How much bigger can the cotton-clad packages in men’s underwear ads get, I wonder, before they are literally shoved down our throats? And if they are, will any of us be so impolite as to gag? Even though good quality cotton is so absorbent?
Above is Beck’s latest sporno for Emporio Armani underwear, due to air in early 2008. Below is fellow-footballer Freddie Ljunberg’s 2006 Calvin Klein campaign.
Do these chaps live together? I mean, they seem to share the same type of fancy underwear, the same kind of bed-linen, the same barber – and the same dodgy shaver. They also seem to favour the same saucy bedtime positions – and apparently use the same b/w digital camera. They even look like one another, in that slightly disturbing twin-ish way that some boyfriends have.
In fact, the shots are almost a mirror image of one another: are they looking into our eyes, their own or each others? Even if they don’t actually share the same bed, it’s clear that Becks is doing Ljunberg doing Becks: which is impressive. Auto-fellatio and 69-ing at the same time. Just as well these guys are supple athletes.
Becks seems to sport an even larger Ljunbox – though seems to be less well-endowed when it comes to lighting. (Becks is two whole years older than Freddie.)
Is Beck’s bigger basket a case of post-production spornographic one-up-manship? Or is it just that Beck’s Brit meatballs are bigger than the Swedish variety? (Which at Ikea at least seem to be a little on the mean side.) I think we need to be told.
In the meantime, I must commend Mr Armani’s decision to draw a veil – or a white linen shirt – over Beck’s seriously daggy arm and shoulder tatts.
And this despite the frightening possible side-effects meticulously listed in these press reports, including liver, heart and kidney damage, atrophied testicles, erectile dysfunction, depression and raised aggression. (Though, arguably, you could also experience most of these simply by following Arsenal FC.)
The key to this mainstreaming of steroids is vanity. If you want to get into people’s bloodstream these days, promise to make them like what they see in the smoke-glass gym-mirror. According to the surveys, the large majority of young men using the gear are not doing so to be stronger or faster or scarier – all traditionally acceptable ‘masculine’ ambitions – but rather to look more attractive. To look shaggable. Or just make you look.
In other words, young men are taking steroids the way that many gay party boys have taken them for years: to look good on the beach or dance floor or webcam. ‘Muscle Marys’ – as they’re called by envious, less-muscular gays – are apparently no longer a strictly gay phenomenon. Muscle Marys are where masculinity is at, Mary.
It shouldn’t be so surprising. We don’t really need surveys to tell us this. It has, after all, happened right before our eyes. It’s the media that has mainlined steroids into the culture and our kids. Unlike, say, very skinny girls, very muscular boys are very popular. An anti ‘Size Hero’ campaign like that we’ve seen against Size Zero is somewhat unlikely. Steroids are an essential, prescribed even, part of the way that the male body has been farmed and packaged for our consumption since it was laid off at the factory and the shipyard in the 1980s.
A generation of young males have been reared on irresistibly – and frequently chemically – lean and muscular images of the male body in sport, advertising, magazines, movies and telly, even in the cartoons they watch and the computer games or toy dolls (or ‘action figures’) they play with. It seems all that’s left of masculinity in a post industrial, post paternal world, apart from a science-fiction-sized penis, or a right foot good enough to get you into the Premier League, is a hot bod. Men and women – but especially men – will give you kudos for that. So will people casting reality TV series.
Even Action Man (GI Joe in the US) is now a Muscle Mary. Perhaps because he’s only twelve inches tall, Action Man seems to have been hitting the ‘juice’ big time. He’s also got himself a nice deep all-over tan – to better show off his pumped muscles.
Since the 1960s his bicep measurements have more than doubled from a (scaled up) 12″ to 27″ and his chest from 44″ to 55″. His current ‘cut’ physique would be rather difficult to achieve just by eating corned-beef hash rations – especially since, as far as I’m aware, a portable plastic gym isn’t yet one of his basic accessories. In an example of life imitating art, or at least squaddies imitating dolls, steroid abuse by soldiers is increasingly common: US soldiers in Iraq have been caught ordering steroids online, and it was recently alleged that a sizeable proportion of Blackwater mercenaries are on ‘the gear’.
Muscle Marys aren’t just for Xmas – they’re also for High Office. Arnold ‘Commando’ Schwarzenegger, seven times Mr Olympia, who has admitted using industrial quantities of steroids since he was in his teens (though denies he takes them now) is today the walk-on-water Green Governator of California and Republican inspiration to David Cameron – after a successful Hollywood movie career playing an under-dressed heavily-muscled male masseur pretending to be an action hero. Quite an achievement when just walking without painful chafing must have been difficult.
Partly because of Arnie’s 80s ‘special effects’, Muscle Marys are de rigeur in the movies today – even in middle-age. The ageing star of a recent epic blockbuster whose career has largely been built on his six-pack was widely rumoured to have been on so much ‘gear’ trying to look ‘invincible’ that he frequently had to be stretchered off the set at the end of the day, poor love. Meanwhile ‘Comeback Kid’ Sylvester ‘Rocky’ Stallone (aged 60) was caught by Australian customs with several vials of his comeback secret earlier this year.
The ailing James Bond franchise successfully re-launched Bond and made him more attractive to younger viewers by reincarnating him in the pneumatic form of Daniel Craig – Bond became his own big-chested Bond Girl – and last year’s smash hit film ‘300′ featured ‘Spartans’ who looked less like ancient warriors than Muscle Marys at a Toga Party. Or the “juiced-up” professional wrestlers in Speedos that so many boys today have on their bedroom walls.
WWE wrestler Chris Benoit’s recent murder-suicide of his wife and child and intense media speculation about whether it was steroid-related (steroids were found at his house and his post mortem testosterone level was ten times normal) has caused a major scandal in the US. But it has been as obvious for many years that most of these guys were sprinkling more than sugar on their Cocoa Pops (and Benoit was actually relatively scrawny compared to some wrestlers).
That’s, after all, what people were looking at. What they were paying to see. Pro wrestling is showbusiness, and steroids are the business – at least when it comes to making spectacular bodies.
As a result of this and other recent steroid scandals in American football and baseball – including at High School level – a panic has emerged about the use of steroids by US athletes. But this has tended to obscure how mainstream steroids already are in the US and how, as in the UK, they’re principally (ab)used by non-athletes (only 6% of users played sports or considered themselves bodybuilders).
In the UK there have been calls to ban the sale of steroids online, crackdown harder on gyms selling them and educate young people about the dangers. Well, everyone is in favour of education, and no one is in favour of teens using steroids, but it’s unlikely that any of this will seriously reverse the Muscle Mary/Size Hero trend.
Steroids can’t be uninvented – or filtered out from the culture’s bloodstream. They’ve already changed the shape of masculinity. What’s more, unlike most if not all of the expensive supplements advertised in FHM, Men’s Health and Nuts as ‘muscle-builders’ and ‘fat-burners’, they actually work. And I know whereof I speak: I dabbled with the ‘juice’ myself as a callow youth. They certainly did what they said on the tin: I only stopped because they made me even spottier and angrier than I already was.
In an age when what’s authentically masculine is unclear, but what’s hot is as in-yer-face as a nice pair of pecs, injecting synthetic manliness, despite the possible risks to your actual man-bits, is not going out of fashion anytime soon. The only effective way to discourage their use will be to come up with a new generation of muscle-building drugs that work as well as steroids but have fewer side-effects. I’d certainly take them.
Steroids are the metrosexual hormone – they make men saleable and shaggable in an age that doesn’t have much idea what else to do with them.
In an age of broadband hardcore it’s rather sweet to discover that men are still so easily aroused. At least, that is, football fans and tabloid journalists.
A little innocent hand-holding by Liverpool FC during a team-building training session before their crucial Champions League match with Porto worked the Sun into a frenzy this week. ‘Koppin’ Off’ screamed The Sun headline, next to a picture of Peter Crouch and Steven Gerrard chastely holding hands, with the subtitle ‘So this is what they mean by “training camp”??’
Those logging on with moistening palms to The Sun’s website were treated to a ‘slide show’ of other members of Liverpool FC holding hands with mood-enhancing captions like ‘Chase me, chase me!’ and ‘Ere, is that the fairy across the Mersey?’.
In fact, The Sun was so excited by this non-story it returned to it yesterday, wheeling in early 90s Liverpool ‘hardman’ footballer Neil ‘Razor’ Ruddock to stick it to the nancy boys, by-lining a piece headlined, ‘What’s next… make-up and pink strips?’
At first Ruddock dutifully tries to play the ‘hardman’ role the Sun has cast him in: ‘It certainly wouldn’t have happened in my day, he says. ‘I’d have found it too embarrassing and a bit girly.’
But then he begins to lose the plot: ‘The only time we would have held hands with another player is on the way back from the pub after a few drinks.’
No, no, NO! You’re really letting the side down now, hardman! Where’s your… rigidity? The whole point of getting so pissed with the lads is so that you don’t remember what you did on the way home and certainly don’t write about it in a national newspaper.
But Neil can’t help himself: ‘In our day, we did all our team-building in the pub. When a new player joined it was straight down the pub for a few bevies… It did the trick and the new lads soon bedded in.’
Bedded in?? Was that before or after holding your hand on the way back from the pub?
Neil tries to get back ‘on message’, but then he’s off again, giving us far too much information: ‘But it’s no longer a hardman’s game. John Terry and Frank Lampard now shave their body hair off…. It’s a Continental thing… When I was at West Ham Paulo Di Canio shaved off all his hair apart from the stuff on his head.’
I’m sure if you asked them nicely and made it clear how much you preferred your footballers furry they’d let their body hair grow for the ‘Razor’.
He goes on: ‘Players use sunbeds and wax their chests and under-arm hair. What’s next? Make-up? Pink strips?’.
Get up to speed mate. The Sun already told us a few months back that Manchester United have had to rebuild their players’ changing rooms to make their lockers big enough to ‘accommodate their manbags’ filled with ‘more cosmetics than their WAGS’.
Then, finally, he confesses: ‘Mind you, if I was offered £120,000 a week like some of the top stars are on now I would hold Peter Crouch’s hand – or anyone else’s for that matter.’
Maybe it’s the fear of another tongue-lashing from hardman Pete Burns that’s responsible for Ruddock’s endearing failure to deliver the queerbashing goods here and go a bit… limp. Compared the Sun’s first report, and, sadly, too many football fans, he seems to go out of his way not to chastise the Liverpool players for their ‘poovery’ – and talks instead rather mildly about how holding hands is ‘a bit girly’. (At least, that is, when you’re sober.)
Or perhaps he was worried someone might find some pics of those dirty great big sloppy snogs he and the lads used to give one another after every goal back in the good old manly days of soccer. Followed, frequently, by what looked very much like a team gang-bang on the ground.
Today’s metrosexual young footballers – perhaps because they look so ‘gay’ – are vestal virgins with one another by comparison. They practically shake hands and exchange business cards.
On the other hand, perhaps they don’t snog each other wildly after a goal these days because unlike Ruddock’s retrosexual generation, they don’t need that special excuse – or have to be dosed with gallons of beer down the pub – to actually show affection towards other men. Many of them probably kiss one another when meeting and bidding farewell, like Becks – ‘It’s a Continental thing’. This after all is a generation of straight lads who send text messages to other lads peppered with kisses at the end. And to be honest, this old pooftah finds that a bit girly himself.
It seems though that holding hands sober, whatever the Sun or Ruddock think of it, worked a treat. Liverpool won the game against Porto 4-1.
Hollywood has apparently taken note of the global publicity surrounding uber-metrosexual English footballer David Beckham’s arrival in Tinseltown and decided to dust off America’s own, discarded metrosexual sportsman prototype, 1960s flamboyant, fur-coat wearing NFL quarterback Joe Namath and give it the big-screen treatment.
Jake Gyllenhaal is to play Namath – popularly dubbed ‘Broadway Joe’ – in a Hollywood biopic of the Hall of Fame sportsman who was the first American footballer to become a multi-media phenemonon and Madison Avenue model.
In other words, the actor who played a metrosexual cowboy will be playing the first metrosexual athlete. It sounds perfect casting – in a postmodern way. Gyllenhaal’s inability to convince as a cowboy, or a Marine, or a blue-collar NFL quarterback is just more grist to the mill of the inauthenticity of modern masculinity.
Jake’s pretty, bottom-boy looks also underscore something else: how Namath really wouldn’t cut it today as an object of desire. He just isn’t attractive or seductive or tarty enough. He looks like what he was: a reasonably nice-looking 1960s quarterback in a fur coat – or pantyhose.
Joe Namath’s most famous ad was this eyebrow-raiser from 1974 for Beautymist pantyhose:
Apparently Namath regretted the ad for nylons which brought out many of his male fans in rash, despite its rather heavy-handed ‘I’M NOT A FAG AND THIS IS A JOKE’ message. It may have been one of the reasons why America, with the possible exception of Dennis Rodham, failed to produce another ‘Broadway Joe’. That and the fact that America is sometimes a more conformist country than Switzerland.
If this ad were to be reprised by David Beckham today you would notice the following differences:
He would look much better in pantyhose
He wouldn’t say ‘I don’t wear pantyhose’. And if he did, no one would believe him.
He wouldn’t be wearing anything else
He wouldn’t laugh. Fashion, as his titanium-cheekboned wife has taught him, is a very serious business.
Behaviour that was was beyond the pale for men decades ago, like enjoying fashion and showing emotions, is now fully accepted, argues Dutch marketing guru Norbert Mirani in his book ‘Brands Make Men’.
Of course, this argument isn’t entirely new…. but what is new is the scope of Norbert’s analysis and its sociological approach, from the end of the Second World War to the present day, combined with his inside knowledge of marketing: ‘Modern males are like puppets on a string dancing to the latest requirements of society, media and marketing,’ he writes (in Dutch).
I wish my Dutch was better, or that this book was available in English, but it’s a very sexily put together and illustrated book – the padded cover’s particularly erotic, like a semi erection in your hand, and the Mod-ish layout of the title is rather apt.
And Norbert, whom I’ve met, is a very smart, very nice guy who, unlike most ‘marketing gurus’ (especially female American ones) has a sense of history, isn’t afraid of proper analysis, and actually understands metrosexuality. Even more shockingly, he isn’t terrified of metrosexuality’s inherent queerness.
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