ultimate strap-on.”
Is “manlove for ladies,” as Mark calls it, comparable in any way to the new neologism in town, “bromance”? “Manlove for the ladies has much more in the way of… balls than ‘bromance’. As the name ‘bromance’ suggests, actual sex, or in fact anything physical, would be a form of incest. It seems like it’s being left to women to put men in touch with their bi-curiousness. Which is as everyone knows – but pretends not to – even more common than the female variety.”
The Greatest Iconoclast
If the views expressed above haven’t made it clear, Mark has upset a few people in his career, not least other, more “orthodox” gay commentators. But who out of his infatuations and inspirations would he deem the greatest iconoclast – Camille Paglia, Lady Gaga, Morrissey, Jerry Lewis? “I would probably have to pick Gore Vidal. He took on everything that is sacred in America: Machismo. Empire. The Kennedys. The Cold War. Hollywood. Monotheism and Monosexuality. What’s more his hilarious late 1960s transsexual novel ‘Myra Breckenridge’ figured out what was happening to masculinity and femininity before I was out of short trousers and long before the Twenty First Century got underway.
“Come to think of it, I should probably clast Mr. Vidal for leaving so little for the rest of us to smash.”
Future of Metrosexuality
Now that the 21st century is unavoidably underway, what does the new millennium hold for the metrosexual?
“A big, scented candle. And even more product.”
Interviewed by Spyros Chatzigiannis in the Greek national newspaper Eleftherotypia (18 Nov, 2007, Edited)
SC: What inspired you to come up with the term ‘metrosexual’ back in 1994? Was it the outcome of an obsession? You have said in the past that your writing is based on your own obsessions…
MS: Well, I’d obviously spent far too long thinking about men and masculinity. In fact, back then, anyone who used the word ‘masculinity’ was a little bit suspect….
I was attending an exhibition in London organized by GQ magazine called, with no irony, ‘It’s a Man’s World’, for the Independent newspaper, and it dawned on me that I’d seen the future. And it was moisturized.
Back then no one believed me. It wasn’t until I returned to the subject in 2002 for the then very popular American online magazine Salon and outed Mr Beckham – someone even I couldn’t have made up – as flamingly metrosexual that the word caught on. Alarmingly.
Is a man who adopts the way of life of a metrosexual more acceptable to women and can that improve his relationships with them? Or is it simply a mask behind which the 21st century man/hunter offers a camouflaged ‘bait’ to the woman/prey in an ongoing gender battle, as an evolutionary psychologist might argue?
I’ve always thought it would be fun to put a bunch of evolutionary psychologists in the Big Brother House, without any food, and see who gets eaten or raped first.
Metrosexuality isn’t about women – it’s about men. Of course, most metrosexuals are rather interested in women, but they’re even more interested in themselves. That’s the nature of metrosexuality. It’s a logical development of individualism and an end to the sexual division of labour in looks. The hallmark of the metrosexual is a certain independence from women: he actually buys his own clothes, can operate a washing machine and cooker and doesn’t regard beauty and sensuality as something that women embody on his brutish behalf. In other words: the metrosexual doesn’t see life as a Beauty and the Beast cartoon.
In a post-feminist world, where women no longer depend on men for their daily bread and protection, men can no longer depend on women to be women for them – so men are being women for themselves, in much the same way that women are being men for themselves.
Do you think that the term ‘metrosexual’ reflects/promotes the changing attitude of Western society towards a more complex view of masculinity or is it simply another useful tool for the market research companies to create another category of consumers with special needs?
It’s both – because it’s impossible nowadays to separate ‘Western society’ from consumption. In a sense, the metrosexual is the product of marketing: it’s intolerable to our post-industrial economy that half of the population should be impervious to advertising and not do its duty at the shopping mall. So men are dutifully buying glossy mags full of ads, religiously visiting the gym and going shopping for pleasure.
But, on the other hand, the metrosexual is also a response to marketing and the product of hitherto pent-up male wants, such as vanity and sensuality – and getting away from the buttoned-up, bottled-up male that is terrified of pastel colours and headed for a heart-attack at forty-five.
If the modern man identifies himself as metrosexual do you think he has less stereotypes both about his own identity and that of gay men? What is his attitude towards homosexuality?
If he identifies as metrosexual then he’s already dissenting from the male convention that any kind of difference is deviance – and that deviance is the worst possible thing that could befall a man. Besides, he’s like to get flak from both straight and gay people for messing with their gaydar.
The metrosexual is generally less paranoid about homosexuality than the retrosexual since his identity is based less on his sexual preference – and the disavowal of anything ‘faggy’ – than on his consumption patterns, tastes and lifestyles, pectorals. Which are often rather ‘faggy’.
He’s also inviting the gaze in a way that many, particularly Americans, frequently find disturbing – because this kind of male flirtatiousness/tartiness can’t be straightened or gendered out. To homophobes, the metrosexual is worse than a fag. He’s letting the anti-fag side down. He’s the prostate gland of heterosexuality: Satanically putting unmanly thoughts in the straight male body politic instead of projecting them onto the unmanly/unnatural gays out there.
Is being a pop star the ultimate fantasy/dream of a metrosexual man? In the past you have said that ‘it was a bloody pop star that encouraged me to make words my profession’. Did the term ‘metrosexual’ make you a pop star of words?
Metrosexuality is the end for pop and rock music. Stars like Little Richard and Elvis and Brando achieved such fame and devotion in part because they were so narcissistic and mascaraed at a time, the homebuilding 1950s, when men were definitely not supposed to be. In fact, abandoning your narcissism is one of the first steps traditionally required of little boys to become big boys and then small men.
Until recently, young male fans projected their own abandoned narcissism onto the radiant rock or film star who so clearly had not abandoned his and lived vicariously through him.
Nowadays though, it’s no longer necessary to worship from afar. Boys no longer necessarily give up their narcissism, or their auto-eroticism. And you don’t need a rock and roll career or budget to become a local celeb down the gym, at the disco or in the workplace. Or get yourself on Big Brother….
Those pop stars that are left are not actually pop stars at all: they’re footballers, like David Beckham.
Can he be popular in Arab/Islamic and non-Western countries? (Judging by David Beckham’s global success the answer is yes!)
I’ve been interviewed about metrosexuality by newspapers and TV stations in Brazil and India and asked to speak at a birthday bash in Beijing for China’s FHM magazine, so I think it’s clear that it’s not just a Western phenomenon, especially in countries that are rapidly urbanising. Even Cuba’s youth newspaper recently ran a big feature about Cuba’s macho men turning metrosexual – which, frankly, is no mean achievement when you’re being blockaded by the US and you’re living in a Marxist-Leninist country where queuing for essentials, let alone moisturiser, is so common.
As for metrosexual muslims: well, Pakistan is apparently undergoing what their media has termed a ‘metrosexual revolution’ at this very moment, despite the disapproval of the hairy mullahs.
Would a metrosexual be respected and accepted in the ancient Athens of Plato and Socrates?
I’ve been told that metrosexual is a Greek/Latin hybrid that means ‘motherfucker’, so I doubt he’d have been popular. Except maybe in Thebes.
The Greeks didn’t recognize the concept of ‘sexuality’, the notion of a psychology and aesthetic determined by your sexual preference, but they did recognize the universal attractiveness of the fit, youthful male. So the metrosexual would have been unnecessary.
Mind you, they probably would have been scandalized by the way that our metrosexual times seem to make boys of all men. Have you noticed how every male celeb now has exactly the same cute little toy beard? And that they all look, whatever their actual age, precisely 17?
Is your metrosexual vision challenged by the various ‘new’ concepts that have come along, such as the ‘heteropolitan’, the ‘ubersexual’ or the ‘ecosexual’? Or are they offsprings of your original idea?
Poor relations, more like.
Now that men have been commodified by metrosexuality it’s inevitable that there should be ‘new’ models out more often than vacuum cleaners. Practically every month we’re told the metrosexual is ‘so over’ and now replaced by something remarkably similar – but somehow completely different and, of course, so much better….
Even the so-called ‘metrosexual backlash’ and ‘menaissance’ which came and went a year or so ago, mostly in the god-fearing, fag-hating US, and which supposedly saw the re-ascendancy of the retrosexual, is just more metrosexuality, but with added mendacity. When I first used the term ‘retrosexual’ back in 2003, apparently coining the usage, I merely meant men who were not metrosexual, so-called ‘regular guys’ – now though a retrosexual seems to mean just a metrosexual with shaped chest hair.
Masculinity has been so commodified that even ‘regular guys’ are now just another fad.
A critic in Britain once called you ‘the skinhead Oscar Wilde’. Do you agree with the comment and was Oscar the metrosexual bloke of his time?
I think he probably meant ‘balding homosexual’.
Wilde the married-with-kids aesthete and dandy about town whose greatest work was about mediated male narcissism – ‘The Portrait of Dorian Gray’ – would probably have preferred ‘metrosexual’ to the, then newly-coined, label he got lumbered with: homosexual. In fact, after his downfall, Wilde was seen as The Homosexual. The original. The Homo Adam.
It was Wilde, after all, who said that ‘To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.’ Which is practically the motto of metrosexuality.
You came up with the term ‘sporno’, which The New York Times named as one of the best ‘Ideas of the Year’. Are the worlds of sports, porn and homosexuality so closely allied together nowadays?
Sporno, where advertising and sports meet and produce a spectacular money shot, is really an intensification of metrosexuality.
Metrosexuality is so common these days that it’s not in itself arresting as an advertising image – we’re used to young semi-naked men inviting our gaze on the side of buses – or down the pub.
Sporno is a hardcore metrosexuality that promises you a gang bang in the showers after the match with your favourite humpy athlete.
Is the advertising industry just illuminating more brightly what was always there, the homoerotic subtext of male sportsmen/ sport fans?
Yes, sports has probably always had a male-male erotic dimension – the Olympics were conducted in the nude for the benefit of the male spectators as well as the, er, freedom of the sportsmen.
Gymnasiums – another wonderful Greek gift to the world – were one stop shops where Ancient Greek males could work out and pick up, or perhaps, if they were Plato, just be very inspired.
Sports today is a very peculiar place: a world where open homosexuality is still largely taboo, and often reviled, but also world in which homoerotics and male narcissism is being nakedly exploited by consumerism. A world in which the barely-clad bodies and tightly-clad packets of male sportsmen like Becks, and Ljunberg, are being pimped out globally by advertising: making them fabulously wealthy, and even more successful sportsmen.
And leaving non metro sports fans even more confused.