(No, this is not an Onion spoof. This is very serious indeed. Masculinity and selling shit is about as serious as you can get in America.)
My attention was recently drawn by a concerned member of the browsing public to a piece on Salon.com, ‘Retrosexuals: The latest lame macho catchphrase’ by Aaron Traister, entertainingly lambasting the ‘new’ retrosexual trend:
I woke up this morning to discover my local paper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, peddling a story about America’s new favorite model of man: the retrosexual. Normally I ignore almost everything in my local paper, but this, in combination with a recent article in the New York Times about the sequel to “The Official Preppy Handbook,” has got my knickers in a bunch.
The retrosexual is a clever play on that other dusty gem of modern trend masculinity, the metrosexual. Unlike metrosexualism, which encouraged men to worry about their appearance and spend copious amounts of money on beauty products and clothes to mask the kinds of insecurities normally pushed on women, the retrosexual trend encourages men to worry about their appearance and spend copious amounts of money on products and clothes to mask more traditional masculine insecurities, like being gay, or a broke loser, or a gay broke loser.
I happen to agree with much of Traister’s trashing of retrosexualism, particularly the way he mocks its central fear of being thought a fag. But then I would because I’ve already done it. Several years ago. On Salon. OK, so I stopped writing for them yonks ago, and it would of course be entirely understandable if they were still sulking about this….
But still, Salon writers should perhaps show a little more research – even from just the Salon.com search box – before lambasting at length ‘the latest lame macho catchphrase’. According to WordSpy.com the first usage of the term ‘retrosexual’ in the sense of the ‘anti-metrosexual’ was in an essay (‘Becks the virus’) by yours truly in 2003. On Salon.
By the following year, 2004, America was having a gigantic national nervous breakdown over metrosexuality and gay marriage and re-elected Bush. I remember it well because it followed the crazy year or so of metrosexmania that swept the US – after my outing essay ‘Meet the metrosexual’ in 2002, and its bizarre appropriation and bowdlerisation by American marketers. Which also appeared on Salon.
The ‘menaissance’ was mendacious even back in the mid noughties, of course, with its prissy lists of ‘dos and don’ts’, and euphemistic marketing strategies – as I pointed out at the time. But now everyone knows that ‘retrosexuality’, at least when appropriated by the media and marketing business, is just jokey, Mad Men-esque nostalgia for nostalgia – with a trilby cocked ‘just so’. Or gag-me-with-a-silver-spoon preppy wannabe niche marketing that isn’t to be taken seriously.
In early 2004, with the homophobic anti-metro backlash brewing in the US, I returned to the subject – again, for Salon (‘Metrodaddy speaks!’). Since I love quoting myself (at length), and since I think this as pertinent now as back then, here’s the relevant section from that auto-interview, which explains the repugnance of traditionalists towards the lack of repugnance metrosexuals generally have towards homoerotics:
Are hetero metrosexuals really latent homosexuals?
MS: Certainly it would make life easier and less worrying for retrosexuals if this were true — and I notice that in certain slightly, shall we say, clenched circles, metrosexual has become another word for “homo” or “fag.” Unfortunately for these threatened types — and also for me — this is just wishful, over-tidy thinking; homophobic housework. Hetero metros are not “really” gay — they’re just really metrosexual. In point of fact, hetero metrosexuals are probably rather less “latent” than retrosexuals. They are, after all, rather blatant — in their flirtatiousness. Their identity is not based on a constant repudiation of homosexuality. What the retrosexual finds repugnant in the metrosexual is his invitation of the gaze — a gaze that is not and cannot be gendered or straightened out. They’re equal-opportunity narcissists.
Homoerotics, rather than homosexuality, is an inevitable and obvious part of male narcissism — just as it is for female narcissism, hence “lesbian chic.” Which is one of the reasons why it has been discouraged for so long. This isn’t to say that most metrosexuals want to go to bed with other men — not even so as to generously share their beauty with the half of the human race so far deprived of it — it’s just that they aren’t necessarily repulsed by the male body in the way that many retrosexuals like to assert, repeatedly, they are. By extension, their interest in women is not necessarily driven by self-loathing or a need to prove their virility; it’s a matter of taste and pleasure. Which I suspect many women find something of a relief, not to mention a turn-on. Though admittedly some women may feel that the metrosexual is too much like competition.
God, I was good back then. But so was Salon.
A profile on the truck driving Republican Presidential hopeful from Boston Scott Brown in Vanity Fair caused a few chuckles last week with his wife’s cheeky revelation about the pink leather shorts he wore to his first date with her in the 1980s. Here’s the money shot:
“The pinkish color drained from [Brown’s] face when I asked him about it during a conversation in his campaign office just before we took off in the truck. He clarified that the shorts weren’t something that he went out and purchased — it wasn’t like that at all. ‘I did the couture shows, and instead of paying in cash, they paid in clothes,’ he said. ‘And one of the things I had to wear were leather shorts. And these happened to be pink.’”
It’s certainly a relief to know Mr Brown didn’t buy them – that would be kinda faggy – that instead he was given the pink leather shorts for sashaying up and down the catwalk at a couture show.
How funny to think that the US was the only country that had anything approaching a serious backlash against metrosexuality, back in the mid-Noughties. Oh, come on now, surely you remember? That so-called ‘menaissance’? Those prissy lists of ‘manly’ ‘do’s and don’ts’? And those completely non-ironic ‘Reclaim your manhood – go shopping in a Hummer’ ads? It got lots of coverage in the press at the time. Supposedly metro was out and retro ‘regular guys’ were back in. Oh, and George W. Bush was re-elected in part on an anti-gay marriage anti-metro ticket (his Democrat opponent was portrayed by the Republican machine as a girly-man metrosexual passifist).
And yet, just a few years on, faux Texan ‘bring it on!’ George Bush has been replaced by a svelte mixed-race President who starts every day with a workout, who ran a campaign based on slogans printed in the GQ font, and who is, for all Michelle’s prettiness, something of his own First Lady.
And now the great white hope of the Republicans, who whipped Obama’s skinny ass in a Democrat stronghold, is a former Cosmo centreforld and male couture model who liked to wear pink leather shorts because they showed off his tanned legs.
But perhaps the most interesting thing about Scott Brown’s very successful 1980s male modelling career, looking at the pictures, is this: he wouldn’t get the work today. He’d have to do hardcore gay porn. And certainly not Falcon or any respectable studio – no, Scott would have to do fetish/extreme stuff. Fisting in black (not pink) leather, that kind of thing. Or cash-in on his surname. And he still wouldn’t get paid very much. Though they probably would let him keep one of the XXL toys.
I’m not being bitchy. No, really. I’m just being realistic. And anyway, it’s not about him; it’s about us.
He was nice enough looking in a wooden sort of way, but since the 1980s an entire generation of young men have been raised to be male models – and they work at it a lot harder than Scott evidently did. They also look at themselves a lot harder. Scott had it relatively easy because there was much less awareness of what was ‘desirable’ in the male body back then – amongst women and men. Young men as a sex hadn’t learned to desire to be desired. That was still officially women’s role. And because there was probably also rather more in the way of stigma attached to his profession there was even less competition.
Yes, it looks like Scott had a pert bum and what they used to call back then a ‘hunky’ physique – but today it would be a case of ‘Don’t call us dear, we’ll call you.’ Such is the choice available of absurdly desirable, obscenely fit young men, I doubt anyone would even bother to tell him what he so obviously needed to do: get down the gym and take steroids and crystal meth. (And if you work really hard and you’re really lucky you’ll end up on Jersey Shore.)
His body looks far too natural to be credible today as a idealised male image: the lack of porno pecs, a six-pack and ‘cum-gutters’ is heinous. The untrimmed, un-waxed body hair is grievous. The unbleached teeth unforgiveable. He wouldn’t make the audition for today’s male Cosmo – Men’s Health – let alone the cover.
In fact, the most buffed and pumped thing about the young Scott Brown to our critical 21st Century eyes is his hairdo.