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

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Tag: retrosexual (page 1 of 3)

‘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.)

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.

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.)

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.

 

 

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