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Dame Democracy is a Size Queen



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)

The Gay Bomb


Mark Simpson drops the Gay Bomb

(Guardian & Out magazine 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 behavior” 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 few six-packs 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 didn’t know 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 – 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 actively discouraged 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.

In a Darkened Underpass

by Mark Simpson

(Originally appeared on, April 23, 2004 as ‘Who’s the hunted now?’)

In the seven years since she died in a high-speed car crash in a tunnel in Paris, the pictures of the bafflingly mangled black Mercedes that ferried Diana to her death have become almost as famous as its most precious passenger.

Looking at the pictures, snapped at night with flash photography (like many of the pictures of Diana), it’s difficult not to wonder at how such an expensive, glamorous, chauffeur-driven, bodyguarded limousine could end up such a shapeless mess – or how such a mess could have been a car at all, let alone such a famous one. To wonder how a limo whisking someone from the Paris Ritz could have turned so suddenly into a hearse. To wonder just how mangled the expensive, glamorous Diana was.

But of course, no matter how hard you look at the picture, you can’t see her – she has already been whisked off to the hospital where she would die soon after from “internal injuries” (something we know she had been suffering from for many years, and they were not caused by any car accidents). Until this week, Diana’s expiring body is literally obscene – “off scene” – in a way that much of her life was not.

Standing in for the totaled body of Diana, the wrecked Merc — the ultimate rubbernecking image – has somehow become a symbol not of prurience but of discretion. We all knew that pictures of a dying Diana in the back of the car were snapped by the paparazzi pursuing her moments after the impact, and that these landed on the desks of newspapers the next day. Until the CBS documentary about her death this week, no English-speaking publication or TV station has dared to show us the pictures.

The media always has to navigate between catering to public curiosity and voyeurism, and on the other hand avoiding provoking the disgust of their audience – with themselves. “What kind of lady do you take me for?” is ever the response of Dame Public when they feel they haven’t been romanced enough before being given “what they want.” The public could not get enough of Diana – but after her death, they turned out to be as bulimic as the shy, awkward, exhibitionistic, sophisticated, vulnerable, feisty girl they voraciously consumed.

Unsurprisingly, the British press has been fairly unanimous in its condemnation of CBS. The left-liberal Guardian denounced the way CBS had plumbed “new depths of prurience”; the Daily Mail thundered on about the “ultimate betrayal.” Much of the media here, though, had few qualms about showing images of, say, mutilated Americans in Fallujah. JFK’s head has, of course, exploded on U.K. prime time more often than fireworks on the Queen’s birthday.

Mohamed al-Fayed, the father of Dodi al-Fayed, Diana’s consort that evening who also died in the crash, ordered his lawyers to write to CBS before the broadcast to make a “personal plea” stating, “We cannot imagine that CBS News would want to be the first enterprise to breach the collected understanding of the media based upon good taste, propriety, decency and sympathy.” Good taste, propriety, decency and sympathy are qualities that Mr. al-Fayed, the Pharaonic proprietor of Harrods and chief retailer of Diana conspiracy theories, is well known as exemplifying.

What is really remarkable is not that CBS showed these images but that these images have not been shown before, that for seven years we have been satisfied with the “discretion” of the mangled Merc in the “tunnel of death,” as empty as her womb (according to the doctor who famously testified at the British inquest that she wasn’t pregnant). Part of the reason why there are so many conspiracy theories is because people don’t want to let go of Diana or her “secret life.”

Diana, queen of the English-gossiping world in the last two decades of the 20th century, the celebrity princess, was anything but discreet herself (CBS was responding to rival NBC’s recent airing of tapes recorded by the princess talking about her marriage and confrontation with Camilla Parker Bowles in the early ’90s). Her life was a series of revelations, ever more dramatic and orchestrated, which left the British monarchy looking rather like her last ride.

But this was part of the disavowal of her death that was engaged back in 1997. It was the paparazzi, you see, rather than our own appetite for her — and her appetite for us — that turned Diana the huntress into the hunted, and that ultimately killed her. “They” wouldn’t leave her alone! “They” afforded her no privacy! “They” hounded her to her death! “They” have no decency!

I remember standing with the crowds outside Westminster Abbey in the September sunshine in 1997 as the funeral service for Diana was being conducted. In the passion and the heat a lady fainted. One of the many news teams there began filming the collapsed woman. A posh middle-aged lady shouted out “Have you no decency at all! She’s not well!” As one, we all bristled at the camera crew, who quickly fled. Satisfied, we all went back to the private business of crying in front of the myriad other TV cameras.

There was also much talk after her death about how “the boys” – William and Harry – would not be exposed to the same treatment. And out of “respect to Diana” or rather the public outcry/self-disgust following her death, the boys have been off-limits for much of their adolescence. However, the boys are growing up (William is 21; Harry, 19), and the death of Diana and the collective guilt associated with it is receding into the past. Photos of Prince William having his feet massaged at rugby matches by girlfriends and sharing ski lifts have made their way into the press despite protests from the palace. Most recently the world was ogling pictures of the heir to the throne, in snug Speedos at a water polo match.

The pictures are eerily reminiscent of some of the most famous images of Diana before her death – snapped on al-Fayed’s yacht in her bathing costume (allegedly after tipping the tabs off herself). Those shoulders, those long limbs, those cheekbones, those flashing teeth, that foggy, English, aristocratic skin. William is being offered to us by the media in almost as sexualized a fashion as his mother, even when taking part in something as innocent and boyish as a water polo match.

Much discussion followed about whether tight Speedos and their “anti-grab” material flattered William or not – and whether his wearing them would increase sales. The same Google search that listed these stories also provided a link to a posting on a gay Speedo fan Web site where, on the basis of the tiny picture, someone deduced with scientific precision that William is averagely endowed (“if not smaller — though that may be an effect of temperature”).

Tawdry, slightly pervy speculation about the “crown jewels,” yes. But is it really so different from the more innuendo-based noises the respectable press had been full of?

Interestingly, CBS insisted that its pictures of dying Diana were “tasteful” and featured only her “head and shoulders.” The program also featured the French doctor seen attending to Diana in the pictures, assuring us: “I can tell you her face was still beautiful. She didn’t have any injuries on her face.” This is both reassuring and slightly disappointing. You don’t have to be J.G. Ballard to see that horror and glamour are closely intertwined.

Celebrities tend to lead car-crash lives, and if they also happen to have car-crash deaths then who can blame us if we want to slow down and take a good look?

Copyright Mark Simpson 2007

Mens Health Magazine – How Gay is It?

Mark Simpson probes Men’s Health – and finds it in painful denial

(originally appeared on Guardian CiF)

Isn’t it about time Men’s Health, the world’s biggest-selling ‘men’s lifestyle’ magazine, came out to itself?

I couldn’t get to sleep the other night and so resorted to flicking through last month’s UK issue: I find the pictures of semi-naked men’s perfect, sweating muscles and the droning narcissistic hypochondria of the copy in this notorious metromag strangely soothing.

Then I happened across a five page cringemakingly earnest article about ‘heteropolitans’ (complete with a deathly serious ‘Am I heteropolitan?’ questionnaire), which MH wants us to believe have replaced metrosexuals. Apparently metrosexuals were too gay and too vain. HETEROpolitans on the other hand are just perfect: they’re really, really hetero, really attractive, really buffed, really rich, really stylish and really successful. What’s more they also find the time to be really great husbands and dads, and are not in the least bit gay, vain, or even single.

Did I mention that they’re not gay already? And guess what? Men’s Health readers are all goody-two-shoes ‘heteropolitans’!

Now this single, childless, beer-bellied bum-bandit REALLY couldn’t get to sleep.

Who do they think they’re kidding with this guff? Their mother? Men’s Health, with it’s front page pin-ups of studly six-packed shirtless men and pages and pages obsessive-compulsive advice on how to get the perfect pecs/skin/low-fat soufflé has long been one of the most nakedly metro of the men’s metromags. You might be forgiven for thinking that the only questionnaire MH needs to run is: ‘Am I Gay? Or Just Bisexual?’

It looks like we’ll have to wait a while for that one. Of course most of its readers are not card-carrying homos like me (though most of them probably have a Boots Storecard). Or closeted. Or even particularly bisexual. Though I’d take a wild guess that a fair percentage of them are. But even the majority hetero readers of MH and other men’s shopping and gyming ‘men’s lifestyle’ mags are not that hetero – they’re clearly metro. Even if MH is in massive denial about this.

The prissy pretence that that any suggestion of gayness is utterly inconceivable between their pristine pages can lead to hilarious results: such as the recent MH sex guide which encouraged readers to get in touch with the hidden pleasures of their prostate gland by ‘getting your girlfriend to massage it for you with her finger’. Or maybe your boyfriend could do it with his penis? (In fact, it’s MH and consumerism in general that is really ‘massaging your prostate’, no vaseline.)

I haven’t been exactly what you’d call a devoted reader over the years (the UK edition of MH was launched in 1995), I tend to dip in when I’m feeling in need of masochistic motivation at the gym or just some eye-candy, but I don’t recall MH always being so comically keen to insist on its Totally Het credentials. Yes, like almost all men’s glossies, the copy didn’t openly acknowledge any of its readers might be homosexual, bisexual, bi-curious, or even just straight but-not-narrow. But then, with those covers it didn’t need to.

Obviously there’s been a rethink at MH Towers. MH is published by Rodale, an American-owned company and I suspect they’ve been influenced by all that mendacious ‘menassance’ marketing twaddle in the US last year in which manly manliness and old-time real-guyness supposedly made a comeback knocking that faggy metro back into the closet. ‘Reclaim your manhood – go shopping for moisturiser in a Hummer’, that kind of thing.

Maybe this faux-macho Hummersexual over-compensation works in God-fearing, Bush-voting, fag-baiting America – after all, as Gore Vidal once observed, Ernest Hemingway was a joke that only America couldn’t get. But it just looks as camp as a row of camouflage print tents over here. When it doesn’t come across just plain creepy.

Every month gets more surreal in the flawlessly worked-out world of MH. In addition to the usual advice on how to achieve the most desirable body on the dance-floor, the May issue of MH includes an oh-so butch ‘Spartan warrior workout’ based on the Chippendale epic ‘300’, random expressions of disgust at male homosexuality in the Dining Out section, and a ‘welcome aboard’ piece on the Contributors Page in which the editor chastises a new boy from Total Film for spending too much time reviewing films ‘in darkened basements with other men’.

Not to worry though lads, nothing queer about the new grooming editor: he’s a fan of Rocky movies. (I kid you not.) ‘We’re now ensuring he spends as much time in daylight and in the company of women as possible,’ smugly assures the – rather gay and grey looking – editor. Which means, I guess, that he won’t be spending much time in the gym. Or reading Men’s Health.

After taking rather a lot of paid advice from MH over the years, I have some advice for them I’ll offer gratis. The editorial staff at MH should give some serious thought to all those nasty stress hormones released into the bloodstream by having to live a lie, and the terrible things they do to complexions, hair and muscle tone.

Not to mention looking absolutely bloody ridiculous by being so nancy about mansex and so coy about something as natural and irrepressible as good old male vanity.

Especially when your business is built on it.

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

The frattish American Wet Dream conquering the World

By Mark Simpson

(Arena Homme Plus, Spring 2007)

The American Dream has turned into a nightmare. Count the shudders and the sweats in reel time: Bush. Iraq. Guantanamo Bay. Global Warming. Iran. Tom Cruise. Pop a Nytol or three with a glass of warm milk and put on ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and regress to a happier, more Technicolor dreamtime.

Once the lean, shining beacon of freedom and aspiration, as innocent and happy-go-lucky as Dorothy’s freckles, now lumbering, flak-jacketed, trigger-happy, and yet terrifyingly impotent, America is deeply unpopular. After the twister of the War on Terror the Statue of Liberty has been replaced by an effigy of the Wicked Witch of the West.

America’s triumph in the Cold War and the rapid globalisation-Americanisation that followed has, with irresistible hubris, undone the American Imperium. Everyone is American now so no one needs America any more – so Yankee Go Home. Russian President Putin’s widely-reported recent speech attacking the US’s arrogance encapsulated this sentiment: ‘the United States ,’ he said, ‘has overstepped its borders in every way.’

All this is as obvious and objectionable as America ‘s obesity problem. Except for one small detail: It isn’t true.

Or at least, it’s only half the story. For all its troubles, the American Dream is anything but dead. Much of the world may say it hates America now, but really its heart still belongs to Uncle Sam – it will still pay top dollar to dress up in the lineaments/linenments of the American Dream – as the global triumph of classy Yankee dream-merchants Ralph Lauren shows, this Spring opening up not one but two major new stores in Moscow itself (and perhaps providing the real reason for Putin’s outburst).

Meanwhile, as part of the Yankee rag-trade pincer-movement on the global psyche, Abercrombie & Fitch, purveyors of the frattish American Wet Dream is building its own overseas Empire, opening its first international flagship store in Europe – on Saville Row, London, home of the bespoke tailor, the place where the British Establishment has gone for hundreds of years to have its inside leg measured. To rub our noses in it, A&F have erected huge billboards of towering god-like Yankee models flaunting their abs and pecs at dumpy London pedestrians shuffling past at crotch level.

At a couple of fashionable strokes, American cultural imperialism has knocked down the Berlin Wall again and humiliated the British Empire Suez-style. Not bad for something as dead as a Norwegian Blue. Hollywood may be in terminal decline, and this year’s Oscar Ceremony a glorified AA meeting, but American men’s fashion brands are still exporting the American way of life, liberty and snappiness.

Perhaps that’s because Ralph Lauren is effectively High Hollywood’s merchandising wing. Born Ralph Lifshitz in 1939 in the Bronx this Jewish boy modelled his clothes on the black and WASP grainy High Summer Hollywood of his childhood: Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, Gary Cooper. And as is often the case in the world of images, his faux moneyed Yankee style supplanted the ‘real’ thing. Transformed from privilege into a polo shirt or a cable-knit jumper it was more democratic, more ‘American’. More saleable.

Memorably described by one fashion critic as ‘a white elephant covered in cricket bats’, Ralph Lauren wore the 1980s tied over its shoulders like a cashmere tennis sweater. RL’s cool, leisured classiness symbolised aspiration in the most sweatily ambitious and nakedly American decade. Ralph Lauren rapidly became the world’s first and most successful lifestyle fashion brand, a total, wraparound vision that everyone wanted to share. The Polo logo became the more tasteful, more international version of a Stars and Stripes lapel pin (in 1999 RL formalised its status by donating $13M to preserve the Star Spangled Banner). Today RL have sales of nearly $4B, making it a behemoth covered in cricket bats. RL’s flagship store in Moscow ‘s Tretyakovsky Passage, one of world’s most expensive shopping areas, will paint 8000 square feet of Mother Russia a Yankee shade of red white and blue. No wonder Putin is pissed off.

Mind, the Russians don’t seem to be as upset as the Brits, whose outraged protests forced A&F to reduce slightly the size of the body parts terrorising Saville Row. But this all seems to be part of the naughty A&F gameplan. ‘We’re shaking up the neighbourhood,’ a chirpy spokesperson explained to the press. ‘It’s going to be an extension of the irreverence of the brand into London. It’s going to be fun and we’re thrilled.’ What’s more, the store will be ‘just like our one’s in the US ‘ and the staff will be British ‘but look A&F.’

In fact, A&F are re-enacting in England itself a battle against dusty ‘Englishness’ that they have already won Stateside. Ironically, A&F was once almost the brand that RL sold itself as. Founded in 1892 as an excursion outfitter their clients included Katherine Hepburn and Ernest Hemingway. Elephant-bagging American Empire builder Teddy Roosevelt was one of their regulars.

After the 60s A&F went into decline – it was seen as ‘too square’ and ‘too English’ – and in 1988 were bought by The Limited Inc. who sexed it up, moved its target age down, and wrapped it n a mythical, all-American, 1950s, tanned, athletic boyishness as toothily innocent as it was knowingly tarty; in other words: ‘Weberist’ (Bruce Weber is A&F’s signature photographer). If RL is timeless High Summer Hollywood, A&F is endless Summer on Campus – plus MTV and webcams. RL is the America the world wants to go on safari with: A&F is the America that the world wants to party with.

With sales over $2B a year the A&F lifestyle has sustained unrivalled year-on-year levels of growth. A&F is catching up with RL. As if acknowledging this, RL recently opened a slightly A&F flavoured ‘Rugby’ chain of stores in the US . What’s more, the move into Europe is part of the transformation of A&F into an international luxury brand – once again threatening to tread on RL’s loafers.

For now though there’s plenty of room for both brands on the yellowbrick road of the Global High Street. Whatever they may think of America ‘s actions, dowdy Anti-Americanism isn’t, in the final reel, something that the world’s huddled masses actually want to wear. London will no doubt be a great, chest shaving, success for new Yankee imperialists A&F.

But one that will be dwarfed, I’m sure, by the shrieking, fainting, hair-pulling success of any store they open in that supposed capital of America-hating – Paris.

This essay is collected in ‘Metrosexy: a 21st  century self-love story’

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