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Friends, Bromans, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Rears

Mark Simpson on the decline and fall of male modesty

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

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

Or as the press release puts it:

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

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

Missed single entendre alert!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David McIntosh and admirer.

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

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

Tom and Rhiannon

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

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

Brandon Myers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bromans is on ITV2, Thursdays, at 9pm.

Love Island – ITV’s Primetime Spornotopia

Mark Simpson on this Summer’s smash-hit dating show : ‘a comedy of compulsory heterosexuality’.

(Telegraph Men, 18 July, 2017)

Utopian fantasies have long gripped the human imagination. Famous, brainy – but sadly, not very buff – thinkers such as Plato (in the 4th Century BC), Thomas Moore (in the 16th AD) and HG Wells (in the 20th), sketched out what an ideal society might look like. But their philosophical visions were never realised.

It wasn’t until the early 21st Century that someone finally had the brilliant idea of ditching ethics for aesthetics, taking a sun-drenched island, covering it in decking, astroturf, pools, lip gloss, and steel-reinforced, musical double beds. And then adding cameras. Lots and lots of cameras, to catch all the love-hate action between the goodly, beauteous creatures that inhabit this brave new world. And who mostly speak with an Essex accent.

In 2014, I coined the phrase ‘spornosexual‘ to finger second-generation, body-centred, ‘hardcore’ metrosexuals – those buffed-up, barely-dressed young men kindly sharing their porny selfies on social media. Now ITV2 has given them a dream home – Spornotopia. Otherwise known as Love Island.

Love Island is the ratings hit of the summer; a socio-cultural phenomenon. It’s essentially a very expensive porn set, where babelicious women sit on beanbags discussing the size of their own silicone beanbags – while young spornosexual men and their shaped eyebrows labour in the outdoor gym to inflate their meat beanbags. And in the evening, everyone ‘recouples’. All sponsored by Superdrug.

I’ve seen the future, and it works out. And waxes. It also shags a lot – but perhaps that’s because the porntastic islanders are not allowed access to porn. In an exquisitely horny paradox, Love Island is a world based on porn in which porn doesn’t exist. Save the really exploitative, emotional variety.

Hence we don’t see any action – just c**k-blocking duvets. This is primetime, so phallic ice lollies and single entendre games with sausages have to do a lot of symbolic work.

Then again, maybe instead of bumping uglies, really bad acting by really beautiful people is what porn is.

In this perfect society – or society of perfection – everyone is a glamour model. But the men are more glamorous than the girls. They and their auto-airbrushed bodies are the tarty stars of the show (as the pectastic Love Island ident advertises).  They are, as they never stop telling us, ‘the total package’. However, this can lead to problems in paradise – where everyone’s true love is their own reflection, and ITV2 is their selfie stick.

“The boys are more vain than the gels,” one of the young women [Chloe Crowhurst, 22, Essex] complains. “They come in the dressing room, take up all the mirrors, all the hairdryers and straighteners. They shave and wax everything, including their arms and fingers! Even I don’t do that! Kem spends 40 mins a day just blow drying ‘is ‘air!”

Kem Cetinay, 21, Essex, is a powerful figure on the island and a seminal figure for our time: not just because he’s pretty and buff and funny, but because he’s a hair stylist. He keeps the lads’ sharp cuts sharp, and they love him for it: “The fact that Ken is a barber makes my life a dream,” confessed Dom Lever, 26 – who himself gave the lads manicures.

“We’ll do anything to look good. We’re not embarrassed about that,” says Kem.

Though some of the women try to make them. Hence the protests when Alex Beattie, 22, a buff, already absurdly attractive Geordie, receives a beauty treatment from Kem and his best friend andprettiness peer in the villa, Chris Hughes, 24: “They’re literally grooming him!” “It’s like a cult! That we’re not involved in!”

Eventually, as Alex is having his toenails painted, the girls stage an intervention, bursting in on the scene and screaming: ‘What the f*** is going on!!’. But Alex doesn’t want to be rescued, and is more interested in admiring his fetching new toes. The girls retreat in confusion: “We came on Love Island to find MEN! What have we done??”

Love Island is probably the gayest and certainly the campest show on telly. Something only compounded by the fact that no one on Love Island is actually, or at least officially, gay. It’s a comedy of compulsory heterosexuality – if you don’t couple up, you get kicked off. Much like life. And it hardly needs me to say this – because the knowing, fabulously catty narration by Scottish comedian Iain Stirling perfectly articulates all the on-screen camping around.

Gone is the formal objectivity of Big Brother’s date stamp in a Sunderland accent. Love Island’s voiceover archly pokes fun at the promiscuous fidelity of the contestants, their hair-flicking contests, and professions of undying (self) love. And even at the concept of the show itself.

“As we all know, this is love Island, not Friend Island” explains Stirling. “But there is one very important loophole. The bromance. And Kem and Chris are exploiting it to within an inch of its life.” The dreamers! Kem: “If we end up not coupling up you reckon they’ll let you and me couple up?” Chris: “I hope so. I wouldn’t mind coupling up with you.” Kem: “I’d share a bed with you.” Chris: “All day and every day.”

Cue a montage of them spooning and showering together and Kem cutting Chris’ hair – which is the real sex on Love Island. Chris, who apparently has the largest penis on the Island, reassures Kem, whose penis is apparently smaller: “It’s nice – and when it gets going it really gets going. Are we showering again this evening?” They even try to clipper each other’s initials into their pubes.

Compared to the Darwinian official heterosexuality of the show, bromance can seem sweetly spontaneous and loving. Even if it may be, as Stirling suggests, simply another ploy.

Either way, it’s indicative of how many straight young men are impressively unafraid of appearing ‘gay’ these days – only 50 years after male homosexuality was decriminalised. All the fears of those who opposed the law change seem to have come true. Beautifully.

<

div class=”dynamicMpu section”>And if Kem really is in love with Chris, it’s only to be expected in Spornotopia. “Every single person in this house fancies me,” sighs an exhausted Chris to himself/us at one point. He’s not bragging or exaggerating.

‘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 survivalist Bear Grylls’ calloused-but-manicured hands difficult to take too seriously.

bear-grylls-1337808801

But taken seriously he most certainly has been by the UK media with his currently airing C4 reality show The Island, in which thirteen ‘ordinary men’ are marooned on a tropical island for a month to find out whether today’s softies can cut it as ‘hunter gatherer’ butch Bear Grylls types. Nothing very much happens – the Gryllsettes grow beards, lose some pounds, drink a lot of boiled stagnant water, get bitten by sand-flies, and fall out with one another and then back in again. Like Big Brother but more boring.

Though given the column inches devoted to this show you’d think Grylls was some kind of sociologist, anthropologist and cultural seer. Rather than an outdoor cabaret artist with properly hydrated skin and really nice eyes.

So I hesitate to add to C4’s already bulging folder of press cuttings about Grylls’ sweaty island, but the Channel’s Chief Creative Officer Jay Hunt’s defence of the show’s decision not to include women last week was such a wonderfully serious and altogether inadvertent admission of where the actual ‘sexism’ of the show lies that it’s impossible to resist.

Hunt defended her reality show from the straw woman argument, aired widely in the media recently by female survival experts, that it was sexist because it excluded women from the island by reiterating the comically prejudiced premise of the reality show: that it was intended as a ‘real test of modern masculinity’. She went on:

‘Let’s be honest, what better way of finding out what British men were REALLY made of than leaving them to fend for themselves in a frighteningly tropical environment.’

Yes, let’s be honest. Real men don’t eat quiche, but creepy crawlies. Real masculinity is about being deprived of all culture and civilization and potable water. Real masculinity is all about tropical skid marks.

Bear-Grylls Island

Women are excluded from the delights of the island not because Ms Hunt didn’t think women would be able to cope, but because doing so would have got in the way of the stereotype that men are ‘really’ savages. Or ‘hunter gatherers’ as she likes to describe them. The show is not about finding out what people are REALLY made of – but today’s men. Because we already know what men should be made of. It’s not sexist, in other words, because its sexism is directed towards chaps. Any sexism towards ladies is just unintended blowback.

In fact this kind of brutish reductiveness about men applied to women by C4 would have brought a much bigger backlash than the one prompted by disgruntled female survival experts. It would have cost Hunt her job. Can you imagine the outcry, for instance, over a reality TV show which announced that it aimed to find out what British women, as a sex, were REALLY made of – by locking them in the kitchen? Or Mothercare?

Any attempt to talk about REAL and ESSENTIAL femininity – let alone applying some contrived ‘test’ of it – is generally held up to fierce criticism these days, now that women are, rather wonderfully, encouraged to believe they can be anything they want to be. Including Chief Creative Officers at C4 – commissioning shows about REAL and ESSENTIAL masculinity. ‘Women are every bit as cut out for this survivalist stuff as men,’ says Ms Hunt. ‘Women are stronger, more independent and more self-reliant than they have ever been.’

Quite so. But while women can be much more than submissive Janes nowadays, men are apparently still supposed to be forever anxiously comparing themselves to some mythical Tarzan that never existed. And if you doubt it never really existed, take a look at Mr Grylls, who is the most absurd and unbelievable confection of a human being imaginable. A survival porn star.

bear-grylls-o

In an introduction to the series, in which Bare Thrills has, very unusually, kept most of his clothes on, he opined: “I want to find out what happens if you strip man of all the luxuries and conveniences of modern living and then force him to fight for his existence.” By ‘man’ here Grylls means, as Ms Hunt has explained, not humans, but ‘men’.

The presentation of the series as some ‘real test of modern masculinity’ is, ‘naturally’, completely bogus even by the cranky standards of reality TV ‘experiments’. You could have taken any group of unprepared British men of the last hundred years or so and dropped them in a tropical mangrove swamp equipped with nothing but some garden string, Elastoplasts and hand-held TV cameras with much the same results. (Though it turns out that some of the contestants, and indeed the island itself, weren’t so unprepared after all. But hey, that’s show business.)

But the underlying premise that masculinity has to be ‘tested’, to be proved ‘real’, is what shows up the, ahem, rigid expectations we can still have of men compared to women, even on groovy C4. This is why Grylls, picking up on media chatter of the last year, has talked repeatedly about his show being about today’s ‘crisis of masculinity’.

That phrase is, like Grylls’ show, now much more of a problem than the one it purports to describe. As I’ve written elsewhere, when people talk about a ‘crisis of masculinity’ these days they’re usually talking about their own – in dealing with the fact that modern masculinity isn’t what they want or expect it to be. Particularly when working class chaps aren’t what middle class chaps like Chief Scout Grylls (educated at Eton ) want them to be.

And has anyone noticed how no one ever seems to talk about a ‘crisis of femininity’?

Older men may miss some of the masculine certainties of their youth, but most of today’s ‘soft’ young men seem very glad indeed that they’re not banished to the desert island of ascetic old skool masculinity their fathers and grandfathers were. Unless of course it gets them on telly.

Whatever people’s intentions in invoking it, and whatever value it may have had back in the 80s and 90s when male roles really began to change, post Thatcherite-Reaganite crash consumerism and de-industrialization, the concept of a ‘crisis of masculinity’ all these years of change later merely perpetuates the notion that masculinity is one phallic thing only, and that thing needs to be kept up, and ‘hard’. Otherwise we’ll all have a nervous breakdown. And not catch any fish.

In the end, for all the pretentious and possibly sexist claims made for it, everyone knows that The Island is really just entertainment and voyeurism. But it’s cheering to think that the use of the ‘crisis of masculinity’ to sell Bare Thrills’ latest instalment of survival porn may finally do for the phrase.

Let’s leave its meagre carcass on the island, picked clean of what little, stringy meat it ever had on it.

Bear Grylls mud bath

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