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

Category: interview with Mark Simpson (page 2 of 2)

Interview with Mark Simpson in Portuguese National ‘Publico’

English version of interview with Simpson about his new book metrosexy by Bruno Horta (Publico, June 16, 2011)

Why did you decide to collect these texts in a single volume?

I wanted to bring together my essays that document and analyse the profound revolution in masculinity that metrosexuality represents. But which has been mostly trivialized by the media as being literally skin-deep – Oooh! men having facials!! Oooh! Manbags!! That kind of thing. Metrosexuality isn’t about men becoming ‘girlie’ or ‘gay’. It’s about men becoming everything. To themselves.

It’s told-you-so vanity on my part, but I also thought it was necessary to bring these pieces together into one collection so that if someone wants to find out the real story of what has happened to men and to sexuality in the early 21st Century they can. Even if it’s just historians of the future trying to work out why civilization collapsed.

The kind of texts you write and the tone you use (ironic and camp) is not common in Portugal but as far as I know is common in English language authors. Could you comment? Is the tone of your writings autobiographical or is just a rhetorical mechanism?

Are you calling me camp, Bruno? I try my best to be entertaining when I write, as I’m extremely dull in person. Also, I think when it comes to subjects like sex, sexuality and gender a sense of humour is absolutely necessary. If someone can write about these subjects straight-faced then they probably don’t know what they’re talking about.

Did you realize you were creating a worldwide concept when you first wrote about “metrosexual” men in 1994? How proud do you feel about having seen before others a social tendency?

The newspaper article in which I apparently coined that term was written to publicise my first book Male Impersonators: Men Performing Masculinity. I used metrosexuality as a kind of shorthand for what I was talking about in the book – about the way that an increasingly mediated world was changing masculinity and how it was becoming much more narcissistic and exhibitionistic – and ‘objectified’ in that feminist-speak.

In other words, masculinity was no longer always heterosexual never homosexual, always active never passive, always desiring never desired, always looking never looked at.

The enforced association of masculinity with capital H heterosexuality was breaking down even in the early 90s – you only had to look around the culture to see it. And I’ve always been something of a voyeur. The desire of men to be desired wasn’t something I was going to ignore.

Though, of course, people don’t always want to see things that are happening around them. Which is probably why it took another decade for the concept to catch on.

And yes, seeing some things before others want to does give me a certain mischievous, perverse pleasure, but it isn’t necessarily something you’ll be thanked for. Look what happened to Cassandra….

You say in the 1994 text that “metrosexuals are the creation of capitalism’s voracious appetite for new markets.” Do you think sexuality is nowadays more an economic issue than a ‘natural’ or ‘primary’ behaviour?

Not really sure that sexuality has been a ‘natural’ behaviour since humans became social animals with elaborate rules and codes, languages – and religions. It’s certainly been even less ‘natural’ since the industrial revolution. What’s clear though is that the productive/reproductive impetus of early capitalism has been replaced by sensual/consumerist imperatives, even and especially for men.

You see this even in China, where after a period of rapid productive growth consumerism is now rampant and encouraged by the Party as the next step in China’s economic development – and hyper-metro behaviour has been observed amongst a lot of Chinese young men (the so-called ‘herbivore’ phenomenon). Plus of course, population growth is not something China exactly needs.

It’s fairly clear that men have always had a capacity for sensuality and vanity – and a desire to be desired – but for most of history it has been rather closeted. Especially since the Victorian era. Men were meant to be warriors or labourers or empire builders. They weren’t meant to be beautiful. The sexual division of looking that the Victorians codified decreed that women were beauty and men were action.

But now that men have been encouraged to get in touch with their vanity and sensuality it seems there’s no stopping it….

Is the concept of “sporno” a proof that our Western culture is being constructed around pornography and sex? Camille Paglia wrote some months ago that American middle-class society is desexualized: men act like children until 50 and women are so thinner that men hardly fell attracted for their bodies. What should we conclude?

America is a conundrum. Sporno doesn’t really exist in the US, except via imported Armani advertising campaigns (which don’t feature US sportsmen). Sporno is a European phenomenon. The Protestant component of American culture is still very strong today and America still makes a quasi religious fetish out the notion of the Real Man.

The US is the only country that had a backlash against metrosexuality in the mid-Noughties. In many ways the ‘menaissance’ as it was called was men-dacious and hypocritical – often it was just a more uptight version of metrosexuality that was being sold. And in fact the US as a hugely consumerist country has continued of course down the metrosexual path – it can hardly do anything else.  But it’s still in terrible denial.

Sporno represents an intensification of metrosexuality – from a soft core to more hard-core gay porn sensibility.  It’s too out-and-proud in its metrosexuality, ramming it’s designer-clad packet – or ass – down your throat. America’s not really ready for that. America is, as everyone knows, one of the ‘gayest’ countries in the world but it’s the last to know it.

Why do we see rugby and football players acting as “sporno” stars but rugby and football are still homophobic areas?

I’m not so sure that rugby is that homophobic – partly because it’s all about male-male physical contact.  And it does have one or two out players/ex-players. Football is a different matter however. Pretty much the whole point of following football is to prove you’re not gay, my son….

To some extent the fashion houses deploying footballers in their spornographic advertising campaigns are exploiting the homophobia of the sport – the images are especially striking in their ‘gayness’ and their ‘passivity’ because they use men who live by ‘activity’ in a sport renowned for its homophobia.

In fact, David Beckham’s media career has also been based to some degree on exploiting the homophobia of football. If football wasn’t homophobic the notion of a footballer who ‘loves my gay fans’ and wears sarongs and his wife’s knickers wouldn’t be so newsworthy.

But of course sporno – and Beckham and Ronaldo – also change expectations and challenge prejudices. There is a time-lag between the pansexuality proffered by sporno images used to sell clothing to young football fans and attitudes on the terraces and in the changing rooms. But this will change. Things have already changed enormously in just a few years.

What is really, strikingly, shockingly apparent in these spornographic images is the lust young sporting heroes have to be… sluts. This apparently insatiable appetite for tartiness and sluttiness of men is something that metrosexuality has unleashed and isn’t going back in the closet any time soon.

How do you see the way gay men, or more accurately gay activism, behave today: they demand gay marriage, they want to adopt children and they claim family values? What’s happening? Has the “heterosexist” society just contaminated the previously subversive gay culture?

A lot of gays seem to have decided that they want respectability. Of course they call it ‘equality’. But perhaps they have an equal right to be respectable if they really want to be.

Just as straights appear to be going ‘gay’, given the chance, in the form of metrosexuality and recreational, kinky sex, gays seem to be going ‘straight’. It’s the inevitable result of the breakdown of the division between ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ and the crossover between the two.  Sexuality no longer dictates lifestyle.

And it’s not so surprising that it turns out that a lot of gays have made a fetish out of ‘normality’ and respectability – because it was denied them for so long.  I expect though that many will tire of it rather more quickly than a lot of heterosexuals have.

What’s your opinion about the apparently main-streaming of the transgender culture (last week Daniel Craig in drag; the Spanish magazine Candy, the recent success of the model Andrej Pejic)? Is trans the new sexual/aesthetic model? Are we going “transexy”, as you call it?

I think it’s becoming pretty apparent that in an increasingly intensely mediated culture everything is becoming hyper-real – especially gender.  The increasing use of cosmetic surgery by both men and women, especially celebrities, is bringing about a kind of effacement of sexual difference. Not necessarily because men and women are becoming androgynous, although that is happening too, but because even the attempts to emphasize ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ with cosmetic surgery, designer tatts and beards, steroids etc. etc. tend to produce an ‘over-exposure’ which results in a kind of ‘transexy’ appearance. Sexiness has effaced sex.

Gender has become so artificial and so over-stated that we’re all Pammy-trannies now. Male-to-male and female-to-female transsexuals.

Who do you consider to be the most interesting, sexy, defiant and mythological public person of nowadays? Why?

That’s a tall order. I’m not sure I can think of anyone that really fits that description. But Tom Hardy was the best thing by far about ‘Inception’ and there is something quite inspiring about this pouty-faced yet ruggedly handsome Hollywood star’s open ownership both of his bi-curious past and his ambi-sexual persona. He looks like a good advert for metrosexiness: ‘Don’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.’

I think that’s an excellent motto for negotiating the metrosexy world we’re now living in.

metrosexy is available for your instant pleasure on Amazon Kindle

Metrosexual Daddy Mark Simpson interviewed by Elise Moore

English author and journalist Mark Simpson on love-hating the metrosexual, why bromance lacks balls, and why women are strapping on Captain Kirk.

By Elise Moore (Suite 101, May 6, 2010)

If you could copyright neologisms, Mark Simpson would be a billionaire. Since you can’t, the British gay/gender issues and pop/culture commentator talked to Suite101 about the real definition of metrosexuality and gave his views on gay marriage legalization, slash fic, bromance, and more.

The Metrosexual Past and Present

Being responsible for the metrosexual could keep less hearty souls awake at night. But Mark thinks the guilt should be shared. “Probably consumerism, post-feminism, Men’s Health magazine and Jersey Shore should shoulder at least some of the responsibility for the normalization of male vanity. I mean, the fact the President of the US now makes the Free World wait every morning for him to finish his work-out, and is something of his own First Lady, isn’t entirely down to me.

“Like most people, I have a love-hate relationship with the metrosexual. I love it when he pays me attention, and hate it when he’s flirting with someone else. Then I call him ‘self-obsessed’.”

Speaking of love-hating the metrosexual, Jerry Lewis arguably made the first metrosexual movie, The Nutty Professor, in 1963. “The Nutty Professor is a remarkable film,” Mark agrees. “It’s a kind of proto-metrosexual sci-fi. Geeky, unkempt, invisible and unlaid, Lewis concocts a potion that makes him the centre of attention and irresistible – by boosting his narcissism to monstrous levels. It’s Viagra and Biotherme Homme for Men in one product – decades before either were invented.”

Metrosexuality and Consumerism

“Metrosexuality has lots of antecedents of course: the virile degeneracy of Brando, Dean and Elvis in the 1950s, Jagger ‘s petulant narcissism in the 60s, Bowie’s glittering glamness in the 1970s, the mirrored male world of Saturday Night Fever and American Gigolo – and the military gay porn aesthetic of Top Gun. But they didn’t coalesce into the mainstream, High Street, off-the-peg phenomenon of mediated, commodified, love-me-or-love-me masculinity known as metrosexuality until the late Eighties, early Nineties.”

This close correlation between the metrosexual and increasing consumerism is what gets Mark annoyed when he’s confused with the late 19th century dandy. “As if we can pretend that the sexual and aesthetic division of labour of the Nineteenth and most of the Twentieth Century didn’t happen. As if Oscar Wilde – perhaps the most famous and in many ways the last dandy – hadn’t been destroyed by Victorian morality for his ‘gross indecency’. As if male narcissism and sensuality hadn’t been associated with male homosexuality – and thus criminalised and pathologised – for the next hundred years.

“And as if a dandy would have done anything so vulgar as go to the gym and get sweaty.”

Manlove for Ladies and Bros

Mark is also up for equal-opportunity equal opportunity when it comes to women who like the idea of man-on-man, as exemplified by the fan fiction phenomenon known as “slash fic.” “I’m fascinated and sometimes a little scared by the way that women interpret and fantasize male-on-male sex. Manlove for ladies is very different to gay porn. For starters, it uses imagination. Gay porn never does that. Slash-fic also tends to have a lot of feelings. Which always, always cause loss of wood in gay porn.

“Sometimes it seems as if women are trying, rather fabulously, to escape their prescribed feminine subjectivity by projecting themselves into the bodies of their male protagonists. Captain Kirk as the ultimate strap-on.”

Is “manlove for ladies,” as Mark calls it, comparable in any way to the new neologism in town, “bromance”? “Manlove for the ladies has much more in the way of… balls than ‘bromance’. As the name ‘bromance’ suggests, actual sex, or in fact anything physical, would be a form of incest. It seems like it’s being left to women to put men in touch with their bi-curiousness. Which is as everyone knows – but pretends not to – even more common than the female variety.”

The Greatest Iconoclast

If the views expressed above haven’t made it clear, Mark has upset a few people in his career, not least other, more “orthodox” gay commentators. But who out of his infatuations and inspirations would he deem the greatest iconoclast – Camille Paglia, Lady Gaga, Morrissey, Jerry Lewis? “I would probably have to pick Gore Vidal. He took on everything that is sacred in America: Machismo. Empire. The Kennedys. The Cold War. Hollywood. Monotheism and Monosexuality. What’s more his hilarious late 1960s transsexual novel ‘Myra Breckenridge’ figured out what was happening to masculinity and femininity before I was out of short trousers and long before the Twenty First Century got underway.

“Come to think of it, I should probably clast Mr. Vidal for leaving so little for the rest of us to smash.”

Future of Metrosexuality

Now that the 21st century is unavoidably underway, what does the new millennium hold for the metrosexual?

“A big, scented candle. And even more product.”

Mark Simpson interviewed in Greek National newspaper Eleftherotypia


Interviewed by Spyros Chatzigiannis in the Greek national newspaper Eleftherotypia (18 Nov, 2007, Edited)

SC: What inspired you to come up with the term ‘metrosexual’ back in 1994? Was it the outcome of an obsession? You have said in the past that your writing is based on your own obsessions…

MS: Well, I’d obviously spent far too long thinking about men and masculinity. In fact, back then, anyone who used the word ‘masculinity’ was a little bit suspect….

I was attending an exhibition in London organized by GQ magazine called, with no irony, ‘It’s a Man’s World’, for the Independent newspaper, and it dawned on me that I’d seen the future. And it was moisturized.

Back then no one believed me. It wasn’t until I returned to the subject in 2002 for the then very popular American online magazine Salon and outed Mr Beckham – someone even I couldn’t have made up – as flamingly metrosexual that the word caught on. Alarmingly.

Is a man who adopts the way of life of a metrosexual more acceptable to women and can that improve his relationships with them? Or is it simply a mask behind which the 21st century man/hunter offers a camouflaged ‘bait’ to the woman/prey in an ongoing gender battle, as an evolutionary psychologist might argue?

I’ve always thought it would be fun to put a bunch of evolutionary psychologists in the Big Brother House, without any food, and see who gets eaten or raped first.

Metrosexuality isn’t about women – it’s about men. Of course, most metrosexuals are rather interested in women, but they’re even more interested in themselves. That’s the nature of metrosexuality. It’s a logical development of individualism and an end to the sexual division of labour in looks. The hallmark of the metrosexual is a certain independence from women: he actually buys his own clothes, can operate a washing machine and cooker and doesn’t regard beauty and sensuality as something that women embody on his brutish behalf. In other words: the metrosexual doesn’t see life as a Beauty and the Beast cartoon.

In a post-feminist world, where women no longer depend on men for their daily bread and protection, men can no longer depend on women to be women for them – so men are being women for themselves, in much the same way that women are being men for themselves.

Do you think that the term ‘metrosexual’ reflects/promotes the changing attitude of Western society towards a more complex view of masculinity or is it simply another useful tool for the market research companies to create another category of consumers with special needs?

It’s both – because it’s impossible nowadays to separate ‘Western society’ from consumption. In a sense, the metrosexual is the product of marketing: it’s intolerable to our post-industrial economy that half of the population should be impervious to advertising and not do its duty at the shopping mall. So men are dutifully buying glossy mags full of ads, religiously visiting the gym and going shopping for pleasure.

But, on the other hand, the metrosexual is also a response to marketing and the product of hitherto pent-up male wants, such as vanity and sensuality – and getting away from the buttoned-up, bottled-up male that is terrified of pastel colours and headed for a heart-attack at forty-five.

If the modern man identifies himself as metrosexual do you think he has less stereotypes both about his own identity and that of gay men? What is his attitude towards homosexuality?

If he identifies as metrosexual then he’s already dissenting from the male convention that any kind of difference is deviance – and that deviance is the worst possible thing that could befall a man. Besides, he’s like to get flak from both straight and gay people for messing with their gaydar.

The metrosexual is generally less paranoid about homosexuality than the retrosexual since his identity is based less on his sexual preference – and the disavowal of anything ‘faggy’ – than on his consumption patterns, tastes and lifestyles, pectorals. Which are often rather ‘faggy’.

He’s also inviting the gaze in a way that many, particularly Americans, frequently find disturbing – because this kind of male flirtatiousness/tartiness can’t be straightened or gendered out. To homophobes, the metrosexual is worse than a fag. He’s letting the anti-fag side down. He’s the prostate gland of heterosexuality: Satanically putting unmanly thoughts in the straight male body politic instead of projecting them onto the unmanly/unnatural gays out there.

Is being a pop star the ultimate fantasy/dream of a metrosexual man? In the past you have said that ‘it was a bloody pop star that encouraged me to make words my profession’. Did the term ‘metrosexual’ make you a pop star of words?

Metrosexuality is the end for pop and rock music. Stars like Little Richard and Elvis and Brando achieved such fame and devotion in part because they were so narcissistic and mascaraed at a time, the homebuilding 1950s, when men were definitely not supposed to be. In fact, abandoning your narcissism is one of the first steps traditionally required of little boys to become big boys and then small men.

Until recently, young male fans projected their own abandoned narcissism onto the radiant rock or film star who so clearly had not abandoned his and lived vicariously through him.

Nowadays though, it’s no longer necessary to worship from afar. Boys no longer necessarily give up their narcissism, or their auto-eroticism. And you don’t need a rock and roll career or budget to become a local celeb down the gym, at the disco or in the workplace. Or get yourself on Big Brother….

Those pop stars that are left are not actually pop stars at all: they’re footballers, like David Beckham.

Can he be popular in Arab/Islamic and non-Western countries? (Judging by David Beckham’s global success the answer is yes!)

I’ve been interviewed about metrosexuality by newspapers and TV stations in Brazil and India and asked to speak at a birthday bash in Beijing for China’s FHM magazine, so I think it’s clear that it’s not just a Western phenomenon, especially in countries that are rapidly urbanising. Even Cuba’s youth newspaper recently ran a big feature about Cuba’s macho men turning metrosexual – which, frankly, is no mean achievement when you’re being blockaded by the US and you’re living in a Marxist-Leninist country where queuing for essentials, let alone moisturiser, is so common.

As for metrosexual muslims: well, Pakistan is apparently undergoing what their media has termed a ‘metrosexual revolution’ at this very moment, despite the disapproval of the hairy mullahs.

Would a metrosexual be respected and accepted in the ancient Athens of Plato and Socrates?

I’ve been told that metrosexual is a Greek/Latin hybrid that means ‘motherfucker’, so I doubt he’d have been popular. Except maybe in Thebes.

The Greeks didn’t recognize the concept of ‘sexuality’, the notion of a psychology and aesthetic determined by your sexual preference, but they did recognize the universal attractiveness of the fit, youthful male. So the metrosexual would have been unnecessary.

Mind you, they probably would have been scandalized by the way that our metrosexual times seem to make boys of all men. Have you noticed how every male celeb now has exactly the same cute little toy beard? And that they all look, whatever their actual age, precisely 17?

Is your metrosexual vision challenged by the various ‘new’ concepts that have come along, such as the ‘heteropolitan’, the ‘ubersexual’ or the ‘ecosexual’? Or are they offsprings of your original idea?

Poor relations, more like.

Now that men have been commodified by metrosexuality it’s inevitable that there should be ‘new’ models out more often than vacuum cleaners. Practically every month we’re told the metrosexual is ‘so over’ and now replaced by something remarkably similar – but somehow completely different and, of course, so much better….

Even the so-called ‘metrosexual backlash’ and ‘menaissance’ which came and went a year or so ago, mostly in the god-fearing, fag-hating US, and which supposedly saw the re-ascendancy of the retrosexual, is just more metrosexuality, but with added mendacity. When I first used the term ‘retrosexual’ back in 2003, apparently coining the usage, I merely meant men who were not metrosexual, so-called ‘regular guys’ – now though a retrosexual seems to mean just a metrosexual with shaped chest hair.

Masculinity has been so commodified that even ‘regular guys’ are now just another fad.

A critic in Britain once called you ‘the skinhead Oscar Wilde’. Do you agree with the comment and was Oscar the metrosexual bloke of his time?

I think he probably meant ‘balding homosexual’.

Wilde the married-with-kids aesthete and dandy about town whose greatest work was about mediated male narcissism – ‘The Portrait of Dorian Gray’ – would probably have preferred ‘metrosexual’ to the, then newly-coined, label he got lumbered with: homosexual. In fact, after his downfall, Wilde was seen as The Homosexual. The original. The Homo Adam.

It was Wilde, after all, who said that ‘To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.’ Which is practically the motto of metrosexuality.

You came up with the term ‘sporno’, which The New York Times named as one of the best ‘Ideas of the Year’. Are the worlds of sports, porn and homosexuality so closely allied together nowadays?

Sporno, where advertising and sports meet and produce a spectacular money shot, is really an intensification of metrosexuality.

Metrosexuality is so common these days that it’s not in itself arresting as an advertising image – we’re used to young semi-naked men inviting our gaze on the side of buses – or down the pub.

Sporno is a hardcore metrosexuality that promises you a gang bang in the showers after the match with your favourite humpy athlete.

Is the advertising industry just illuminating more brightly what was always there, the homoerotic subtext of male sportsmen/ sport fans?

Yes, sports has probably always had a male-male erotic dimension – the Olympics were conducted in the nude for the benefit of the male spectators as well as the, er, freedom of the sportsmen.

Gymnasiums – another wonderful Greek gift to the world – were one stop shops where Ancient Greek males could work out and pick up, or perhaps, if they were Plato, just be very inspired.

Sports today is a very peculiar place: a world where open homosexuality is still largely taboo, and often reviled, but also world in which homoerotics and male narcissism is being nakedly exploited by consumerism. A world in which the barely-clad bodies and tightly-clad packets of male sportsmen like Becks, and Ljunberg, are being pimped out globally by advertising: making them fabulously wealthy, and even more successful sportsmen.

And leaving non metro sports fans even more confused.