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

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‘A Fresh Clean Smell That Could ONLY Be Masculine!’

Mark Simpson has a sniff around a classic men’s deodorant ad that reveals how far we’ve come – and also how some things never change

Back in the 1960s the mass-market ‘grooming’ of men by advertisers wanting to sell them vanity products was only just beginning its warm-up.

This rare and pristine copy of a 1968 UK cinema ad for men’s deodorant with the reassuringly martial name ‘Target’ (a brand that seems to have gone missing in the intervening half century) recently posted on the BFI website is a little gem of a gender time-capsule.

Starring working class hero and footballing legend Geoff Hurst, the ad points up how much has changed – post Beckham and Ronaldo. But also how some things haven’t very much. It contains some of the now tiresome tropes that can still be found in (bad) advertising aimed at men today, however the passage of time has rendered them so absurd here as to be rather endearing.

A couple of years earlier Hurst had scored a hat-trick for England in the 1966 World Cup Final – defeating West Germany. It was VE Day all over again, but without the rationing. Hurst became a national (war)hero overnight, passionately admired by millions of men.

Hence Hurst was the perfect patriotic package for pitching a hitherto sissy product like deodorant as heroic and masculine. (1960s heavyweight boxing champion and Cockney folk hero Henry Cooper would later be deployed in a similar fashion for Brut aftershave in the blokey bruiser’s famous “splash it on all ovah!” 1970s TV ads.)

Watch Target Geoff Hurst 1968 FIRST AID

Note how the “GOOD and STRONG” – the opposite of sissy – deodorant bottle is the same no-nonsense colours as the bandages in the locker-room first aid cabinet its kept in. Today, players’ changing rooms have had to be rebuilt to make their lockers big enough to accommodate their cosmetic-filled manbags.

Target is not sold as a cosmetic, heaven forfend, but as ‘protection’ – it’s the off-pitch version of the martial shin-pads Geoff wears before he heads onto the pitch and pretending, endearingly badly, to be hard-tackled on what seems to be a pitch made mostly of honest, manly mud.

In fact, the ‘protection’ angle is emphasised so much you wonder whether Target made prophylactics as well.

Note also the modesty-saving towel velcroed to Hurst’s chest – today the camera would be zooming in on his oiled, shaved, pumped pecs, and following him into the shower. And note the visit to the local boring boozer instead of a poncey bar selling them there dodgy foreign lagers.

And it would be impossible to miss the hysterical insistence by the fruity voiceover on the MANLINESS of this deodorant and the “MAN-SIZED protection” it offers: “With a fresh clean smell that could ONLY BE MASCULINE! … For men and MEN ONLY!”

Because of course most men in the UK in the 1960s didn’t use deodorant and were slightly suspicious of men who did.

Hurst is a man’s man from a man’s world of manly, smelly locker rooms, pitches, barracks, terraces and factories. But in case we still thought that there might be any ambiguity about his use of deodorant, despite the voiceover’s insistence, as the BFI website blurb points out, the ad is careful to show us that Hurst’s MANLY deodorant is definitely not for the benefit of MEN. Target is to be used ONLY after the match and locker-room towel-flicking is over – because it has a heterosexual aim.

Watch Target Geoff Hurst 1968 LADIES

Scrubbed-up, suited and booted and sprayed with the fresh clean MANLY smell of Target, Geoff has three ‘dolly-birds’ throwing themselves at him down the boozer (and maybe a fourth at the bar getting another round in). I hope he kept the shin-pads on.

Then again, for a previous generation of men such as some of the older ones we glimpse cheering on the MEN ONLY terraces in their cloth caps – who definitely aren’t the target market – young Geoff’s hanging out with all these women, with his hair all nice and his armpits ‘protected’ would likely have been seen as the height of effeminacy rather than a reassuring proof of heterosexuality.

He’ll be drinking from a stemmed glass next!

(Even worse, in just a couple of generations, he ended up swinging it around like this.)

Watch Target Geoff Hurst 1968 CAPS

h/t Brian Robinson

Fag-Up, America

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

A Bit of Laurie (& Fry)

“At first I thought it was a mistake, but then I realised that L’Oreal wasn’t looking for models but for people with strong personalities, who are worth it…and who aren’t afraid to proclaim that using cosmetics can be a very masculine decision after all.”    – Hugh Laurie.

 L’Oreal’s new middle-aged poster boy Hugh Laurie — or Hugh L’Oreal as he shall henceforth be known — used to attend the same gym as me in the 1990s, in Tufnel Park, North London, before he moved to the bright lights of Hollywood. He was a very determined gym-goer, working up a terrific sweat and going quite beetroot red in the face while those famously goggly eyes stared fixedly into the distance.

A distance that turned out to be transatlantic stardom and lucrative men’s anti-ageing cosmetics endorsement deals. That sweaty determination was a surprisingly contrast with the foppish, Woosterish, posh idiot characters this Cambridge-educated thesp was famous for playing on British TV up until then.

He seemed to be aiming for a very much more ‘toned’ appearance than the largely working-class, younger lads that used the gym, most of whom who wanted ‘vulgar’ big muscles. He would also work out alone, and rarely speak to anyone (noticeable because it was a very chatty, sociable gym – or at least, I was forever chatting to the cute, vulgar lads). There was almost a kind of religious, monkish quality to his work-outs. But perhaps that was less a class issue than a celebrity one.

One day though he brought along his considerably less toned, but equally posh gay chum and comedy ‘other half’ (very much the top half) Stephen Fry. Who was very chatty and flirty. But entirely ‘in character’. After patiently waiting for the face-down leg-curl machine I was hogging, he clambered onto his stomach and hurriedly moved the pin up to a much lighter weight, saying: ‘Oh, I couldn’t possibly lift that kind of weight! I don’t have your thighs!

You probably won’t be too surprised to hear that I think that was the only time I saw Mr Fry in the gym. Mr Laurie, on the other hand, was always there.

Because, I suppose, he was ‘worth it’.

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.

Henry Finally Throws in the Towel

Much-loved British heavyweight boxer Henry Cooper died this week.

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.



Retrosexuality isn’t what it used to be

My attention was recently drawn by a concerned member of the browsing public to a piece on, ‘Retrosexuals: The latest lame macho catchphrase’ by Aaron Traister, entertainingly lambasting the ‘new’ retrosexual trend:

I woke up this morning to discover my local paper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, peddling a story about America’s new favorite model of man: the retrosexual. Normally I ignore almost everything in my local paper, but this, in combination with a recent article in the New York Times about the sequel to “The Official Preppy Handbook,” has got my knickers in a bunch.

The retrosexual is a clever play on that other dusty gem of modern trend masculinity, the metrosexual. Unlike metrosexualism, which encouraged men to worry about their appearance and spend copious amounts of money on beauty products and clothes to mask the kinds of insecurities normally pushed on women, the retrosexual trend encourages men to worry about their appearance and spend copious amounts of money on products and clothes to mask more traditional masculine insecurities, like being gay, or a broke loser, or a gay broke loser.

I happen to agree with much of Traister’s trashing of retrosexualism, particularly the way he mocks its central fear of being thought a fag.  But then I would because I’ve already done it. Several years ago. On Salon.  OK, so I stopped writing for them yonks ago, and it would of course be entirely understandable if they were still sulking about this….

But still, Salon writers should perhaps show a little more research – even from just the search box – before lambasting at length ‘the latest lame macho catchphrase’. According to the first usage of the term ‘retrosexual’ in the sense of the ‘anti-metrosexual’ was in an essay (‘Becks the virus’) by yours truly in 2003.  On Salon.

By the following year, 2004, America was having a gigantic national nervous breakdown over metrosexuality and gay marriage and re-elected Bush. I remember it well because it followed the crazy year or so of metrosexmania that swept the US – after my outing essay ‘Meet the metrosexual’ in 2002, and its bizarre appropriation and bowdlerisation by American marketers.  Which also appeared on Salon.

The ‘menaissance’ was mendacious even back in the mid noughties, of course, with its prissy lists of ‘dos and don’ts’, and euphemistic marketing strategies – as I pointed out at the time. But now everyone knows that ‘retrosexuality’, at least when appropriated by the media and marketing business, is just jokey, Mad Men-esque nostalgia for nostalgia – with a trilby cocked ‘just so’.  Or gag-me-with-a-silver-spoon preppy wannabe niche marketing that isn’t to be taken seriously.

In early 2004, with the homophobic anti-metro backlash brewing in the US, I returned to the subject – again, for Salon (‘Metrodaddy speaks!’).  Since I love quoting myself (at length), and since I think this as pertinent now as back then, here’s the relevant section from that auto-interview, which explains the repugnance of traditionalists towards the lack of repugnance metrosexuals generally have towards homoerotics:

Are hetero metrosexuals really latent homosexuals?

MS: Certainly it would make life easier and less worrying for retrosexuals if this were true — and I notice that in certain slightly, shall we say, clenched circles, metrosexual has become another word for “homo” or “fag.” Unfortunately for these threatened types — and also for me — this is just wishful, over-tidy thinking; homophobic housework. Hetero metros are not “really” gay — they’re just really metrosexual. In point of fact, hetero metrosexuals are probably rather less “latent” than retrosexuals. They are, after all, rather blatant — in their flirtatiousness. Their identity is not based on a constant repudiation of homosexuality. What the retrosexual finds repugnant in the metrosexual is his invitation of the gaze — a gaze that is not and cannot be gendered or straightened out. They’re equal-opportunity narcissists.

Homoerotics, rather than homosexuality, is an inevitable and obvious part of male narcissism — just as it is for female narcissism, hence “lesbian chic.” Which is one of the reasons why it has been discouraged for so long. This isn’t to say that most metrosexuals want to go to bed with other men — not even so as to generously share their beauty with the half of the human race so far deprived of it — it’s just that they aren’t necessarily repulsed by the male body in the way that many retrosexuals like to assert, repeatedly, they are. By extension, their interest in women is not necessarily driven by self-loathing or a need to prove their virility; it’s a matter of taste and pleasure. Which I suspect many women find something of a relief, not to mention a turn-on. Though admittedly some women may feel that the metrosexual is too much like competition.

God, I was good back then.  But so was Salon.

Republican Great White Hope Scott Brown’s Pink Leather Past

A profile on the truck driving Republican Presidential hopeful from Boston Scott Brown in Vanity Fair caused a few chuckles last week with his wife’s cheeky revelation about the pink leather shorts he wore to his first date with her in the 1980s.  Here’s the money shot:

“The pinkish color drained from [Brown’s] face when I asked him about it during a conversation in his campaign office just before we took off in the truck. He clarified that the shorts weren’t something that he went out and purchased — it wasn’t like that at all. ‘I did the couture shows, and instead of paying in cash, they paid in clothes,’ he said. ‘And one of the things I had to wear were leather shorts. And these happened to be pink.’”

It’s certainly a relief to know Mr Brown didn’t buy them – that would be kinda faggy – that instead he was given the pink leather shorts for sashaying up and down the catwalk at a couture show.

How funny to think that the US was the only country that had anything approaching a serious backlash against metrosexuality, back in the mid-Noughties.  Oh, come on now, surely you remember?  That so-called ‘menaissance’?  Those prissy lists of ‘manly’ ‘do’s and don’ts’?  And those completely non-ironic ‘Reclaim your manhood – go shopping in a Hummer’ ads?  It got lots of coverage  in the press at the time.  Supposedly metro was out and retro ‘regular guys’ were back in.  Oh, and George W. Bush was re-elected in part on an anti-gay marriage anti-metro ticket (his Democrat opponent was portrayed by the Republican machine as a girly-man metrosexual passifist).

And yet,  just a few years on, faux Texan ‘bring it on!’ George Bush has been replaced by a svelte mixed-race President who starts every day with a workout, who ran a campaign based on slogans printed in the GQ font, and who is, for all Michelle’s prettiness, something of his own First Lady.

And now the great white hope of the Republicans, who whipped Obama’s skinny ass in a Democrat stronghold, is a former Cosmo centreforld and male couture model who liked to wear pink leather shorts because they showed off his tanned legs.

But perhaps the most interesting thing about Scott Brown’s very successful 1980s male modelling career, looking at the pictures, is this: he wouldn’t get the work today.  He’d have to do hardcore gay porn.  And certainly not Falcon or any respectable studio – no, Scott would have to do fetish/extreme stuff.  Fisting in black (not pink) leather, that kind of thing.  Or cash-in on his surname.  And he still wouldn’t get paid very much.  Though they probably would let him keep one of the XXL toys.

I’m not being bitchy.  No, really.  I’m just being realistic.  And anyway, it’s not about him; it’s about us.

He was nice enough looking in a wooden sort of way, but since the 1980s an entire generation of young men have been raised to be male models – and they work at it a lot harder than Scott evidently did.  They also look at themselves a lot harder.  Scott had it relatively easy because there was much less awareness of what was ‘desirable’ in the male body back then – amongst women and men.  Young men as a sex hadn’t learned to desire to be desired.  That was still officially women’s role.  And because there was probably also rather more in the way of stigma attached to his profession there was even less competition.

Yes, it looks like Scott had a pert bum and what they used to call back then a ‘hunky’ physique – but today it would be a case of ‘Don’t call us dear, we’ll call you.’  Such is the choice available of absurdly desirable, obscenely fit young men, I doubt anyone would even bother to tell him what he so obviously needed to do: get down the gym and take steroids and crystal meth.  (And if you work really hard and you’re really lucky you’ll end up on Jersey Shore.)

His body looks far too natural to be credible today as a idealised male image: the lack of porno pecs, a six-pack and ‘cum-gutters’ is heinous.  The untrimmed, un-waxed body hair is grievous.  The unbleached teeth unforgiveable.  He wouldn’t make the audition for today’s male Cosmo – Men’s Health – let alone the cover.

In fact, the most buffed and pumped thing about the young Scott Brown to our critical 21st Century eyes is his hairdo.

Damn Right Your Dad Swallowed

You may remember I couldn’t resist poking fun a while back at Canadian Club’s ‘Your Dad Wasn’t A Metrosexual’ poster, the one with with the tag line ‘Damn Right Your Dad Drank It’.  It turns out there were several instalments in that faux retro campaign, including ‘Your Dad Never Tweezed Anything’, the very appetising ‘Your Mom Wasn’t Dad’s First’, and the positively lipsmacking, ‘Your Dad Had a Van For a Reason’. (I kid you not.)

It appears that the campaign received some bad press in Canada, and I wasn’t the only one that couldn’t resist sending it up.  Fresca has kindly drawn my attention to this project by Michelle Koenig-Schwartz in which she invites people to creatively deface the ads – the ‘Your Mom Was Your Dad’ poster below is one of the contributions. Others include a picture of two naked twinks snogging under the headline ‘Your Mom Wasn’t Your Dad’s First.’  I’m not sure that I share the sense of outrage that some people seem to have over the ads, but they were certainly asking for a good kicking.

Which makes me wonder whether all this attention might well be exactly what the wannabe Mad Men at the ad agency responsible wanted – the ‘Damn Right Your Dad Drank It’ campaign has apparently begun again, with posters announcing, ‘Your Dad Didn’t Wear a Bridge’. Whatever that is supposed to mean.

But it’s always fun defacing ads, so what the hell?

Canadian Club. Damn Right the Metro’s Dad Didn’t Drink it.  It tastes of synthetic provocation.

Your Dad Wasn’t a Metrosexual: But His Best Buddy Was

Mmmmm. Retrosexual masculinity. Served in a rocks glass. Effortless. Unselfconscious. Dated.

It tastes just like your… dad.

Unlike you, of course. You moisturize. Go to the gym. Watch what you eat. Fret about whether you’re worthy of love. Worry about what masculinity actually means. And taste of tea-tree oil and lavender.

If only we could bring those days back! When you could operate heavy machinery and speedboats pissed out of your mind. When no one thought you might be homo. When the only magazines you bought were Popular Mechanics and Penthouse. When women couldn’t keep their hands off you even though you had no dress sense, smelt bad and your hair was full of lard.

And when toned, topless, tweaking 1970s hustlers checked themselves out in rest room mirrors while waiting for their next married punter. (Yes, that picture caught my eye too.)

Canadan Club: for the the man who, like most men today, is on the outside looking in. Aching to be sold back by advertising the very thing that advertising has deprived him of. How many of the men reading this ad today even speak to their dad, or know what he drinks?

As I have pointed out before, it’s a measure of how self-conscious and mediated masculinity is now that ‘real guys’ whatever they were are now just another annoying fad. Faux retro.

On the rocks.

Tip: Fresca Davis

The Sun newspaper: Retro or Metro?



So, Cilla, which of our lovely lads is the public going to plump for?

Will it be ‘Dave’ the retrosexual PE teacher from Liverpool with a pint, who only uses aftershave his mum bought him for Christmas ‘on special occasions’ (but seems to be rather fond of hair product)? Or will it be ‘Joe’ the metrosexual Accounts Manager from Essex with a glass of Chardonnay and perched on an Ikea stool (I know where it’s from because I have one) who spends £350 a month on clothes and goes to the gym every evening because he’s going on a ‘lad’s holiday’ with fifteen mates and they’ve got a bet on for who ‘looks best on the beach’?

Yesterday’s Sun ran a ‘Hetero or Metro?’ competition, supposedly prompted by the popularity of the unreconstructed (and impressively ugly) sexist police character in BBC 80s ironic nostalgia drama series ‘Ashes to Ashes’. According to the Sun he makes women ‘quiver’.

Probably because a) he’s safely in the 80s and b) they can’t smell him.

For just 10p you can cast your vote for the ‘hetero’ or the ‘metro’. (It costs nothing to show them your indifference.)

One of the many ironies of this exercise is that ‘Joe’ their sportswear clad ‘hetero’ ‘real man’ looks a lot like a lot of gay men these days, especially the ones you find in Central Station or in Triga videos. But then, after all, he’s a PE teacher. Are any of them straight?

Because the Sun is, like the rest of the media, part of the metrosexual consumer conspiracy, the competition is of course men-daciously loaded in favour of the retrosexual (bigger picture, first billing, biased intro).

In case you needed reminding that actually there’s no contest and that, whatever it pretends, the Sun is really rooting for metrosexuality, today’s paper has a male workout spread giving advice on how men can look good on the beach, or in underwear ads. A spread aimed very much at ‘Joes’ – who, of course, have more money and neuroses to spend than PE teachers from Liverpool. Even the Soaraway Sun’s family holiday guide in the same edition are illustrated with a scrummy ‘daddy’ with perfect pecs, skin, hair and teeth.

Whatever the outcome of the poll, Joe has already lost.

But the triumph of metrosexuality is not without rather queer contradictions and ironies. In the very same edition of the Sun, a news story tells of a gay BMW salesman taking his former employers to court for harassment and humiliation over his sexuality. Amongst his claims is that when he wore a pink shirt to work male colleagues jibed ‘Hello sweetie!’. Rather than reprimand them, his boss sent him home to change his shirt – whereas the same colour shirts worn by his straight colleagues went unremarked.

Perhaps they taunted and excluded the gay because he reminded them what their pink shirts were all about. What they were all about.

Waxing Desmond Morris


By Mark Simpson (Independent on Sunday, 21 Jan 2008)

Every child wants to be a zookeeper when they grow up. To run a place where everything is in its place, and has nothing to do but eat, shit and breed – to your timetable. Maybe it’s a yen for revenge on the parents who brought them into the world without asking their permission first, or maybe it’s just because children are all little dictators with a peaked-cap fetish.

Most though abandon these zoo fuehrer dreams when they actually grow up. Not so Desmond Morris. Impressively, this former curator of mammals at London Zoo, doesn’t make do with animals: with best-selling books such as The Naked Ape and Manwatching, this world-famous zoologist has managed to become head keeper at his very own human zoo.

And to be honest, the world evoked in his latest book The Naked Man, ‘a study of the male body from head to foot’, sounds like a place I’d quite like to visit – but only because I’m something of a nostalgic.

Morrisland isn’t just a zoo, you see. It’s also a historical theme park. In Morrisland, millions of years of evolution, red in tooth and claw, have brought us right up to… the suburban 1950s (the decade Morris graduated). In Morrisland ‘long-term pair bonding’ is the universal norm and there’s no need for a Child Support Agency or Asbos or turkey-basters since: ‘Powerful paternal feelings are unleashed the moment a human father holds his new baby in his arms and in the years ahead he will devote a great deal of time and attention to the rearing of his offspring.’

In Morrisland, where everything happens according to the zoo-keeper’s plan, women are 7 percent shorter than men so that their nose will reach inside a man’s hairy armpit, because sniffing his manly, rugged ‘pheromones’ makes her happy and want babies. And, of course, no Western man would shave his armpit. Only ‘members of the homosexual community or the bondage/sadomasochistic communities’ would do that.

By far the biggest attraction in Morrisland is sexual certainty. Within this fenced-off space the distinction between ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’, ‘homosexual’ and ‘heterosexual’, is unclouded by all those unnatural modern trends. ‘As nature intended’ is a favourite phrase, one which appears above the entrance gates. In Morrisland, men are men – and there’s a strict golf club dress code. ‘Acceptance of male earrings still tends to be limited to those worn by the younger, more flamboyant males, largely from the world of sport, music and showbusiness,’ you’ll be glad to hear. Male bracelets are simply effeminate. And men only shave their legs – ‘sacrificing their masculinity’ – to swim or cycle faster.

In today’s fallen world, an older man might be called a ‘slaphead’ by unruly yobs – but safe inside Morrisland you’ll find yourself properly respected: ‘it is obvious that baldness is a human display signal indicating male seniority and dominance. It typifies the virile older man…’ (There’s no author photo on the dust-jacket, but a quick Google search confirms that Desmond is completely ‘virile’.)

There is trouble in the Garden of Desmond, however. Apparently ‘A few men – narcissist or masochists – have opted for nipple rings.’ But at least it’s only ‘a few’ – and they’re all deviants. Meanwhile, serpent-like ‘Gay designers’ ‘ignoring male preferences’ attempt to introduce ‘effeminate new leg fashions’. Fortunately, these fashions prove as sterile as the gay designers themselves: ‘they may have looked amusing on the catwalk, but they have never made it to the high street. Crumpled trousers and grubby jeans still reign supreme in the world of the manly male.’

In Morrisland there does exist however something called a ‘‘six-pack’ chest’ – though ‘few are prepared to make the effort to create it.’ Perhaps because a ‘six-pack chest’ would require not just regular visits to the gym, but also substantial surgery.

Surprisingly, that terrifying 21st Century male phenomenon I’ve been blamed for siring myself – metrosexuals – are allowed in Morrisland. But only those whose heterosexuality is beyond question and ‘are well-known as tough, masculine sportsmen and as famous celebrities… so, for them to become fastidious and fashion-conscious creates no confusion.’ Well, that’s a relief.

Non-celeb metrosexuals don’t exist in Morrisland, because ‘if an unknown heterosexual male were to display over-groomed, narcissistic tendencies, his sexual preferences would be automatically misread by anyone who met him.’ Which would, it goes without Mr Morris saying, be the worst thing that could possibly happen to a man and would render him completely emasculated and ridiculous. ‘This limits,’ explains the human zoo-keeper, ‘the metrosexual category to famous celebrities who are already publicly recognised for their heterosexuality.’

Clearly, not many of those High Street sales of male cosmetics which have increased by 800% since the year 2000, have been made in Morrisland. Though I do worry that the cover model for Morris’ book, an anonymous, headless, naked, smoothly muscular, young male photographed from behind in that sensuous-shadowy advertising sex-object way – offering us his arse – has been bingeing on metrosexual products. I sincerely hope his heterosexuality is already very publicly recognised.

As you may have guessed, Mr Morris has a problem with homosexuality. Throughout his book ‘manly’ means ‘heterosexual’, unmanly means ‘homosexual’ – and vice versa.

But it’s not a personal problem, it’s a scientific one, you see. In a final chapter called ‘The Preferences’ devoted not in fact to the preferences but rather to explaining/pathologising male homosexuality, he writes, ‘Viewed purely from an evolutionary standpoint, there is only one valid biological lifestyle for the human male and that is heterosexual.’ In other words, evolution, like zoo-keepers, doesn’t like waste and wants you to reproduce early and often.

But I can’t help but wonder why, if God/Darwin/Morris didn’t want men to get shagged, why did he give them such itchy prostate glands? And if every sperm is sacred, why did he put their hands at crotch level?

Des’ explanation for exclusive homosexuality (exclusive heterosexuality needs no explanation apparently – and bisexuality isn’t discussed) is, like much else in his book, charmingly mid-Twentieth Century: at puberty some boys fail to move out of the long all-boy social phase of childhood – and also boy-boy ‘sex play’ – and switch into dating girls and home-making, because they have become ‘too attached’. I personally don’t mind the arrested development explanation of homosexuality: I think it rather romantic (like Morris, I attended a boy’s boarding school). I’m not entirely sure though that I’m that much more immature than someone who never gave up wanting to be a zoo keeper.

In conclusion, Morris makes a final impassioned plea for tolerance and acceptance of difference and human variety: ‘Isolating homosexuals as though they are members of some exclusive club does them no favours’.

So true. Unfortunately, this is exactly what the The Naked Male does. Morris’ human zoo separates ‘homosexuals’ and ‘heterosexuals’ with barbed wire – and electrifies the fence.

© Mark Simpson 2008

Who Are You Calling Hummersexual?

by Mark Simpson

(The Guardian, October 10, 2006)

There’s a war going on in the US. A war on metros. After years living under the cruel designer heel of those triumphant metrosexuals, poor old retrosexuals – alias “regular guys” – are fighting back. Old-time, unself-conscious, un-moisturised masculinity is in.

Guys are guys again, with manly, painstakingly shaped and trimmed beards. They eat manly food, drive manly trucks and read manly books on manliness.

Or so you may have heard. Truth be told, this is a phoney war. The “menaissance” is mendacious. This isn’t retrosexual at all, but hummersexual – a noisy, overblown, studied and frankly rather camp form of fake masculinity that likes to draw attention to itself and its allegedly old-fashioned “manliness”, but tends – like driving an outsized military vehicle in the suburbs – to be a tad counterproductive.

The hummersexual, you see, doth protest too much. Rather than “reclaiming your manhood”, as the recent US Hummer ad campaign trumpeted, hummersexuality tends to make people wonder whether there’s some kind of compensation going on. This is a fetishised, “strapped-on”, unsustainable, gas-guzzling masculinity which, like the metrosexuality it is supposedly a reaction against, is a needy product of consumerism and media. After all, it is Madison Avenue – with those Hummer, Burger King “manthem” (“We are men, hear us roar”) and Dodge “Anything but cute” ads – that styled it.

However, unlike his better-looking metrosexual younger brother – whom he usually refers to as ‘that fag’ – the hummersexual is in denial. He thinks he reeks of heterosexuality, but is blissfully unaware that he often seems to have just stepped out of the funkier kind of gay leather/bear bar.

Despite his best efforts to convince you, the hummersexual is not retrosexual. Since when did “regular guys” need several tons of military hardware, or “new macho” lifestyle magazines such as Best Life, or books such as the bestselling Alphabet of Manliness and Men Don’t Apologise, to be “regular”? The hummersexual is clearly, hilariously, faux-retrosexual. He’s an off-the-peg, drag-king idea of “real” masculinity: stuffed crotch and joke beard included at no extra charge.

Speaking of stuffed crotches, President George W. Bush has exhibited some pronounced hummersexual tendencies. Not only does the former male cheer-leader have a walk that tries a little too hard to reference John Wayne, as Commander-in-Chief he used the USS Abraham Lincoln as a giant nuclear-powered electioneering strap-on (“Mission accomplished!”). “Reclaim your manhood” was practically the Republican’s mendacious re-election slogan – actual war hero Kerry was portrayed as the flip-flopping metrosexual girly man, to Bush’s real, manly, bring-it-on, gay-baiting Air National Guard bravery.

Like Bush, the hummersexual is already past his sell-by. He’s an end-of-line sale. Hummers themselves, sales of which are threatened by the massive hikes in gas prices (in part because of Bush’s hummersexual foreign policy), were never going to sell themselves as green. BK were never going to sell themselves as purveyors of exquisite Mediterranean salads. And the Republicans were never going to sell themselves as a modern party.

Whatever his life expectancy, the hummersexual is simply an annoying fraud. In his manly coup against male consumerism and self-regard, the hummersexual is busy hogging two parking spaces instead of one at the mall.

‘Metrosexual Knobs’ – Can They Satisfy?

Poor Mark Latham, the former leader of the Australian Labour Party, isn’t happy with the state of Australian manhood. Like so many things, it isn’t as good or as big or as satisfying as it used to be. In his new book (curiously titled ’A Conga Line of Suckholes’) he laments:

“One of the saddest things I have seen in my lifetime has been the decline in Australian male culture . . . Australian mates and good blokes have been replaced by nervous wrecks, metrosexual knobs and toss bags.”

I’m not sure who the ‘nervous wrecks’ or the ‘toss bags’ he was referring to are, but when he was talking about ‘metrosexual knobs’ – the phrase that has made headlines around the world – perhaps he had in mind Jamie Brooksby, this year’s Australian Big Brother winner, a young, highly groomed fitness trainer who spent much of his time naked in the bathroom showing the world his assets.

If so, Mark Latham is a very hard man to satisfy indeed. Jamie’s metrosexual knob was more substantial than Sydney Harbour Bridge. If Latham isn’t impressed with this metrosexual knob what on earth does an Aussie retrosexual knob look like?

Well…. Mark Latham.

That his remarks have aroused so many column inches in the global press and ‘half-cocked’ discussions about ‘the crisis of masculinity’ can only be down to the rather fond, rather dated fantasy that the rest of the world has about Australia in general and Australian men in particular – that it’s the last frontier of ‘real’ manliness in an enervated Western World. A masculine Eden, full of Crocodile Dundees wrestling their lunch onto the barbie and their Sheilas into bed.

This would also go some way to explaining the ‘outpouring of grief’ (to use the mandatory cliché) over the ’shocking’ death of the outdoor cabaret artist Steve Irwin, whose worldwide popularity seemed to be based in large part on him being sold as the ‘real’ Crocodile Dundee.

That he died was not, I would venture (at the risk of provoking an outpouring of rage), really quite so surprising – his act depended on extreme recklessness. Nonetheless, his death was talked about in astonished, traumatised tones as if it marked the passing away of a certain kind of old-time masculinity rather than just a particular TV personality. It’s as if people couldn’t quite come to terms with how the retrosexual was apparently killed off by Nature herself, with a poison arrow through his heart.

While I’m sure there are plenty of retrosexual Australians left who haven’t been Stingrayed, particularly outside the metropoli, and while I personally can be rather nostalgic about retrosexuals (so long as they don’t look like Latham), Australia long ago made the transition from industrial to service economy, production to consumerism, mining to makeover, and was also the country whose cutting-edge media helped pioneer the process of turning the sporting male body into a commodity – into appetising meat.

Australia is a highly metro country – not least because, like Mark Latham and Steve Irwin – Australia is highly successful at drawing attention to itself. Oz, that scarcely-populated dusty continent in the middle of nowhere has for many years been parading in the bathroom of the global media village with its knob out.

The Australian male is still on the frontier – but it’s now the frontier of consumerism and me-dia. Call me shallow, but if they’re endowed like Brooksby, I doubt many people, apart from whingeing retired male politicos with faces like a smacked Platypus, will seriously complain if they’re more into sack-and-crack waxing than sheep-shearing, ab crunches than Crocodiles.

In a mediated world, metrosexual knobs win over retrosexual knobs.  Hand(s) over fist.

(Thanks to the website at worst, my best for the ‘grabs’ of Brooksby & Topak  for finding them)

Faux-Retrosexual Backlash: Letter to ‘Business Week’

0636covdv.gifThe Editor
Business Week


As the ‘father’ of the metrosexual (and also apparently of his antithetical brother the retrosexual) my attention was drawn to your cover article ‘Secrets of the male shopper’ by Nanette Byrnes.

Since she talked so much about my offspring, it would have been nice if Ms Byrnes had contacted me to check some of her metro family history.

When I first wrote about him in a UK newspaper in 1994 (‘Here come the mirror men’, Independent), I was not being insulting. Amused yes, but fondly so. Ambivalence was to come later.

Nor did the metrosexual somehow ‘surface’ in the US ten years later – he was introduced Stateside by his father in 2002 (‘Meet the metrosexual’, If I’d known what was coming I’d have grounded him in the UK.

US marketers abducted him with false flattery and did their best to turn him into an annoying fad, talking incessantly about the metrosexual as ‘sensitive’ and ‘in touch with his feminine side’. In fact, metrosexuality is only ‘feminine’ if you believe vanity’s name is (forever) Woman.

Ironically, the final proof that men are now as self-conscious as women is the so-called retrosexual backlash against metrosexuality. As your figures for booming male consumerism show, it’s not really retrosexual at all. It’s faux-retrosexual. It’s Calvin Klein model Brad 6-pack Pitt leading the rebellion against consumerism in Fight Club all over again.

‘Regular guys’, whatever they are/were, are fast becoming just another annoying fad.


Mark Simpson

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