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Tag: Male Impersonators

Stripping Down the Male Body

Disability charity Scope have been airing a cheeky ad this summer designed to encourage people to donate clothes. It’s a funny tribute to the iconic Levis ‘Laundrette’ ad of 1985 and features a very studly 24-year-old model and personal fitness trainer Jack Eyers in the Nick Kamen role. And boy, does he fill it.

Instead of stripping off to wash his clothes, Eyers denudes himself to donate to the cause. As he gets down to his white boxers we suddenly get a close-up on his hi-tech prosthetic leg, which has remained hidden until now. In terms of the way the ad is shot and structured his prosthesis is basically his penis. It becomes another way of ‘stripping down’ and ‘revealing’ the male body. Of signalling both toughness and vulnerability, passivity and activity, loss and possession at the same time.

Jack Eyers kink

And Eyers isn’t shy about it. His prosthesis is, as he says in an interesting interview with the Telegraph‘s Theo Merz here, something he likes to show off rather than hide because it looks ‘pretty cool’. It also doesn’t necessarily harm his employment prospects in an industry waking up to both the eye-catching potential and, paradoxically, the ‘normalness’ of disability. (You might also want to check out Theo Merz’s expedition to Newcastle in search of the spornosexual here – in which he discovers the man some Telegraph readers would like to pretend doesn’t exist is terrifyingly, ab-tauteningly real.)

Alex Minksy

Even less shy is US Marine vet turned underwear model Alex Minsky, who has been garnering a lot of well-deserved attention for his saucy shoots – and most particularly for the way, with his body art, sculpted muscles, styled facial and head hair, he has totally aestheticised himself, prosthesis and all. He’s also a model who clearly isn’t afraid to become a form of performance art. Splendidly kinky performance art. (Some naked selfies were leaked earlier this year – which only served to, err, enhance his reputation.)

Alex Minsky pressup

Perhaps part of the appeal of the buff, sexualised chap with prosthetic limb(s) is not just the ‘inspirational story’, but also the fantasy of total control over the body – even after something as traumatising as amputation. And of course the hi-tech, fascinating prosthesis that seems to bring ‘bionic’ powers blends with the cyborg nature of spornosexuality itself – a bodily merging with technology, in which the body is ‘machine tooled’ into something more exciting by nutritional and medical science, Technogym decline presses and Nair for Men. (Though for most this merging is done by uploading smartphone selfies to Facebook.)

Alex-Minsky-9 alex-minsky-modello-senza-gamba-6

I analysed the ‘Laundrette’ ad in Male Impersonators as a ‘seminal’ moment in the objectification of the male body – its ‘looked-at-ness’. Kamen’s strip in the living rooms of the UK in the mid-1980s (along with several other ads in that campaign, which increasingly sought to substitute the product for the model’s unshowable penis) really did mark a moment at which we woke up to the male body as a fully-fledged object of desire. Everyone in the laundrette, male and female, is having a really good look. And it’s worth mentioning he’s doing his own washing – no ‘little woman’ in his life to do it for him.

Like Top Gun, which was released the following year, ‘Laundrette’ packages this new male narcissism as ‘traditional’ and ‘retro’, when the real 1950s it is notionally located in confined this kind of fare to underground gay mags like AMG – certainly not prime-time TV.

Thirty years on we’re all still having a really good look. So much so that we require much more visual stimulation. Our gaze is more demanding, more penetrating. Back then Kamen’s body was pantingly-described as ‘hunky’, but now his slim, svelte body looks not rather coy in comparison to today’s ripped, pumped, inked and sexed-up spornos, with or without gleaming, well-oiled prosthetic limbs.

Not to mention almost a different species.

Gratuitous Simpson

If you’re a member of Amazon Prime in the US, UK, France or Germany and own a Kindle you can e-borrow Metrosexy, Saint Morrissey, Sex Terror and Male Impersonators for nowt.

(Though Amazon promises to bung me a couple of dollars for each lend.)

Does Magic Mike Have Anything To Stick Himself With?

Magic Mike – the money shot.

The animated gif above will save you £8 and 109 minutes of disappointment.

Yes, I’ve done my invert duty and been to see Magic Mike. Which, according to The New York Times, gay men are ‘flocking’ to see in numbers not seen since Brokeback Mountain.

Even if they’re not all as jaded as me I think they’re going to be very disappointed. And not because in Magic Mike gay or bisexual men don’t exist, even as a famously generously tipping audience for male stripping – except as a punchline. In one ‘hilarious’ scene Alex Pettyfer’s uptight sister thinks for a hairy moment he might be gay because he’s shaving his legs. Phew! He’s not gay. He’s a male stripper!

No the betrayal is much, much worse than any of that. And judging by how quickly the mostly female audience in my cinema auditorium stopped giggling and having fun it’s not just The Gays who are going to feel betrayed.

Magic Mike just doesn’t deliver the goods. The junk stays in the trunks. It’s a 110 minute prick-tease without any pricks and very little tease. Most unforgivably of all, this male stripper movie – starring Channing Tatum – wants to be taken seriously. It thinks it has a plot.

And the plot is… another fucking Hollywood morality tale. Will Tatum manage to escape the sleazy, druggy, boys-together world of male stripping and Alex Pettyfer’s winsome grin and end up with his judgey, bossy sister, Cody Horn?

Who cares?

Especially since there’s not nearly enough sleaze on display. I can’t remember the last time I was so bored. Oh, yes, I remember now. Watching Brokeback Mountain.

Fatally, this stripper movie has no sense of timing. Not just in the literally pointless strip routines. Magic Mike suffers from perhaps the worst case of premature ejaculation in cinema history. Two minutes into the film you get the money shot – two seconds of Tatum’s smooth bubble-butt in all its firm, bouncy glory heading for his en-suite in digital Panavision. Which is very nice.

But that, as they say, is a wrap.

Except you’ve got another 108 minutes to go. Another 108 minutes in which as far as I can remember you never see Tatum’s ass properly again. In this movie about male stripping and the commodification of the male body. Given that you can see Tatum’s bouncy ass scene for free in a trailer for the movie it’s the con of Captain America all over again – but even more of rip off. The wrong kind of rip off.

It goes without saying that you never even glimpse his cock. Floppy or otherwise. Or even a dangly bollock. It is, after all, Hollywood, and while Tatum may have worked as a male stripper in the past and worked that past to get where he is, he is now a Proper Hollywood Star and Proper Hollywood Stars don’t show you their cocks. Because that would be low class. Especially in a move about male stripping.

And apart from a glimpse of a couple of silhouettes of clearly prosthetic penises you don’t see anyone else’s cock, either, floppy or otherwise. Magic Mike is essentially a movie about cockless male strippers. Male stripping with no stripping. Which could have been interesting in an avant-garde, sadistic sort of way. But of course, it’s really not that sort of movie.

Maybe I underestimate the director Steven Soderbergh. Maybe he decided to ruin his career by deliberately making a crowd-pleasing summer movie that didn’t please anyone.

A more likely explanation however is that Soderbergh was frantically trying not to scare straight male punters. And safely sublimated homoerotic sub-plots aside, he does work overtime in this movie to reassure that the male strippers are all a) straight and b) dudes. But if he was pandering to straight men he failed there too. Straight men search online for pictures of (big) dick as much as they do for pussy. They are going to be at least as disappointed as everyone else. Except maybe lesbians.

What’s going on here is yet another instance of the puritannical American Phalliban at work. Protecting the sanctity and power of the phallus by making sure the cock is never shown in public. After all, no matter how freakish, the cock never lives up to the promise of the phallus. Even if Magic Mike had the balls to show us… balls it would still have been something of an anti-climax. As I put it in Male Impersonators back in 1994 (which, let’s face it, is really the era when Magic Mike is set):

‘The myth of male strip­ping mes­merises pre­cisely because it con­tra­dicts itself with every dis­carded item… No mat­ter how freak­ish his gen­i­tal attrib­utes, no mat­ter how craftily engorged and arranged with rings and elas­tic bands, no mat­ter how fran­ti­cally it is waved and wag­gled, the stripper’s penis, once naked, never lives up to the promise of the phal­lus: the cli­mac­tic finale of the strip is… an anti-climax.’

Femininity is traditionally seen and represented in Hollywood movies as ‘masquerade’. The clothes, the hair, the breasts, the heels, the make-up all stand in for the ‘missing’ phallus. Masculinity meanwhile is meant to just be there. Because men have the phallus. Women appear. Men act. Or so the traditional reasoning went.

But Magic Mike, because it’s a cockless movie about male stripping, is, inadvertently, a good if boring example of masculinity as masquerade. With thongs and leather and cop uniforms and oiled tanned pecs and really bad, unsexy dance routines standing in for the phallus. A kind of male Showgirls, without the camp or the fun. Or the ‘show’. There’s a scene where Tatum is dancing dressed in a thong, a SWAT cap and black webbing ammunition pouches over his torso. It looks like a butch basque.

Perhaps because it can’t show us dick, and because it’s trying to reassure an imagined straight male punter, Magic Mike does though keep ramming down our throats that the men have cocks and women don’t – and is mostly unable to negotiate women’s active, assertive sexuality, something that of course the commodification of cocks so characteristic of today’s culture is based on.

By way of a pep talk Matthew McConaughey, who plays (with real relish) the owner of the male strip club, likes to ask his male dancers: “Who’s got the cock? You do. They don’t.”

Or as Tatum, dressed as a cop in the now famous opening scene of the main trailer says to a nervous sorority girl he’s about to frisk:

Mike: You don’t have anything sharp on you that I can stick myself with, do you?
Kim: No.
Mike: Good. ‘Cause I do!
[rips off pants, women scream]

But does he? After all, we only have his word for it. And anyway, those words are highly unreliable. Don’t his words actually tell a different story to the one the movie is telling us? Don’t they say either:

a) I have a penis large enough to fuck myself with – please allow me to demonstrate

or

b) Stand back ladies and watch me use my night stick on myself!

Sadly, he doesn’t do either, of course. That’s an entirely different and much more watchable movie. One that I suspect we might have been able to see if Channing Tatum hadn’t had the misfortune to become a Hollywood star, and instead of being condemned to theatrical releases on the big screen had graduated from stripping in South Florida clubs to live shows on our PC screens.

magic-mike-1

‘Male Impersonators’ Gets Digitally Dressed Up: now available on Kindle

Tom Cruise is reportedly working on a script for a sequel to Top Gun. In case he’s mislaid his well-thumbed original copy of Male Impersonators: Men Performing Masculinity, the book that outed the flaming queerness of the original movie, he needn’t worry.

Tom can now download it in an instant as a Kindle eBook, in a ‘2011 Director’s Cut Edition’.

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In fact, Top Gun and Tom Cruise’s swishingly sexually ambiguous career only make up one of the chapters (and one of the weaker ones at that, it seems to me now). Published in 1994 Male Impersonators examined the way men were represented in popular culture as a whole – movies, ads, mags, music and comedy – filtered through, of course, my trademark ‘bent’. Showing how ‘unmanly’ passions such as homoerotics, male narcissism and masochism were not excluded but rather exploited, albeit semi-secretly, in voyeuristic virility.

Essentially, Male Impersonators is an X-ray of what late-Twentieth Century mediated culture was doing to masculinity. Elbow deep.

Unlike most ‘Director’s Cuts’ I have actually cut instead of adding stuff. Chiefly, I’ve axed the long introduction I didn’t want to write in the first place and that probably no one read anyway.

WARNING: Commissioned by an academic publisher, Male Impersonators, my first book, is often heavily referenced and freighted with theory. This was the last time I wrote that kind of book.

It was also the high summer of my love-affair with Freud. So there’s rather a lot of what Gore Vidal sniffingly dubbed ‘the Jewish dentist’ in this work. My heart still belongs to Siggy and his theory of universal bi-responsiveness, of course. But I’m no longer, as they say, ‘in love’.

Written in 1993, a lot of MI is naturally very dated now. It really was a different century. ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ had just been enacted in the US, while even properly closeted homosexuality was still a dismissal offense in the UK Armed Forces. The age of consent for two civilian males was 21 (lowered haltingly, reluctantly, to 18 in the same year as MI was published). Section 28, the 1980s law introduced by Margaret Thatcher that outlawed the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ by local authorities was still in force, along with all the grim panoply of ‘gross-indecency’ and ‘importuning’ anti-homo legislation of the Nineteenth Century.

The HAART therapy cavalry was yet to arrive and Aids was still perceived as a (gay) death sentence in the West, and had ‘executed’ a number of friends of mine: including one of the dedicatees, Imanol Iriondo (who died just after MI was published).

So it’s only understandable that I should have been a little more preoccupied with ‘homophobia’ back then than I am these days. Particularly the hypocritical way it was often used to keep homoerotics pure. I was a lot gayer then.

That said, some of MI stands up surprisingly well, I think. Often, my feeling as I went through it was: WHY did I write that? Quickly colliding with HOW did I write that? MI was written in the space of three months, when I was still in my 20s. Ah, the energy of youth….

For all its datedness, there is something timeless about the book The ‘male objectification’ it analysed has become so dominant and everyday that even New York Magazine (and then Details) notices it.

And MI did after all give birth to that attention-seeking, damnably pretty creature that was to own the 21st Century: the metrosexual. Though I never use that word in MI. Instead I talk about male narcissism (and masochism). A lot. It wasn’t until I wrote an essay for UK newspaper The Independent in late 1994 to publicise MI that I used the ‘m’ word – which turned out to be its first appearance in print.

I deployed ‘metrosexual’ as journalistic shorthand for the freighted theory of MI. Reading MI you may decide that the shorthand said rather more than the longhand. If Male Impersonators was the theory of metrosexuality, Metrosexy, my recent collection of metro journalism, documents the way metrosexuality went on to conquer the culture over the next decade or so – and also the half-hearted, men-dacious backlash against it in the late Noughties.

Sometimes I have to pinch myself today. Watching the pretty boys hugging and crying on X-Factor and American Idol, or the straight muscle Marys flaunting their depilated pecs and abs on Jersey/Geordie Shore, or the orange rugby players spinning around topless in glittery tight pants on Strictly Come Dancing – or Tom Hardy doing much the same thing in Warrior – it’s as if I’ve died and gone to a hellish kind of heaven.

MALE IMPERSONATORS

Men Performing Masculinity

The book that changed the way the world looks at men.

Why is bodybuilding a form of transsexualism? What do football and anal sex have in common? Why is Top Gun such a flamingly ‘gay’ movie? Why is male vanity such a hot commodity? And why oh why do Marky Mark’s pants keep falling down?

In his influential first book Male Impersonators, first published in 1994, Mark Simpson argues for the vital centrality of homoeroticism and narcissism in any understanding of the fraught phenomenon of modern masculinity. A highly penetrating, ticklish but always serious examination of what happens to men when they become ‘objectified’.

From porn to shaving adverts, rock and roll to war movies, drag to lads’ nights out, Male Impersonators offers wit and reader-friendly theory in equal measure in a review of the greatest show on Earth – the performance of masculinity.

On male strippers…‘

‘The myth of male stripping mesmerises precisely because it contradicts itself with every discarded item… No matter how freakish his genital attributes, no matter how craftily engorged and arranged with rings and elastic bands, no matter how frantically it is waved and waggled, the stripper’s penis, once naked, never lives up to the promise of the phallus: the climactic finale of the strip is… an anti-climax.’

On Elvis…

‘The world does not need a ‘gay Elvis’, for the original, with his black leather suit, pomaded pompadour, come-fuck-me eyes and radiant narcissism, was quite queer enough.’

On porn stars…

‘Visually, Jeff Stryker resembles nothing so much as an illustration of the human nervous system in a medical textbook where the size of each region and appendage represented is related to the number of nerve endings. Thus Jeff on-screen is remembered as a huge face, a vast pair of hands (all the better to grab and slap ass with) and grotesquely outsized genitalia.’

Praise For Male Impersonators

‘Simpson pulls the pants off popular culture and wittily winks at the Freudian symbols lurking beneath.’ (FOUR STARS OUT OF FOUR) – The Modern Review

‘This set of high-spirited essays displays more insight into the masculine mystique than has the decade of earnest men’s studies that preceded it. Simpson has an unerring eye for the inner logic and pretences of a wide range of masculine enterprises and symbols. THIS IS QUEER THEORY WITHOUT THE JARGON AND IS A MUST FOR ANYONE INTERESTED IN THINGS MALE. GENERAL AND ACADEMIC READERS AT ALL LEVELS ‘– Choices

‘What is happening when men and their sexualities become the focus of the camera’s gaze? Mark Simpson’s brilliant, witty, up-to-the-minute analysis shatters complacencies, old and new.’ – Alan Sinfield, University of Sussex

‘Mark Simpson detects and dissects the myths of machismo and its attendant media circus with refreshing gusto and wit.’  – John Ashbery

‘It’s not only women who don’t have the phallus – men don’t have it either – just the inadequate penis! This book cheered me up with the reminder that when it gets down to it, both sexes are just great pretenders.’ – Lorraine Gamman

‘Like me this book plays with men. Provocative, irreverent, acerbic and witty, it offers one gigantic intellectual orgasm after another.’  – Margi Clarke

‘A brilliantly-positioned array of firecrackers, elephant traps and banana skins designed to trick conventional maleness into showing it’s true hand, or some extremity…. SIMPSON CAPERS LIKE ROBIN GOODFELLOW, STRIPPING OFF THE FIG LEAVES WITH EXUBERANCE.’  – The Observer

‘CLEVER, ENGAGING, INCISIVE.’ – The Guardian

‘EMINENTLY READABLE.’ – My Prime

‘Mark Simpson’s Male Impersonators could do for male sexuality what Camilla Paglia did for women, finding latent homo subtexts to Marky Mark, Clint Eastwood and Tom Cruise’s baseball bat.’ – Melody Maker

‘Male Impersonators quickly reveals itself to be different and, arguably more insightful than many previous ‘Masculinity books’. Male Impersonators makes a timely and exemplary addition to cult stud’s ‘Return to Freud’. It has an excellent readability factor compared to many others freighted with dull writing.’  – Perversions

‘A DEFT AND PERSUASIVE DISCUSSION ON THE SUBJECT.’

– Stage and Television Today

‘These smashingly provocative essays by the spunky Brit writer Mark Simpson detonate myths, stereotypes and icons, gay as well as straight. The psycho-social line separating homo and hetero maleness, he fulsomely shows, is much fuzzier than Robert Bly and Pat Buchanan find it to be.’

  • Lambda Book Report

 DOWNLOAD ON KINDLE

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NY Mag Notices How Tarty Men Have Become

New York Magazine has just noticed that men have become ‘objectified’. Or as I like to put it in Metrosexy, using the proper, scientific term — tarts.

The Summer of 2011 officially became the summer that the male gaze was reflected back at itself — and with enthusiasm! In the summer’s superhero movies, a supremely buff body became part of what made these heroes so super. The Captain America trailer had Dominic Cooper doing the old look-over-the-top-of-my-sunglasses move to get a load of the newly pumped up Chris Evans. In Thor, Kat Dennings’s audience-surrogate character spends half the movie talking about how nutso everything is and the other half pointing out that this blond god from the heavens is massively pumped. Fourteen years ago, America lost it when Batman’s costume included rubber nipples. Now we’ve got a Spider-Man whose costume lifts and separates.

It’s great that New York Magazine has noticed (and welcomed) how Hollywood has objectified men, and how men have objectified themselves. Difficult to believe, I know, but there are still plenty of people who do their best not to. Or refuse to admit that they’ve noticed. Including some feminists who want to pretend that objectification is something only done by men to women.

But despite NY Magazine‘s presentation of it, this isn’t something that happened in one Summer. I’ve been banging on about it myself since 1994 — my first book Male Impersonators: Men Performing Masculinity examined the way the so-called ‘male gaze’ had been reflected back at itself in movies, magazines and advertising. And rather liked what it saw. Even back then I wasn’t exactly the first to notice – though I did make more of a meal of it than anyone else.

‘Objectification’ is also of course the hallmark of metrosexuality – men’s desire to be desired is necessarily the desire to be ‘objectified’. Though I have to say I think the ‘O’ word clunky and outmoded. ‘Tarty’ trips and skips off the tongue better.

For those interested in ancient history – albeit ancient history that New York Magazine treats as news – all rights in Male Impersonators have reverted to me and I’m planning to e-publish it very soon, probably in downloadable PDF format for a nominal fee.

The image below is the jacket of the original Cassell edition of M.I., now out of print, sporting a classic 1950s Athletic Model Guild still. I chose it partly because it was a tad ‘overdetermined’ and camp – particularly the Grecian codpiece and the pedestal/butt-plug. And partly as an illustration of the kind of ‘objectification’ of the male that happened underground and illicitly in the past.

In contrast to today’s corporate kind, conducted on billboards and at the multiplex.

UPDATE: Male Impersonators is now available on Kindle.

Tip: Fraser K

Copyright © 1994 - 2017 Mark Simpson All Rights Reserved.