David Beckham, global poster-boy for metrosexuality, sporting an Edwardian beard, had a hot date with Obama at the White House today.
Though he had to bring his team-mates along as LA Galaxy were being honoured with a reception after winning the Major League Soccer Cup, America’s equivalent of the Premiership.
After listing the soccer star’s achievements, introducing him joshingly as a “young up-and-comer,” and adding that, “half your teammates could be your kids”, Obama quipped (almost fluffing the line): “It’s a rare man that can be that tough on the field and have his own line of underwear.”
Or as rare as a GQ Commander in Chief?
Contrary to recent reports, Obama is not the first gay President. He’s the first metrosexual President. Or as I wrote in Metrosexy:
“A well-dressed mixed-race, polyglot male who makes the Free World wait on his gym visit every morning. A man whose looks are regularly praised – particularly by male journalists. A man who won the Democratic nomination in part because he was much prettier than his more experienced female opponent. His wife Michelle is very attractive too, of course – but in some ways Obama is the first US President to be his own First Lady.”
Which makes the Beckham and Obama’s hot date quite a historic occasion.
I can’t quite decide though whether Obama’s own rampant metrosexuality makes his bitchy remark to Beckham about his underwear funny or a bit… pants.
Who would have guessed the dainty opinions of a Miss America candidate would have been taken so seriously by gays and liberals?
Miss California, a practising Christian, was last week denounced by Miss America judge Perez Hilton on his blog as ‘a dumb bitch’ and unworthy of the Miss America crown because she gave the ‘wrong’ answer to his chippy question about gay marriage. Like most Americans – including the current Democratic President of the United States – she believes that marriage is ‘between a man and a woman’. Boo! Hiss! Rip her to shreds!
It wasn’t just the famously bitchy gay gossip-monger Hilton casting stones, however. For honestly and somewhat courageously answering his question Miss California was roundly condemned as a ‘bigot’ by hosts of gay and liberal bloggers, and was even denounced by the directors of the Miss California pageant who declared themselves ‘saddened’ by her views and that they had no place in the ‘Miss California family’, whatever that is. Most now agree with Hilton’s gloating claim that her answer cost her the crown.
Candidate Obama expressed the exact same view during the Presidential Election: “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian, it’s also a sacred union. You know, God’s in the mix.” Instead of being scorned as a bigot and a dumb bitch, Obama was handed the Mr America crown by liberals and probably most gay voters. But I suppose that being President of the United States is a rather less important title than Miss America.
Branding Christians and traditionalists ‘bigots’ for being Christians and traditionalists and thus none too keen to fundamentally revise the definition of marriage is a highly unattractive exercise in liberal self-righteousness that makes Miss America look quite sophisticated. Not to mention sounding a lot like pots and kettles rattling. It’s faintly absurd to have to even say this, but it isn’t bigoted to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s just being conventional. And after all, marriage itself is convention and tradition tied up in a big red bow and covered in confetti and sprinkled with Holy Water. Which is exactly why lesbians and gays should have nothing to do with it.
Today’s out and proud same-sex relationships are very unconventional and a very new kind of phenomenon. And so are in fact many of today’s cross-sex relationships in a brave new world of gender parity. Marriage on the other hand is an antiquated, failing institution based on inequality and traditional roles. Much like Miss America.
Marriage is, whether you like it or not, also based on religious sentiment: ‘God’s in the mix.’ Especially in a very religious country like America. And I have a hunch, based on millennia of violent opposition to sex that doesn’t produce more Christians, that God is not going to sanctify ‘sodomy’ any time soon.
New ways of living and loving require new institutions. Or in the words of the famously unmarried Galilee carpenter and fisher of men: put new wine into new wineskins. And keep the flippin’ Pharisees out of it. Or else you’ll end up with a tacky mess.
It needs to be said out loud that full civil unions with the same legal rights and privileges of marriage at both the State and Federal level, supported by President Obama and many Republicans and even some right-wing evangelicals – and the large majority of American voters – are not only much more politically achievable in the US than gay marriage, they are also a better fit for most same sex relationships. What’s more they represent an entirely dignified way of side-stepping this endless, unsightly domestic between liberal and conservative, secular and religious, metropolitan and rural America.
But instead, gay marriage zealots, many of whom admit that they themselves don’t wish to get married, insist on characterising civil unions as ‘second class’, ‘social apartheid’ or ‘riding at the back of the bus’. I’d like to think it was merely a ploy to make fully-recognised civil unions more achievable, but many really seem to believe their own shrill propaganda. Worse, they’ve made even more of a fetish of the word ‘marriage’ than the religious right they rail against.
In the UK, where nationally recognised same-sex civil unions with the same legal status as marriage – called civil partnerships – were introduced in 2004 there is little or no appetite now for gay marriage. In my experience few lesbians or gays feel they are ‘riding at the back of the bus’. Maybe because in many ways they’re actually riding at the front. It’s probably only a matter of time before gay civil partnerships in the UK are made available to all, as they are in France – where the vast majority of applications are now made by cross-sex couples disenchanted with traditional marriage.
What’s more, fully-recognised, open-to-all civil unions are a fully-fledged secular institution that helps to shore up a fragile secular society. And make no mistake, it is secularism on which most of the – historically very, very recent – freedoms enjoyed by lesbians and gays are based, along with those of women.
But so far the gay marriage crusade in the US doesn’t seem very interested in any of this or lessons it might learn from the experience of other countries. Instead it seems too busy proving itself holier-than-thou. And less sophisticated than Miss America contestants.
Mark Simpson on fashion’s new love-affair with black males
(Arena Hommes Plus, Spring 2009)
Shortly after Obama’s election last year, Israeli-American designer Elie Tahari made a prediction: ‘I think the fashion industry will have a ball with him.’ So far, this is one fashion prediction that has been on the money. Since Obama’s glitzy inauguration this January, the men’s fashion world, too often associated with a ‘Whites Only’ catwalk, hasn’t stopped dancing with the first non-white in the White House.
At the menswear shows in Milan this January a waving, smiling young Barack Obama look-a-likey led the final walk-out for Lanvin, complete with Inaugural Address overcoat, leather gloves and USA tie-pin. Givenchy meanwhile included several male models of colour for their show, and their new poster campaign features a Obama-esqe young man in an open, white silky shirt with sleeves rolled up for business, full lips parted as if caught mid-speech.
Oscar Garnica, agent at Request Models in New York says that he and his contacts in the business have seen a more consistent use of black models recently. ‘Since the Black issue of Vogue, and the Obamas took the White House, that inspiration is running through a lot of the collections,’ he says. ‘Having more images of people of colour around has probably made designers more comfortable about adding colour to their aesthetic.’ But he is cautious about the long term impact: ‘Now that we are seeing four-five models of color on the runway, will the designers continue booking these numbers? Well, that remains to be seen.’
Whatever else Obama’s Presidency might signify, the fashion world seems to have decreed that, for this season at least, the black male is power, hope, leadership – in a word: style.
Ironically, part of the reason that Obama’s booking by the American electorate has helped non-white models get bookings with the fashion industry is because as Tahari has pointed out, ‘he looks like a male model… he’s built so well.’ Obama has the height, the looks, the teeth – the ‘suntanned’ skin as Italian Premier Berlusconi infamously put it – and the instinctive understanding of where the camera is and what angle best suits him. He is patently photogenic – and his photogeneticity has helped to make this young, inexperienced man Presidential. To some degree, he got the job because he gave good face. Even his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention last Summer was delivered at the end of a catwalk.
So no wonder the fashion world wants to appropriate some of that. Michelle might be First Lady, and Obama might have exclaimed to the world ‘How beautiful is my wife?’ on inauguration night, but pretty as she is, she probably made the cover of Vogue because of her husband’s looks.
As a result of his religiously regular gym sessions on the Stairmaster, Obama is not the same shape as most US male politicians – or in fact, most US males. He really is ‘un-American’ – he can wear fashionable clothes. Even though he usually chooses to wear those Teflon-coated Hart, Schaffner, Marx & Hillman suits from Chicago, his have a narrow cut that advertises the fact that he has a body, buns and even angles. Gone are the flapping flannels of traditional US male politicians. (Even his political message was self-consciously stylish: those famous campaign slogans ‘HOPE’ and ‘CHANGE!’ were printed in Gotham font – originally developed for the men’s style magazine GQ.)
Most remarkably of all, he gets away with it. In a white US male politician such self-care and stylishness would probably be ridiculed. John Edwards you may remember got into terrible trouble for combing his hair and being pretty.
The fickle fashion world will of course tire of its clinch with Obama. But perhaps something will endure: perhaps the men’s fashion business will be less inclined than in the past to think of blackness as something ‘street’ and thus ‘sportswear’.
As Oscar Garnica at Request Models puts it: ‘Despite images of suave black men like Sidney Poitier, Sammy Davis Jr, Harry Belafonte, Denzel Washington, there has always been a narrow definition of what black is allowed to be. My best hope is that Obama’s rise to the highest office in the land will shine a spotlight on the fact that there is more to the black male image than just the stereotypes.’
It died a death during the Bush years in 2005, but it’s back. I’m talking of course, about the American Dream. Rebooted. In kinky boots.
The first teasing trailer for the new Star Trek movie in January last year showed glimpses of a shiny new USS Enterprise “under construction”. In the background President Kennedy was famously speechifying about space and Neil Armstrong’s crackly “One small step for Man” was heard. And then came the voice of a much more famous figure: Mr Spock, speaking the immortal, still spine-tingling line: “Space, the final frontier . . .”.
As things turned out, a year or so later it wasn’t just the Enterprise that was “under construction”. It wasn’t just the most successful TV and film franchise to date being rebooted – it was also the USA that was hitting the “reset” button. And what is the default setting? That Sixties optimism. They believed in the future back then.
There was always a very close relationship between the American Dream – not to mention American imperialism – and Star Trek, with its liberal, secular, multiracial, technophiliac vision of the future. But the two seem almost to have mind-melded with the election of an optimistic, liberal, iPod and Blackberry-loving multiracial President with a Kenyan father and a white American mother (Star Trek featured the first interracial kiss on US television, sparking protests at the time) – and, who is himself something of a 1960s tribute act, with his JFK and Martin Luther King cadences. Suddenly, with Barack Obama ‘taking the con’, America looks like a brand that people can believe in again. Or at least root for at the movies.
Obama has admitted that he was a big fan of the original series. Others have already pointed out that “No Drama Obama” bears some facial, voice-pattern and character similarities with Tuvok, the black Vulcan chief of security in Voyager, the third Trek spin-off TV series, a character who learnt how to master his emotions.
It’s entirely apt then that the Star Trek franchise went into suspended animation in the middle of the Bush presidency – along with the American Dream itself – after the critical and commercial failure of the Next Generation movie Nemesis, the TV prequel series Enterprise – and the blockbuster Operation Iraqi Freedom. Bush, who probably saw himself as something of a Captain Kirk figure, was certainly at least as inclined to ignore the “prime directive” (of non-interference in alien worlds) as James Tiberius, not to mention the United Nations/Federation. But instead of the loveable, roguish Kirk, the world, and eventually much of America itself, just saw a cowboy.
What’s remarkable about the Star Trek franchise is how closely each series corresponds to Republican or Democrat presidencies. The original series (1966-69), with its radical optimism and Cold War ethos (the Klingons are clearly the Russkies), maps the Lyndon Johnson Democrat presidency and the “Great Society” (1963-69). The rather more corporate and hygienic Next Generation (1987-94) covers the Reagan-Bush Republican era (1981-93), while the deeply dull but industrious Deep Space Nine (1993-99) and the feminist vehicle Voyager (1995-2001), featuring a female captain (Hillary played by Catherine Hepburn), falls into the Clinton Democrat years (1993-2001).
The ill-fated Enterprise series began the same year as the ill-fated Bush presidency, in 2001. It starred Scott Bakula looking eerily like Bush in a flight-suit and even, opportunistically, included an evil-doing adversary called the ‘Suliban’. Now, of course, we have a movie series reboot that corresponds to the beginning of the Obama presidency – however long either franchise lasts, we can probably expect their fates to be closely related.
There is perhaps another reason why Star Trek has gone back to the original Sixties series: to get back in touch with Kirk’s massive, tight-trousered mojo. Although disliked by Gene Rodenberry, Star Trek’s creator, for hijacking his rather sexless, sweatless vision of the future and for taking his shirt off and wrestling with rubber aliens too much, William Shatner, stressing words and syllables that mere mortals might think had no importance, pausing painfully . . . in the middle… of… sentences . . . while-rushing-over-their-conclusions, somehow conveyed something credibly human. Even Shatner’s immense soft-focus vanity is sympathetic. Real people are faintly preposterous after all.
Above all the original Star Trek was very . . . pointy. As well as Shatner’s urgent libido, there were the fabulous pointy boots (low-risers for the men, knee-length ones for the mini-skirted ladies), pointy sideburns, pointy breasts, pointy ears, pointy engine nacelles, pointy Federation logos, pointy lettering in the credits, and also the pointedly pointy mission statement: “To boldly go where no man has gone before,” which of course was bluntly desexed/corrected in The Next Generation to “where no one has been before”.
The new movie though is gratifyingly pointy. The kinky boots are back, as are the form-hugging uniforms and miniskirts – though now they look like fashionable sportswear. The cast is pretty, male and female, and now, forty years on, the men also have bodies and pointy-chests (the two stars, Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, reportedly work out at the same gym in LA – and share the same trainer). It looks like there’s enough (metro)sexual tension to power the warp drive. Back too are the brightly Utopian colours of the original series’ sets and costume design. The Enterprise herself handles like one of those pointy Sixties sports cars.
Kirk himself, of course, is back. But not Shatner, who, unlike Nimoy isn’t allowed on board, even for a cameo, perhaps because the director, J. J. Abrams, wants to make sure that his Kirk, played by Chris Pine, is not going to be overshadowed by Shatner’s intergalactic manhood/ego. Whatever the reason, Pine’s Kirk is a Daniel Craig moment, a reminder of the startling sexiness of a franchise that had become lifeless and effete.
Back also, and very much in the foreground, is what Abrams has quite rightly suggested is the relationship without which Star Trek really makes no sense: Kirk and Spock. Here Spock is played by an androgynously fringed Quinto (apparently channelling early 80s Marc Almond), and we finally learn how they met at Starfleet Academy and overcame fierce rivalry to become the most famous male “marriage” in pop culture.
Despite Spock’s pointy ears, there doesn’t appear to be however, anything terribly pointy-headed in this reboot: no cerebrals, no reflecting on where the American Dream might have gone wrong – just the enhanced, sexed-up aesthetics of hope. But while great effects, pecs and kinky boots might not be enough to rescue the American Dream, they’re probably enough to be getting on with.
Claiming the moral high ground is, in my view, the lowest form of politics. No doubt this means that, like the voters of Pennsylvania, I don’t read The New York Times enough.
We’re really missing out. Yesterday’s haughty editorial in the wake of Senator Clinton’s convincing victory in that key state, despite having the Democratic grandees and the media on her back, and despite being outspent by Obama nearly 3-1, was headlined: ‘The low road to victory’. Congratulations on your win, Hillary!
The editorial, which managed the impressive feat of sounding both screeching and condescending at the same time, accused her campaign of being:
‘…even meaner, more vacuous, more desperate, and more filled with pandering than the mean, vacuous, desperate, pander-filled contests that preceded it.’
Wow. You make it sound much more fun than it actually was.
‘Voters are getting tired of it; it is demeaning the political process; and it does not work.’
Because the NYT says so? Or because it produces big wins for Hillary? But you have to admire a newspaper that can actually print the sentence ‘demeaning the political process’ without it being the punch-line to a joke. Of course, just about the only thing that can ‘demean the political process’ is airy-fairy, hypocritical posturing in place of a good, honest – and, let’s face it, thoroughly entertaining – punch-up.
Limo liberals gazing out at the world through their smoked-glass rear windows while cruising along the moral high road might not know this, but blue collar workers who happen to be the electoral backbone of the Democratic Party appear to. Hillary certainly knows it, which is why she repeatedly compared herself to Rocky – a ‘low’ reference which no doubt also caused the NYT to wrinkle its patrician nose. Either way, the NYT has had enough of this vulgarity:
‘It is past time for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to acknowledge that the negativity, for which she is mostly responsible, does nothing but harm to her, her opponent, her party and the 2008 election.’
And how would you like her to make that acknowledgement? By throwing in the towel? Committing suicide? Writing a mea culpa letter to the NYT? All three? If only Hillary would get out of the way, stop fighting and dragging everything down into the mud of hick states like Pennsylvania, we could get on with the business of reading the NYT:
‘After seven years of George W. Bush’s failed with-us-or-against-us presidency, all American voters deserve to hear a nuanced debate.’
Yes! America is crying out for nuance! From sea to shining sea, from Pennsylvania to California, they shout: give me nuance! Not jobs, peace, security, housing, or a Democratic candidate for the White House that can actually win, or even a serious set-to proper fight, as if any of this stuff really mattered – but civilised, sensible, op-ed nuance. (Not that there’s much nuance in this particular example, though.)
In point of fact, it’s past time that the Democratic Party and the NYT thanked Hillary for fighting dirty.
By fighting dirty – that’s to say, openly attacking her opponent instead of relying on email newsletters, memos, partisan journalism and the poisonous hysteria of fans as Obama has done until now – Hillary has begun to awaken the Democratic Party to the unpalatable truth it’s been avoiding for so long: that the Dali Obama has little or no life outside the Democratic Party and its sensitivities. He is the perfect candidate for defeating her, but the perfect one for the Republicans to destroy. She’s given them a small, relatively restrained taste of what the GOP will do with him – and where they will shove his halo. It’s past time for the NYT and the grandees of the Democratic Party to get down on their expensively tailored knees and thank her for doing so before it was too late.
Limo liberals will never thank her, of course. For many of them Obama was never really meant to win anything more than the Democratic Candidacy. Winning the Presidency itself would be far too vulgar, too ‘low’. He was meant to bring them something much more valuable than a change of Government, especially for those who already have everything. He was meant to make them feel good about themselves. Come polling day, he was supposed, like all Messiahs, to die. The Senator for Illinois is a human sacrifice designed to prove the moral superiority of liberals to the ‘Repugs’, as they like to call them – and in fact to politics itself.
The very reason Hillary is hated and scorned by the limo liberals is because she didn’t leave it to the Republicans to destroy their idol. She forced him to show his hand – and feet of clay – and splutter predictable lies, as he did in the last TV debate. ‘John McCain should go on holiday, Hillary is doing his work for him’ protested recovering Republican millionairess Arianna Huffington recently on her Obama-worshipping Hillary-loathing website.
No, Arianna darling, Hillary is doing the work that liberal journalists should be doing but aren’t because they’ve gone on permanent vacation in ObamaLand: she’s pulled back the curtain and showed the Wizard of Chicago to be… shock! horror! a politician. And a very inexperienced, untested one at that, who, even without Pastor Wright et al bumping around in his very crowded closet, will be crucified by the Republicans. Unceremoniously. There will be nothing morally satisfying or redeeming about it at all: it will just be messy, sickening and brutal. The NYT really will have something to be indignant about then – but it will be far too late.
But perhaps Hillary’s greatest crime, and her ‘lowest’ trick, is not being more electable than Obama and refusing to keep quiet about that, but asking who does the Democratic Party really belong to? Arianna Huffington, the New York Times and the former President of the Harvard Law Review, alias Mr Obama – or ‘bitter’ Scranton, Pennsylvania?