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‘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.

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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.

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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

Dude, Where’s My Objectification?

These ‘jokey’ Veet ‘Don’t risk dudeness’ ads in which a ‘sexy lady’ turns into an ‘unsexy dude’ because she hasn’t used the smelly depilatory cream have provoked an e-flurry of outrage for their sexism and shaming of women who aren’t always smooth, so much so that Veet had to issue an apology and withdraw them.

But what’s truly ‘funny’ about these ads is that in some ways they strike me as actually being the advertising world’s version of those ‘gender flip’ click-bait posts that many of the people lambasting the Veet ads profess to love. You know, the ones that pretend that men are never objectified – despite male (self) objectification being hard to miss these days unless you’re trying really, really hard not to notice flagrant, flaming evidence like this. And this.

And this:

Zac

Instead of looking around us, we’re supposed to listen to blather like this:

“For some reason, as soon as you put a man in there … it’s an entirely different thing that we aren’t used to seeing.”

Only if you’ve been jamming your eyes shut for the last twenty years, dear.

So, having pretended that male objectification doesn’t exist, it’s now ‘really radical’ and ‘challenging’ to ‘flip’ the roles. But in an ironic and unconvincing way, usually making sure that the men adopting the faux ‘sexualised’ poses are unattractive. (And not wetting their vests.)

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The ‘anti-sexism’ of many of those ‘gender flip’ memes strikes me as completely bogus, implicitly depending as it does on the entirely (hetero)sexist presumption that sexiness is a female quality/property. The ‘ludicrousness’ of the man adopting ‘sexy’ poses requires a worldview that insists men just aren’t meant to be objectified. That simply doesn’t see male objectification because it’s not suppose to happen.

So the ‘gender flip’ actually tends to reinforce the very thing it hypocritically pretends to undermine.

Worse, people pretend, over and over again, to be impressed by daggy male hipsters pretending to do sexy while pretending to subvert sexism – as a way of getting attention. Which is the only really sincere part of the whole charade.

Instead of ditching the dreary fucking irony and just doing this. Or this.

By contrast, these crass Veet ads are at least refreshingly honest and out of the closet in their horrendous heterosexist revulsion at ‘dudeness’, and the ludicrousness of male sexiness. And of course the thing that is always hovering behind that revulsion, particularly in the US: that dudes might get it on with other dudes.

In stubbly fact, this obsession ends up swallowing their whole campaign, no gag reflex, to the point where it has little or nothing to do with women at all – despite them being the target market.

It ends up being about two dudes in bed.

h/t Dr Petra

The Liberal Media’s Hillarycidal Urges

God, but they hate her. Really, really hate her. They hate her so much they want her dead. And it’s gone way past a bloody metaphor.

Not most Democrat voters, of course, who have given her at least as many votes as Obama, (and though many Obama fans hate her passionately, religiously, a surprising number don’t actually have it in for Hillary). No, it’s the traditional media and the blogosphere that are driven, pretty much unanimously, into a murderous fury by Hills.

Last week after her slim victory in Indiana and Obama’s large one in North Carolina, both of which were pretty much as predicted, the media, as if on some pre-arranged signal, treated this as big, front page, defining moment news, all agreeing that she was ‘Finished’. ‘Toast’. ‘Over’. ‘Dead in the water’. ‘Done’. ‘Washed up.’ The powerful Senator for New York was headed for ‘Oblivion’. Ding! Dong! The witch is dead!

Again.

The London Times op-ed page cartoon last week (above) by Peter Brookes graphically/gratifyingly illustrated the Hillarycidal tendency by showing That Woman – finally! – face down, dead, speared in the back by a star from the American flag. Hurrah! America strikes back! Like most satirists, Brookes has gone to town on Hillary from the beginning, portraying her as a spiteful, hideous hag and harridan – which is his job. But, again like most satirists, and most journalists, he has found himself strangely unable to do his job when it comes to Obama: his caricatures are more like loving portraits, or religious icons. Reverse the roles and put Obama the black man in Hillary’s position, face down with an American State in his back, and the cartoon becomes utterly inconceivable except as a comment on American racism.

When Hillary had the effrontery to fail to comply with the media’s universal death sentence last week, and, instead of lying down dead on the ground, remained very much alive and well and carried on campaigning strenuously, they tried the ‘Hillary enters death-with-dignity phase’ angle. Or talked about how she’s only staying in the race because she’s ‘after money’. Or ‘campaigning for 2012′. Or how she was just ‘mad’.

And then this week, Hillary wins a huge victory in West Virginia, handing Obama his biggest defeat of the Primaries – not bad for a corpse. Though you might have missed it, because most of the media tried to bury the inconvenient Hillary-Lazarus story. If it covered the West Virginia landslide at all it was usually in the form of asking whether ‘racism’ was at the root of it. A question which it curiously failed to ask when Obama won 90% of the black vote in North Carolina, but which it now asks repeatedly whenever Hillary wins. Obama you see wins because he’s a good candidate and because black people are good people who recognise a good man when they see one; Hillary wins because she’s a desperate candidate and working-class white people are stupid and mean and… low-class.

The unanimity of the (educated, well-heeled, liberal, overwhelmingly white) media class is such and has been for some time now that you might be forgiven for thinking that some of them would feel uncomfortable with parroting one another. But then if you did, you’d be underestimating the gutless, herd-like nature of the media class.

Besides, they’re defending their interests as a class.

Why does the media class hate Hillary so viscerally and want her dead? Partly because her main constituency, the white working class, is the only group they are permitted to look down upon – and boy, do they. By accusing the white working class of being racist, which is a charge that seems to easily trump classism and sexism, they are really accusing them of being ignorant. Which they obviously are, since they don’t vote as instructed by the Fourth Estate – who know better than the electoral backbone of the Democratic Party what’s best for the Democratic Party. The shocking nakedness of the media’s bias against Hillary and her supporters is deliberate – it’s meant to demonstrate their moral and class superiority.

But the main reason why the media’s Hillarycidal fury is so extreme and so universal this time around is because they told us she was ‘dead’, ‘finished’, ‘over’, several times before – and she proved them very wrong. Repeatedly.

So she must DIE. They really want to wipe her out – not just because she proved them wrong, after all, it’s their stock-in-trade to be wrong, but because she has succeeded in conducting a campaign without their permission. That represents an intolerable challenge to their authority. How dare a politician in the 21st Century in the most advanced, most powerful country in the world carry on winning elections without the support of the media or the blogosphere? Who the hell does that bitch think she is?

Hillary’s chances of winning the nomination are certainly not, as the media class keeps telling you – and has been since February – non-existent. But they are very slim. And I make no claim, from this side of the Atlantic, in one of the US’s military satellites currently at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, to know who would make a better President of the United States – even if I think it crystal clear which one has a chance of actually beating the Republicans who embarked on those wars (clue: the one who keeps winning the big swing states).

But I would love for Hillary Clinton to win the Nomination for one reason and one reason alone. To force the media class on both sides of the Pond to choke on its hideously unattractive Hillarycidal hat.

Who’s the Diva? Hillary or Obama?

As camp comic Kenneth Williams might say: ‘ark at ‘er!

An entertaining, often incisive, if rather, er, campy, Huffington Post article ‘The Diva’s Camp’ about Hillary’s diva power (and why this turns off ‘Obama-colytes’) compares Hillary Clinton to Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest:

‘Hillary Clinton is possessed by the spirit of Joan Crawford. Like that notorious über-bitch immortalized by Faye Dunaway in the camp classic Mommie Dearest, Hillary bulldozed into a Democratic primary dominated by men and brazenly declared, as any self-respecting diva would: Don’t fuck with me fellas! This ain’t my first time at the rodeo!’

Now, that’s funny, but where did I hear that before?

Oh, yes, that was me a month ago talking about the “3am” ad in a piece after her Ohio comeback called ‘The Bitch is Back’ on Guardian Unlimited:

‘…Hillary answering the White House phone in scarlet lipstick, has both a touch of 1990s nostalgia, and also one of timeless thrilling glamour – a hint of Joan Crawford talking to the board of Pepsi in Mommie Dearest: “Don’t fuck with me, fellas – this ain’t my first time at the rodeo!“‘

Even though I hear that Guardian Unlimited is quite popular in the American blogosphere, I’m sure it was just a case of diva-revering minds thinking alike. And I very much doubt I’m the first person to compare Hills to Joan.

Actually, though, we weren’t really thinking alike. Despite my comparison when discussing the ad, I don’t think that Hillary is possessed by the spirit of Joan Crawford, or is camp as a row of tents full of impossible divas on the blob. Apart from anything else, camp isn’t really possible in a world like the all-singing, all-dancing shameless one that cavorts and disports itself before our jaded eyes these days.

Everything and nothing is camp. Including the Huffington Post. More to the point, to talk about Hillary as being ‘so camp!’ seems to argue, whether intended or not, that the notion of a woman as the most powerful person in the world is merely ‘failed seriousness’. Or a joke.

And this is a very serious business. Medically serious. Sometimes it looks as if the Democratic Party is having a gigantic nervous breakdown over the idea of Hills as their ‘man’, or, rather, over the ‘arrogant’, ‘hopeless’, ‘divisive’, ‘ugly’ idea that she thinks she could be rather than Mr Obama. It’s tangibly Oedipal.

Despite that, I do believe that America is slowly, slowly, very, very tortuously, negotiating the five-alarm idea of having a ‘bitch’ and ‘cow’ and ‘whore’ and ‘c**t’ – to use the progressive, uplifting, non-partisan vernacular of righteous Obama fans – as Commander in Chief. America will learn not to cross its legs and whimper when Hillary is on TV, even if MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson doesn’t.

After all, Hillary has almost all of the crucial big states, and if the Democrats used the same first-past-the-post electoral system used during the Presidential contest itself, she would be well ahead of Obama. Contrary to what the media likes to tell us, she’s anything but Box Office Poison.

Perhaps because it attracts insecure men keen to big themselves up, it seems to be mostly the US media that’s having the nervous breakdown. The more than slightly deranged and hysterical – certainly much more deranged and hysterical than she is accused of being – nature of the press bias against Hillary and the extreme, frequently all-but murderous personal abuse casually levelled at her,compared with the loving, swooning indulgence bestowed on her stripling rival, does rather suggest that anxiety about a female Big Boss, thus far at least, looms and lurks much larger in their minds, than a black (or, rather, half-white) male one. This isn’t to say that ‘sexism is worse than racism’, it’s just to point out that sexism – no, sorry, untrammelled, uninhibited, shuddering, shivering, gut-wrenching misogyny – unlike racism, is considered perfectly acceptable prime time fare.

And as somebody who isn’t entirely free of misogyny myself, I think it terribly unfair that they should be able to get away with it.

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Sometimes, watching the American Primaries coverage has been like watching an especially horrifying episode of 60s retrosexist drama Mad Men, but without the irony or the smoking.

In her bitter battle to win this unconscious – and therefore by definition unfair – struggle, Hillary is using every powerful American feminine archetype she can lay her hands on. Unfortunately for her, there aren’t too many. Unlike our first female leaderene Mrs T (whom America loved, partly because she was, like Churchill, and Tony Blair, great at giving America head, but mostly because she wasn’t their leader), she doesn’t have chariot-driving Boudicca or Armada-vanquishing Elizabeth I or globe-ruling Victoria to call on as legitimising ancestral memories.

Because of the vital symbolic importance of these women in our national mythology, or maybe just because of Coronation Street, the UK is sometimes rather more matriarchal than the US. Elton John, who admittedly is not perhaps the best argument for matriarchy, recently announced himself shocked by the misogyny America has displayed during these Primaries.

Republics and their ‘Founding Fathers’ favour women even less than monarchies. Monarchies, which are after all based on reproduction and families, occasionally cut them a break, when no worthy male heir turns up – which is what happened with the Tory Party in the 1970s when it anointed Maggie. Though if she had used the famous line of Elizabeth, “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too,” everyone would have scoffed at the idea that her body was ‘weak and feeble’. Even her famous handbag was seen as a fearsome weapon.

Powerful women in American history, save perhaps Eleanor Roosevelt, don’t really exist – except as kindling in Arthur Miller plays. So they had to be imagined in 1940s Hollywood melodrama, aimed, of course, at powerless women: producing, literally, ‘divas’ such as Joan, Bette and Katherine. So if Hillary sometimes channels a little bit of Joan, Bette and Katherine it’s because she needs to imagine herself as a powerful woman in a man’s world, and American history doesn’t offer her much else to work with.

OK, she might possibly be a psychotic bitch too, but the media has yet to make that case – though it keeps trying. Hillary isn’t possessed by the spirit of Joan Crawford, as the Huffington Post has it – rather, Joan Crawford is possessed by the spirit of Hillary.

Handsome half white/half black but entirely male (if very eager to please) Obama can and does draw on both Martin Luther King and Jack Kennedy, and in fact American political history at least as far back as Lincoln for his legitimation – and invites us, with that sexy smile, to a ‘more perfect union’. It’s an invitation that, oddly, seems to turn men on more than women. Hillary hating MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, for instance, talks openly about how how listening to Obama gives him ‘a thrill up my leg’ (a very different kind of feeling, I’m guessing, to that experienced by Tucker Carlson listening to Hillary). Lots of guys are gay for Obama – and out and proud it seems.

And as for Hillary being a ‘gay icon’, despite gay parade marching Hills being closer in many ways to the gay community than Obama, and despite (English) Elton John’s support, most American homos I know can’t bear her, while the main gay blogs practically dance on her head daily. Preposterously bearded MTM transsexual and recovering Republican Andrew Sullivan is completely obsessed, practically screaming ‘DIE, BITCH! DIE!’ at her, calling her a ‘horror movie without end’ and comparing her to Glenn Close’s insane stalker character in the infamous 80s career-woman hating flick Fatal Attraction. Get a grip, Mary. And a shave.

Despite Mr O’s reluctance to be interviewed by the gay press or attend gay parades, his Christian church base, and his gay platform vagueness, he is much the ‘gayer’ candidate simply because he is younger, better-looking, better-dressed, cooler – and male. He is, in fact, metrosexual.

If we are going to talk about camp, and if camp is a form of style over substance, mediagenic Obama is much camper than Hillary – and more of a diva too. Doesn’t he roll his eyes during debates with Hillary? Doesn’t he fill stadiums with his performances? Didn’t he flounce out of a press conference in which he was actually grilled instead of applauded in a huff, protesting ‘You’ve asked me like, eight questions already!’‘.

It’s the male divas you have to watch out for in politics. Over here in the UK we are still getting over our own Christian pop star politician, that nice Mr Blair who took us, smiling his drag queen smile, into a disastrous American war.

Copyright Mark Simpson 2008

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