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The 'Daddy' of the Metrosexual, the Retrosexual, & spawner of the Spornosexual

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Tag: Ancient Rome

Friends, Bromans, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Rears

Mark Simpson on the decline and fall of male modesty

Telly seems to have been hacking my brain lately. The filthiest parts.

Just when you thought ITV2, the people who brought us Love Island couldn’t get any more spornographic, and the underdressed, over-muscled guys they insist on making us ogle entirely against our will couldn’t get any sluttier, along comes Bromans. A gladiator-themed reality game show about ‘modern geezers in the time of Caesar’ that seems intent on taking sporno back to its sword-and-sandals (‘S&M’ for short) roots.

Or as the press release puts it:

Eight 21st century lads are to be transported back to the Roman Empire to see if they can cut it as gladiators.

The handsome boys will fight it out with help from their loving girlfriends. They may have the muscles but do these lads have what it takes to go down in history?

Missed single entendre alert!

Cameras will follow eight modern day couples as they’re transported to an ancient world where they’ll live and fight like gladiators did 2000 years ago

If gladiators wore gold lame briefs and were ‘fresh as fuck’.

‘We who are about to do flyes salute your glutes!’

Note though how the first attribute of the boys is ‘handsome’, the second is ‘muscles’ – while the girlfriends are merely ‘helpful’ and ‘loving’. Likewise, the trailer and the title openly foregrounds the leather-harnessed tarty ‘geezers’ as the main visual/erotic attraction, seemingly going one logical step further than Love Island.

All this – plus the fact it looks camper than a Roman army laid up for the night – made me tremble with more anticipation than Dr. Frank N. Furter at Rocky’s first leather jockstrap contest.

The first episode aired last Thursday and didn’t disappoint visually, providing the promised spornographic guy candy – including a slave market scene which, intentionally or not, looked like a stark statement about the objectification of men on telly today.

The lads were ‘forced’ – i.e. allowed – to strip bollock-naked, chained up in the arena and left to sweat and bake in the hot gaze of millions of TV viewers, while covering their shaved immodesty with their hands.

Some of them weren’t exactly very conscientious about covering up: after all, like most young men today, they had painstakingly depilated themselves ready for their close-up. And neither were the VT editors.

The odd thing though is that although this flashing was happening in broad noonlight on primetime most of the guys didn’t look terribly naked at all. The ink, the waxing, the sculpting, the oiling, and the total lack of shame made sure of that. But then, the spornosexual body is designed and ‘built’ to be seen unclothed.

As the men sweated in chains the women (in skimpy bikinis) scrabbled about in the dust, fighting over a limited number of bags of clothes for the men. But this seemed entirely pointless as neither the men nor the viewers really wanted them to find any. Those ‘geezers’ whose partners failed to get them any clothes – entirely by chance, the swoliest, most shredded guys – had to wear a posing pouch straight out of Athletic Model Guild back issues for the rest of the episode. They didn’t look exactly crestfallen.

As reality TV though, the first episode teetered on the edge of floppiness. Bromans was not built in a day, only semi-erected. Hopefully future episodes (eight in total) will prove me wrong, but on the basis of last week’s outing it looked almost as if the title and the trailer was the whole point. Though admittedly, one that was entirely worth it.

Perhaps it’s just because I’m a big homo, but I’m also not entirely sure at the moment what the women on Bromans bring to the toga party, apart from visual proof of the heterosexuality of guys who otherwise look like gay-for-pay porn stars. And perhaps also an alibi for the straight men watching the show (though I doubt today’s young men really need one). As a female friend put it to me about the WAGs: ‘they just get in the way’.

Also because I’m a big homo, I thought some of the campery was poorly ‘executed’. The Emperor’s skinny assistant Dominus who presides over the games has obviously been cast and dressed to look like Kenneth Williams but isn’t really cutting it. They should have cast Julian Clary – who would know that ‘Not many men enter the Emperor’s ring’ is a setup, not a punchline.

David McIntosh and admirer.

That said, the casting of former Royal Marine Commando and now pectastic pro sporno (i.e. ‘fitness model’) David McIntosh, a man who can only be described as terrifyingly beautiful, as ‘Doctore’, the gladiator drill-sergeant, was perfect. His job is to beast the boys over the next seven weeks for our pleasure, and possibly theirs too. I’m sure lots of people would pay for the privilege of feeling the lash of his whip.

McIntosh certainly had the most awesome eyeliner of anyone on Bromans, which as in Love Island, was careful to include clips of some of the male contestants discussing their grooming routines: ‘I spent two hours to look this good, know what I mean?’ boasted one male hussy.

Tom and Rhiannon

Tom Trotter, a posh semi pro rugby player and humpy fitness model with really great hair was also shown telling us that he is ‘quite feminine, really’. I was especially taken with Tom and also inked Brandon Myers, another fitness model and Instagram personality, who was funny and vulgar in a broad Estuary accent: ‘I just did a nervous fart – can you smell it?’.

He’s an avid follower of fashion too, Mr Myers: ‘I loved the Roman fashions,’ he has said. ‘I was the stylist of the palace for both the boys and the girls. The men’s togas made my tattoos look really good.’ And they did.

Brandon Myers

I think both Tom and Brandon have real star quality – though actually I’m not sure that my brains is much involved in that opinion.

So I got even more excited when I thought I noticed that Tom and Brandon seemed to be quite taken with one another, bromantically speaking. Probably more out of wishful-thinking than anything else, I tweeted that they were the Chris and Kem (the couple that really won this year’s Love Island) of Bromans.

So imagine how I felt when Brandon found my tweet, gave it a thumbs up – and tweeted Tom about it, asking ‘what you reckon Tom?’.

Tom reckoned yes. ‘I’ll take that’ he tweeted back.

(FYI according to the tabs, baby-faced Brandon, like Love Island’s Chris, is supposed to have an XXL penis that he’s not shy about showing off. I am of course following him now. Avidly.)

Straight after Bromans, Chris and Kem appeared on the ITV2 game show Celebrity Juice, where they had a chocolate eclair strapped to their groins and were instructed by the host Keith Lemon to lick the icing off each other’s strapacaketome as quickly as possible. They obliged, in a 69 position – camera zooming in for extreme close-ups, as they sucked on each other’s cream-filled treats. Expertly, as it turned out.

I can’t wait to see Tom and Brandon going at it. I bet they gobble down each other’s fondant topping in an even faster time.

Bromans is on ITV2, Thursdays, at 9pm.

Apollo’s Acolytes

We worship the body, watch ancient battles at the multiplex, and bow down before the gods of celebrity. Mark Simpson marvels at how much our culture owes to those skirt-wearing olive-munchers, the Greeks

(Independent on Sunday 30 May 2004)

Philhellenes are everywhere, and everywhere they look they see the glory that was Greece. “Today we are again getting close to all those fundamental forms of world interpretation devised by the Greeks…” enthused one of the more famous examples; “we are growing more Greek by the day.” No, not Camille Paglia, but jolly old Friedrich Nietzsche back in the 19th century. According to Nietzsche, even then we were growing more and more Greek: “At first, as is only fair, in concepts and evaluation, as Hellenising ghosts, as it were; but one day in our bodies too.”

That day appears to have arrived – or at least the enthusiastic uptake of this aspiration by the masses has. The Greek legacy in the arts and sciences is almost forgotten in the scramble to achieve a body like Apollo’s; the state itself, like that of Athens, has begun to exhort its members to join gyms and take regular exercise, while the idealised, boyish form has all but usurped the female in public art, in advertising and fashion (often even when the models are actually female).

Leather mini-skirts and flashing smooth brown thighs will be all over the big screen this summer with the release of not one but two blockbusters set in Ancient Greece: Alexander The Great and Troy (in which Brad Pitt plays the parts of both Achilles and Helen). Some might say that we have already seen the Greeks’ ill-advised Trojan adventure remade in last year’s blockbuster, Operation Iraqi Freedom. Of course, in the version of Homer’s epic directed by Donald Rumsfeld, Troy has opened up her gates to the gift-bearing Coalition Greeks immediately – only to lock them shut behind them and promptly burst into flames.

Today democracy (another Greek inheritance) may have conquered almost all, but ironically (yep, there’s another) the standard-bearer for democracy, the USA, is compared increasingly by its critics to anti-democratic Imperial Rome, and its selected rather than elected leader is often dubbed Emperor George Bush II. In other words, both sides of contemporary political debate refer to the ancient world. With the collapse of modernist grand narratives of Socialism and Progress, ancient reference points seem to be the only ones we have.

Hence ancient beliefs are also making a comeback. The decline of Christianity has led to a dramatic increase in the kind of pantheism it (supposedly) supplanted, with more and more people literally worshipping their own gods – even if those gods are often merely celebrities. Sex and horror, to quote Frankie, are the new (old) gods. In the eyes of traditionalists, the Anglican church itself has gone stark raving pagan with the ordination of women. The Christian Blairs have their own Delphic high priestess in the form of “personal guru” Carole Caplin, though maybe she would make rather more sense if she inhaled the smoke of burning bay leaves as the priestesses of Delphi used to.

You might be forgiven for wondering why we need any more philhellenism. But Simon Goldhill’s book, Love, Sex and Tragedy: How the ancient world shapes our lives isn’t just a list of things that he and we love about Ancient Greece (and Rome). Yes, “to speak of culture in the modern West is to speak Greek”, as he writes, but fortunately Goldhill’s book is rather more than a “What the Greeks Did for Us”, or “What the Greeks Can Do For My TV Career”.

Philhellenism may be turning into a gangbang, but it is largely a gangbang in the dark: most philhellenes don’t even know how much contemporary culture owes to those skirt-wearing olive-munchers. Paradoxically, we appear to be experiencing a renaissance of interest in the ancients while entering a new dark age.

Goldhill, Professor of Greek at Cambridge, is of course making the case for the lights of classics in a darkening world that might go to the multiplex to watch ancient battles rendered by modern CGI, but which doesn’t study classics any more. As with everything else, we like the fashions and the fads but not the ideas or the implications. We don’t want to do our homework. Most of all, we don’t want to know ourselves.

Luckily though, Goldhill is a great communicator and the kind of classics master whose lessons you wouldn’t want to skip. Explaining the point of studying the ancients he quotes, as my Latin master used to, Cicero: “If you don’t know where you are from, you will always be a child”, and the famous motto of the Delphic oracle: “Know thyself.” Adding, “Myth and history, sex and the body, religion and marriage, politics and democracy, entertainment and spectacle: these are basic building-blocks of the modern self.”

If this preoccupation with identity sounds slightly Freudian, that’s because it is. There is an excellent chapter here on Freud and the story of Oedipus (a soap-opera star in Ancient Thebes who killed his dad and married his mother), but more than this, Love, Sex and Tragedy is offering a kind of archeological psychoanalysis of the past (Freud himself compared his work to archaeology). Hence Love, Sex and Tragedy is divided into sections which ask the same uneasy questions as Greek myth: such as “Who do you think you are?”, “Where do you think you are going?” and “Where do you think you came from?”

He also cites another Greek play of fragmented identity, Euripides’s The Bacchae, in which Pentheus, young, over-confident ruler of Thebes (Q: Why is it always Thebes? A: Because most of the playwrights were from Athens) is told by the god Dionysus, whom he fails to recognise: “You do not know what your life is, nor what you are doing, nor who you are.” Later Pentheus is ripped to shreds by his Dionysus-worshipping mother who fails to recognise him. We fail to recognise that we are not masters in our own house, that we have a pre-history, at our peril.

Consistent with this, Goldhill is at his best when he reveals the past to be a foreign country that is as unfamiliar as it is familiar. For instance, because of their rude pottery and our prudish Mother Church’s hostility towards paganism, we tend to associate the ancients with sexual license and colossal phalluses a-go-go, but in fact the Greeks had a great suspicion of and respect for desire which we might be advised to consider in our “sex positive” era. The evil suitors of Penelope feel desire when they are being tricked towards their death. Paris, the seducer who brings destruction for Troy, is led by his desire for Helen. In Greek tragedy “every woman who expresses sexual desire, even for her husband, causes the violent destruction of the household. In comedy there are many lusty men, and some even lust after their own wives – but they are, to a man, figures of fun, who are humiliated by their desire, led by their erect penises into scenes of more and more outrageous ridiculousness.”

Even marriage was not meant to be based on desire: “To sleep with one’s wife like a lover is as disgusting as adultery,” harrumphed Seneca, Roman moralist (who would have made a good wife for St Paul, founder of the Christian Church). In the ancient world the hierarchical bond of husband and wife left no place for shared and reciprocal sexual desires. Hence “for a Greek man in the classical city the desire which a free adult citizen feels for a free boy is the dominant model of erotic liaison.”

But, raining on the gay parade, Goldhill also demonstrates how mistaken we are to think that we can use the modern words “gay” or “homosexual” to describe the complex and finally unknowable erotic relations that existed between men and youths in ancient Greece. ‘Greek love’ is in the end Greek, and not a euphemism or standard-bearer for modern obsessions.

Copyright Mark Simpson 2012

 

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