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Let’s Be Civil: Gay Marriage Isn’t The End of the Rainbow

by Mark Simpson (A shorter version originally appeared on Guardian CIF November 2, 2008)

“It’s better to marry than burn with passion,” declared St Paul. But now marriage itself seems to have become a burning issue – or at least, gay marriage.

The re-banning of gay marriage in California earlier this month with the passage of Proposition 8 has been presented by gay marriage advocates as a vicious body-blow for gay rights. Angry gay people and their allies have protested across the US, some reportedly even rioting. The timely release of the Gus Van Sant movie Milk, about the murder in 1977 of Harvey Milk, the US’s first out elected official, has fuelled the sense of gay outrage and defiance. Surely only a hateful bigot like the one that gunned down Harvey would be opposed to gay marriage?

Gay marriage is the touchstone of gay equality, apparently. Settling for anything less is a form of Jim Crow style gay segregation and second-class citizenship.

But not all gays agree. This one for instance sees gay marriage not so much as a touchstone as a fetish. A largely symbolic and emotional issue that in the US threatens to undermine real, non-symbolic same-sex couple protection: civil unions bestow in effect the same legal status as marriage in several US states – including California. As a result of the religious right’s mobilisation against gay marriage, civil unions have been rolled back in several US states.

Perhaps the lesson of Proposition 8 is not that most straight people think gay people should sit at the back of the bus, but that if you take on religion and tradition on its hallowed turf – and that is what marriage effectively is – you’re highly likely to lose.  Even in liberal California.

Maybe I shouldn’t carp, living as I do in the UK, where civil partnerships with equal legal status to marriage have been nationally recognised since 2004. But part of the reason that civil partnerships were successfully introduced here was because they are civil partnerships not “marriages” (the UK is a much more secular country than the US, and somewhat more gay-friendly too – but even here gay marriage would almost certainly not have passed).

At this point I’d like to hide behind the, erm, formidable figure of Sir Elton John, who also expressed doubts recently about the fixation of US gay campaigners on the word ‘marriage’, and declared he was happy to be in a civil partnership with the Canadian David Furnish and did not want to get married. Needless to say, Mr John wasn’t exactly thanked for speaking his mind by gay marriage advocates.

But amidst all the gay gnashing of teeth about the inequality of Proposition 8 it’s worth asking: when did marriage have anything to do with equality? Respectability, certainly. Normality, possibly. Stability, hopefully. Very hopefully. But equality?

First of all, there’s something gay people and their friends need to admit to the world: gay and straight long-term relationships are generally not the same. How many heterosexual marriages are open, for example? In my experience, many if not most long term male-male relationships are very open indeed. Similarly, sex is not quite so likely to be turned into reproduction when your genitals are the same shape. Yes, some gay couples may want to have children, by adoption or other means, and that’s fine and dandy of course, but children are not a consequence of gay conjugation. Which has always been part of the appeal for some.

More fundamentally who is the “man” and who is the “wife” in a gay marriage? Unlike cross-sex couples, same-sex partnerships are partnerships between nominal equals without any biologically, divinely or even culturally determined reproductive/domestic roles. Who is to be “given away”? Or as Elton John, put it: “I don’t wanna be anyone’s wife”.

It’s increasingly unclear even to heterosexuals who is the “man” and who is the “wife”, who should cleave to the other’s will and who should bring home the bacon. That’s why so many today introduce their husband or wife as “my partner”. The famous exception to this of course was Guy Ritchie and his missus, Madonna – and look what happened to them. Pre-nuptial agreements, very popular with celebs (though not, apparently, with Guy and Madonna), represent the very realistic step of divorcing before you get married – like plastic surgery, this is a hard-faced celeb habit that’s going mainstream.

If Christians and traditionalists want to preserve the “sanctity” of marriage as something between a man and a woman, with all the mumbo jumbo that entails, let them. They only hasten the collapse of marriage. Instead of demanding gay marriage, in effect trying to modernise an increasingly moribund institution, maybe lesbian and gay people should push for civil partnerships to be opened to everyone, as they are in France – where they have proved very popular.

I suspect civil partnerships, new, secular, literally down-to-earth contracts between two equals, relatively free of the baggage of tradition, ritual and unrealistic expectations, would also prove very popular with cross-sex couples in the Anglo world at a time when the institution of marriage is the most unpopular it’s ever been among people who aren’t actually gay. Yes, cross-sex couples can have civil marriage ceremonies, but they’re still marriages, not partnerships. If made open to everyone, civil partnerships might eventually not just be an alternative to marriage. Marriage might end up being something left to Mormons.

Perhaps my scepticism about gay marriage and marriage in general is down to the fact that I’m terminally single. Perhaps it’s all just sour grapes. Or maybe I prefer to burn with passion than marry. After all, St Paul’s violently ascetic world-view which regarded marriage as a poor runner-up to chastity, also ensured that the Christian Church would burn sodomites like kindling for centuries.

Either way, I think it needs to be mentioned amidst all this shouting about gay domesticity that, important as it is to see lesbian and gay couples recognised and given legal protection, probably most gay men (though probably not most lesbians) are single and probably will be single for most of their lives. With or without civil partnerships/unions.

Or even the magical, symbolic power of gay marriage.

Postscript: The Voice of Gay America responds – loudly.

I See Dead People: Bruce LaBruce’s Otto

Mark Simpson chats gaily to Bruce LaBruce about the death instinct (The Advocate, Nov 2008)

‘He’s 18. He’s cute. He’s dead.’

What’s not to like about a film with a tagline like that, whose credits include ‘Lascivious Ballet Dancer #9′, ‘Orgy Zombie #5′ and ‘Yummy Boy eating Ice Cream Cone’?

The credit for ‘Director’, of course, could only be ‘Bruce LaBruce’. Otto; Or, Up With Dead People, a gay zombie movie with a beating if not actually bleeding heart, is the cult Canadian filmmaker’s latest outrageous offering. After assaulting us with Red Army Faction sex terrorism in The Raspberry Reich (2004), and queer neo-Nazi skinheads in Skinflick (2000), LaBruce outdoes himself in Otto, gnawing at our entrails with the affecting story of a sensitive young zombie looking not so much for flesh as for soul in our deathly, post-porn, Crime Sheen, Nip Fuck culture. Instead our undead pretty protagonist finds himself trapped in a film within a film, starring in an agit-prop doc directed by an impressively bossy German lesbian film director determined to put the world to rights – or at least give it a good spanking.

————
Mark Simpson: I think congratulations are in order Mr LaBruce. This may be your best work yet. It’s certainly your most romantic. Funny that it should be a film about flesh-eating, gore-humping zombies that brings that out in you…

Bruce LaBruce: Well, I think if you examine my oeuvre Mr Simpson you will find that I’ve always had a strong romantic streak. But because I often deal with slightly outré subject matter-neo-Nazi skinheads, pornography, amputees, would-be terrorists-people sometimes have a hard time seeing it. But actually, characters who are disenfranchised, ugly, or marginal often have a strong sense of the romantic: it’s all they have. Otto is so sensitive to the cruelty of the modern, corporate-controlled world that he has literally deadened himself to it. There’s something very tragic and romantic about that. Medea Yarn, the stylish lesbian filmmaker who makes a documentary about him, romanticises death as a way of coping with the injustices of life.

MS: True, you’ve always been an incurable-adorable romantic, but OTTO really wears its half-eaten heart on its sleeve. By the way, the footage of mechanised death and carpet bombing projected behind Medea as she lectures us about death being the new pornography was totally hot. Where do I find some more of that?

BLB: Just turn on your TV. I looked through a lot of stock footage and it really did strike me how the media packages war and disaster footage as entertainment. And if I see one more poster of Angelina Jolie, our supposed Earth Mother, with her emaciated body and huge breasts, holding some over-sized, phallic automatic weapon, I think I’ll turn into a zombie and start feeding on road-kill!

MS: Bon appétit! I worry slightly though that your devastating satirical critique of deathly gay porn may be crediting it with too much eroticism. A while ago, praying in front of the computer one-handedly as all men do these days, I found myself thinking: this is like watching someone have their appendix out, but less fun.

BLB: Porn has become very anatomical and, shall we say, forensic! You could probably market Savanna Samson’s colonoscopy video as porn these days. On ‘tasteful’ prime-time things are more necrophile: the dead body has become the site of voyeuristic fascination: people are obsessed with TV shows that display all the minutiae of murder, medical procedures, pathology examinations, autopsies – with a creepy, sly sexual component. At least my heroine, Medea Yarn, is upfront about her romantic and erotic attraction to death.

MS: She’s upfront all right. Speaking of voyeuristic fascination, I found the zombie sex scenes in the abandoned fairground most poignant. Part time-lapse nature photography, part social documentary, they reminded me of my misspent youth on Hampstead Heath.

BLB: Or our other fearless champion of public sex, George Michael! Like I always say, if you’ve ever cruised a park at night, or a public toilet or bathhouse, it really is like Night of the Living Dead! There’s something exciting about that somnambulistic state you go into when cruising for sex: the anonymous and interchangeable body parts. But there’s something a little sad and melancholy about it too-the loneliness and desperation.

MS: Yes, and that’s the best part. Can I just say, in case anyone unaccountably suspects me of only being interested in boys’ bits, that Katharina Klewinghaus, who plays the fabulously strident Medea and Susanne Sachsse, who plays her silent film-star girlfriend Hella Bent, give unmissable performances .

BLB: Thanks! I think Medea and Hella are one of the great cinematic lesbian couples, if I do say so myself.

MS: They are. But then, I think you’re one of the great lesbian directors.

BLB: Ha! I like to think of myself as an honorary lesbian! I’m really against the segregation of gays and lesbians so I try to be inclusive. But I do love the Lesbos. I even directed a short film last year, called Give Piece of Ass a Chance about a group of lesbian terrorists who kidnap a munitions heiress and ‘turn’ her. There is an extended cunnilingus scene in it that had gay boys either cheering along with the lesbians or running for the exits!

MS: I think you may have turned me too. I fell hopelessly in love with Hella. Presenting her as a full-time silent film starlet, mute and ghostly in split-screen black and white, emoting to camera and communicating only via flash cards – while Medea rants on in full colour – was pure genius. Is she a comment on ‘silent’ lesbian partners?

BLB: Ha! I never thought of that! The silent lesbian partner! I like it! She’s like Alice B. Toklas to Medea’s Gertrude Stein! Maya Deren was a major inspiration-she was a great avant-garde American director whose films were all silent. It also made sense to me that Medea, totally devoted to cinema, would see even her own girlfriend as a film genre!

MS: She’s my girlfriend now. I want to see a whole movie starring Hella. I insist you start filming immediately.

BLB: That’s funny, because my husband, to whom the movie is dedicated, also thinks Hella steals the movie. I have a big soft-spot for Otto as well, though. As an alienated, hypersensitive gay youth who shuts himself off from a violent and homophobic world, he represents how I felt as a teenager. I cast eighteen-year-old Jey Crisfar as Otto because I could tell from his MySpace page that he had that damaged, almost neutral quality of modern youth.

MS: Sensitive gay youth? Aren’t they drowned at birth these days? How are they going to become snappy style gurus or bitchy gossip columnists if they’re sensitive? Let alone perpetually-lubed fuck-machines. Which reminds me, do you ever use a casting coffin?

BLB: The casting coffin! It’s going to be all the rage! Especially since I predict there’s going to be an explosion of zombie porn in the near future. No, I never pursue the talent, because it’s just too messy and it leads to lots of drama which I’m not really into.

MS: I’m sure that will disappoint a lot of wannabe Bruce LaBruce movie stars. Why do you think that modern youth have that damaged, almost eviscerated quality? Do you see it in yourself at all?

BLB: I think we live in very dark and cynical times. Corporate entities control our lives and a militarized police force clamps down on any protest or dissent, while advanced capitalism, with all its technological diversions, endlessly distracts children from what’s really going on in the world. I think we all suffer from it but today’s youth really have never known any other, more autonomous reality.

MS: I know this sounds a little harsh, but I think they’re sociopathic – all of them. But then, if you’ve grown up in a world of email, texting, infinite online identities, and endless, limitless porn, it would be kind of crazy to actually be one coherent conscientious person. It would certainly cut down your dating options. By the way, I love the punchline the slutty German skinhead delivers to Otto after zombie sex, his entrails hanging out, blood and gore smeared on his bedroom walls: ‘Zat vas amazing! Can I see you again sometime?’

BLB: Anyone who has been involved in the extremes of sex in the gay world recognises that there are few limits. That is one thing that really still separates the men from the boys, and the gay world from the straight world. Like any extremes of experience, you have to learn how to balance that pursuit with your general well-being, to balance the pleasure principle with the reality principle. It’s a simple rule for kids to remember!

MS: Is it something you’ve managed to achieve in your own life, Bruce?

BLB: It’s a constant struggle! As I get older I find it harder to allow the pleasure principal to be as free-wheeling. But I don’t want to be ‘mature’ – I think you can still be a rabble-rouser when you get older. I look to the example of people like William Burroughs or Edward Albee.

MS: No wonder you’re a mess! I can talk though: I don’t seem to be able to get a handle on pleasure or reality. But hang on, you mentioned earlier that this film is dedicated to your husband. That sounds like Bruce settling down!

BLB: I don’t like to talk about it much, but my husband is Cuban and, although we are very much a couple and have been for some time, I married him mostly because otherwise he might not be able to stay in Canada. Of course, I’m ideologically opposed to gay marriage, but I don’t allow ideology to get in the way of practicalities. Besides, I like to contradict myself at least twice a day. Having said that, we were married at City Hall in front of a about thirty friends, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house! I read the lyric of Gershwin’s Our Love Is Here To Stay, and the officiating Justice of the Peace, a spritely Irishman, read, of his own volition, from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass!

MS: I knew you’d gone all mushy inside, Bruce. But I think if I’d been there even I would have cried too – loud enough to wake the dead.

Metrosexuality in Your Face

Mark Simpson on how protests over male make-up are just fake-tanned hypocrisy (Guardian CIF, 13 August, 2008)

Oh, the gnashing and wailing of (bleached) teeth and pulling of (gelled) hair recently in some sections of the UK press over male make-up after UK High Street Superdrug’s launched a new line of male cosmetics! The way some commentators went on, you’d think that instead of selling concealer, ‘manscara’, and ‘guyliner’, Superdrug were actually selling home castration kits.

Rather clenched articles by male journos in liberal metropolitan newspapers such as the Guardian and The Times decrying the trend reminded me, in a mealy-mouthed way, of the uglier farm boys in the North Yorks market town where I live who call prettier lads ‘faggots’ for wearing make-up (though the farm boys mean the word more affectionately).

The fuss wasn’t so much about cosmetics being used by men – we’ve been here many, many times before over the last few years, and what men today don’t use moisturiser/conditioner/mousse/teeth whitening toothpaste/fake tan/eye gel – or Immac for Men? Especially farm boys and journos. No, male make-up brought out some in a rash because it’s out-of-the-bathroom-closet male cosmetics. Shameless metrosexuality. Metrosexuality without hypocrisy or apology. Metrosexuality that literally gets in your face.

Most metro cosmetics until now have been about enhancing male beauty behind closed doors, leaving at least a notional amount of discreet deniability that saves everyone’s sensibilities: ‘Oh, no, I don’t use product: I just wake up looking like a million dollars’. Maintaining, however laughably, the fiction that male attractiveness, unlike the female variety, is entirely unselfconscious and unaffected. Like metrosexuality, male make up smudges consoling stereotypes about what is ‘gay’ and ‘straight’, ‘male’ and ‘female’, ‘normal’ and ‘freaky’. It outs the masculine need to feel pretty. After all, once they’re given permission, men who prefer the ladies are probably more likely to be interested in make-up than the kind who prefer men – which is why some of them protest so much. They know that if they give in to their urges they’ll look like Louis XIV.

Besides, the future is already made-up. While ageing journalists raged against the abomination of male make-up in the (dying) print media, the pretty, pumped, usually half-naked young male celeb wannabes on Big Brother were regularly flaunting foundation, eyeliner and black nail varnish, just like their Emo heroes. Meanwhile at the Olympics in Beijing the 14 year old Brit diver Tom Daley was showing off a fake tan so dark it looked like foundation.

The arrival of male make-up on the British High Street shows that in the age of metrosexuality nothing that women do or use to be beautiful can be considered off limits to men. In a post-feminist, mediated world, today’s young males aren’t going to allow the ‘fairer sex’ any unfair advantages – including being able to look fabulous after the morning after a heavy night out. Or being the only ones that can leave their face on someone’s pillow.

© Mark Simpson 2008

Black is the New Black: The Singularity Credit Card

by Mark Simpson (Arena Hommes Plus, Spring 2008)

Do you wish your wealth was so massive, your purchasing power so dense that no light could escape from your credit card? Do you wish that, instead of just impressively wealthy, you were that singular commodity, a celebrity? That your wealth bought you the riches of creation and other’s admiration without having to be, actually, tiresomely spent? That airlines, hotels and spas simply recognised your implicit worth and the priority of your desires and promptly upgraded you, while bunging you glittering free designer gifts?

That you never ever heard the word ‘no’?

Yes, I thought so. Well, all your impossible princess wishes can come true with the American Express Centurion Card, the famously ‘black’ credit card of celebs that is also a celeb among credit cards. Forget Platinum and Gold Cards, debased by the cheap credit years: the Black Card is the card of moneyed money – and its sturdy titanium design means it will survive the pressures of the Credit Crunch. Even if you don’t.

For an annual fee of £650 ($2,500 US + one time joining fee of $5,000) you will receive numerous ‘privileges’ which you and I know should be yours by rights. Including: a ‘dedicated concierge’ and travel agent, personal shoppers at stores like Gucci and Escada (you’ll need them to carry all those bags), first class flight upgrades, and free luxury travel insurance which, oh joy, includes a 28 wastrel days of winter sports – always annoyingly excluded from proley credit card travel insurance.

And that’s in addition to a welcome aboard gift of a Canon PowerShot SD850 digital camera, or a $2000 Juidth Ripka gift card, complete with a grovelling note from the CEO of Amex telling you how lucky he is to serve you and would you like your shoes tongue-cleaned or just buffed with my silk tie, Sir?

Best of all, you’ll be the possessor of a card that most people have only seen fetishised on TV in shows such as ‘Entourage’ or ‘Newlyweds, Nick and Jessica’ or heard praised in RnB songs, such as Nelly Furtado’s ‘Promiscuous Girl’: ‘I smoke purple, my car white/credit card black, girl I’m alright‘. Black cards are the new black, and they’re anything but square. Nouveau is the new cool. Again. Likewise, Obama is clearly the black card of American Democratic politics – able to outspend Gold Hillary several times over.

There is but one small, teensy-weeny grey cloud on the horizon of your blackspiration. In the UK the Centurion Card is by invitation only. If your fame or wealth (probably at least half a million in liquid assets) hasn’t put you on Amex’s radar, you can’t have one. If it has, you probably already do.

If not, be patient, Madam, please. That list, like the ones they used to use for Platinum and Gold, is lengthening, along with the competition. Since Amex Black Card’s introduction in 1999 several other prestige credit cards with similar benefits, similar privileges, similar appearances – and similar names – have materialised, including Nat West’s ‘Black Card’ launched in 2002, and ‘Carbon’ from Halifax. Even Barclaycard’s ‘Infinite’ seems to suggest ‘black’ space/singularity. Generally, they tend to have less world-shattering financial requirements than Amex’s Deathstar Card.

The most serious rival to Amex is probably MasterCard’s Signia, which includes an engraving of the owner’s signature on the front – like the signature of Manager of the Bank of England on our banknotes, though more impressive. Perhaps this is why in the UK Coutts & Co., the bankers for that Elizabeth woman whose image appears on our notes, are the Signia agents with their ‘World Card’ (note the Global dominion).

Which brings us to the blue heart of the black matter: being treated as international royalty — in an age in which money has done away with rank. All the black cards make much of their 24hr ‘concierge’, ‘secretary’ and ‘personal assistant’ services. Amex claims it has arranged for ‘a brass band to play outside a London flat on Valentine’s Day’, for European Cup football tickets to be picked up outside the stadium in Spain by their forgetful English owner, and, ‘arranged access to the Oscar’s after-party’. In other words, get one of these cards and you will be indulged by a retinue of flunkeys.

The black card and its dark alchemy gives your wants and whims the power to create and destroy worlds. As one cultural commentator recently put it:

‘If I long for a particular dish or want to take a taxi because I am not strong enough to go by foot, Black Card fetches me the dish and the taxi: that is, it converts my wishes from something in the realm of imagination, translates them from their meditated, imagined or desired existence into their sensuous, actual existence – from imagination to life, from imagined being into real being. In effecting this mediation, the Black Card is the truly creative power.’

Actually, that was Karl Marx writing 144 years ago about money. Black cards embody all the creative/managerial power of money, squared. And with none of the physical vulgarity of cash. Even better, you’re saved the perspiring vulgarity of desire itself. Possessing a black card means that your whims will be attended to before you’ve even had time to whim. Your spending power and trend-forming coolness means that corporate culture will work out what it is you want and deliver it to you before you even knew you wanted it.

The black card is the Party Card of Celeb Consumerism. It proves your membership of the Global Elite who now rule the world.

Or at least act like they do.

Ultimate Pillowbiting – How Gay is MMA?

This month’s Out magazine includes a feature by yours truly on my visit to Montreal in April to see the biggest, baddest, ballsiest Ultimate Fighting Championship event ever. UFC, for those who aren’t in the know, or unaccountably uninterested in seeing fit, near-naked men grappling and grunting, is the cage-fighting craze that is rapidly becoming the most popular sport with young men in North America.

Out tell me my take has provoked some threats against my pretty face from outraged MMA fans. It seems my crime was enjoying it too much. Other less shall we say clenched followers of this man-mounting sport have however welcomed my interest – even if I breathe too heavily.

Here’s how the piece begins:

Imagine the space shuttle taking off with a really fat customized exhaust pipe or the 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 chiseled 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, “slapper” Brit boxer Joe Calzaghe is tonight defeating light heavyweight Bernard Hopkins on points. In the long-established world of boxing, there is rumored 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, an omnivorous blend of boxing, freestyle wrestling, judo, tae kwon do, kickboxing, 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 fucked in the “ring” in front of everybody. On pay-per-view TV. The “perk” is the whole, er, 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.

Read the article in full here.

The Pleasure Principle: BMW’s Art Cars

By Mark Simpson (Arena Hommes Plus, Spring 2008)

German is a punishing tongue. It is, as anyone who has tried to learn it can tell you, very precise, very strict. Very unforgiving. So imagine what it’s like actually being German.

It’s a fact hardly acknowledged that if the Germans have been so hard on Others in the past it may be because they are so hard on themselves. It’s no coincidence that the father of psychoanalysis was Sigmund Freud, the German-speaking Austrian Jew who struggled to treat the neurotic effects produced by a punishing super-ego shouting ‘Nein!’ to id-level drives wanting to borrow dad’s car for a Friday night joy-ride.

German strictness and deferred gratification has, in addition to psychoanalysis and a little mid-twentieth century unpleasantness, given the world precision engineering – reliable, premium cars that really shift. And no one is more associated with this Germanic gift than BMW.

In the UK the Bayerische Motoren Werke’s marketing slogan is the rather Freudian ‘Sheer Driving Pleasure’. In Germany it becomes the heavily Freudian ‘Freude am Fahren’ (Driving Pleasure). BMW cars promise driving pleasure via German precision and strictness: their deferred gratification becomes our fuel-injected hit. Not for nothing are BMWs popularly associated with marketing men and drug dealers.

BMW are based in Munich, capital of Bavaria (just across the border from Freud’s Austria), a place so German that even its beer has been strictly regulated: in the 16th Century The Bavarian Purity Law decreed that only barley, hops and water could go into beer. Likewise BMW’s famous Munich architecture is impressively pure, austere but intoxicating. Their HQ, the glorious ‘Four Cylinder’ building, opened in 1972 next to the Olympic Park, named after their most famous and distinctive car, was designed, along with the ‘silver bowl’ BMW museum, by Austrian architect Karl Schwanzer.

The latest addition, the BMW Welt, designed by Schwanzer’s pupil Wolf D. Prix (and no, I’m not making these names up), and opened last October, also sits at the feet of Dr Schwanzer’s work – literally and aesthetically. With it’s low, flowing, silver and matt profile and shiny double cone ‘grille’ at the front it resembles the architecture of a modern BMW. Inside it showcases all the latest models. The New York Times described its cathedral-like apparently ‘floating’ roof as ‘the closest architecture has come to alchemy’.

The real alchemy of the building however is the transformation of a mass-produced car into something personal something emotional – the philosopher’s stone of 21st Century consumerism. The Welt is primarily a place for the customer to be seen collecting his immaculate new car, with all his specially-selected modifications, presented like a pristine work of art or airbrushed supermodel revolving slowly beneath a spotlight on one of the 20 turntables on the first ‘Premiere’ floor – a floor that, like the roof, seems to hover, religiously, in mid air. Less of a new car pick-up than a celebrity wedding, complete with photographer snapping you and your glossy, expensive betrothed clinching while the public gaze enviously down from the gallery.

In the noisy but very orderly BMW Plant next door, which you can tour before meeting your lifestyle-mate, ‘marriage’ happens to be the technical term used to describe the lowering of the car body onto the chassis and engine (by headless robots). But it is the pleasure-factory of the BMW Welt, with 170 new cars delivered daily, that performs the much more important ceremony of marrying the owner with his vehicle – a marriage of individualism with mass production: auto-eroticism.

Fired up by witnessing the inspiring, fuel-injected nuptials on the first floor of the Welt you can rush downstairs to the Designkonfigurator, a hi-tech matchmaker, where you can select your ideal BMW partner: the model, package, trim, interior and colour – and then zoom around it in 3D on a giant screen to make sure it is really something you want to share/express your life with. Or something that will get you hard.

Alas, the Designkonfigurator is ultimately limited – repressed even – in the degree of personalisation it can offer. For a glimpse of something really expressive, you have to take a look at BMW’s famous Art Cars, a number of which are housed in the BMW Museum. Design engineers work as part a team (designing for a mass, if moneyed market). Artists on the other hand are more… sociopathic.

It seems apt that BMW’s famous Art Cars were the idea not of a German but of a Frenchman, the racing driver and art auctioneer Herve Poulain who wanted to combine his two passions in one object – driven, of course, by him. In 1975 he persuaded BMW to commission the American sculptor Alexander Calder to paint his BMW 3.0 CSL 6cylinder4valvestwinoverheadcamshafts480bhp (stats are more arousing when rendered in German) who styled it in bold primary colours and white stripes that worked against traditional streamlining asserting a perverse individuality – Go Slower stripes.

They didn’t slow down Poulain, however, an who drove Calder’s artwork in the 1975 Le Mans 24 hour race and was in number 5 position when mechanical failure forced his departure. Engineering not art failed him.

The following year Frank Stella, another American, was commissioned to art up another Le Mans car, the BMW 3.0 CSL 6cylinderinlineturbocharged4valvestwinoverheadcamshafts750bhp (above), which in its precise geometric designs seemed to turn the car’s engineering inside-out: ‘my design is like a blueprint transferred to the bodywork’, he said about his handiwork which, like other things found on graph-paper, managed to be both interesting and slightly boring at the same time.

Probably the greatest Art Car was designed the following year in 1975 by Roy Lichtenstein, the Daddy of Pop Art, who, with ‘speedlines’ and oversized dots, transformed a Le Mans 320i 4cylinderinline4valvestwinoverheadcamshafts300bhp BMW into a 3D comic strip (above). Or rather, revealed it as a comic strip. Lichtenstein’s Art Car is both the boyish, joyous idea of a car, and also the story of a car, reflecting the sky, sunshine and scenery as it whizzes freely through our imagination. One of the most beautiful, most pleasurable cars – perhaps the most car car – ever. It really should be an option at the Designkonfigurator.

By contrast, Warhol’s 1979 racing M1 6cylindertwinoverheadcamshafts470bhp BMW (above) looks slightly earthbound. Like a car vandalised by a man’s angry wife with some Dulux emulsion that he was supposed to decorate the bathroom with weeks ago. But it is a Warhol and so is probably now worth more than BMW.

Spanish sculptor and architect Cesar Manrique took a 730i 6cylinderinlineoverheadcamshaft188bhp BMW in 1990 and turned it into a moving sculpture of colours (above). “I tried to unite the notion of speed and aerodynamics with the concept of aesthetic appeal in one and the same object,” he said. He succeeded. Half car, half training shoe – but in a very good way. I’d wear it.

It wasn’t until 1991, sixteen years after Calder, that the first German-authored BMW Art Car appeared – the Z1 6cylinderinlineoverheadcamshaft170bhp by A.R. Penck (above). Perhaps it isn’t without significance that, with its black inked abstract symbols tattooed on blood red this first German-authored Art Car looks less pleasurable than scary-psychotic – the Cape Fear Art Car.

Perhaps as an antidote, in 1995 British West Coast émigré David Hockney produced a Surfer Art Car with his breezy X-ray of a brooding BMW 850CSiVtwelvecylinder380bhp (above). Hockney’s open-air beach-buggy treatment, complete with dachshund, was almost an act of subversion against the austere, extremely serious Bavarian engineering. His only comment was equally Hockneyian: ‘It was lots of fun’.

But pleasure, as Sigmund showed, produces its own anxieties. In 1999 the American conceptual artist Jenny Holzer emblazoned the white body of a BMW Le Mans Roadster twelve-cylinderVinduction580bhp with the words ‘PROTECT ME FROM… WHAT I WANT’ – in chrome, reflecting the sky, and light-absorbing paint, which, like our desire and our conscience, glows in the dark.

By 2007 consumerism in general and cars in particular were, according to the headlines, threatening us with destruction. The Danish artist Olafur Eliasson famous for his ‘weather’ installations, was commissioned by BMW to turn their revolutionary hydrogen-powered racing car the H2R into an Art Car. Hydrogen is clean-burning and produces mostly heat and water – and, to guarantee their future, BMW plan to use it in their production cars instead of petro-fuels.

Eliasson removed the body and replaced with steel mesh and reflective steel panels, then sprayed it with 530 gallons of water (H2O, geddit?), frozen over the course of several days, to produce several layers of ice. Lit from within, it looks like a Futurist igloo. Though of course the futurists would have made it look like it could actually move. Meant as a commentary on man-made global climate change, this most recent Art Car is provocative – but looks least like a car: it appears to have been completely entombed by the icy disapproval of environmentalists.

But then, environmentalism, long politically powerful in Germany, is perhaps the new punishing German super-ego shouting ‘Nein!’.

One that we’re all beginning to hear.

© Mark Simpson 2008

Fluffy Ideology: The Cold War With Cuddly Toys

Mark Simpson on the Cold War with Cuddly Toys

(Arena Hommes Plus, Spring 2008)

The titanic Superpower confrontation of the early 1980s between the Soviet Union and the United States saw the deployment of several new and terrifying strategic weapons systems, including Cruise Missiles, Pershings, SS-20s, B1 Bombers, and SDI/Star Wars.

But undoubtedly the most powerful, most feared and most sophisticated of these weapons systems was a smiley cuddly toy called Misha.

Unleashed at the height of the Cold War, at the Moscow Olympics of 1980, boycotted by the US and her allies because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Misha the bear cub, or to give him his full, chilling title, Mikhail Potapych Toptygin, left the West completely defenceless. A triumph of art, marketing, propaganda, and plush toys, Misha appeared on hundreds of different badges, in plastic, porcelain, rubber and wood. He was the most commercially successful and thoroughly exploited Olympic mascot ever. It took Communists to realise the merchandising potential and political power of fluffiness.

To understand the scale of the Soviet triumph that was Misha you have to look at (gingerly, through your fingers) what went before: 1968 Grenoble’s Winter Olympics ‘Schuss’ or ‘skiing sperm’ as it came to be known, Munich 1972’s radioactive Wiener dog, and Montreal 1976’s black beaver Amik, a turd tastefully tied-off with a chocolate-box ribbon.

Misha, who became the smiley, irresistibly furry shape of Brezhnevism, was a labour of love. Famous children’s illustrator Viktor Chizikov took six months to perfect him, drawing over one hundred variations. His big dark wide eyes, trusting smile and irresistible cuddliness inverted the Western view of the USSR and Russia as a scary, slavering, lumbering beast. Misha’s humane, friendly face foretold the arrival five years later of that other cuddly Mikhail, the one with that adorable birthmark on his forehead.

The US, understandably panicked by Red Misha, commissioned their ideological department, better known as Disney, to come up with a response to this strategic threat. Sam, a bald eagle, the national symbol of the US (and also of the USMC, which the previous year had invaded Grenada), wearing a natty stars and stripes (Capitalist?) top hat and bow tie, was rolled out as the official mascot for the 1984 LA Games.

Although better than most mascots, Sam was rather less lovable and much crasser than Misha, and in this Cold War of cuddly toys it was generally agreed that the USSR had won.

The end of the Cold War proper shortly afterwards, and the non-ideological nature of the Games that followed, meant that mascots once again reverted to their pre-Misha harmlessness – and tackiness. 1988 Seoul’s ‘Hodori’ looked like Tony the Tiger with tassels. OK, but not Grrrrreat.

Better than most, 1992 Barcelona’s sniggering surreal dog ‘Cobi’ was unloved at first but won many over in the end.

The Sydney Olympics in 2000 featured a Platypus, an Echidna and a Kookaburra that appeared to be a rejected Aussie kid’s TV line-up (and were in fact rejected by the Australians).

Athens in 2004 deployed Athena and Phevos, gods of wisdom and light, who might have been formidable if they hadn’t been rendered in Playdough by an angry two year old.

The undoubted nadir though was Izzy (from ‘Whatizit?’) in Atlanta 1996. An ‘amorphous abstract fantasy figure’ Izzy was an aesthetic tizzy who only symbolised how the post-ideological world had no place for iconography or, for that matter, humanism. The End of History meant not only dreary Olympics, but a wider culture lacking a sense of importance or purpose. Worst of all, it meant really daggy mascots.

But now, eighteen years on from Moscow, another Communist giant is hosting the Games, determined to exploit them for every last scrap of propaganda. Consequently they threaten to be the most spectacular yet. The Soviet Union may have been consigned to the dustbin of history, but the country it taught how to organise a proper flag-waving parade, the People’s Republic of China, goes from strength to strength, dividend to dividend – and wants the world to know about it. Everything, from the Stadium to the stickers, is going to be a huge, fluttering statement.

The Games might officially hark back to the freedom-loving ideals of Ancient Greece, cradle of democracy, but it takes a good old-fashioned totalitarian state to show us what they really mean: Ideology and iconography plus choreography.

And all these things come together in… fluffy toys. Undoubtedly, China’s ‘Fuwa’ mascots for 2008, impish energetic cartoons based on popular Chinese animals, have been given more thought than all the ones since Misha put together. That there are also five of them, the most ever, is a reminder of China’s populousness, its dynamism, and its new-found Capitalist wiliness: five mascots = five times as many sales opportunities.

And you can be sure these mascots, like everything else theses days, are made in China. (They will also be official: China, the home of cheap knock-offs is cracking down hard on Olympic cloning.)

Apparently Beibei the fish symbolises water, prosperity and swimming. Jinjing the Panda: metal, happiness, weightlifting and judo. HuanHuan the (Red!) Olympic Flame: fire, passion and ball sports. Yingying the Tibetan antelope: earth, health, track and field events. Nini the swallow: wood, good Fortune and gymnastics.

A collision of Chinese astrology, Communist ideology and Sino hegemony, perhaps these mascots – with their ‘superpowers’ – symbolise a little too much. Their names also spell out ‘Beijing welcomes you’. Or is it ‘Welcome to a Chinese 21st Century’? The elemental nature of the Fuwa mascots also looks like an augury of the future: given its recent phenomenal growth China may one day monopolise these resources.

The flame of the fluffy marketing and ideological triumph of the Moscow Olympics has been passed on to Chinese Communism – which, unlike the USSR, is still around today only because it effectively went Misha back in the 1980s, now doing Capitalism and consumerism better than the West. Being very, very careful, of course, not to allow the emergence of a Misha Gorbachov: instead at Tiananmen Square the leadership crushed its own people like they were… toys. Rather than granting its people human rights, China set about making everything the rest of the world wanted – and at a snip.

So I predict the Fuwa, or Chinese Spice Girls, will be a great success with kids and adults around the world, and cause China to open a couple of dozen more power-stations, as well as paying for at least another aircraft carrier.

Especially Jingjing the giant panda – Misha with Chinese characteristics.

Special thanks to Jo-Ann Furniss

Transexy Time!

 by Mark Simpson

 (Out magazine, March 2008)

How do you turn a penis into a vagina?

It’s not as difficult from a medical point of view as you might think. Yes, it involves some rather delicate major surgery and the risk of all kinds of ghastly complications. Nobody undertakes such a project lightly. But – and I know this will come as a disappointment to many – male and female genitalia are, anatomically speaking, sufficiently alike to make the procedure relatively straightforward. Essentially, the penis is turned inside out, inverted, and placed inside a cavity tunnelled out of the lower abdomen.

Or as my good friend Michelle, a post-op MTF transsexual (pictured above), joked with typical tact: “I’m now shagging myself 24/7 – and don’t even need to buy myself dinner!”

Michelle is a very special lady. Not because she turned her penis into a vagina, but because back in the early 1990s she was a sexy male stripper on steroids called “Stud-U-Like” whose tattooed muscles and XL penis were the toast of hen nights and gay bars up and down the U.K.

But one day Mitch, who had always had gender identity issues, decided that despite the whoops and wolf whistles, the whole boy thing wasn’t working for him. Mitch became Michelle, stopped taking steroids, and started taking female hormones instead – becoming with the aid of hair extensions and dangerous crash-dieting even sexier than Mitch. After living as a woman for a while, she finally said goodbye to the last of Mitch, i.e. her nine-inch chopper, and had The Op. Breaking the heart of many a gay man.

“Operation Pussycat,” as she dubbed it, was fortunately a total success. “I now have a 7.5-inch punani!” Michelle declared proudly while recovering in the hospital the Day After. “And in about six months, Mark, with use it will stretch to the full nine inches I had when I was a man!”

“More like a month in your case, dear,” I quipped.

Michelle pursed her lips (the old pair).

Michelle’s trans-tastic voyage, from Stud-U-Like to Chick-U-Love, turned out to be eerily prophetic. She herself has adjusted well to her life as a woman with large breasts, but I’m not so sure about the rest of us.

Looking around at our sexually transparent, stimulated-simulated, implanted-imploding cam-fun-anyone? world, it’s difficult not to conclude that most of us are going tranny but without the, er, balls to actually change sex or even properly cross-dress. Male-to-male and female-to-female transsexuals: transexy.

“Male and female created He them” – but now He’s watching His handiwork rush down to the cosmetic surgeon for a nip and tuck, liposuction, rhinoplasty, pec and buttock and calf implants, breast reduction, breast enlargement, penis extensions and girth widening, vaginal tightening, revirgination, six-pack etching, and labial and scrotum reduction. All in all, He must be feeling a little bit miffed.

It’s not enough, you see, to be male or female any more. You have to both embody and go beyond sex. You have to turn yourself inside out. We’re all becoming… Pamela Anderson. Which is nice, but we don’t all have the legs for it.

pamela_anderson-photo-sexy.jpgTransexy is not quite the same thing as androgyny – which, in addition to David Bowie being enigmatically fey in a spangly 1970s leotard to a glam-rock soundtrack, means a mixture of masculine and feminine characteristics. Androgyny can be actually quite affirming of sexual difference. Transexy, because it’s obsessed with transparency, transcends masculine and feminine and obliterates sexual difference – even and especially when it’s trying oh, so-hard not to look androgynous.

Let me give you a very hairy example. Newsweek recently reported the case of “George,” a 6-foot-3 man “with chiseled pecs and a bushy beard” who “seemed like a model of manliness.” Yet two years ago the 47-year-old decided he didn’t look quite macho enough. “So he had 3,000 hair follicles ripped from his scalp and transplanted into his face, chest, and belly.” He still wasn’t satisfied. So a year later he returned to get an additional 2,400 grafts done. “I could still have another surgery and not be completely covered,” says George today. “I’m very pleased, but 2,400 grafts is not a very hairy chest.”

A little bird tells me George is never going to be satisfied. After all, what is a very hairy chest? Once you start obsessing about such things, there’s no end to this.

And, boy, have we have started. Says Newsweek: “George’s quest for maximum hirsuteness isn’t as unusual as it may sound. He’s part of a growing group of ‘retrosexuals,’ men who shun metrosexuality…in favor of old-school masculinity.” The article also cites an increase in the number of men asking surgeons for “manlier” chins and noses as further evidence of the so-called “rise of retrosexuality.”

Since when did “old-school masculinity” persistently perceive itself as chronically lacking in maleness and obsess over its physical appearance? And since when did “old-school” men resort to repeated painful and costly cosmetic surgery of questionable effect to make themselves more attractive, more worthy of love – more “manly”?

It’s a measure of how totally transexy we’ve become that surgically fixated MTM Pammy-trannys are seen as “retrosexual” by Newsweek. Like last year’s mendacious “menaissance,” with all those prissy lists of manly dos and don’ts, this is just Fight Club the Musical (which by the way is coming to tap-dance and gush and bray on Broadway soon – no, really).

But why not? This after all is a generation of men on hormones: hundreds of thousands are taking steroids, according to recent reports. Most of them not circuit party queens. Not only do baseball players apparently now need to take them to be baseball players, and high school football players to be high school football players, but also ordinary non athletic, non-body-building men need to take them to be nonathletic non-body-building men. (Only 6% of steroid abusers in the United States play sports or consider themselves body builders.)

vindieselbigmh9.jpgThe vast majority of males taking “the juice” are not doing so to be stronger or faster or scarier, all traditionally masculine ambitions, but simply to look more attractive in the gym, on the dance floor, at the beach, or in their online profiles – to look, in other words, like male strippers: Stud-U-Like. Or what is much the same thing, Vin Diesel.

But steroids, like transexiness itself, can have a paradoxical effect. In addition to testicle shrinkage and erectile problems, in large doses they can turn into estrogen in the body, which causes “bitch tits” and female fat distribution: Stud-U-Like into Chick-U-Love. Perhaps this is why Sylvester Stallone looks more and more like his mother, Jackie. Given his recent steroid scandals, the tagline for his new Rambo movie, “Heroes never die…they just reload,” probably refers to syringes rather than ammunition.

paris_hilton_03.jpgThe world of celebrities is of course transexy with knobs and knockers on. This is really the whole point of celebs – and the reason we’re so interested in them. They’re what we would be if we had the time and money and could be bothered. Celebrities are the personal fitness instructors of postsexual identity: inspirational and motivational and very shouty. Women such as Paris and Nicole are ads for transexiness – not because they look like skinny boys with smacked lips holding water balloons, which of course they do, but because they look like women who have had all sorts of costly, painful, and occasionally risky procedures – to look, in fact, like Woman. They are all, like sex in the digital age, copies of an original that doesn’t exist. The question we continually ask of celebs is, How can we be like you? How can we copy your copy of sex?

Attacks on fashion designers for their unreal and unhealthy ideals of feminine beauty somewhat miss the point that fashion is fashion. The fashion world, for all its dictatorial gestures, only reflects culture – or what is the same thing these days, what culture aspires to be.

tom-cruise-top-gun.jpgCelebrity males are, of course, at least as transexy as the women. Tom Cruise, still the biggest Hollywood box-office draw despite jumping the chat-show sofa, is a pint-size all-American action hero who is the absolute epitome of artifice. After 22 years he’s still playing his Top Gun character, Maverick (and the Scientologists appear to have his portrait in their attic). The tagline on the posters for the Missy Impossible movies should read, “Can you spot the weave?” Weaved or not, Cruise’s zooming narcissism always outguns his leading ladies.

As Tom’s multimillion-dollar smile shows, male and female nowadays mean exactly the same thing: a ravenous, ruthless desire to be desired. And they both have the number of the same plastic surgeon. Sexual difference has been replaced by sexualized competition. As with Blu-ray and DVD HD, there’s not much to choose between the formats: One has more storage space, the other has a better interface. That’s pretty much it.

Put, say, a picture of Nicole Kidman next to ex-hubby Tom, and you’ll see what I mean. Can you really say that these two people are opposite sexes? Or even different sexes? Or put a picture of her next to Keith Urban and watch them blur into one. it’s no wonder these two ended up together. After all, they seem to be sharing the same stylist.

keith-urban-nicole-kidman.jpgNo wonder Sharon Stone recently announced that she is sick of men who “act like women” and claimed she’d rather be romanced by a “masculine lady. It is difficult to have a relationship because I like men in that old-fashioned way,” she sighed. “I like masculinity, and in truth only women do that now.” So true, Sharon, so true. My TS mate Michelle, who is also an old-fashioned girl at heart, agrees with you completely. She’s really fed up with the first thing straight blokes ask after she tells them her little secret being: “Will you fuck me??” Having been through all that trouble to have your large penis turned into a vagina, it’s a tad annoying to have to go out and buy a selection of strap-ons.

I suspect Sharon’s been watching that show Entourage, in which a group of young men from blue-collar backgrounds behave like Sex and the City women, only more superficial. The Entourage generation of men lives to shop and to be looked at and aspires to be nothing more than trophy-man wives. “Hug it out, bitch,” is the motto of transexy men everywhere.

artdemiashtongi.jpgSpeaking of trophy man-wives, take a look at today’s celebrity couples. Actually, don’t even look; just say their names: Demi and Ashton, Jen and Marc, Angelina and Brad, Maddy and Guy. None of these couples even sounds remotely man-and-wifey. They resemble – you can look now – anatomically incorrect kids’ toys. Where is sexual difference here? In the drag-king stubbly beards that the sack-and-crack-waxed toy-boys wear to emphasize their Timberlakian adorability? No wonder these celeb couples end up being called two-headed single names like Brangelina or TomKat: flesh of my undifferentiated flesh.

Even when a celebrity couple, like Maddy and Guy, act out a reassertion of traditional roles, it only serves as parody. When Madonna brags about her mockney gangster groupie husband bossing her about, it only serves to make it clear that Guy is the English nanny whose duties include having to pretend to dominate Madonna seven or eight times a week.

posh-becks-w-magazine-02.jpgBut none can compare, of course, with the ultimate transexy couple: Victoria Adams and David Beckham. Somehow, Posh and Becks’s extraordinary appearance becomes, daily, more heroically artificial – perhaps because they seem to embrace their transexiness completely, performing it shamelessly to the hilt in fashion shoots in which they simulate transexy sex (which is, by definition, simulated anyway).

If a recording of Posh and Becks having sex at home were to make its way onto the internet, as it has done with Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, or Paris Hilton and Rick Salomon, it probably wouldn’t test the server’s bandwidth much. Not because their naked angularity might be uncomfortable to watch, but because there’s nothing more to see.

Porn has become the celeb sensibility because porn literally makes sex transparent. By ceaselessly ‘showing’ sexual difference and turning it inside out, straight porn overexposes it, along with heterosexuality – and turns it transexy. Most female porn stars these days look like Pamela Anderson – did they copy her, or did she copy them? Or was it both? Meanwhile lesbianism and sodomy, i.e. non penile-vaginal sex, are pretty much de rigueur in ‘straight’ porn. On the rare occasions penile-vaginal sex actually occurs, it’s usually either in the form of a man lying flat on his back while a woman bounces up and down on him (fucking him or giving him a vaginal blow job) or a flotilla of science-fiction-sized penises on one vagina.

Which reminds me, the male models in straight porn are no longer the penises attached to fat hairy fucks of yore but increasingly resemble those in gay porn; they are getting younger and more attractive, and their bodies are shaved and more worked out, and the camera won’t shy from showing this off. Or so I’ve heard….

Meanwhile, something interesting – at last! – seems to be happening in the world of gay porn. Perhaps inspired by Michelle’s journey, an impressively hung young model called Stonie – who bizarrely also played Borat’s son in the Sacha Baron Cohen movie – is now taking female hormones. He’s already had breast implants and has changed his name to Brittany Coxxx (though for now she’s hanging onto her cockkk). And apart from the slightly hexagonal breast implants, she looks rather hot.

The curious thing, though, is that s/he also looks even more like a gay-porn star now than s/he did before.

As Borat, perhaps the last true retrosexual left, might say: “Transexy time!”

 

Special thanks to Michelle and Donald K and also the late great Jean Baudrillard, who shuffled off his virtual coil last year.

 

The Sex Terror Revisited

Yesterday’s London Times ran a three page piece called ‘Oral History’ interviewing some of the ‘players’ (or perhaps ‘chancers’ would be more accurate) in the Monica Lewinsky ‘scandal’ that was to engulf the Clinton Presidency for more than a year, lead to his impeachment and, very nearly, to his departure from the White House.

The piece was pegged to the tenth anniversary of the surreal crisis and also, of course, to the Presidential Primaries in which Hillary Clinton, energetically supported by her husband Bill is trying to secure the Democratic nomination.

After all that has happened in the intervening decade, Bush’s disputed election, 9-11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo, Paris Hilton, it’s difficult to believe that the US worked itself up into such a frenzy back then over whether or not Clinton had a blow job. But, boy, did it.

If Hillary wins the Democratic nomination, then we can bank on some of that frenzy being revisited. In fact, it’s already happening, as both this article and it’s introduction with its regurgitation of that myth about Hillary’s Senatorship and thus her Presidential bid being based on the ‘sympathy vote’ for the ‘wronged woman’ shows. A myth that is, strangely enough, most popular with those who used the ‘wronged woman’ angle ten years ago to try and destroy her husband – when they hated her even more than him.

Here’s a piece I wrote in early 1999 at the height of the scandal about what I believed was really at the heart of the brouhaha: sexual hypocrisy. Not Clinton’s – ours.

The nur nur nur nur nur! response in both the media and in the blogosphere, liberal and conservative, to Senator Larry Craig’s recent entrapment in a men’s rest-room by a pretty, tap-dancing policeman, and the religious certainty that everyone, gay and straight, has expressed about a) what happened and b) exactly what this reveals about the Senator from Idaho’s ‘real’ sexuality and c) his political fate (he should resign), has shown that we haven’t come very far.

The Sex Terror

Bill-Clinton-e-Monica-Lewinsky_o_su_horizontal_fixed

(Originally published in The Seattle Stranger, January 1999)

by Mark Simpson

In the midst of all the over-discussion – and all the over-exposure – of the Republican show-trial of William Jefferson Clinton, the real charge against him remains curiously under-reported. In fact, it’s not reported at all. Oddly, the media is thunderously silent to the point of discretion about it.

What is this crime of crimes that can lay someone so high so low and which can’t even be mentioned? It isn’t perjury, the obstruction of justice, or the betrayal of his Oath of Office. It isn’t even being a successful Democrat President.

No, it’s having the effrontery to resist the most magisterial, sovereign and powerful force in the land – the ‘sex’ terror. Clinton is being made an example of – one that everyone, even editors of academic journals, should fear.

Last week [15 Jan 1999] the American Medical Association impeached George Lundberg, editor for seventeen years of the AMA journal. Lundberg’s High Crime and Misdemeanour? He included in this month’s issue of the AMA journal research from 1991 which showed that 60% of college students did not define oral intercourse as sexual relations. A spokeswoman for the AMA explained his sacking: ‘Through his recent actions he has threatened the integrity of the journal by inappropriately and inexcusably interjecting the journal into a major political debate that has nothing to do with science or medicine’.

Who can blame the AMA for purging Mr Lundberg’s heresy? Everyone, of whatever political hue, whether they think Clinton should be censured, impeached or impaled, seems to be agreed on one thing-that Bill Clinton is a liar, that he did have sexual relations with ‘that woman’, and that his distinction between sexual intercourse and ‘inappropriate intimate contact’ (in this case fellatio) is pure sophistry and legalese.

In fact, this point has become the crux of the whole scandal (which, as I’m sure the AMA know, has everything to do with science and medicine). Clinton’s ‘crime’, the justification for all those ‘LIAR!’ banner headlines, the approval of the articles of impeachment and now his constitutionally unprecedented Senate trial has boiled down to his refusal to agree that fellatio constitutes ‘sex’.

After the broadcast of his four hour inquisition in the Starr Chamber, in which he admitted ‘inappropriate intimate contact’ with Lewinsky, many liberal papers cautiously applauded his forbearance but still called on him, for the sake of Mother’s Milk and Western democracy, to either throw himself on the Republican’s sword and resign, or admit to Congress ‘what we all know’-that he lied, and that oro-genital contact constitutes a ‘sexual relationship’ (in other words, fall on his own sword).

But is Clinton really a ‘liar’? Is it really absolutely clear what ‘sex’ is? Isn’t ‘common sense’ a fickle, not to say tyrannical mistress? Aren’t we just joining in the shouting because we want to distract from the necessary hypocrisies and disavowals that make our own lives bearable – and because we don’t want the Sex Terror to come for us? Isn’t Clinton’s trial more than just a farcical accident of history? Isn’t it perhaps the clearest sign anyone could ask for that no-one is safe from the Sex Terror?

It is a measure of how bad things have got that this has to be said at all: Everyone makes distinctions about what ‘sex’ is. Prostitutes, for example, know very well that most married men distinguish between ‘full sex’ and fellatio and ‘hand relief’, often opting for the latter two because it doesn’t feel like they’re really cheating on their wives; while the prostitutes themselves don’t even acknowledge vaginal intercourse as ‘a sexual relationship’: they regard it as ‘business’. Good Catholic girls in Latin countries often masturbate or fellate their boyfriends or even allow them bugger them, so they will remain virtuous virgins on their wedding night.

Of course, nowadays we smirk at their ‘naiveté’ and ‘denial’, and congratulate ourselves on our sophistication and honesty, but who are we to say they’re wrong to make that distinction? Isn’t it a form of erotic totalitarianism to insist that all sensual contact is ‘sex’? To refuse to acknowlede that the ‘meaning of sex’ isn’t actually incoherent – that it might even be occult?

Perhaps the only indisputable ‘fact’ about sex is that the meaning of it changes with the context. What happens in private, in the dark between two people takes on a different meaning – or just a meaning – when put under the spotlight. The ‘Oh boy was I drunk last night! I don’t remember a thing!’ line is not the recourse of someone who did something they regret the night before, but someone who doesn’t wish to regret, or even think about, what they did the night before. Yes, this can be the refuge of a scoundrel or worse, but the difficulties prosecuting so-called ‘date-rape’ cases merely demonstrates the difficulties in trying to draw one unambiguous meaning out of an intimate exchange between two people in the dark (or windowless, locked corridors off the Oval office).

Clinton occupies the most sober, most brightly lit office in the world. In a sense, he’s not so much the victim of his own stupidity, mendacity, promiscuity or even Republican hostility, but of the late Twentieth Century mania for dragging everything private out into the open. The more the meaning of that private activity changes once it is put in the public sphere, the more imperative it is to expose it. And what could be more private and therefore more worthy of being made public than the sex life of the President of the United States? The Starr Report was a $40M, half-ton tabloid scandal sheet, though, alas, not so well-written.

But this is not to down-grade its importance. As tabloid editors and Kenneth Starr know very well, despite the protestations of the public to the contrary, everyone wants to know the ‘truth’ about sex and in particular the ‘truth’ about celebrity sex lives. More than this, everyone thinks that the ‘truth’ about sex is the most important truth about us.

This is why pretty much everyone, except the Pentagon and Pat Buchanan, seems to want private homosexuals to come out as public gays these days-after all, gays are the living proof that the truth about our sex lives is the most important truth about us. They are literally defined by it; Telling the Truth About Sex is what they’re for. Even the uptight, soul-of-discretion Brits, for goodness sakes, want them to ‘come out’.

Disgraced British Minister Ron Davies’ crime wasn’t cruising for sex on Clapham Common but refusing to ‘come out’ as ‘gay’ after this emerged, and give the public what they wanted. He was berated by a sneering press for being ‘hypocritical’ and ‘dishonest’ (the tabs) and ‘in denial’ or ‘mentally ill’ (the broadsheets). However, if he had been caught in a red light district visiting prostitutes would he have been called upon to announce to the world that he was a congenital visitor of prostitutes and confess that this ‘truth’ about his sexuality was more important than, say, his relationship with his wife and children? (Prostitution and male cruising grounds are both age-old, ‘secretive’, ‘hypocritical’ institutions which have made the public virtue of marriage tolerable to millions of men who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to meet its demands).

By way of contrast, George Michael, ever the showman, knew exactly what the public wanted after his entrapment by the Beverly Hills PD’s finest and gave them full confessions which earned him the approval of the press for co-operating with their enquiries. The outing of Michael happened despite the fact that for several years George Michael had been fairly open in his work and interviews about not being straight. What the world wanted was for him to come out as ‘gay’; to stop being equivocal about sex and recognise instead its irresistible sovereignty in all our lives.

Interesting that many gay activists in the US have been largely silent about the Lewinsky affair, despite the fact that they know all too well the vicious, violent hatred of pinched pious people like Kenneth Starr, a hatred barely hidden behind a smiling respectability and constant invocation of The Law. As the shock troops of Telling the Truth About Sex, who originally elected Clinton so they could go on telling the Truth even more, they are ideologically hamstrung.

Barney Frank the outspoken and openly gay Senator, who is a close political ally of Clinton’s, exemplifies this dilemma. Although, unlike many others in the Democratic Party, he has consistently fought his President’s corner, he has nevertheless called on him to be ‘truthful’ about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky and abandon his pedantic ‘sex’ distinction. In other words, to ‘come out’.

Frank has however pointed out one of the curious paradoxes of this whole affair-that those leading the inquiry into Clinton’s sex life and publishing their findings on the Internet are the very people who told Frank to shut up about his sex life and keep it private.

Putting Clinton’s behaviour into the context of America’s history and his own Baptist background the charge against him that he is a ‘liar’ because he didn’t consider having non penile-vaginal relations with Lewinsky ‘sex’ becomes even more confused. The Starr Report effectively brands Clinton a ‘sodomite’. Under the anti-sodomy laws still on the statute books of many US states [at time of writing], ‘sodomy’ is defined as oro-genital or anal-genital contact between members of either sex. That is, pretty much anything that isn’t penile-vaginal intercourse. Everything that isn’t potentially baby-making is a perversion, or ‘inappropriate intimate contact’ to use Clinton’s telling phrase. This is why gay marriage is so fiercely resisted in the US – including by Clinton who signed into law a bill banning gay marriage – because it bestows recognition and respectability on an act which is, by definition, un-respectable.

Sodomy was, until quite recently, not only unlawful but a crime against the American State. J. Edgar Hoover, who along with Senator Joe McCarthy, begat (spiritually) Kenneth Starr, kept secret files on public figures that were reported to engage in ‘oro-genital contact’, as he considered this meant they were subversive and ‘un-American’. McCarthy’s hysterical – and probably jealous – view of oral sex as a form of treason is echoed today in the repeated shrieks of a Republican spokeswoman on a recent TV debate: ‘HE WAS HAVING A BLOW JOB WHEN HE SENT TROOPS INTO BOSNIA!!!’

Since Hoover, we have had Kinsey, the Sixties, gay liberation and feminism and the meanings of what is ‘sex’ have been widened enormously. Hoover himself has been ‘outed’ posthumously as a ‘closet gay’, allegedly. But the effect of this ‘sexual liberation’ is not unambiguously ‘progressive’ or ‘liberating’ as most liberals seem to think. You don’t have to be Michel Foucault to see that the old imperative to control people’s erotic lives by prohibition has not been abolished. Instead it has been supplanted by a compulsory, puritannical transparency in people’s erotic behaviour – and indeed their whole sense of themselves is controlled, defined and produced through the ritual of public confession (i.e. Protestant rather than Catholic confession). Everyone must submit to ‘sex’ and ‘sexuality’, even and especially Presidents.

The modern, ‘scientific’ discourse of ‘sex’, a la Kinsey and Masters & Johnson, which demands that sex be confessed, exposed and measured allied in the Sixties with the explosion of personal politics. That alliance was in turn given an irresistible momentum by the exponential increase in media, and exponential decrease in respect for privacy since then. The rise of political correctness and battles over sexual harassment has only intensified the need in the Nineties to confess ‘sex’ in the courts, the workplace, the television studio.

Now, at the end of the Twentieth Century, this Sex Terror has made it’s way into the highest office in the land. It has become a Scylla to America’s Puritan, scolding, sodomy-hating Charybdis. With ‘Elvis’, the Sixties baby-boomer liberal Baptist telegenic talk-show President in the middle. The supreme irony is that the Republicans, who believe that the distinction between sex and sodomy should be maintained in life and law, are trying to impeach a President on the grounds that he made that very same distinction in life and law. The Grand Old Party which once was the Party of discretion in matters of Eros is now a party of sexual Jacobins in the service of the Sex Terror, branding popular Presidents Enemies of the People for not confessing every detail of their private life – even outing themselves as adulterers on the steps of Capitol Hill – and turning American public life into one gigantic, insane Denunciation Box.

Prophetically, ironically, Clinton whose Presidency began with an attempted coup over his intention to lift the ban on sodomites serving in the military, now seems to be ending with another attempted coup over his own (heterosexual) sodomy. The compromise solution he came up with for that first crisis has turned out to be the most apt – if most hopeless – solution for what may turn out to be his last, as well as a romantic resistance slogan in an era where ‘sex’ is a sign we must all submit to: ‘Don’t ask. Don’t tell. Don’t pursue’.

The Festering Season

Mark Simpson proposes a radical solution to the cold-turkey chasm between Xmas and New Year

You know that queasy, hungover, fed-up-to-the-gills feeling of not knowing what day of the week it is – or what year? Wondering whether the banks will be open or not and whether you can be bothered to brave the freezing crowds and the thronging fog and exchange those fluffy Bhs slippers you were given by your niece for something more fetching?

That sense of quietly increasing secret dread at the imminent approach of another bout of slightly hysterical binge-drinking and smiling at people you’d much rather spit in the eye?

Yes, the festering season is nearly upon us – that fag-end, cold-turkey, limbo-time between Christmas and New Year that cruelly drags out the whole experience, and the year, by another four days but feels like a fortnight of 1970s Sundays.

The sheer numbing tedium and disorientation of the festering season drives people to do crazy things – like accepting invitations to visit friends and relatives you haven’t seen for ages, only to remember, too late, that the reason it’s been so long is that you don’t actually like them. Even worse, some people find themselves spending time with their partners.

The festering season is clearly a major social problem that needs an urgent solution. Shockingly, the major political parties have yet to take this issue seriously – I’ve checked, and can confirm that neither the Conservative, Labour or Lib-Dem manifestos propose legislation to deal with the festering season.

Fortunately, the solution is as clear as the night Good King Wenceslas looked out. What’s needed is a Christmas Anschluss: a union of Christmas and New Year. For far too long, Christmas and New Year have been artificially divorced by that demoralising boundary period in between. Soaked in booze and regrets, festooned with goodwill and domestics, they obviously deserve one another. It’s time to bring them together.

By moving New Year’s Eve to Boxing Day (what is Boxing Day for, anyway?), we can eliminate that date-nibbling, walnut-cracking period spent wondering whether to treat ourselves to another sweet sherry or not. We can all get completely rat-arsed on Christmas Eve and not sober up until New Year’s Day. One moment you’re putting out milk and mince-pies for Santa, the next you’re waking up on someone’s sofa with an end-of-the-world hangover, your pants around your head, smelling of candied fruit and vomit. Hello, 2008!

Alternatively – and this happens to be my personal preference – New Year could be run parallel with Christmas. Not only does this shorten the whole experience down to a more humane – and liver-sparing – two days, it gives you the perfect get-out to spare the feelings of those who you don’t want to spend either event with, as well as providing those people who just don’t like either Christmas or New Year – or both – the opportunity to opt out completely.

“Oh, sorry,” you’d say, “I’d love to come to yours and gnaw my leg off with frustration this Christmas but unfortunately I can’t – I’m doing New Year this year.”

Or, when invited to a New Year’s Eve bash: “Oh, that’s a shame, I’d adore to come out with you and the gang and shout ‘HAPPY NEW YEAR!!’ at total strangers so aggressively that I manage to cover them in gob even though they’re on the other side of the street, but I’ve already promised to do Christmas this time.”

(Independent on Sunday, 23/12 2007)

Gorby Vuitton

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By Mark Simpson (Arena Hommes Plus, Winter 2007)

Is it… him? Is it really the man who ended the Cold War? The man who brought down the Berlin Wall – the human face of Soviet Communism, the last face of Soviet Communism? Is he still alive? What in Lenin’s name is he doing in an ad for designer luggage? Is that his bag, or is it Raisa’s? Why is he apparently about to jump out of a moving car? And how much did he get?

So many questions assail you on seeing the ad for Louis Vuitton (shot by the power-lens of Annie Leibovitz) with the famously soberly-dressed Mikhail Gorbachev in the back of a Khrushchev-era limousine sliding past a remnant of the Berlin Wall, it’s difficult to decide whether the image is very smart or very funny, liberating or terrifying. Was the ‘End of History’ really just a photo-op for luxury luggage? Was Perestroika about making the world safe for Louis Vuitton? Well, perhaps.

Wealthy Russians keen to make a statement are a fast-growing market for luxury goods such as LV, both in Mother Russia and abroad: A journey brings us face to face with ourselves, as the strapline to the ad puts it. Whatever Russians themselves may think of the old apparatchik, Gorbachev’s face, heavy with history and tragedy, is the face that launched the new, passionately consumerist Russia.

Oh, and the bag is Gorby’s not Raisa’s. LV are keen for more men to buy their products – products they have decided should be depicted in their ads not as ‘heroes’ themselves, as is customary in fashion and luxury advertising, but as ‘companions on the journey’. So the bag might even in some unconscious way stand in for this hero’s famously glamorous wife – who, alas, died from leukemia in 1999.

How much was Gorbachev paid? This information is discretely unavailable – though LV acknowledge they made a donation to his Green Cross International environmental charity.

One thing we can be certain of: Gorby, a decent man who tried to do the decent thing, was paid considerably less for his services than his arch-rival and bullying, drunken successor Yeltsin was for breaking up the Soviet Union and signing over Russia’s hard-gained industrial wealth to Western-backed oligarchs.

Perhaps that is the real meaning of the image: Gorbachev is travelling back from Yeltsin’s funeral, into posterity – with a nice bag to keep his 1990 Nobel Peace Prize in.

Copyright Mark Simpson 2007

Al Gore’s Prize-Winning Pompous Ass-ity

gore.jpgBy Mark Simpson (Guardian CIF 15 October, 2007)

For the sake of the Planet, Al, don’t do it!

Al Gore, former Next President of the United States, Inventor of the Internet, Saviour of the World, PowerPoint Presenter Extraordinaire – and now Nobel Peace Prize Winner – is rumoured to be considering a last-minute bid to be the Democratic Party’s Presidential Candidate.

There’s been a lot of media speculation about whether Al will actually throw his carbon-neutral hat into the ring, but you don’t need to launch a political weather-balloon or take core samples of pack ice to estimate the seriousness with which Gore, despite protestations to the contrary, still covets the Oval Office: the evidence is all there, up on the big screen, in his celebrated, Nobel Prize-winning documentary ‘An Inconvenient Truth’.

Except it isn’t a documentary. It’s essentially a 100 minute Presidential Election Campaign advertisement, with some alarmist extreme weather reports thrown in, which, even by the standards of US campaign ads shamelessly sells Gore, his apple-pie all-American childhood on his parent’s 1950s farm, his sister’s sad death from lung cancer, his diligent, pointy-headed study at University, his public-spirited time in High Office, and his saintly-but-oh-so-lonely proselytising about global warming, dragging his laptop and long face around the US just for the price of a hot cup of coffee (you’d be forgiven for believing), once out of it. All with a schmaltzy tear-jerking sound-track and Gore’s scripted croaky-voiced sincerity.

The real genius of this election ad though is not that it’s the first to win an Oscar or a Nobel Prize – it’s that it’s persuaded the public to actually pay to see it. But what it has in common with more traditional election ads is that it’s full of lies: nine of them according to the High Court last week.

‘An Inconvenient Truth’ endlessly promotes Call Me Al as the President the United States – and the world – should have had. Even those terrifying giant red graphs as big as houses he flashes up (with axis rubric that, strangely, is so small we can’t read it) are really the exit polls from the 2000 election showing how he was robbed.

When he tells us towards the end of this self-abnegating presentation, that global warming is ‘not a political issue but a moral and spiritual issue’, it’s absolutely clear what he means: ‘Al Gore is not a political issue, but a moral and spiritual issue.’

In other words, a pompous ass.

It isn’t Gore’s vanity that is so impossible to stomach – it’s his total inability to own it. His vanity is the vanity of the ‘humble preacher’ – the deadliest vanity of all.

One of the nine lies that the High Court nailed moral and spiritual Gore with recently was his claim that Hurricane Katrina was the result of global warming. In terms of the naked scaremongering of Gore’s film – vote for me or else you all drown/starve/die of thirst/boredom – this isn’t just a minor issue. Very early on in ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ extensive footage is used from Katrina while we see Gore tirelessly studying his graphs on his trusty laptop. It’s made clear that this catastrophe (and perhaps other ones in far-off hotter, dustier climes) wouldn’t have happened on Gore’s watch. Gore, who walks on water, would have solved global warming and saved New Orleans.

‘In the US, political will,’ says a very tired looking Gore at the end of his film, ‘is a renewable resource!’

Actually, if you want to blame someone for the US’s cancellation of the Kyoto agreement, the inept response to Katrina, the catastrophic invasion of Iraq and the disastrous collapse of the US’s relations with much of the world, don’t blame Bush, who is after, all, what he is and does pretty much what it says on the tin. Blame Gore.

After all, it wasn’t, as the film suggests, Bush or the Supreme Court that stole the 2000 election, so much as it was Gore that threw it away. It should have been a cakewalk, but it became a near dead-heat because he was too moral and spiritual to allow Clinton – the man who’s charisma and political realism had put him in office as Vice President for two terms and put him in a position to lead the Democrats in the election – to campaign on his behalf. Even if Clinton, the most phenomenal campaigner of modern times, had only succeeded in mobilising the black vote Gore would have won without any recounts.

Whatever Bush’s faults, he isn’t a pompous ass. And Americans, unlike Nobel Prize judges, don’t like pompous asses. I don’t like pompous asses. Do you?

If anyone can get the Republicans re-elected, it’s not Hilary’s femininity, it’s not Obama’s blackness. It’s Gore’s pompous ass-ity.

Copyright Mark Simpson 2007

You & Your iPhone: The Perfect Relationship?

Mark Simpson on the MEphone

(Arena Hommes Plus, Winter 2007)

Imagine the perfect relationship.

Imagine a relationship so perfect that it will be the only one you need. One that is better and cooler and smarter than all the rest. A relationship that will make you the envy of your friends and the centre of attention at dinner parties. Imagine a relationship that is entirely controlled by you.

A relationship, in fact, that is – finally! – ALL about you. (I know I have.)

Imagine the iPhone.

The perfect lover. The perfect friend. The perfect child. The perfect accessory. The perfect kit. The perfect kick. Walking, talking technosexual porn.

Due to be launched in the UK this autumn, after provoking near-hysteria on its release in the US this summer, Apple’s iPhone is unquestionably an object of desire. Perhaps the object of desire (so far) of the 21st Century. You ache for one, admit it. You feel hollow and empty and ugly and unplugged without one. You would flog your dear old Nan’s internal organs on Ebay just to hold one for a few precious seconds.

You may tell yourself it appeals to you because it is a wonderful synergy of iPod, email terminal, Web browser, video player, camera, Palm-type organizer and, oh yes, mobile phone. Or you may kid yourself that you yearn to possess it because it has really fast software that is menu-free and surprisingly simple to use. Or because you can see your voicemails listed on-screen like emails (and decide who you deign to listen to pleading for a response). Or because it has the best Wi-Fi pickup available on a mobile device. Or because it is a thing of appetising Apple-flavoured gorgeousness.

You may even tell yourself that it represents a technological revolution – that if mobiles were Kirk’s communicator, the iPhone is Spock’s Tricorder but smaller and better and even cooler.

But really, you know deep down that the iPhone is something you want because, just like the iPod, it’s all about YOU. And what a wonderful, irresistible, indispensable – and priceless – thing you are!

The iPhone is really the Iphone. It’s a direct line to yourself. Now, isn’t that a call we all want to take? Anytime, anyplace? If the iPod was such a wonderful way of magicking away millions of people in the busy, hostile metropolis, full as it is of things that have the effrontery to be non-you, and curling up instead with several gigabytes of you on the subway or the plane – how much better will the iPhone be at blotting out the evidence of other people’s existence!

In fact, the iPhone assimilates the ‘real’ world to your imagined one: YouTube, iTunes, and even your ‘iFriends’ will become part of your digital, portable, solipsism of sounds and hypnotic lights.

No, no, no, you say. You misunderstand me. I’m a hardware man. Practical. That ARM 1176 CPU is the thing. Or the 2 Megapixel camera. Or the 4/8 GB internal flash memory. Or Bluetooth 2.0. Or the Very High Resolution 3.5″ (320×480 px at 160 ppi) LCD floats my boat.

Yeah, right. The hardware on the iPhone you really covet is the silky touch-sensitive optical quality glass screen. The screen which will literally light up your face – and reflect it back when dark. Touch screens aren’t an Apple innovation, of course. LG’s sleek Prada phone has a touch-sensitive screen – and in fact LG have, rather bitterly, accused Apple of stealing their design. But Apple have succeeded in turning it into… a beautiful, if slightly ill relationship.

Coquettishly, the screen refuses to respond unless you touch it with bare skin. Gloved fingers or stylus produce not a flicker. There is only one button – the ‘Home’ button. Typing has to be done by tapping the screen. Scrolling can only be performed by stroking the screen. Zooming in and out by pinching. Touch me. Stroke me. Caress me. I’m always here for you. I share all your interests – and all your secrets. We even have the same friends. We were meant for one another. Don’t look away!!

The iPhone is the adult, incestuous, convergent Tamagotchi. Your very own technobaby to gaze at, fuss over and flirt with endlessly. One that, moreover, reproduces you, disseminating you and your thoughts out into the world. How could anyone not want one? American consumerism has finally achieved its greatest ambition, the thing it has been working towards ever since Edison recorded the first human voice – to replace scratchy analogue people with shiny digital things. iRobot anyone? (Actually, there’s already an iRobot, an ‘intelligent’ automatic hoover – and, like you, I want one of those in my lazy, lonely life too.)

There’s only one small problem with this iPhone. No, not the fact you can’t send MMS, or make videos. Or voice-dial. Or watch Flash videos or handle Java. Or that typing on the touch sensitive virtual keyboard is rather ttrucky. No. It’s much worse than that. Sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but… it’s not your baby at all.

It’s Steve Job’s baby. The iPhone is something of an iCuckoo.

Apple are such teases. They coo in your ear that their products are all about YOU, but really they’re all about APPLE. Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO, may well be God, but he is a jealous and selfish God that will countenance no others. Itunes cannot be played on other devices. Likewise the iPhone won’t play non Apple software and, for the moment, you’re tied into a single network that offer Apple all the things they demanded but might not be offering you very much in the way of price plans, coverage, or download speeds. And, like the iPod, you can’t even replace the battery yourself. You have to give custody of your pride and joy – full of all your love and your sins – to Apple to do that (and pay them a fee for the privilege).

So much for the perfect relationship. To paraphrase Princess Di, there are two people in this marriage – you and Steve Jobs. And it’s a bit crowded.

(Special thanks to DAKrolak)

Will Sporno Win the Rugby World Cup?

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By Mark Simpson, The London Times, 10 October 2007 [uncircumcised version]

Ah, rugby. A man’s game. Played by real men. Big hairy men. With big chins. Nothing metrosexual about rugger buggers at all. A welcome respite from all that David Beckham, Frank Lampard love-me, love-my-shaved-pectorals stuff!

Wrong. So wrong.

frederick.jpgFor starters, rugby players have also become clothes-horses and walking endorsements for male vanity products. Fake-tanned, highlighted Jonny Wilkinson models designer clobber. Josh Lewsey is the face, or rather, hot, ripped, torso, of Nike Pro kinky lycra vests. New Zealand’s Dan Carter models Jockey underwear. Ronan O’Gara is the decorative face of an Irish jewellery company. While glam French fly-half Frederic Michalak, who seems to be his own mobile jewellery shop-window, has sashayed for Christian Lacroix, endorses a French condom brand, is the wrinkle-free face of Biotherme Homme cosmetics (a branch of L’Oreal), and is the eye-catching package for a skimpy underwear line.

And then there’s Welsh rugby star Gavin Henson, the prettier half of the Henson-Church celebrity couple, who likes to shave his legs and cover himself in fake tan and moisturiser before a match ‘because I like to look good for my team-mates’. David Beckham complained recently that Gavin Henson had stolen his gay fans.

To give you an idea how much has changed take a look the life story of the England Rugby strip. Not so long ago a rugby shirt was a baggy, shapeless beer towel that flapped around a hairy beer monster in a sweatband. But in the last few years it has morphed into a tight, tarty, stretchy muscle-top that seems to have been designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier.

It wouldn’t look out of place dancing under a spotlight on a podium at a gay nightclub. The 2007 World Cup strip features a saucy red arrow that runs from the right shoulder down to the left hip, which is supposed to confuse the opposing team. Perhaps that’s because it seems to shout: ‘If you want to score, flip me over!’

josh.jpgI’m sure there are all sorts of reassuringly practical reasons that can be cited as to why the England strip has changed so much of late, but clearly aesthetics is also calling the shots in rugby these days, which, like football, is now increasingly a form of show-biz. English rugby has gone ‘pro’ – and English rugby players now have ‘pro’ pumped, cut, muscular bodies they’ve worked hard on and that need to be shown off to their best advantage.

And oh, boy, do they show off. In the last few years rugby has become nakedly spornographic. Take a look, if you dare, at the Dieux du Stade French rugby Calendar, and accompanying, shrink-wrapped ‘Making Of’ DVD, featuring oiled, naked, shaved, designer tattooed rugger buggers naked in the locker room in poses that are frequently deliberately, provocatively homoerotic in a way that football wouldn’t countenance (unless it was after a match with a groupie present and filmed with a mobile phone).

Whilst showcasing the, er, talents of their own players, Stade Francais, the Paris team behind the Dieux Du Stade calendar, also invite especially blessed foreign players into their changing room. The eye-popping star of the 2007 calendar is humpy Scottish rugby player Sean Lamont, photographed on his back and on his front – showing the world his versatile endowments.

Dieux du Stade even has it’s own male cosmetics line’ Retour Au Vestiare’ – ‘Back to the lockeroom.’ (just make sure you knock before you enter.)

Phenomenally popular, the Dieux Du Stade sporno calendars have dramatically increased the popularity and coolness of rugby in France with women (who seem to like the homoerotic teasing) but also with men – gay and straight. Rugby sporno has helped make rugby seem that most modern, most covetted of things – shaggable.

dan-carter.jpgLittle wonder then that France is also the country that is tipped to win the Rugby World Cup. (Six of the French squad play for Stade Francais.)

After all, last year’s football World Cup was won by not so much by Italy’s superior football skills but their superior sporno. In the run-up to the tournament, Dolce & Gabbana recruited several of their national team’s players to be photographed oiled up and hanging around in the showers in their D&G underwear apparently waiting to gang-bang us – in a clear, if slightly toned-down, echo of Dieux du Stade (the same stunningly provocative photographer, Mariano Vivanco, worked on the 2007 Dieux Du Stade).

The current ‘Ce’st So Paris’ advertising campaign promoting travel to Paris ‘Capital of Love’ which features rugger buggers scrumming and snogging (‘Make love not war’) is clearly meant to be funny, which it is. But given the rise of sporno in the world of rugby it isn’t so absurd.

The only unbelievable thing about the ad is the fact that none of the fake snogging rugger buggers are nearly as buffed or beautiful as some of the real-life ones.
© Mark Simpson 2007

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The Gay Bomb covers the US Air Force in glory

The USAF’s infamous ‘Gay Bomb’ has won an illustrious gong at this year’s prestigious Ig Nobel Awards. Here’s the piece I wrote about it for the Guardian earlier this year:

Armed and Amorous

by Mark Simpson (Guardian, June 13 2007)

Look out! Take cover! Backs to the walls, boys! It’s the Gay Bomb!

No, not a bomb with fashionably styled fins, or one that can’t whistle, but rather a proposed “non-lethal” chemical bomb containing “strong aphrodisiacs” that would cause “homosexual behaviour” among soldiers.

Since the United States Air Force wanted $7.5 million of taxpayers’ money to develop it, it probably involved more than the traditional recipe of a six-pack of beer.

According to the Sunshine Group, an organization opposed to chemical weapons that recently obtained the original proposal under the Freedom of Information Act, a U.S.A.F. lab seriously proposed in 1994 “that a bomb be developed containing a chemical that would cause [enemy] soldiers to become gay, and to have their units break down because all their soldiers became irresistibly attractive to one another.” The U.S.A.F. obviously had no idea how picky even horny gays can be.

Despite never having been developed, the so-called Gay Bomb is a bouncing bomb, or perhaps a bent stick – it keeps coming back. The media have picked up the story of the Gay Bomb more than once since 2005 -after all it’s a story that’s too good to throw away, and, as this article proves, it’s a gift for dubious jokes.

Mind you, it now seems to be the case that the Pentagon didn’t throw it away either, at least not immediately. In the past the Pentagon has been keen to suggest it was just a cranky proposal they quickly rejected. The Sunshine Project now contradicts this, saying the Gay Bomb was given serious and sustained attention by the Pentagon and that in fact they “submitted the proposal to the highest scientific review body in the country for them to consider.” The Gay Bomb was no joke.

So perhaps we should seriously consider probing-however gingerly – what exactly was in the minds of the boys at the Pentagon back then.

The date is key. The Gay Bomb proposal was submitted in 1994 – the year after the extraordinary moral panic that very nearly derailed Clinton’s first term when he tried to honor his campaign pledge to lift the ban on homosexuals serving in the U.S. military and that ultimately produced the current “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) compromise that allows them to serve so long as they remain closeted and are not reported.

The newly sworn-in commander-in-chief was successfully portrayed by the homo-baiting right wing-and by the Pentagon itself in an act of insurrection-as a dirty pinko Gay Bomb that was seriously weakening the cohesion of the unit and molesting the noble, heterosexual U.S. fighting man’s ability to perform his manly mission. “Why not drop Clinton on the enemy?” is probably what they were thinking.

The Pentagon’s love affair with the Gay Bomb also hints heavily that ticking away at the heart of its opposition to lifting the ban on gays serving, which involved much emphasis on the “close conditions” (cue endless TV footage of naked soldiers and sailors showering together) was an anxiety that if homosexuality wasn’t banned the U.S. Armed Forces would quickly turn into one huge, hot, military-themed gay orgy – that American fighting men would be too busy offering themselves to one another to defend their country. I sympathize. I too share the same fantasy – but at least I know it’s called gay porn.

Whatever its motivations or rationalizations, the DADT policy of gay quarantine has resulted in thousands of discharges of homosexuals and bisexuals from the U.S. Armed Forces, even at a time when the military is having great difficulty mobilizing enough bodies of any sexual persuasion and is currently being publicly questioned. But the Pentagon seems unlikely to budge its institutional back from the proverbial wall. Its top commander, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, recently defended the policy in outspoken terms, saying: “I believe that homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts.” (The good General probably didn’t mean to suggest that homosexual acts involving only one person or more than two were not immoral.)

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, a policy that even Joseph Heller would have had difficulty satirizing, may be confused and confusing, and it may or may not be repealed in the near future, but it clearly shows that the U.S. remains dramatically conflicted about itself and the enormous changes in attitudes and behavior that its own affluence and sophistication have helped bring about.

After all, the Gay Bomb is here already and it’s been thoroughly tested-on civilians. It was developed not by the U.S.A.F. but by the laboratories of American consumer and pop culture, advertising, and Hollywood. If you want to awaken the enemy to the attractiveness of the male body, try dropping back issues of Men’s Health or GQ on them. Or Abercrombie & Fitch posters. Or Justin Timberlake videos. Or DVDs of 300.

Or even the U.S.’s newly acquired British-made weapons system for delivering global sexual confusion and hysteria known as David Beckham.

To paraphrase the Duke of Wellington: I don’t know whether they frighten the enemy, but by God they scare the Bejeesus out of me.

Copyright Mark Simpson 2007

The Topless Apostles

Get ready for the Men on a Mission calendar: 12 topless, buffed, young, male Mormons keen to show you the beauty of God’s creation. 

By Mark Simpson (Guardian, 20 Sept 2007)

‘As a sodomite, being knocked up by Mormon missionaries isn’t always an experience I look forward to. I don’t know about you, but that air-conditioning salesman look doesn’t really do it for me….’

Read the article here.

Whitney Houston – the Diva Who Fell To Earth

Whitney had it all. The looks, the heritage and that elemental voice. So where did it all go so wrong? Mark Simpson on the diva who fell to earth

(Originally appeared in The Independent, 15 September 2002)

 

I was never a proper fan of Whitney Houston – it wasn’t necessary.

Whitney was something that simply happened to you, whether you took notice or not, like the weather – though if Whitney was the weather, it was always very, very sunny. Whitney was so blindingly, scorchingly successful in the 1980s and early 1990s, that she was pop music.

She was the mainstream air that we all breathed, the air that MTV, car and workplace radios conducted into our heads. Her debut album Whitney Houston went double-platinum overnight. She then collected seven consecutive US number ones, outstripping the Beatles and Elvis. Not bad for a skinny 22-year-old black girl from New Jersey.

But then, as we were told over and over again, Whitney wasn’t just any skinny black girl from the wrong side of the Hudson: she was Soul Aristocracy, the daughter of Cissy Houston (acclaimed singer with The Sweet Inspirations, backing vocalist for Elvis), goddaughter of Aretha Franklin and niece of Dionne Warwick. But for all this pedigree, her Nefertitian looks and a voice like a fifth element that made earth, wind, fire and water seem insubstantial by comparison, the most striking, and possibly most irresistible, thing about Whitney has always been that it is very difficult to believe that she bothers to mean any of the words she sings, however well she sings them.

Except, that is, for one word: “I”. When Whitney sings the personal pronoun you are left in no doubt that this word means something very special indeed. Which is why her ballads are so funny and so terrifying all at once: “The grea-test love of all is hap-pen-ing to MEEEEEEEEEE!”. This is also why the country singer Dolly Parton’s earlier interpretation of “I Will Always Love You” with its delicate, charming, make-believe masochism had more soul than Whitney’s bullet-proof Kevlar version used in The Bodyguard (1992), the massive popularity of which confirmed her status as the world’s No 1 superstar (and favourite taped singer at funerals).

Mind you, the supersonic nuclear blast-wave of Ms Houston’s version  –  “IAEYAEYAEYEA!!!!!” – just flattens everything before it. Whitney’s voice didn’t need any soul; it was pure Will. Whitney is speaking a frightening truth here about romantic love: it’s a form of egotism. “I will always love you” is a stalking, psychotic declaration of a love for one’s own ability to love, regardless of all obstacles, such as, say, the beloved’s indifference. In fact, next to Ms Willpower’s transcendent egotism, that other bullying Mistress of the 1980s, Ms Blonde Ambition, is just a goofy backing dancer who got lucky.

But now, 10 years on, Whitney’s ego isn’t quite what it used to be. Nor is she, it turns out, quite so invulnerable. In the last decade she has suffered a legion of personal and professional disasters as messy as she used to be squeaky clean, and appears to be struggling with an alleged drug habit that many worry could overwhelm her completely.

But all this means she’s now interesting! And for something other than the sheer scale of her success and the preternatural power of her voice (which, it is rumoured, may anyway not be what it used to be).

A new Channel 4 documentary, Whitney Houston: The True Story, examines the rise and fall and rise – and possible final fall – of the Whitney Empire of the Ego, though, as you might secretly hope, the programme focuses rather more on the fall, which rather a lot of pride seems to have gone before. The photographer for the cover of I’m Your Baby Tonight recounts how Whitney kept her the rest of her staff waiting on set 12 hours, and when she finally showed there was no apology, explanation or even embarrassment. A promoter recalls how a concert was cancelled 15 minutes before it was due to start. “There was no explanation and no suggestion of it being rescheduled,” he whines, like the mere mortal he is.

For those prone to the German vice of  schadenfreude – i.e. most of us – there’s plenty of shameful joy to be had. We hear about the jeers she received at the Soul Train Awards in 1989 from a black audience who felt she was too “white”. The violent, co-dependent but enduring marriage to “bad-boy” rapper Bobby Brown. The marijuana drug-bust in 2000 and her reported indignation that the drug laws might apply to her. The persistent accusations of lesbianism, including from her own husband. Her wraith-like appearance at the Michael Jackson anniversary concert in 2001. Her removal from the Academy Awards Ceremony in the same year by her old friend Burt Bacharah for allegedly forgetting the words to her songs.

And perhaps most poignant of all, the Spin magazine journalist who witnessed a dazed-looking Ms Houston playing the piano – in a room which had no piano – and who opines that “the general consensus seems to be that she’s a complete junkie… There are stories every day about her having died, being on the brink of dying, having just checked in to hospital…”

Alas, with the exception of Whitney’s make-up artist who is touchingly loyal, there is a shortage here of members of her inner circle dishing the dirt or anything at all. But then, as one forthright American female journalist puts it, “She’s the cash cow. Nobody wants to upset her.” The producer Sam Kingsley explains: “A number of people close to Whitney, including Whitney’s former manager, did agree to be interviewed but when they realised she hadn’t given her royal assent they quickly withdrew.”

Real revelations about Whitney’s private life are much more likely to appear in the tabloid press which possesses a chequebook large enough to wean embittered confidantes off Ms Houston’s monetary udders.

Perhaps no one has more stories and kisses to tell than Robyn Crawford, the childhood girl friend and close business associate assumed by many to have been Whitney’s lover since the early Eighties. “She wouldn’t speak to us at all,” says Kingsley. “She’s rumoured to have been given a big payoff, post Bobby Brown, which includes a silence clause.”

While Whitney may at her peak have come to represent a will even purer than her voice, it wasn’t purely her own. “Whitney” was a product of the ambition and determination of several people. Robyn, an intelligent, shrewd and imposing woman. Her mother Cissy, who never got the recognition for her own talents she felt she deserved (when Whitney’s career took off at the stripling age of 22, she reportedly told friends over and over again “and to think we’ve waited so many years for this to happen!”). And one flamboyant white man – the Svengali president of Arista Records Clive Davis.

Clive signed Whitney when she was just 19. He realised that Whitney possessed a great talent and could be a very successful recording artist but he also realised that she could be much more than that. She could be the biggest recording star in the world.

In Whitney Houston: The True Story, Kenneth Reynolds, marketing director at Arista Records, recounts: ‘”Clive had a formula already. Whitney was just a talent to mould. She had to lose the gospel roots. The early version of ‘Saving All My Love’ sounded like the new Aretha Franklin. But Clive didn’t like it – ‘No, it’s too black’. Clive also complained that the cover of Whitney’s first album made her look ‘too ethnic’. He wanted her to look more like everyone else.”‘

So Whitney was put in blond wigs and colourful make-up that made her light-black skin look even lighter (in the video for “How Will I Know” she looks as if she is wearing a basket of dyed poodles on her head). But Clive Davis was proved right – Whitney became huge instead of just successful. She became pop music.

But by the end of the 1980s tastes were changing. Hip hop and R ‘n’ B, black music that wore its “ethnic” and “street” credentials on its sleeve, was the new pop – in other words, it was what the white kids wanted.

Meanwhile, the US black community itself was beginning to resent Whitney’s success and what they saw as her “betrayal”. Hence her humiliation at the 1989 Soul Train Music Awards, where she was called “Oreo” (an American biscuit which is black on the outside and white on the inside).

Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that she ended up marrying the very next act up – rapper Bobby Brown – who had a reception as rapturous as hers had been the rancorous. Bobby, known for his partying, seemed an unlikely match for Whitney. But perhaps that was the point. Rather than the nice girl seduced by the naughty Bobby from the Boston projects, maybe “soul aristocracy” Whitney saw Bobby as her ticket to “ghetto fabulousness”.

Whatever the truth of this, Whitney began to become known as a party girl and the successful 1998 comeback (sometimes almost singalong) album My Love is Your Love, with guest appearances by a new generation of R ‘n’ B stars – and a promo video which depicted a 1970s party in the streets of Harlem – succeeded in relaunching Whitney’s credibility. However, it seems that there has been a price to pay for Whitney’s new fashionability and “improved” blackness – but then, suffering is supposedly good for the soul, and, now it seems, sales.

Whether that price includes, as some maintain, that elemental voice, will become clear with her new album, Just Whitney, scheduled for release at the end of the year. If it turns out that she has finally squandered her talent, it will be sad of course but perhaps also understandable. Such a vast “gift” is undoubtedly also a curse. Squandering it might be the last act of will available to a very wilful lady called Whitney.

 

© Mark Simpson

The Sun newspaper – how gay is it?

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Why is Britain’s best-selling, sauciest tabloid so unsure of its sexuality?

Mark Simpson, the Guardian (August 24, 2007)

The Sun’s TV critic Ally Ross is an unhappy camper. You see, he’s always bitching about TV being ‘too gay’. Which is a rather peculiar thing for a TV critic to complain about. Perhaps his dad wanted him to be a (much less well paid) sports writer.

Last Friday, he proved what a pugilist he is by laying into the recently launched ITV Anthony Cotton daytime chat show, and by attacking all things poovey on telly. He concluded with his 0ver-familiar refrain: ‘TV is way too camp, i.e. gay and rubbish, for its own good’. At the end of a column simply chocka with catty clawings and rubbish campery.

In fact, so keen is big butch Ross (who likes to pose as the Test Card Girl above his byline) to straighten out telly and get rid of gays and gayness, in an unrelated piece about Big Brother on the same page, recounting how one male contestant was lovingly describing women as ‘tits, baps, breasts, erm, womb people’, he interrupts this red-blooded reverie with: ‘cuts to Gerry (the gay Greek contestant) fantasising about the Greek Army.’ Thanks for that straight thought, Ally.

Actually, I agree. TV is too ‘gay’ and camp and rubbish. But so are you, Ally dearie. And so, these days, is the Sun. Though, like its TV critic, it seems rather confused and conflicted.

In the same issue, readers were treated to another gratuitous ‘gay’ fantasy titled ‘Brokeback Putin’ – a spread of shirtless snaps of Russian President Vladimir Putin and (fully clothed) Prince Albert of Monaco on a blokey fishing holiday, complete with ‘camp’ captions that try to portray him as homo (and therefore ridiculous and impotent): ‘Oooh Vlad, I’ve got a tiddler’ ‘Here let me hold it Albert’. Er, calm down will you? They’re just fishing.

The Sun’s breathless, squealing addiction to rubbish, dated campery – and its campaign to convince us all that ‘camp’ is exactly the same thing as ‘gay’ and that of course male homosexuality is a form of emasculation – is literally perverse. Even more than most papers, the Sun is desperate to attract young readers – readers who don’t share that early 1970s worldview, not least because they weren’t even born in the 1970s. Headlines like “Hello Sailor!”, the mocking front page that greeted the Navy’s recent decision to actively recruit gays and lesbians, are limp Dick Emery imitations that no one under forty-five is going to get. In the same pink and fluffy Sun-speak vein, any out gay male celebrity, regardless of their demeanour, is instantly given a new first name – ‘Camp’.

Then there’s Sun gossip columnist Victoria Newton’s creepy endless ‘Gay-O-Meter’ obsession with comedian David Walliams. Every time he’s photographed socialising with a woman the meter reads STRAIGHT (coloured blue). Every time he’s photographed with a bloke it goes into GAY (coloured pink). I thought that the whole point of gossip columnists was that they got out more.

But hang on a minute. Isn’t socialising with women girly and ‘gay’? Isn’t drinking with your male mates (or, for that matter, going fishing) something that a proper bloke is supposed to do? Isn’t the Sun actually queering things rather than straightening them out?

In fact, at the risk of it exploding in your face, that Gay-O-Meter should be turned on the Sun itself – a newspaper that is nowadays just a daily edition of girly gossip rag Heat magazine with some news about especially vain celebrities who happen to play sport at the back. A recent Sun item revealed how Man United were remodelling their player’s changing rooms and lockers to ‘accomodate their manbags’ which apparently are full of ‘more cosmetics than their WAGs’.

There is though a difference between Heat magazine and the Sun: there’s much more queer sex in the Sun. Point the Gay-O-Meter, if you dare, at the Sun’s agony aunt section with its daily ‘lesbian lust’ confessions and ‘am I gay?’ letters (not written, I hasten to add, by their TV critic). Illustrated with photo-porn novel strips of naked women and men with equally desirable, equally undressed bodies getting into messy love triangles and even messier threesomes of every possible permutation. Or all those ‘Footie Studs in Sordid Roasting Vid Scandal!’ (see centre pages for full colour spread) news stories.

The Sun is obsessed with ‘camp’ and ‘gayness’ for the same reason telly is – because popular culture is. The reason it’s so conflicted and confused is partly because of its own very recent past as an out-and-out queerbashing daily, and partly because the expensively educated people who now edit the Sun, most of whom I’m sure have lots of gay friends and even more camp straight friends, are worried about being sussed by the ‘chav’ readers they condescend to (‘chav’ is a favourite Sun word). It doesn’t appear to occur to them that their readers’ attitudes might have changed more than their own.

Then again, perhaps the Sun is so confused because it’s being doing too much spinning around in sequins. I can reveal that according to ‘sources close to the Sun’ they recently all went on a ‘team-building’ weekend in some camp seaside resort. The team-building task? Ballroom dancing.

I wonder if their TV critic’s team won?

Elvis Hasn’t Left the Building

Why Elvis the ‘virile degenerate’ refuses to let us rest in peace

by Mark Simpson  

(Independent on Sunday, April 2000)

Elvis didn’t want to be black, he wanted to be Tony Curtis.

A natural blond, Memphis’ belle boy dyed his hair in imitation of his 50s idol’s shiny black pompadour and continued tinting it that unnatural-supernatural blue-black colour until the very end (though later it was probably merely to hide the grey). Even those virile sideburns, which by the early Seventies seemed to be bracketing the world, were deceivingly dyed too.

I know this is a shocking, indecent thing to bring up, and not just because of the way Tony Curtis’ ‘hair’ looks now. We like to think of Elvis as rock’s Unmoved Mover, The King, the original, the alpha and omega – the fount of all pop cultural sovereignty. ‘Before Elvis there was nothing,’ as John Lennon famously put it. In a world where popness has become the measure of everything, we’re all Elvis impersonators now – and we don’t want to think that we might be inadvertently ‘doing’ Tony Curtis.

As the parade of celebs who lined up recently for the premiere of the re-released, re-edited, re-mastered 1970 Vegas gig movie ‘Elvis: That’s the Way It is’ bears testimony, all the new pretenders want to be seen in His presence, even if it’s only a celluloid one. Maybe it’s just the PopStars in Your Eyes, but Elvis seems to keep on getting bigger while those that came after him keep getting smaller. Elvis was the first truly giant pop star created by post-war consumerism and it’s attendant media.

Since then, shopping and looking have become everything, and Elvis has become the personification of the looking-glass world we inhabit now, a latter-day Narcissus who drowned in his own reflection (on his bathroom floor) – but granted immortality in a universe of surfaces and permanent (shallow) memory. ‘Elvis’ is Fame’s first name in an age when ‘fame’ is something we’re increasingly over-familiar with.

Perhaps this is why in Elvis’ face we can see an angelic/demonic premonition of the needy faces of so many of those stars that have come after: Tom Cruise, Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson, Jim Carrey, Madonna, Bill Clinton, Diana, Jeffrey Dahmer. Elvis’ masculine androgyny and animal smartness seem even more modern today than when he launched his career. In footage of The King in action, all the male faces in the crowd – and many of the women – seem strangely frozen and meatish next to his, even when he is clearly half-paralysed by downers, the eyes all hooded and sleepy. As the lesbian Elvis Impersonator k.d. Laing observed: ‘He had total love in his eyes when he performed…’.

It only makes his ‘total love’ all the more potent that when he sang, he didn’t mean it, or didn’t know what he meant; we are left to sort it out, like the swooning victims of a passionate but exquisitely, totally careless lover (which is the condition of human subjectivity in a mediated world).

Elvis the Lover is also however the archetype of the post-war male ‘Pervert’. Radiantly narcissistic and dramatically unable to negotiate his Oedipus Complex, he is the prime idolatrous icon of a decadent, post-patriarchal age. Again, he may not have invented virile degeneracy (Clift, Brando and Dean, whom he also imitated, have a prior claim) but he patented it. True, it may have been campy Liberace who was accused of being the ‘quivering distillation of mother-love’, but it was good ol’ boy Elvis-the-pelvis (and Liberace fan) who got away with it and in fact made it cool.

Elvis, the beautiful boy who loved his mammy and almost forgot he had a daddy (as we did too: we always call him by his first name), the boy who desired to be desired so much he persuaded the whole world to eat him up, is the patron saint of the New Matriarchy.

Even today, twenty four years after his death, as we stumble into a century he never actually swung his hips in, Elvis the rock star, pop star, stand-up comedian and self-medicating Vegas showgirl remains the acme of the mediated male, and also of male desirability. Male love-me-tender passivity and vulnerability was endorsed and legitimised and transmitted by Elvis, helpfully preparing men for the (prone) role that consumerism had in store for them.

Tony Curtis fixation notwithstanding, Elvis really is ‘the original’, the template from which everything else is stamped, because he has become the ego-ideal of a mediated, ‘perverted’, dyed-sideburns culture. Since his death, through a process of global mourning and melancholia and constant re-runs and revivals, the lost lurve-object has been introjected into our collective Unconscious so completely that we don’t have to be lonesome tonight or tomorrow or in fact ever again. His absence has become an overwhelming presence.

Elvis really is alive. It’s just the rest of us that I’m not so sure about.

This essay is collected in ‘Metrosexy: A 21st Century Self-Love Story’


Dame Democracy is a Size Queen

 

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Mark Simpson on why size matters in the privacy of the voting booth

Dame Democracy is a bit of a size queen.

Actually, she’s a lot of a size queen. The vital statistics she’s really interested in are not the size of the money supply or the rate of inflation, but the heft of a politician’s inflatable. All those graphs, statistics and ‘swingometers’ on election programs are trying to answer the only question that anyone’s really interested in: which candidate is hung like a baby’s arm?

And like a lot of size queens, Dame Democracy instinctively feels that men with faces like a bag of spanners are more likely to be packing a bigger monkey wrench. This is why we vote for men – and they usually are men – that you might be forgiven for thinking no-one would lay if they were the last suit left standing at the office party.

Of course, there are exceptions: Kennedy was a looker and still made the Presidency of the United States. But the American public was swayed by the fact that his father had one of the largest penises in the American Underworld, and Jack’s encouraging habit of fucking everything that moved – including one or two things that didn’t, such as Cuba and Vietnam.

Nixon was a man who strutted around like the proud possessor of a real tonsil-teaser. Perhaps this is why he was elected in 1969. However, a special Senate Committee was set up to investigate the true dimensions of his masculine virtue, calling witnesses and threatening to subpoena certain ‘tapes’ which, it was rumoured, would reveal the ‘whole picture’ and the full extent of his naughtiness.

Exposed as a liar, Tricky Dicky spent the rest of his life in disgrace, proving that there’s nothing the public hates more than a pussy-teaser who doesn’t deliver in the luncheon-truncheon department. His successor, Gerald Ford, didn’t measure up either, despite the encouraging impression conveyed by his habit of losing his balance and falling forwards whenever he became excited.

President Carter, it goes without saying, had the smallest penis in the history of American democracy. Political scientists had to employ high-powered optical instruments to locate it. The American public was initially fooled by his lazy, self-satisfied Southern Drawl and his intimate knowledge of farming practises, but Afghanistan and the Iranian hostage crisis soon revealed him for the short dick man he was.

So the US dumped Jimmy and plumped for Ronald ‘It’s Morning in America and I’ve got a woody’ Reagan whose virility was so enormous that it even promised to reach out into space, where it’s vast, hi-tech dome would protect America from penetration by Russian warheads, and eventually cow the Reds into submission. Which it did. Even if it actually belonged to Nancy.

That his Republican successor was called ‘Bush’ was hubris indeed. Despite his reaming of Saddam in the Gulf War, it was inevitable that someone called ‘Slick Willy’ would force him to submit. By the same token, Dole was never in with a chance in 1996 as his name rhymed with ‘hole’.

The last British leader to sport a world-class weapon was Winston Churchill, a man who didn’t need to read foreign muck like Freud to understand what sucking on a Havana cigar could do for his public image. But then we lost an Empire and gained Clement Attlee – someone Churchill once described as ‘a harmless, penisless, grass-grazing creature in the clothing of a harmless, penisless, grass-grazing creature’.

Sir Anthony Eden lost his dignity up the Suez Canal in 1956 but his successor Harold Macmillan thought he knew what the public liked when he crowed that we’d ‘never had it so good.’ Even though he was a promisingly tall man with large feet, the punters decided that they had had it better, actually, and dumped him for Harold Wilson who smoked a big black pipe.

But Wilson suffered a foreign exchange crisis which shrank the ‘penis in his pocket‘ and eventually lost to Heath who had the biggest nose in British political history but who led us into an unwilling threesome with Europe and its garlicky vagina dentata. Happily, he was brought to his knees by the stalwart miners (stiffened no doubt by being raised on Attlee’s free school milk, which did much to ensure the full muscular development of the lower orders).

So Wilson won again, but suddenly cut himself off only two years into his term of office. Callaghan plugged the gap but despite palling around with the TUC big boys he never quite got over this psychological blow and was forced into the hands of Jeremy Thorpe and the Liberals who massaged his frail majority for him.

Little wonder then that he was no match for Margaret Thatcher, a woman with the largest penis since Winston, her idol. Indeed it is rumoured that her penis was Winston’s, which after his death had been pickled in a jar at Conservative Central Office for the day when England would need it to rise again.

But Thatcher proved that even in the greedy world of politics you can have too much of a good thing. The Poll Tax and EMU had nothing to do with her downfall. In-party jealousy over her gargantuan Hampton Wick was to blame. Excessive endowment, you see, can blow up in your face (see also Alan Clark and Michael Portillo).

To appease the humming-bird tendency and heal the rifts in the party, Maggie’s successor, John Major, was chosen precisely because, despite his bragging name, he possessed an even smaller penis than Jim Callaghan. After being trampled on for years by Maggie Stryker, Major was a man that the Tories could at last look down to.

That he managed to defeat Neil Kinnock, a bald Welshman with a large nose who played rugby is further evidence that size alone isn’t always the determining factor. Sometimes the electorate will choose a man with a smaller penis simply because he doesn’t have red pubes. Shape and symmetry also count for something. Despite a consensus amongst psephologists that Blair’s membrum virile is bigger than Major’s Minor, there does appear to be some anxiety as to the actual width and weight of his instrument and whether it is one of those nasty numbers that has an unexpected bend to the left.

Whoever Britain’s next Prime Minister is, and whatever the dimensions of his electoral tackle, it seems inevitable that Dame Democracy’s attitude will eventually echo that of a size queen friend of mine who always crows about the size of her latest amour’s penis – ‘Mark! It’s MASSIVE!!’

Only to announce, usually about a week later, that she’s no longer seeing him, saying: ‘Oh, I didn’t like ‘im anyway – ‘e ‘ad a really small dick.’

 

(Originally appeared in Attitude magazine, 1997 and collected in Sex Terror: Erotic Misadventures in Pop Culture)

Copyright © 1994 - 2017 Mark Simpson All Rights Reserved.