Unborn in 1963, the year he nearly defeated Cassius Clay (the Brits love near-winners much more than winners), I remember him for the curious Brut TV commercials he did in the 1970s that helped usher in the world of male product aisles in supermarkets and spornographic advertising we know today.
‘Enery’s ‘omely features and working class man’s man status, along with the ironic play on Brut/brute, guaranteed that there was nothing poofy about men using cologne as more than just an aftershave — ‘splash it on all ovah!’ Which was an important statement for one of the first mass market male colognes to make at a time when such vanites were generally still frowned upon in the rather pongy UK. In the Dick Emery, Are You Being Served? 1970s it was inconceivable that ‘enery could be ‘omo.
But the ‘omosocial reassurance that something isn’t ‘omo can look a lot like ‘omosexuality sometimes.
Here’s one of the happily married Henry having a sweaty workout, shower and towel-flicking sesh with footballer Kevin Keegan. Which is manly man’s man stuff, but with a surprisingly pronounced (intergenerational) homoerotic sub-text. The fact I still vividly remember it from my youth suggests that the sub-text was there all along, and not just something the filthy-minded 21st Century has projected on the past.
It even seems like they’re about to kiss at one point. But then, in the 1970s footballers did this to one another after scoring. Because again, it was inconceivable that they could be ‘omo.
Thirty years on, it’s hardly a surprise that Brut is no longer trailblazing. Brut, which was never exactly a ‘refined’ fragrance, is marketed in the US today as a slightly ironic retrosexual throwback.
Though maybe I’m mistaken. Perhaps the retrosexual at the end of the ad below is really a butch lesbian.
Why, I wonder, are gays – or at least the busybody, button-holing, milk-monitor types – so keen on ads being nice to them and telling the world it’s OK to be homo? Especially when this strategy frequently leaves them with mayo on their faces?
Stonewall’s apoplexy over the pulling of the Heinz ‘gay kiss’ ad earlier this year is a messy case-in-point. Excuse me, but it wasn’t a gay kiss, it was a joke: Heinz’s sandwich spread is so good, it turns mum into an ugly New York deli short-order chef whom dad pecks on the cheek before leaving in the morning. They’re not a gay couple. The fact it wasn’t a very good joke doesn’t make the sulky gay boycott of Heinz for pulling the ad look any less humourless than the literalist Christians and ‘family-values’ freaks who complained about it in the first place.
Likewise, whatever Snickers were saying in that TV ad featuring Mr T barking, “Get some nuts!” while firing candybars at a swishy speed-walker, the much swishier response of gay groups on both sides of the Atlantic who succeeded in getting it banned sent out the entirely unambiguous message that gays don’t have any.
More to the point, who besides Stonewall and pensioners, actually watches TV ads these days? Isn’t that what the fast-forward button was invented for? Gay people, and for that matter most straights, are too busy uploading their ‘home movies’ onto their on-line profile to watch TV in real time.
‘Impressionable’ kids that the gay busybodies want to protect certainly aren’t watching: they don’t see the point of TV that doesn’t turn the world into a lake of fire at the touch of an Xbox controller.
I’ll bet ready money most people only heard about these ads after the gay milk monitors started huffing, “How very dare you!” – and driving even more traffic to YouTube. It was the only place I actually saw either ad.
Gay protests about ‘homophobic’ ads today sometimes seem to exist in a virtual world, defending virtual people from virtual slights where the only thing that’s real is pointlessness. I’m old enough to remember when people did watch ads. It was a time when they were, as everyone used to say repeatedly, “the best thing on telly,” when, instead of diving for the mute button, people would turn the sound up.
And it was a time when ads were doing their damndest to turn everyone gay. It was called the 1980s.
In the 1980s, advertising was gay porn – and the only gay porn generally available. Which is why it was so powerful. Now, thanks to the net, porn is porn – or rather, porn is advertising: I want those pubes/ that body/ that cock/ that orifice/ that surgery/ that lampshade.
The legendary UK Levi’s male striptease ads of the mid-1980s (inspired by the success of the 1983 Calvin Klein underwear poster campaign featuring a giant Tom Hintnaus stripped down to his Y fronts in Times Square) in which humpy young men took their clothes off in our living rooms – and introduced the existence of the worked-out, attention-hungry, proudly passive male body to an equally astonished and enraptured British public – not only brainwashed an entire generation of straight boys into joining the gym and then going to gay discos and starting boybands to show off the results.
It also succeeded in making even straight women gay. After all, in place of cooing about “twinkly eyes,” it taught women to look at the male body with the same critical, impossibly demanding, carnivorous eye that gay men had used for years. (And in fact, so much have all our expectations been inflated that Nick Kamen’s ‘fabulously hunky’ body as it was described back then by the tabs, today probably wouldn’t get past the audition stage – he’d be told to go back to the gym and inject some horse steroids.)
Pre-1980s there wasn’t much gay lust in ads or, for that matter, Britain. I remember as a kid spending most of the 1970s watching an Old Spice Aftershave ‘Mark of a Man’ commercial, which featured a surfer riding a vast, spuming wave in very long-shot, to the climactic strains of ‘O Fortuna’ from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. The number of times I waited for that ad to come on as a kid, hoping, praying that this time the camera would move in closer.
In the 1980s, my prayers were answered and the lens moved in, big time. Since then, it’s never moved back. It has zoomed ever closer, until now we’re looking at the mitochondria on the walls of men’s small intestines.
Maybe I’m an incurable romantic/masochist, but I sometimes find myself missing the aching, blurry, long-shot tease of 1970s’ Old Spice masculinity. Because it never quite delivers, it never disappoints.
You might think my take on how 1980s advertising queered up Britain and made it safe for metrosexuality fanciful, but there were lots of people who objected to the Levi’s commercials back then because they saw them as promoting sodomitic immorality. If those nay-gay-sayers had succeeded in having the ads pulled – in the way that gay groups succeed today with ads they deem to be immoral – who knows what kind of pec-less, ab-less world we might be living in?
In the post-advertising, post-gay porn world we’re living in, there’s an American website called Commercial Closet devoted to how ads treat homosexuals, which you can visit if you want to get worked up over ads you haven’t seen – most of them foreign. It has a gay grading system for each ad that, using a complicated very American formula, scores them from 0 to 100. Anything under 49 is deemed ‘Negative’, between 49-69 is ‘Caution’; 69-89 ‘Equal’; and 89-100 ‘Elton John’ (OK, I made that last bit up).
One of the more interesting contributions is a series of ads for the trainers ASICS, which ran in France this year. In them, two male French comedians, Omar & Fred, one black, one white, ‘go gay’, making passes at one another. Sans ASICS, they’re rebuffed indignantly by the other party. Avec, they go gaga for them. There’s nothing especially offensive about the ads. They resort to fewer stereotypes than gay-adored Little Britain and, more importantly, are (mildly) funny and seem to be entirely accurate in what they’re saying about the effect that consumerism in general – and advertising in particular – have had on men.
How does it score according to Commercial Closet’s gay-friendly grading system? ‘40: Negative’.
Old Spice are running an eye-wateringly spornographic wrestling TV ad for their Red Zone Hydrowash in the US. It features two buffed, cut, metro-wrestlers with really great hair and skin grappling on the mat. The ‘bottom’, held in a neck lock, comments, between fighting for air, on the ‘top’s ‘soft skin’ and how it’s ‘supple’. ‘So?’ replies the top, slightly baffled but carrying on choking.
‘It’s… nice’ the lad eventually manages to sputter, before the ref blows the whistle. ‘THERE’S NO SHAME IN SOFT SKIN,’ announces a reassuringly butch coach-like, ironic but perhaps not so ironic, voiceover.
I’m not sure what ‘Hydrowash’ is, but after seeing this ad I don’t know how I’ve lived without it. I suspect those 300 Spartans probably use it too.
I don’t think these guys eat Snickers. This ad is as funny and smart and young as that Superbowl Snickers ad wasn’t. What’s more, it has big (shaved) balls where that Snickers ad just had nelly OMIGOD!! NOWAY!! SOOOGROSS!! THEIR LIPS, LIKE, TOTALLY TOUCHED!!! man-panic.
A clever and effective way to re-brand a company still associated with the smooth operator breeder naffness of the 1970s.
The end-line for this knowlingly, wittily spornographic ad is ‘Keep it clean’.
Thanks to Glenn for bringing this to my rapt attention
Books by Mark Simpson
The Psychopathology of Everyday Driving
A biography of the metrosexual. By his dad.
End of Gays?
Banning gay propaganda can backfire. Spectacularly.
“All Saints should be presumed guilty until proved innocent.”
The book that changed the way the world looks at men
It's a Queer World
A warped look at a fin de siecle world of pop culture where nothing is quite as straight or gay as it seems.
This book will change the way you think about sex. It may even put you off it altogether.
Male Lib is Nothing to Be Scared Of
Notes on Hipsterism
While everyone else in the 80s wanted to look like they’d walked off the set of Blade Runner or Top Gun, Peter York looked and sounded like he’d stepped out of Dangerous Liaisons. […]
Sixth Form Boys Will Hug Boys
Why masculinity isn't 'in crisis'.
Invasion of the Driverless Cars
Mark Simpson on the headless horsemen of the coming ‘carpocalypse’
Pride & Prejudice
I think the time has come to share a secret about my past I’ve kept hidden for far too long.…
‘Love Island’ – ITV’s Primetime Spornotopia
Mark Simpson undresses the gayest straight dating show on telly
Cristiano Ronaldo’s talent & prettiness are intolerable.
Hairdresser Cars on Fire
Feeling envious or threatened by someone else’s motor? Unable to afford it? Resentful of the pleasure and joy it clearly brings them? Allergic to bold style, design, and nice colours? Never fear! […]
Get Hur! How Gay Subtexts Became Ancient History
We don’t really do subtexts in the see-through, digital 21st Century. Sextexts, definitely. Subtweets, possibly. Subtexts, not so much. Who has the time? Who can even be bothered with having a subconscious? Subtexts are so analogue. […]
Inside Spornosexual Pride
Mark Simpson goes to BodyPower, the UK’s biggest fitness expo, & tries not to stare too hard. Even though staring is…
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…
Union Street Blues: Plymouth’s Last ‘Run Ashore’?
Mark Simpson goes in search of a drunken sailor in Devon's historic, salty Naval port. […]
1983: The Last Summer of Synth-Pop
From the gender-bending antics of Eurythmics and Culture Club to the propulsive synthpop of Depeche Mode, New Order, and the…
I’d F*ck Me: Mirror Man-Love
Top Gun Turns Thirty – How Did It Get So Gay?
Mark Simpson on the (self) sexualisation of today’s male body & why straight young men crave gay adulation
How young men fell out of love with the motor car
Captain Kirk’s Bulging Trousers
The pointed queerness of the original Shatner/Nimoy Star Trek series – & the PC limpness of all the spin-offs.…
From Metrosexual to Spornosexual – Two Decades of Male Deliciousness
‘Metrodaddy’ Mark Simpson on the evolution of male vanity
The Rise & Fall of Monosexuality
Ten Iconic Car Ads
Ten unforgettable car ads that transcended both cars and advertising and came to symbolise an age
You & Your iPhone: The Perfect Relationship?
Imagine the perfect relationship. Imagine a relationship so perfect that it will be the only one you need. Or have.
The Swishy Villainy & Psychodrama of Skyfall
Mark Simpson fondles the pecs and thighs of James Bond’s latest ‘outing’
Quentin Crisp & Hurtian Crisp
The Naked Civil Servant is the best and funniest TV drama ever made. And I’m sorry, but it’s a scientific fact.
How The Prostate Came Out of the Closet
Pietro Boselli – Spornosexual Philosopher
Mark Simpson sits at the feet of ‘The Bona of Verona’
Keyless Entry & Male Versatility
“I call him lollipop” The sexualisation of the male body probes new, perfectly-rounded depths
‘Bare Thrills’ Strips Masculinity Down To Its Skidmarks
Maybe I suffer from what Freud described as man’s tendency to devalue what he desires, but I find anything touched by TV…
The crusade against ‘fapping’ is eerily reminiscent of the anti-masturbation movements of the 19th century says Mark Simpson (Originally appeared in the Daily Telegraph 29 April, 2016) Those annoying porn ‘pop-ups’ are impossible to avoid these days. Especially when browsing serious newspapers. PORN HORROR! headlines zoom repeatedly into our sightlines, warning us that pornography is ‘addictive’ (despite an inconvenient lack of evidence), ‘ruins relationships’ and ‘rewires men’s brains’, turning them into sex zombie automatons. Whether or not it’s addictive for people who watch it, porn […]