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

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Polka Dots: Not Just for Girls

08messi

Mirror Men on Canvas – and in Crocs

The Delhi-based artist Pallavi Singh has been meditating on metrosexuality in the Indian subcontinental context again and has very kindly sent me these rather wonderful new paintings and given me permission to post them here.

I think my personal favourite is ‘Rise of Mirror Man’ – I particularly like how his Crocs match his suspenders.

Here’s Ms Singh’s accompanying write-up:

In my recent work “Here comes the Mirror Man” and “Rise of Mirror Man”, I have tried to present the growing confidence and comfort of my character towards metrosexuality, his desire to be adored and his acceptance of his metrosexual needs while remaining unconcerned with labels of homosexuality and cross dressing.

 

 

 

In the painting “Mirror Mirror on the wall”, I have tried to compare the regional 18th-19th century Dandy phenomena with global Metrosexual phenomena of today i.e. the distinction between “to be admired” and “to be adored”.

All images Copy­right Pallavi Singh, 2012

Nail Varnish For Warriors

 

Tip: Benjamin D

Metrosexy Joey Has a Very Tidy Body

Princess Spiderman

An interesting segment from ABC about the way kids are made to wear the ‘appropriate’ gender, whether they want to or not. (Sorry about that emetic ‘message’ music at the end.)

The first mother literally jumps with horror and a sharp intake of breath when the boy shows up in his princess outfit. OK, so maybe yellow isn’t his colour, but behaving as if he was Freddie Kruger seems like a bit of an overreaction.

I think though that this isn’t mostly an issue of sexual orientation, which is what it seems to end up being portrayed as. Although many and perhaps most gay adults displayed gender non-conformity as kids, most kids who want the ‘wrong’ Halloween costumes don’t turn out gay, or transgendered.

Intriguing how many mothers, at least the ones who made the final edit, seem to have encountered this ‘problem’ with their own kids – before ‘nipping it in the bud’. The naturalness of gender needs to be overtly policed quite a bit – even after all the other ‘pink’ and ‘blue’ messages kids get every day. (And the way they can be pretty totalitarian in their enforcement of them amongst themselves.)

  It’s a shame no one came to the aid of the little boy who wanted to be a princess. But as was suggested, girls who want to be Spiderman probably face less disapproval, in general, than boys who want to be princesses.

My favourite bit is where the no-nonsense Staten Island matriarch says to the girl who wants to be an action not a passion figure:

“A Spiderman is only for one time. A princess you can be for 24 hours of the day!”

Quite. No wonder the little boy wants that dress.

Tip: Michael Dennis

It’s Not a Journey: The Endless Trend of Male Vanity

The next time someone tries to convince me that Pitt is ‘a really great actor, actually’ I’ll just throw my eyes around the room in a casually-but-profoundly dramatic fashion before fixing them on the Fight Club fanboy – and it always is a Fight Club fanboy – and saying: “THERE you ARE!”

I don’t mean to be bitchy, but… Ab Pitt seems to have all the neuroses of a Marilyn Monroe about being thought a dumb blond, but little or none of the talent. It’s not the fact this Big Movie Star has done an ad like this at all, or even the bathetic horror of the script – par to the course in perfume ads – it’s the way he delivers this stinky stuff like it was a Shakespearean soliloquy. We’re laughing at it because we know it will hurt.

Though of course, we’re just jealous. I certainly am. Brad is being so earnest and romantico not because he’s addressing you or me or Angelina Jolie, but his reportedly $7M cheque for the 30 second spot – which I suspect the director has taped to the camera.

At the height of her fame method-actress Marilyn was paid only $100,000 plus 10% of profits for the feature-length classic movie: Some Like It Hot. And I rather doubt she received a fee at all for her own posthumous Chanel No.5 ad.

The real significance of Brad’s ad of course is that Pitt is the first man to advertise the woman’s fragrance Chanel No.5 – which hitherto has been plugged only by leading examples of the ‘fairer sex’. Leading man Brad has stepped into a role previously occupied by leading ladies.

This though is very familiar territory though for Brad. Often described as ‘the most beautiful man in the world’ – i.e. the most objectified – he did after all play both Achilles and Helen in the movie Troy. He has the abs that launched a thousand sit-ups. And this former model’s own movie career was launched by playing a toyboy picked up and ravished by an older Geena Davis in Thelma and Louise (1991), a movie which itself famously reversed the gender roles of the buddy road movie.

Clinching the matter, his hairstyles are discussed almost as much as any actress’ – or even David Beckham’s.

Pitt also played, you may remember, the highly, er, aesthetic leader of a bogus revolt against metrosexuality and consumerism in Fight Club.

Oh, and by the way. Pitt is 48 years old. Which makes him even older than me. But in the Chanel ad, even with his gray beard and (electronically altered?) gravelly voice, Dorian Pitt seems no older than about 27 – the same age he was when we first met him in Thelma & Louise. In fact, he looks like a 27-year-old with a stick-on beard pretending to be 48.

As he puts it himself:

It’s not a journey. Every journey ends. But we go on.”

***

A survey released just before Brad’s Bad Marilyn moment appears to confirm the continuing, endless trend for men appropriating previously feminine preserves that has been going on since at least the 1990s, and which Pitt, whether he wants to or not, has often exemplified – and encouraged. “The world turns and we turn with it.”

The fashion and beauty spending poll (commissioned by online casino RoxyPalace.com) asked 1000 UK men and women how much they spent on clothes and cosmetic products. The findings showed, they said, that ‘men are fast catching up with women’.

  • Women average £2,462 p.a.; men £1,786 (£50 less a month than women).
  • Men and women in London are the most extravagant, and also the closest to one another in expenditure, with women spending c. £2,700 a year; men £2,350, £29 per month less than women.
  • Unsurprisingly, other metropolitan areas such as Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle and Liverpool also showed above-average rates of spending.
  • A man who took part in the survey says: ‘I can remember my dad’s cosmetic shelf consisted of a bar of soap and a bottle of Old Spice but I have a cabinet full of products.’
  • A woman says: ‘I have been shopping with my boyfriend before and on occasions he has been known to spend more than me on hair products. I don’t think men spending more money on clothes and cosmetics is a bad thing. It’s always attractive for someone to take pride on their appearance.’

Again, nothing very new here (and the quotes do sound a tad hackneyed). Just, further evidence that despite the recession the ‘trend’ of metrosexuality has hardened into an epoch – that nevertheless some are still in terrible denial about.

A spokesperson for RoxyPalace.com concluded:

‘It’s becoming increasingly acceptable for men to use cosmetic treatments. Even macho film stars are advertising skin cream, and whilst it would be difficult to imagine a world where guys spent more money on looking good than women do, but who knows where the age of metrosexuality will lead us?’

I imagine when he mentioned ‘macho film stars’ he had in mind Gerard Butler as the bearded face of L’Oreal, not Brad Pitt. But in regard to his last poser, it’s not entirely impossible that for younger people living in metropolitan areas, that world may have already been delivered by metrosexuality. Or very nearly.

These days, working out is often at least as important a way of ‘looking good’ for males as fashionable clothes and cosmetics – but isn’t covered in the survey. In fact, many men invest more heavily in their bodies than in their wardrobe – which tends to be rather skimpy…. And generally it seems men are more into working on their bodies to ‘look good’ than women are.

So if you were to factor in average spends on gym membership, fitness equipment, and particularly sports supplements such as creatine and protein drinks (a booming market), the gap between men and women’s average spend on ‘vanity’ might shrink again. Currently the gap between male and female spending on ‘looking good’ is reportedly only £29/month in London. That’s less than most monthly gym memberships.

£29 also happens to be about the price of a yearly subscription to the best-selling men’s magazine, Men’s Health. The November UK issue of which carries the results of another survey, this one studying MH readers’ favourite subject: themselves.

One of the questions asked readers who had their ideal body. The answers were:

  • Tom Hardy 42%.
  • Cristiano Ronaldo 32%.
  • David Beckham 26%.

Somewhere David Beckham is crying into his low-carb lunch. Interesting to note though that Brad Pitt doesn’t make the list at all, when once he would probably have dominated it – after all, Men’s Health has built a global empire out of modern man’s yen to have abs – and thus be worthy of love. And abs didn’t exist, remember, until Brad Pitt invented them in the 1990s.

Perhaps though Brad is relieved to be out of the running. Or maybe he’s relieved and heartbroken.

Tom Hardy, the Brit Brando with the voluptuous pecs and the pouty lips, seems to have won the hearts of Men’s Health readers. I don’t blame them. And I suspect Tom’ doesn’t either. Probably they were seduced by his body in Warrior and his motto in Inception: “Don’t be afraid to dream a little bigger darling”. Actually, in a better world that would be the motto of Men’s Health magazine.

Interesting that a third would want a body like Ronaldo’s – despite Ronaldo’s official designation in the UK as Most Hated Footballer. It rather confirms my suspicion that us Brits are just jealous of him.

It does seem a little odd though that there are only three men in the whole world whose bodies Men’s Health readers want/aspire to – and nearly half of them want just one body in particular. (There’s no indication of whether they were given a multiple choice or just came up with the names themselves.)

Other findings include:

  • 37% of MH readers spend 4-6 hours in the gym a week – while 30% spend more than six hours there.
  • 46% want to improve their abs. 42% their upper body, and 12% lower body.

Chicken legs, in other words, are de rigeur with MH readers.

 

Tip: Lee Kynaston

Are Modern Men Manly Enough?

Yours truly takes part in a round table heated  debate on masculinity over at The New York Times.

(You won’t be surprised to discover that unlike most contributors, I’m intensely relaxed about intensely relaxed modern masculinity.)

Charlie Brooker’s Anxious Anus

Middle class metrophobia keeps rearing its ugly, anxious head and leaving a really bad smell in the air. Maybe it’s because some middle class men are happier pretending that they don’t have bodies, just giant self-propelled brains (that are always right), but men’s new-found desire to be desired and the attendant rampant sexualisation of the male body in the media seems to literally scare the shit out of a few of them.

‘The world’s leading liberal voice’ this week ran two curiously metrophobic articles in the space of a few days (while this older blogpost features numerous other examples). Today’s Guardian carries a piece by an Olly Richards pegged to the new stripper movie Magic Mike, ostensibly about male nudity in the movies.

At the top of the piece he announces:

‘We all know the nude male form is essentially ridiculous, built only for floppy comedy.’

Speak for yourself, Mary.

This assertion of the writer’s contempt for the male body – and de facto dismissal of anyone who thinks differently – is the only thing the article has to say. An article on male nudity in the movies has nothing to say about male nudity in movies – because if it did then the author would have to be interested in the male body.

But Olly is a paragon of self-awareness and insight compared to a bizarre rant earlier in the week by the Guardian’s star columnist and TV celeb Charlton Brooker, which also seemed to take it as a given that the sexualised male body is ‘essentially ridiculous’.

Charlton’s column pretends it’s about the hatefulness of reality stars – and let’s face it, they are fair, if embarrassingly easy game. But it’s telling that he has nothing specific to say about the female reality stars in his piece. At all. None of them are mentioned, no female pronouns are used. It’s all about judging the men. For how they look. For plucking their eyebrows. For using product. Fake tan and make-up. For working out. For ‘sexualising’ their bodies.

‘But let’s not judge them by the content of their character. Let’s judge them by the colour of their skin, which is terracotta. Mostly. Apart from the pale ones. The way they look is the second unbelievable thing about them. Not all of them; most of them are sort of normal. But one or two of the men look … well they don’t look real, put it that way. They’ve got sculpted physiques, sculpted hairdos, sculpted eyebrows, and as far as I can tell, no skin pores.’

They’re not real men or normal because Charlton says so. Here’s a picture of him looking normal and real (from his Wiki page).

Charlton (41) saves his most passionate, most fundamental attentions for a contestant called James (21), whom he describes as resembling a ‘vinyl sex doll’. Born and bred in the Home Counties, living and working in London’s medialand, Brooker is also an expert on Newcastle:

 ‘I’ve been to Newcastle. There’s no way James is from Newcastle. He’s from space. Deep space. My guess would be he’s actually some form of sentient synthetic meat that crudely disguises itself as other life forms, but only to an accuracy of about 23%. He’s awesomely creepy to behold. Seriously, if James popped up on the comms screen of the USS Enterprise, Captain Kirk would shit his own guts out. And that’s the sort of behaviour that can undermine a leader’s authority.’

Yes, I realise it’s faintly ridiculous taking this kind of ‘comic prose’ seriously. And part of the irony here anyway is that Brooker is ridiculing reality TV for its vulgarity while his job description at the Guardian is to be as vulgar as possible about vulgar TV shows and use words like ‘shit’ and ‘cock’ a lot. Pour epater les bourgeois – at the same time as appealing to their snobbery.

But in the wider context of the Guardian’s middle class problem with metrosexuality and the male body, and Brooker’s role in many people’s eyes as right-on liberal superhero, I think it’s worthwhile examining what’s going on here.

James of course doesn’t look like any of the things Brooker says he looks like. Here’s a picture of James (who lives with his mam and who according to the Geordie Shore website ‘isn’t ashamed to call himself a mummy’s boy’).

Now, I know this is very subjective. But I would much rather look at James in HD widescreen in my living room than Charlton. Especially if it comes down to shagging, as Geordie Shore often does. And before you accuse me of being bitchy: which TV celeb was it again who said earlier that we should judge only appearances?

What’s more, James is not at all unusual, let alone ‘non-existent’ as Charlton would like to believe. There are loads of lads like James in the North East. And I know this because I didn’t visit for a book-signing once but because I live here. There are several down my gym. One of them, a really nice, chatty bloke who’s always got a canny smile, was shortlisted for this year’s Big Brother. It could easily have been him that Charlton was railing against for plucking his eyebrows and having plunging necklines. So forgive me if metrodaddy feels a bit maternal.

As with the blue-collar guys turned strippers in Magic Mike, in the post-industrial North East working class lads happily work on their own bodies instead of someone else’s property and, unlike London hipsters, aren’t afraid to flaunt it and make themselves pretty. Especially since they don’t generally have many other routes to celebrity – not being likely to land themselves a place on a C4 panel show being snarky and painstakingly scruffy in a dowdy corduroy jacket.

So why the passionate rage against James for being a very common (these days) mixture of masculine and feminine beauty tricks? Why the desperate need to pretend he doesn’t exist? That he shouldn’t exist? That he should be banished to outer space?

There can only be one answer. The sad, tawdry truth is that Charlton can’t trust himself in a world with James in it. He has to tell himself these wicked lies about James because otherwise he might find himself being turned on by him.

James the ‘sex doll’ is the one, by the way, who famously has a cock the size of a Sky remote.

Here’s a simple test – one that you can apply to almost any instance of liberal metrophobia, however ‘jokey’ or ‘ironic’ it presents itself as being. Would someone like Brooker still rage on and on about James’s ‘unmanly’, ‘creepy’, ‘alien’ appearance and how worthy he was of hatred because of it, if James was gay instead of straight? Would he still describe a gay James as ‘synthetic meat’ and a ‘polished turd’? Or someone who would make Captain Kirk ‘shit his guts out’? (The anxious anality here is all Charlton’s – definitely not Captain Kirk’s, who wasn’t afraid to shape his eyebrows and sideburns, or wear a corset.)

Wouldn’t Charlton the liberal superhero in fact be the first to loudly ridicule himself for his own homophobia and repressed homosexuality? And, drunk once again on his own self-righteousness, call himself a farty old reactionary cock?

In fairness though it can’t be denied that one of the truly awful things about metrosexuality is the way it gives uneducated, shamelessly tarty young men with regional accents a way of getting gigs on TV shows with more viewers than yours.

Tip: Bat020

The Perfect Mandate: Obama & Becks (& the Media)

David Beckham, global poster-boy for metrosexuality, sporting an Edwardian beard, had a hot date with Obama at the White House today.

Though he had to bring his team-mates along as LA Galaxy were being honoured with a reception after winning the Major League Soccer Cup, America’s equivalent of the Premiership.

After listing the soccer star’s achievements, introducing him joshingly as a “young up-and-comer,” and adding that, “half your teammates could be your kids”, Obama quipped (almost fluffing the line): “It’s a rare man that can be that tough on the field and have his own line of underwear.”

Or as rare as a GQ Commander in Chief?

Contrary to recent reports, Obama is not the first gay President. He’s the first metrosexual President. Or as I wrote in Metrosexy:

“A well-dressed mixed-race, poly­glot male who makes the Free World wait on his gym visit every morn­ing. A man whose looks are reg­u­larly praised – par­tic­u­larly by male jour­nal­ists. A man who won the Demo­c­ra­tic nom­i­na­tion in part because he was much pret­tier than his more expe­ri­enced female oppo­nent. His wife Michelle is very attrac­tive too, of course – but in some ways Obama is the first US Pres­i­dent to be his own First Lady.”

Which makes the Beckham and Obama’s hot date quite a historic occasion.

I can’t quite decide though whether Obama’s own rampant metrosexuality makes his bitchy remark to Beckham about his underwear funny or a bit… pants.

Winsome, Losesome, Mansome

It’s always tricky as a writer talking to a researcher for a TV or film documentary. On the one hand you want your ideas to be taken seriously and the historical record to be as accurate as possible. And of course we all like attention. Especially from a visual medium we probably don’t belong in.

On the other hand, you don’t want to give everything away for nowt.

But you can hardly blame researchers for trying. For every ‘expert’ who appears on-screen in a doc, probably a dozen or more had their brains picked.

I don’t recall much of what I gabbled down the phone when I was contacted a couple of years ago by a female associate of the indie documentary maker Morgan Spurlock about a documentary she was helping him develop about the ‘male-grooming industry’. But I do remember that after speaking to her for about an hour I politely wound up the call – after getting that familiar brain-pick feeling. Or maybe I was just embarrassed at how talkative I’d been.

And that was the last I heard from Spurlock & Co. Which didn’t surprise me as I live in the UK, and it’s an American doc (with an Indie budget). True, I’m credited/blamed not just for coining the ‘metrosexual’ back in 1994 but also introducing him to the US ten years ago this Summer, kicking off the national nervous breakdown America had over masculinity in the Noughties and from which it is yet to fully recover. (Sorry ‘bout that, guys!)

But if there’s one thing the USA has no need to import from Blighty it’s talking big heads. They produce even more of those themselves than they do male beauty products.

Last April Mansome as it is now officially dubbed, emerged glistening and groomed at the TriBeCa film festival. With the publicity poseur: ‘In the age of manscaping, metrosexuals, and grooming products galore – what does it mean to be a man?’ And of course they found plenty of States-side experts, plus several celebs, such as Paul Rudd, Judd Apatow and John Waters to answer that question – along with Jason Bateman and Will Arnett, both executive producers of the doc and unashamed pedicurists.

I haven’t seen Mansome myself yet (an enquiry to the distributor’s press office some weeks ago has yet to produce a response), but going by the trailers, the advance reviews – and the title – I have a hunch that even if I’d lived within eyebrow-plucking distance of Spurlock and had been interviewed on camera for days I still wouldn’t have made the final nip and tuck of Mansome.

That ‘ironic’ music in the trailer, reminiscent of Desperate Housewives, seems to be there as a reassurance that none of this is to be taken seriously. That – relax dudes! – Mansome won’t goose you with any pointy ideas or insights. After all, even an indie film costs actual money to make and you have to get bums – waxed or just clenched – on seats to have a hope of getting any of it back. Mansome is selling itself as light entertainment not heavy enquiry. Or as Jessica Bennett at the Daily Beast put it in her review: ‘pseudo-documentary’.

So probably the last thing poor Spurlock would have wanted was the English and queer Metrodaddy insisting that metrosexuality is not only male vanity swishing triumphantly out of the closet, but tarty male passivity flaunting itself everywhere too. How men’s now flagrant-fragrant desire to be desired means that modern masculinity is quite literally asking for it.

But I wonder a bit how many bums, male or female, clenched or otherwise Mansome will actually lure into the multiplex. Arnett and Bateman are very droll in their towelling dressing gowns, but really, in 2012 who genuinely finds the notion of Hollywood actors visiting spas or shaving their backs remarkable? Or terribly snigger some? Even in America?

What’s more, the trailers, the credits and the hairlines suggest the masculinity being spotlighted here is mostly middle-aged. (It takes one to know one.)

One reviewer complained Mansome is ‘cute’ but has ‘nothing to say’. I doubt anyone would have bothered to make that complaint if we were talking Mikey Sorrentino’s abs. Or Channing Tatum’s buttocks. Or Justin Bieber’s dimples (Bieber, by the way, was born the very same year as the metrosexual). I certainly wouldn’t.

In the UK many if not most of the younger generation of males have taken metrosexuality as a given and literally fashioned their own bodies into a desirable, marketable product – and facial hair into less of a secondary sexual characteristic, or fetish of manhood, than just another sweet male accessory. Rather than try to define ‘what makes a man’ most would rather visit the gym or the tanning salon. Again.

Or show Metrodaddy their depilated pubes, balls and pierced John-Thomases in the pub. While their girlfriends look on, rolling their eyes. (No, really, this happens to me ALL the time. It’s just one of the many crosses I have to bear….)

Despite all this carping I’m still keen to see Mansome. America – or maybe just America of a certain age – does still need to talk this stuff through, honestly and openly. Especially after the mendacious ‘menaissance’ anti-metro backlash of the late Noughties that shut down the (admittedly rather skin-deep) conversation by shouting: ‘MAN-UP!!’.

Or the retreat into a slightly creepy if meticulously observed hipster waxwork version of Madison Avenue in the 1960s.

And there are some encouraging signs that Mansome might have something to say after all. Executive producer Bateman was quoted saying something rather refreshing in the WSJ the other day, cutting through much of the marketing froth around ‘male grooming’ – i.e. male beauty:

‘What this film confirmed for me was that men are not allergic to the mirror at all, We want to be as pretty as females. Body-hair removal, skin care—men basically do the same things, but are more secretive about them.’

Mind you, in the same article Spurlock himself was quoted as blaming Adam’s vanity on Eve again – in a very familiar and fruitless attempt to straighten out male narcissism:

“Men do crazy things for women, to get them and to keep them,” he said. “If all women were like, I want to have sex with a big, hairy Neanderthal, next thing you know one of the most popular products would be stuff that grows hair on your back and forearms.”

Not so sure about that, darling. (Though I do know a few bears who are already hot for hairy backs.)

And then there’s the manly strap-on euphemism chosen as the title for his doc. The Wiki page for Mansome includes this helpful paragraph about it:

‘Mansome’ is a relatively new word in pop culture. It is defined by UrbanDictionary.com as ‘an adjective that describes a man who is both manly and handsome.’ Mansome, the documentary, attempts to clarify exactly what makes a man “mansome”.

Obviously this is intended as a clever, ironic deconstruction of the way the ‘man’ word is too often stuck on a ‘girly’ product so that unadventurous fellows don’t think their nads are going to fall off if they buy it.

After all, ‘handsome’ is a traditional, acceptable ‘manly’ euphemism for ‘masculine beauty’. Or ‘attractive male’. One that a chap can use to describe another chap without calling into question one’s own whopping manhood.

So, needlessly strapping ‘man’ on an already essentially ‘male’ word would be something you would only ever do to point up the ridiculously camp and self-defeating nature of all these ‘man’ words, wouldn’t it?

I mean, effectively calling your documentary about male beauty Handsome (No Homo) is something you could only be doing to satirise the juvenile homophobia of American culture.

Isn’t it?

 Mansome goes on general release in the US later this month.

Mark Simpson’s Metrosexy: a 21st Century Self-Love Story is available now.

 

Postscript

I’d forgotten about this hilarious clip of Dean Martin Orson Welles gossiping under hairdryers at a ‘male hairdressing salon’. It puts Bateman and Arnett to shame. And it aired c. forty years ago.

‘Mâle Au Corps’: Mark Simpson talks to ‘Liberation’

Mark Simpson interviewed by Clement Ghys in France’s Liberation newspaper about the evolution of his metrosexual offspring – and Justin Timberlake’s ass.

Unedited English email Q&A, April 2012

CG: In 1994, you coined the term “Metrosexual”. Looking back, how would you say the concept has evolved? In what way do you find this definition still relevant?

MS: Well, naturally the reason it’s still relevant, Clement, because I’ve recently published a book on the subject!

More seriously, metrosexuality is still relevant all these moisturised years later because the breadth and depth of the masculine revolution it represents has been obscured – often quite deliberately – in a lot of chatter about facials, ‘manbags’ and flip-flops.

Ironically, out-and-proud male beauty isn’t itself skin-deep. Metrosexuality represents a profound change in how we look at and think about men. The emergence from its closet of the male desire to be desired has revolutionised the culture and also opened up the options of what a man can be.

Metrosexuality isn’t about manbags. It’s not about men becoming ‘girly’ or ‘gay’. It’s about men becoming everything. To themselves. In much the same way that women have been for some time.

For all its faults, metrosexuality represents a kind of ‘male liberation’. It’s the end of the sexual division of labour in looking and loving – of bathroom and bedroom labour. And of ‘sexuality’ itself.

Male ‘passivity’ is the flip side of female ‘activity’ – and should be welcomed or at least accepted as much as the latter, but is mostly mocked instead. Metrosexuality has too often provoked a kind of reverse sexism.

How has the metrosexual man blurred the boundaries between the “gay” and straight” labels?

Irretrievably. To quote metrodaddy’s own definition of the metrosexual:

‘He might be officially gay, straight or bisexual, but this is utterly immaterial because he has clearly taken himself as his own love-object and pleasure as his sexual preference.’

There’s nothing ‘straight’ about metrosexuality. Even though most metros definitely prefer women in bed.

Narcissism was supposed to be the female quality par excellence. ‘Vanity thy name is woman’. It’s considered ‘feminine’ because inviting the gaze/exhibitionism is ‘passive’. Likewise homosexual men were considered deviant and ‘womanish’ because of their – real or perceived – passivity. In a sense, homos existed to lock up male passivity in the homo body and keep it away from ‘normal’ men.

Men were officially supposed to be always desiring, never desired. Always looking, never looked at. Always active, never passive. Always hetero never homo.

Metrosexuality queers all of that. By outing the ‘passivity’ in men, their desire to be desired, and also their keen visual interest in other men and their bodies. It’s precisely because of this blurring between gay and straight that many older and more traditional types have reacted with phobic and often hysterical hostility to metrosexuality. What indeed is straight a man to do – who in fact is he to be – if he can’t define himself as NOT a gay?

Particularly in the monosexual US, which had a gigantic national nervous breakdown over the metrosexual in the mid-late Noughties, precisely because of the queerness of metrosexuality – producing a so-called ‘menaissance’ backlash against it.

Though the backlash was largely a phoney one. Metrosexuality continued to conquer that conflicted continent, albeit on the down-low, and even the US is now led by a sveltely handsome man who makes the world wait on his morning workout and who, despite Michelle’s prettiness, is in many ways his own First Lady.

Even in less traditionalist countries like Britain there have been reaction-formations too, but less pronounced, and the younger generation has generally been quicker to seize the freedom from gay/straight, male/female ghettoes and binaries that metrosexuality offers. Recent research claimed that most hetero young men at university enjoy kissing their male friends full on the lips as an expression of affection. Quite a turnabout for an Anglo country that sentenced Oscar Wilde to three years hard labour!

Recently in The Guardian, you said that “the metrosexual revolution has taken an increasingly physical, sensual form”. Can you comment on that?

Metrosexuality is consumerist and fashion-orientated, but it isn’t necessarily about clothes. In fact, these days it’s perhaps less about clothes than the ultimate accessory: the body. It’s almost as if male nakedness has been abolished at the very moment that acres of male flesh are displayed everywhere you look. Young men have invested a great deal of time, money and supplements ‘fashioning’ their bodies into something they ‘wear’ – and show off. Shaven (often everywhere), sculpted, intricately tattooed, pierced. Never, ever unmediated.

The near-global hegemony of ‘Men’s Health’ magazine with its Photoshopped covers of men’s sculpted torsos bears testimony to this, along with the massive popularity of reality shows such as ‘Jersey Shore’, which feature young men like Mikey Sorrentino showing off their tits and abs.

In this they’re also following in the footsteps of tarty sporno stars like David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo and Rafael Nadal, whose bodies are marketed and promoted by corporate consumerism.

A whole generation of young men have grown up with metrosexiness. As the recent hit LMFAO single that is a kind of metrosexy anthem puts it: ‘I’m sexy and I know It’.

In the same article you evoked the highest and heightened interest of men in their own bodies (diets, steroids, gyms). What do you think is driving this?

It’s partly an effect of post-industrialism. It’s interesting that its most pronounced amongst young working class males who in the past might have looked forwards to a life of selling their labour and working on other men’s property, but who now instead of going to the factory go to the gym to labour on their own bodies and turn them into a product. Their bodies remain the only thing they own – their only asset.

But now they turn their bodies into a commodity themselves. By making themselves desirable they give themselves value in a consumerist world. Not for nothing are athletes such as Beckham who willingly strip off and push their packets down our throats on the side of buses often from a working class background.

It’s also the effect of course of an increasingly visual world – of webcams, facebook, camera phones, widescreen HD TVs, and reality TV. The desire to be desired is also about the desire to be noticed. To be wanted. To be popular. To succeed.

And let’s not discount the importance of all the vast quantities of porn that men and boys are now downloading, in which the male body is fully on display. And is usually worked out, shaved, tattooed, de-pubed. Lots of men aspire to be male porn stars these days. Or at least many of them seem to be auditioning for that job….

In recent years, male bodies have been very much shot on screen.
Sometimes, even more than female bodies. I’m thinking of Ryan Gosling in comedies such as Crazy Stupid Love, Justin Timberlake in Friends With Benefits or Alexander Skarsgard in the TV show True Blood. How do you explain this?

Friends With Benefits was a feature film all about Justin’s ass! It was in almost every scene. We even heard from his girlfriend that he likes a finger up it. His character was working as an art-director for American GQ but had a body by Men’s Health. How metrosexual can you get!

Women, who make up the majority of TV viewers, have discovered an appetite for looking at men’s bodies on screen. In some ways the sexy scantily clad male has become a symbol of women’s consuming power and their new assertive sexual appetite. True Blood especially seems to ‘feed’ on that.

But men also as we’ve seen also enjoy looking at other men’s bodies, and admiring, desiring and aspiring to them.

 What do you think of this quote? The actor Thomas Jane said, after appearing naked on screen, “I now know what it’s like to be a woman, because I now have to say during a conversation, ‘Hey, my eyes are up here!’ “

It’s a funny quote, but it’s interesting that the sex of the person he’s talking to with wandering eyes is left unstated.

Men are ‘sex objects’ now too. Some might put it in terms of ‘men are the new women’. But actually what metrosexuality has done is to break down the boundaries between ‘men’ and ‘women’.

Ironically many feminists are completely blind to this phenomenon of men willingly objectifying themselves and other males. Or they pretend it’s a marginal thing in no way comparable to the objectification of women. When clearly in mainstream media, particularly TV and cinema, it’s at the very least the equivalent of female objectification.

Male nudity and sex is now a full advertising argument. How do you explain David Beckham’s “package” on the Armani/H&M camaigns? Or the homoerotic Dolce & Gabbana ads?

This is what I dub ‘sporno’ – the place where sporn and porn get into bed while Mr Armani and Dolce and Gabbana take pictures.

Sporno represents an intensification of metrosexuality. Where early metrosexuality was soft-core, sporno is hardcore. Metrosexuality is now so mainstream and so ‘normal’ that male coquettishness isn’t in itself likely to turn heads. So instead you have to promise the punters a gang-bang in the showers. Or, more usually, a prone, passive image of a sporting star with their legs apart literally making themselves available for the viewing public.

And of course the ‘hardcore’ aesthetic of sporno is flagrantly gay.

Some have tried to dismiss all this as some kind of conspiracy by gay fashionistas to corrupt young straight men and ram their proclivities down their throats. If it is, it’s worked. Spectacularly. Sporno is the aesthetic of the 21st Century.

Likewise, metrosexuality is now so mainstream that to point to someone as a ‘metrosexual’ these days is almost redundant. That’s why I called my latest collection ‘Metrosexy’ – because what we’re talking now is not a ‘type’ but rather a whole new male way of looking and being looked at.

Do you think that gay imaging has now completely entered (predominantly straight) society? How do you explain the fact that it is now a commercial tool?

Well as I say, it makes people look. Which is quite an achievement in this jaded age.

But also ‘gay’ imaging is inevitable once the male body is commodified, and once men begin to objectify themselves and other men. This is part of the reason why it was banned or resisted for so long.

It’s impossible to straighten this stuff out. Of course, people try. Men sometimes pretend that their self objectification is ‘strictly for the ladies’. But even if this weren’t a bare-cheeked lie it wouldn’t solve anything. Because the ‘queerness’ is in the male passivity. It’s about as ‘straight’ as being fucked with a strap-on.

It even turns out that many women have male-on-male fantasies which increasingly commercial culture is pandering to. In other words, men are being encouraged to ‘act gay’ to turn the ladies on.

More cynically, or perhaps more realistically, gay ideals of male beauty and perfection are largely unachievable. That’s really the point of them. They promise endless desiring – and also anxiety. Which is what consumerism needs….

 Mark Simpson’s ‘Metrosexy’ is available on Amazon Kindle.

Let me Hear Your Body Talk

Are men the new women? I’ve always avoided using that line until now. As the (hetero)sexual division of labour and loving and looking continues to fall apart, men are the new everything. Just as women are.

But in the last few months we’ve been told men now take longer getting ready than women, mercifully deleting at a stroke most of the material of stand-ups like John Bishop. We’ve also been told that gents are more likely to take travel irons, hairdryers and straighteners on holiday than ladies. Now there’s new evidence they may be as body-conscious as women too. In fact, according to a widely-reported study of 394 British men published last week, lads are now more concerned with their body image than lasses.

A third said they think about their appearance more than five times a day, 18% were on a high-protein diet to increase muscle mass, and 16% on a calorie-controlled diet to slim down. While a Faustian 15% claimed they would happily trade 2-5 years of their life if they could have their ideal body weight and shape. (Probably because they hoped the years would be sliced off the end of their lives — when they’re old and crumbly and not very likely to go on Big Brother anyway).

Some we’re told were undertaking compulsive exercise, strict diets, using laxatives or making themselves sick in an attempt to lose weight or achieve a more toned physique. And although the survey didn’t cover this, other data suggests a surprisingly large number of men are also taking steroids, growth hormones and other prescription drugs to achieve a more aesthetically pleasing appearance.

Which generally means tits and abs. Men’s main preoccupation, the survey found, was their ‘beer belly’ and lack of muscles, with a whopping 63% saying they thought their arms or chests were not muscular enough. And people never believe me when I tell them that while some women are size queens, all men are.

‘Geordie Shore’s Jay knows what you want

Clearly a lot of men are gazing avariciously at the flaunted porno pecs and abs of hit TV shows like Jersey/Geordie Shore (Geordie Shore is back for a second season on MTVUK at the end of this month). We already know they’re buying Men’s Health magazine as it became the biggest-selling men’s mag recently. All those tarty, shouty Men’s Health front covers promising BIGGER ARMS! PUMPED PECS! and RIPPED ABS! in a fortnight may be as laughable as they are repetitive, but they’re clearly, lucratively tapping into 21st Century man’s deepest, darkest and beefiest desires.

Men may or may not be the new women, but men’s tits and abs are the new eye candy. Men have become their own High Street Honeys.

They’re also rather bitchy. Apparently 80.7% of the survey respondents talked about their own or others’ appearance in ways that draw attention to weight, lack of hair or slim frame. It also confirms that men of whatever sexual orientation look rather a lot at each other’s bodies, comparing and contrasting, desiring and detracting.

Dr Philippa Diedrichs of the Centre for Appearance Research at UWE in Bristol who led the survey, described this conversation between men about their bodies as ‘body talk’ (which makes me think of both Olivia Newton John beating up the fatties in ‘Physical’, and also that single from the same era by the incredibly camp dance band Imagination.)

‘Body talk reinforces the unrealistic beauty ideal which reinforces leanness and muscularity. This is traditionally seen as an issue for women but our research shows that men are feeling the pressure to conform too.’

Rosi Prescott, chief executive of Central YMCA which commissioned the research also sees this as ‘damaging’:

‘Historically conversation about your body has been perceived as something women do, but it is clear from this research that men are also guilty of commenting on one another’s bodies; and in many cases this is having a damaging effect. Men’s high levels of body talk were symptomatic of a growing obsession with appearance, she added.

Some three in five men (58.6%) said body talk affected them, usually negatively.’

I’m a bit conflicted here. Probably because as an ‘avid fan’ of the worked-out male body I’m part of the problem. On the one hand I welcome this kind of research and the publicity it’s received because it’s both putting the spotlight on both how much men’s behaviour has changed of late, and also undermining sexist assumptions about ‘men’ and ‘women’, which many feminists, like lazy stand-ups, buy into. And it’s always good to draw attention to the Patrick Batemanesque dark side of the metrosexual revolution – and its costs.

On the other hand, I’m not entirely sure that applying the problematising, pathologising and sometimes Puritanical, dare I say ‘Wolfian’ (as in ‘Naomi’), discourse that’s been used on women’s bodies wholesale to men would be something to welcome. Men aren’t the new women, but they might be the new moral panic.

This ‘body talk’ amongst men isn’t necessarily a sign of ‘guilt’ as was suggested. It might be a healthy honesty. And whilst obviously this kind of critique and competition might push some into anxiety and obsession and self-destructive behaviour, or conformity to rather narrow ideals of male beauty, the generalised, compulsory, traditional self-loathing that existed amongst men before ‘body talk’ and (male) body interest became acceptable was in many ways worse. It was also, remember, ‘normal’.

After all, not wanting to talk about their bodies is part of the reason why men historically have been very reluctant to visit their GP and tend to die much earlier on average than women. Until very recently the male body was simply an instrument that was to be used until the mainspring broke. Barely giving men time to rewind their horribly symbolic retirement clock.

And certainly, men didn’t look at one another’s bodies. Unless they were queer.

Not anymore. Men’s ‘body talk’ has become deafening. On the hit ITV reality series The Only Way is Essex Arge, who is a little on the husky side, was always gazing longingly at Mark (above) and asking how he gets his ‘fit body’ and whether he can help him get one too.

A married squaddie mate who is an occasional gym buddy always subjects my body to a close scrutiny in the changing rooms after our workouts, appreciatively commending, say, my deltoid or tricep development, and mercilessly criticising, say, my forearms’ failure to keep up with them. And my belly’s general miserable flabbiness. Part of me dreads the scrutiny, but another welcomes the frank ‘body talk’ too. I’m glad he gets all Olivia Newton John on my ass. If he didn’t, I might have to pay someone to do it.

Mind you, his wise observation about gym culture to me one day sticks in my mind: “It’s all about ‘ow you look isn’t it, Mark? Nobody really cares whether any of this makes you fit or not. You could be rotten underneath but if you look great no one gives a fook.” He’s right. The metrosexy cult of male beauty is all a bit Dorian Ghey.

Which reminds me, apparently a quarter of the respondents in this survey were gay (well, it was sponsored by the Central YMCA). Of course, some people will hastily seize upon that to disqualify its findings. And while it probably is reason to treat them with at least as much caution as those of any other survey, I’m inclined to see the large sample of gay men included as a sign of this survey’s relevance and inclusiveness. After all, it’s gays that are to blame for the cult of male bloody beauty….

Gays like The Village People. Love it or loathe it, the body-fascist foundations for the metrosexy male culture we’re living in were laid in the early Eighties. And I’m deliriously happy the Central YMCA commissioned this survey as it’s a perfect excuse for me to post (below) my Favourite Music Video of All Time. I suspect it was part of the inspiration for Olivia’s ‘Physical‘ video. (And both were almost certainly inspired by this epic.)

Every frame is a joy, but the Busby Berkeley (or is it Leni Riefensthal?) shot of the swimmers diving one after the other into the pool as if they were perfectly-formed poppies scythed down by the camera’s gaze never fails to send me into paroxysms of delight. For me, it’s always fun to stay at the YMCA.

Which is just as well. In the 21st Century we’re all checked in there. Permanently.

 

Traditional Masculinity Has a Stroke – ‘Burly Rugby Player’ Transforms Into ‘Gay Hairdresser’

My friend Michelle, formerly the male stripper known as ‘Stud-U-Like’, alerted me to this ‘freaky’ tale of transformation reported in this week’s freaky Daily Mail with this priceless headline:

Burly rugby player has a stroke after freak gym accident… wakes up gay and becomes a hairdresser

It then teases us with a couple of ‘shocking’ bullet-pointed facts

Chris Birch loses eight stone and transforms himself from skinhead to ‘preened man’

Gives up job in bank and retrains as a hairdresser

 

Cutting to the chase:

Mr Birch recalled: ‘I was gay when I woke up and I still am. It sounds strange but when I came round I immediately felt different.

“I wasn’t interested in women any more. I was definitely gay. I had never been attracted to a man before – I’d never even had any gay friends.

‘But I didn’t care about who I was before, I had to be true to my feelings.’

Before the accident Mr Birch, of Ystrad Mynach, South Wales, had spent his weekends watching sport and drinking with his mates.

But he said: ‘Suddenly, I hated everything about my old life. I didn’t get on with my friends, I hated sport and found my job boring.

‘I started to take more pride in my appearance, bleached my hair and started working out. I went from a 19-stone skinhead to an 11-stone preened man.

‘People I used to know barely recognised me and with my new look I became even more confident.’

The copy and a supportive quote from a neuroscientist seems to suggest only two explanations: ‘he was gay all along but didn’t know it before the stroke’; or ‘his stroke made him gay and good with colours’.

I’m not a neuroscientist, but it seems to me that there are more than two possible explanations here.

Maybe Mr Birch was just fed up with being the big Welsh boyo everyone wanted him to be and when it almost killed him he decided: ‘Sod THAT for a game of soldiers! Life’s too short. I’m gonna be a FLAMER!!’

Maybe Mr Birch simply resolved, albeit unconsciously, to be about Mr Birch from now on, not what his family, friends and fiancée expected of him. Maybe he chose to reject heterosexuality because it made too many demands on him. And what better way to escape its demands in a small Welsh town by waking up from a near death experience as the only gay in the village?

Being a bloke’s bloke isn’t always as much fun as it looks. And being honest, it usually doesn’t look that much fun anyway. You don’t have to be a ‘secret gay’ to find it miserable and oppressive. And more often than not you’ll be punished if you try to escape. Look at what happened to Shane Warne, whose own transformation from beer-bellied Aussie stereotype to flaming metrosexual has been regularly pilloried in the papers, including the one in which this latest sporting transformation story appeared.

Though of course nowadays it’s sometimes possible to be a rugby-playing Welshman and something of a flamer too. Maybe Mr Birch should have taken a leaf out of fellow Welshman Gavin Henson’s bachelor book and continued playing with odd-shaped balls but as a ‘preened’ rugby player. But then again, perhaps he didn’t have the legs for it.

And as for Mr Birch’s new-found interest in chaps. Well, I’m sorry but I don’t think it very surprising when males find other males sexually interesting. Or something that needs to be explained by a stroke. At least not the kind the Daily Mail reports.

There is though yet another possible explanation for all this. That this story is complete twaddle. It did after all appear in the Daily Mail. And the writer is the same one who reported pretty much every important fact about this infamous ‘gay orgy in the bushes’ story incorrectly, apparently pandering to the imagined Daily Mail reader’s worst fantasies.

Also, the stroke that ‘turned him gay’ (instantly, apparently), happened in 2005. Why wait six years to tell the national press? Especially if you told your parents and fiancée when you came round in the hospital.

And I seem to recall that when I first read this story about Mr Birch online yesterday it mentioned that he and his fiancé/girlfriend were ‘taking a break’ before the accident. The piece was ‘updated’ today and this detail is nowhere to be found.

And then we have the banner headline which talks about a ‘freak gym accident’ causing his injuries but the copy talks instead about ‘him attempting a backflip in front of friends on a field when he fell down a grass bank, breaking his neck and suffering the stroke.’ Or the way the ‘before’ picture appears to have been manipulated/squashed to make him look burlier.

But my favourite dodgy passage is this one:

‘He was taken to hospital where his fiancée and family spent days waiting anxiously at his bedside before he delivered the shocking news.’

What? More shocking than breaking his neck, suffering a stroke and nearly dying?

UPDATE 18/04/12

Last night BBC3 aired ‘I Woke Up Gay’, a documentary about Mr Birch. It was an hour long, but apart from some local Welsh colour, some more snaps of Birch pre-stroke when he was straight and very chunky (“Oh! That’s AWFUL!!'” was today’s slimline Birch’s horrified response to them) and more close-ups of Birch’s remarkable hairdo, which looks like a badly ironed dead badger, the doc didn’t really add anything to the Mail’s story. Or really clarify the ‘confusions’. (Birch says he ‘can’t remember’ much of his pre-stroke past.)

It did however leave you feeling that the whole thing wasn’t just cooked up by the Mail, and that Mr Birch seems to believe his own story. Or perhaps needs to believe it. Though it’s still not entirely clear when exactly he decided on it. His family were notable by their absence in the doc – apparently he has become estranged from most of the people he used to know before the stroke.

I don’t wish to suggest as many have done that Birch is ‘lying’, or was a ‘closet queen’ before the stroke. Or that he’s simply attention-seeking (though he certainly doesn’t seem to mind it). I do think though that he may be deceiving himself – but then, we all do that. To some extent probably most coming out stories are fictional if necessary narratives. What’s interesting is not what his story says not about dubious ‘brain science’ but about how difficult it can still be for some to accept themselves in places like the Valleys as gay, or just not a boozy rugger bugger.

In that kind of situation a stroke might even be a stroke of luck. At least in the sense of giving you a chance to reinvent yourself.

The ‘highlight’ of the doc was when Birch travels up to London to see the Wizard of Oz – or rather, a highly controversial scientist called Quazi Rahman who believes that gay men’s brains are innately different to straight men’s (this in turn is based on dubious assumptions about ‘men’ and ‘women’ that are increasingly being questioned). The narrator told us that Rahman has tested “hundreds of lesbian, gay and straight volunteers” (no bisexuals, note – and for the purposes of this entire documentary they simply don’t exist) and “can tell if a person was born gay or straight, despite their current lifestyle”.

In other words, Rahman is God.

The narration continues, cheerfully telling us:

“Though controversial, some scientists believe that our genes and hormones may determine sexuality before birth and personality traits too. These traits can be tested and this means that Dr Rahman can work out whether or not a person was truly born gay.”

Truly born gay.

In other words, Rahman is even bigger than God. He’s Jeremy Kyle.

(Note how BBC3 throws in a reluctant ‘controversial’ at the beginning of the first sentence but by the end of the second, knowing most BBC3 viewers have already long forgotten it, seems to be expressing nothing short of a divine revelation.)

So it was touching to see two people who both fervently believe in ‘gay brains’ come together – but unfortunately for Birch, it wasn’t a marriage made in heaven. Rahman talks to Birch about testing him to find out “how gay your brain is” (no, really, that’s actually what he says), but was clearly disappointed with his own results, which showed that half Birch’s responses fell within the ‘normal range’ for a gay man and the other half within the ‘normal range’ of a straight man. Whatever that means.

Birch though is delighted with the results because he sees it as an endorsement of his narrative of the stroke ‘turning his brain gay’. But Rahman seems set against the idea, despite his mixed findings. Perhaps this is because for the gay neuroscientist (who is the author of a book called ‘Born Gay’) the whole point of ‘gay brains’ seems to be that you’re born with them, rather than being something you can acquire, even by accident. Like I said, everyone has their own necessary coming out fiction.

Birch’s boyfriend, who accompanied him to the Gay Brain Detector’s lab, seemed to be the only one who had his head screwed on. He was gently sceptical of his partner’s belief that the stroke made him gay, but was patiently sympathetic to the psychology of it. “He’s based his whole life on the stroke making him gay,” he said whilst Birch’s brain was being ‘tested’ for ‘gayness’.

“If he wasn’t, it would almost be like having to start from scratch again.”

Fag-Up, America

Column by yours truly over on HuffPo about why America needs to drop the manly strap-ons and fag-up instead.

The Metrosexual is Undead

How many obituaries will the press write for the metrosexual before they finally accept that he’s immortal? Or at least, undead? That every time they cut off his head and pronounce him ‘deceased’ they replace him with even more metrosexuality?

I was recently asked some questions by Maria Paz Lopez for the Spanish national newspaper La Vanguardia about the supposed ‘decline’ of the metrosexual in response to a piece in food and drink retailing magazine The Grocer called ‘Rise of the Retrosexual’, also widely-publicised in the UK — though no journalists here took the trouble to ask for Metrodaddy’s opinion.

It wasn’t really necessary since this twaddle was anyway comically rebutted a couple of weeks later by the this report about how a ‘new wave of metrosexuals’ prompted by reality TV shows like ‘Geordie Shore’ and ‘The Only Way is Essex’ apparently can’t go on holiday without hair straighteners and travel irons.

My Spanish is very poor and I’m not sure what conclusion Paz Lopez comes to, or even how much of me she quotes. But below is the main question she asked, and my unedited response, incorporating some subsidiary questions.

Do you agree that the metrosexual man in Western societies is now in decline in favour of the retrosexual one? If so, why? If not so, why? Or are both models coexisting, and this happens to be a transitional period to God knows what kind of manliness?

 Mark Simpson: I see no evidence of the ‘decline’ of metrosexual man. Whatsoever. Quite the contrary. I just see more marketing mendacity to sell us even more male beauty products.

Since the early Noughties, when people around the world began writing and talking about the metrosexual in a big way, the metrosexual has regularly been declared ‘dead’ every few months – by marketers keen to sell even more product to men. The metrosexual is dead! Real Men are back! And using our Real Man moisturiser!!

You can’t really blame them. It seems to be a foolproof way to get lots of press attention. No matter how many times you do it.

The retailing journal behind the latest announcement of the ‘death’ of the metrosexual are even repeating themselves. In 2007 they produced another widely-publicised ‘report’ that told us: ‘Move aside metrosexuals, real men are back in action.

If they were right four years ago, what’s newsworthy about their claim now? But of course, they were dead wrong four years ago and they’re dead wrong now. Or rather, they lied four years ago and they’re lying again now. But hey, that’s marketing.

Apparently I was the first to use the term ‘retrosexual’ to contrast with ‘metrosexual’, in an essay from 2003. Back then I just meant who weren’t metro – but a decade on ‘retrosexual’ seems now to mean middle-aged, middle-class metros with shaped chest hair, designer stubble and L’Oreal endorsement deals.

The fact that sales of male cosmetics may have reached a plateau in the last year is remarkable only for the fact that this is the first time that market hasn’t grown considerably in over a decade – despite recession and economic hardship for the last few years. Male vanity and its fripperies has proved to be largely recession proof.

But anyway metrosexuality isn’t about male beauty products per se, or manbags, or spas, it’s about the male’s desire to be desired in an increasingly mediated world. And there’s no sign that that is going away. Instead it has become increasingly ‘normal’, especially amongst young men, many of whom take a great deal of care over their bodies and their appearance – and the pictures of themselves they post on their Facebook profile.

Of course, fashions come and go but metrosexuality isn’t a fashion – it’s an epoch. It represents a fundamental shift in what men are allowed to be and to want. Men are now permitted to be ‘passive’ – inviting our gaze.

Metrosexuality represents a totally aestheticized, self-conscious masculinity. And gays have been aestheticizing and accessorizing masculinity for longer than anyone else. Hence the current supposedly ‘rugged’ and ‘retrosexual’ fashion for facial hair (as yet another male accessory) was actually pioneered by gays some years ago. ‘Retrosexuals’ are aping homosexuals.

Much has been made of L’Oreal’s adoption of stubbly Hugh Laurie star of the US TV series ‘House’ as their poster boy. But no one mentions that L’Oreal have for some time been targeting middle-aged men with ads that appeal in coded fashion to their anxiety about getting old (Laurie is 52). Middle-aged men who, with their more traditional mindsets, are probably the last hold-outs against metrosexuality. Unlike their sons who just take it all for granted.

And anyway, their sons don’t know who Hugh Laurie is, or watch TV — or read newspaper articles about alleged ‘retrosexuals’ — because they’re too busy updating their topless photos on Facebook.

Guardian Gives Shane Warne a Kicking – For His Own Good

You may remember that a few weeks back Metrodaddy was moved to defend the new, svelte Shane Warne from a metrophobic kicking by the British press. Even though his look isn’t really working for me.

It seems I may have to do it again.

The Guardian — ‘the world’s leading liberal voice’ — has finally got around to putting the caring, liberal boot in too, with a piece by Hadley Freeman titled What’s Up With Shane Warne? But the Graun being the Graun it can’t just have an honest bit of metro-bashing. Oh no. It has to do it with a side-order of hypocrisy and and a sprinkling of sanctimony:

‘This is not a plaint of the quasi-misogynistic and homophobic ones that have appeared in other, inferior rags, which can be summed up as “Liz ‘That dress’ Hurley turned Shane into a big queen’.

But  of course that’s exactly what it is. And precisely because it’s the lovely liberal Graun which officially adores The Gays it can be more explicit than The Daily Mail:

‘Leaving aside the fact that he appears to have morphed from the chubby, frosted-tip rogue that he was for several decades into Dale Winton’s blond brother, all with the help of nothing other than the Estée Lauder moisturisers his girlfriend Elizabeth Hurley happens to shill for, it’s the man himself that concerns me.’

But it really isn’t the man himself she’s interested in (who tells us ‘he feels better than he has done in years’). Again and again Freeman’s whinge is that Warne isn’t a man anymore because… he’s not the chubby, blokey cricketer with the bad peroxide job whom she freely admits she wasn’t very interested in. And in fact, the virility of the entire Australian continent has been insulted by Hurley and England’s spaying and gaying of its favourite sportsman.

‘Why has Australia not staged an intervention? And after the humiliations this country have inflicted on… Warne, why has Australia not declared war on Britain?’

Freeman like most Brits (see any UK ad for Fosters) seems to fetishise Australia as some kind of repository of authentic masculinity – when in fact the bathrooms of Sydney are repositories of more male beauty products than almost anywhere on Earth. I suspect that part of the ladies and gentlemen of the British press’ bitter antipathy towards Warne’s makeover metrosexuality is the way it deprives them of their fantasy of being rogered senseless by a sweaty, leathered up Mel Gibson in Beyond Thunderdome.

Now, I realise that Freeman is employed to be bitchy and isn’t to be taken terribly seriously. And besides, her breathless style is a little difficult to follow. Or read. All the same, and for all the ironic and hypocritical smoke this piece puts out, it’s pretty clear that ‘the world’s leading liberal voice’ has some very traditional views on masculinity, even in its ‘Life and Style’ section, which has past form in this area.

But then The Graun has always had something of a puritanical bent, which is in full sermonising mode in this recent piece in the TV Section about the Welsh rugger bugger and galloping metrosexual Gavin Henson, pegged to his latest reality TV venture The Bachelor, which manages to characterise the show as demeaning to women (possibly a contractual requirement at The Graun) but spends most of its time demeaning Henson for being a rugby player who is also ‘a looker’.

Though at least the author David Stubbs is more honest than Freeman about being an old-fashioned girl.

More on The Bachelor soon….

UPDATE 30/08/11

Thanks to Bat020 for alerting me to ‘Where have all the real men gone?’ by Bryony Gordon in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph which despite the ominous title, comes out in doughty defence of Shane Warne and metrosexuality. Leaving ‘the world’s leading liberal voice’ sounding even more b&t:

‘The survey, by Dixons, found that if allowed to travel with just one electronic device, four times as many men than women would take an iron. In fact, portable speakers for iPods come below hairdryers, straighteners and a male grooming kit in the list of travel products men claim they cannot live without.

“We are increasingly seeing men coming into our stores to pick up last-minute travel essentials, such as a hairdryer and travel iron,” said Daryl Humphries of Dixons. “They often hope their girlfriend won’t notice.”

Newsflash, boys: we have noticed. We know that you sometimes use our Estée Lauder Advanced Night Cream (we can smell it on you), that you occasionally reach for our tweezers, and we have seen you studying your wrinkles in the bathroom mirror. And you know what? It’s really OK.’

Anders Breivik: Metro-Psycho


When I first saw the images of Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Breivik, the ones he had so helpfully included in his press pack that accompanied his ‘manifesto’, two thoughts immediately popped into my net-addled head:

a) They look photoshopped. Especially the soft-focus glamour one in the Lacoste jumper with the collar turned up

b) The ‘action man’ dressy-uppy photos look like they’ve been pulled from a gay fetish dating website. Look at all my sexy accessories!

When I compared them with the pictures of the inanely grinning, boringly bovine balding 31-year-old male being driven away in handcuffs in the back of a police car I congratulated myself that I hadn’t arranged to meet him.

Deluded as he is, Breivik seems very aware of the disconnect between the ‘Justiciar Knight’ image he wants to present to the world – which may appear laughable to others, but clearly turns him on like the Blackpool Illuminations – and the more hum-drum reality. According to The Daily Telegraph:

A narcissist and a fantasist, Breivik, 32, refuses to have his prison ‘mugshot’ taken to ensure that the carefully stage-managed photographs he took of himself – in full Masonic regalia or clutching his rifle – are not replaced by more humbling images.

Given his yen to stage-manage everything, even from behind bars, it’s perhaps not so surprising that costuming seems to be a continuing preoccupation of his:

Having been refused permission to wear a combat uniform, he has demanded to wear a red Lacoste sweater for his public outings to court or to the police station. He will not wear anything else.

Well, if you know your signature colour and you have a brand that you feel at home in, why change?

I have no desire to read Breivik’s manifesto. It’s over 1,500 pages long. It’s demented. Worse, it’s badly spelled. Plus there’s the small matter of his murdering scores of people, most of them children, to make me and you do just that. To make us take his delusions of grandeur and purpose seriously. So forgive me if I don’t feel like curling up with him.

There isn’t a ‘mystery’ to Breivik that needs to be unlocked, except perhaps by mental health professionals. And even then, it certainly wouldn’t be in his rambling, ranting cut-and-pasted scrapbook of (mostly American) right-wing nut-jobbery.

But plenty of people seem to take a different view. Legions of journalists and commentators and sociologists are reading the manifesto avidly, searching for clues. Explanations. Keys to unlock the ‘enigma’ that is Breivik and make sense of his senseless slaughter. Perhaps it’s the media’s job to try and find meaning where there isn’t any, but even in seeking to refute or ridicule his arguments – or hold him up as an example of what happens when right wing extremism or misogyny is allowed to flourish as many liberal papers have done – I think they are in danger of flattering him.

There are no ‘lessons’ to be learned from the pathetic creature that is Breivik, no matter how much he might want us to think so and no matter how tempting it is to pander to that. He’s criminally insane. End of.

And yet. Maybe I’m in danger of being a big fat hypocrite here, but it’s increasingly difficult for me to ignore some of the stuff in his manifesto that keeps being discussed. From a nice middle-class Norwegian background, the perpetually single (and “100% hetero”) chap laments that modern men spend so much time worrying about their clothes and their colognes.

He also bemoaned metrosexuals, seeing them as part of the ‘feminisation’ of the culture in general and men in particular which was leaving Europe (wide) open to Islamification:

…men are not men anymore, but metro sexual [sic] and emotional beings that are there to serve the purpose as a never-criticising soul mate to the new age feminist woman goddess.

Other reports tell us that he was an avid gym-goer, took steroids and visited tanning salons. There are also claims that he had plastic surgery in his early twenties on his nose and chin. And then we have those carefully staged, possibly photoshopped images and his refusal now to have his mugshot taken or wear anything in public he considers unflattering.

Breivik was clearly in pathological denial about all sorts of things – his own metrosexuality was perhaps the least of them. But he went to and continues to go to a great deal of trouble to present himself to the world, however camply, however grotesquely, as a ‘real man’, a Christian warrior, while using and displaying many of the characteristics of his hated ‘passive’, ‘weak’, ‘feminine’ metrosexuality to do that.

And in this, alas, he isn’t so unusual – just rather more extreme. There are a lot of metros in denial. Not all of them are out and proud. Quite a few are self-loathing as well as self-loving and diss ‘girlie-men’ metros in the hope that this will prove they’re not ‘that way’ themselves. A bit like how it works, in other words, with your actual homosexuality.

Much of Breivik’s politics was gleaned from right wing US websites, where chaps are always whining about not being able to find a ‘real man’ these days (in much the same way gay bears do), and where ‘metrosexual’ is used as the worst kind of insult. A fag who isn’t actually a fag. Worse than a fag, in fact. A heterosexual who allows himself to be penetrated by the weakness and effeminacy of gay men – spreading the disgusting disease of unmanliness.

So, in a sense Breivik’s anti-metro tirades are just copying and pasting again. Likewise his camply conflicted personal presentation seems to European eyes very American.

You don’t need to read A European Declaration of Independence to know that this ‘Christian warrior’ mass-murderer clearly desires to be desired. The manifesto, those glamour shots and probably even the awful crimes are one enormous, mega-creepy personal ad. Not so much metrosexual as metro-psycho.

The worst of it is that to some extent Anders Breivik has achieved what appears to be his main goal. Not starting a war against the Islamic invasion of Europe and ‘cultural Marxism’. Nor getting people to read his bloody manifesto.

He’s become a celebrity.

Tip – Bat020

 UPDATE 17/04/12

It seems Breivik tired of the red Lacoste jumper and decided to go for something more formal, but still designer (with very padded shoulders) for his court appearance this week. And a fashion beard that accentuates his ‘heroic’ jaw-line. Quite the dashing ‘Christian warrior’.

From his meticulously crafted appearance, his rehearsed clenched fist salute, to the tears on viewing his own propaganda film, to to his lack of response to the tapes of the final moments of the people he slaughtered to get this gig in front of the word’s media, it’s obvious that Breivik is thoroughly enjoying the attention and won’t let the small matter of all those dead bodies spoil his week.

UPDATE 24/08/12

Breivik was originally diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and thus not responsible for his actions – i.e. criminally insane. This caused an outcry in Norway and, highly unusually, two more forensic psychologists were called in. This time a much more popular diagnosis was delivered: they declared that because of the way he meticulously planned his attacks he couldn’t be crazy.

Today the Oslo district court where he has been on trial for mass murder went with the second diagnosis, declared him legally ‘sane’ and sentenced him to 21 years in prison – though he is unlikely to ever be released.

Everyone seems happy with this verdict. The survivors. The families. Norway. The media. Breivik is perhaps the happiest. Unless he was playing an Oscar winning Br’er Rabbit, the thing he appeared to fear most was being ruled insane and thrown in a specially built psychiatric unit indefinitely. In his mind he is now a ‘political prisoner’ not a highly dangerous mentalist.

I can’t say I blame Norway for perhaps moving the goalposts to make sure he was found criminally responsible. But in a sense, his ‘Christian warrior’ delusions have been endorsed. 

Shane Warne Comes Out Looking Pretty

Remember the Australian cricketer Shane Warne? Remember how blokey and beery and one of the carefree lads he was? A proper man’s man? Well, he’s only gone and been snared by a posh Pommy Sheila who’s turned him into a bloody pooftah!

Or at least this was the drift of today’s Telegraph article about him, snappily titled: ‘Shane Warne’s remarkable transformation at the hands of girlfriend Liz Hurley continues’:

During his years as a famous Aussie cricketer, Warne had declined to take much of an interest in his physique or appearance, except for the odd foray into blond hair dye and hair “renewal”. If he grew slightly overweight thanks to too much beer and too many meat pies, it didn’t seem to worry him.

But it seems those days are over.

Since he met and started dating Hurley, he has morphed into an altogether more sophisticated creature.

Gone is the bad dye job and spiky hair. Gone is the pot belly. Gone are the trainers and high-street tracksuits.

These days Warne seems to be styling himself, or being styled, on a cross between James Bond and a Ken doll.

Thanks to the attentions of Hurley he says that he has lost 22lb and feels better than he has in years. He appears to have had his eyebrows reshaped and has even admitted to using moisturising cream, defiantly proclaiming: “Yes, I’m still a man”.

Warne, nosing into middle-age at 41, is a latecomer to the metrosexual party, but he appears to be making up for lost time. For what it’s worth, I’m not sure his look is exactly working for me, but it seems to be working for him and that’s rather more important. After all, he ‘feels better than he has in years’.

But note how this is all ‘at the hands of’ Hurley. How he is ‘being styled on a cross between James Bond and a Ken Doll.’ Hurley in other words is playing dressy-uppy with her new boy toy. Who might proclaim he’s ‘still a man’, but we know he’s been tamed, and spayed and turned all girly by Hurley.

We’ve been here before. A similar sort of thing was said about David Beckham when he married Posh Spice (and not just by Sir Alex Ferguson). The wicked witch had ensnared the fresh-faced Manchester United footballer and then, with the help of her gay chums, had drugged him with hairspray and turned him into the sarong-wearing sissy that paraded in front of the world’s media.

A decade on, I think now most people accept that Becks is the way he is because Becks wants to be the way he is. He chose Posh as much as she chose him — probably because he wanted to be the biggest Spice Girl in the world. If so, he succeeded.

Warne isn’t going to challenge Becks for his metro crown any time soon, but he has obviously decided to prettify himself considerably. So much so that to some retrosexual die-hards it must almost look like a sex change (‘Yes, I’m still a man.’).

But Warne seems to enjoy feeling pretty. Maybe Hurley appealed to him precisely because she knew all the right stylists. So he could become the beautiful metrosexual butterfly the roly-poly cricketer was trying to turn into all along.

Being a blokey bloke isn’t necessarily about being carefree. It can be about caring much too much what other blokey blokes might say. Perhaps this new glamorous, svelte Shane Warne is the ‘real’ one, rather than an inauthentic, Girly-Hurley-confected fake that The Telegraph et al suggest he is.

In the end, contrary to the way the media often likes to present it, metrosexuality isn’t so much about men submissively pleasing women as men pleasing themselves.

Which, it seems, is the scary part.

 

The Earring Wars are Over

Last Saturday’s The London Times Magazine ran an extract from ‘The Man in the Gray Flannel Skirt’, a memoir by Jon-Jon Goulian ‘the New York Review of Books first cross-dressing staffer’. I haven’t read it yet, but the extract inclined me to do so very soon.

Here’s Goulian on the semantics of earrings in the 1980s – a semantics which I also recall as having a very definite and decisive import when I was at school in the UK back then which you ignored at your peril, but which now seems as daft as Crystal and Alexis mud-wrestling:

In 1984, in La Jolla, California, as was true in most places in this country, a huge amount of significance was attached to which ear an earring appeared in. If it was in the left ear, that meant you had a liberal conscience, and that you wanted people to know it. It was essentially like having a bumper sticker on the back of your VW bus that said NO NUKES. It was a gesture. Nothing more. So no one took it seriously.

An earring in the right ear, on the other hand, meant that you were gay, and that you wanted people to know it. That, people took more seriously. An earring in the right ear could get a bag of Tater Tots thrown at your head, which I saw happen to a gay kid at La Jolla High School. In La Jolla, Tater Tots. Other places, bats and bullets.

Earrings in both the right ear and the left ear were unclear. They meant that you were a) gay; or b) that you were not only gay but also a budding transvestite; or c) that you were not gay but only a budding transvestite; or d) that you were not gay and not a budding transvestite but, just weird and confused and in need of some sort of counselling.

When my mother set eyes on me, the same thought ran through her mind as would have run through the mind of any middle-class woman who grew up in Park Slope, Brooklyn, in the Fifties – ‘Oh, my God! I don’t understand! Is he a or b or c or d? Or all the above? This is not a fair test! I don’t understand the question!’

His poor mother.

Nowadays, the monosexual semantics of earrings on boys has broken down. The earring war is over. It ended, like most things have in this new century, not in white doves and petals and earrings being beaten into plowshares but incoherence.

Or as someone on this thread put it, in answer to a quaint question about which side was ‘gay’:

‘Um. Are you stuck in the 80s? It doesn’t mean anything any more.’

Which is perhaps bad news if you wanted like Jon-Jon seems to have back in the day, to make a statement that ‘people took seriously’. But then, it’s not just earrings that have suffered that fate.

 

Paris Attacked By Army of Aberzombies – Surrenders Instantly

101 shirtless, hairless pairs of perfect pecs stop the traffic on Champs Elysees. All part of a shameless, highly successful ploy by Abercrombie & Fitch to draw attention to their new flagship store opening in Paris.

Back in Bushy, anti-American 2007, when A&F opened their London store I wrote about the ‘Frattish American Wet Dream Conquering the World’:

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.

 

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