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

Category: media (page 1 of 2)

Tight Trousers & Slut-Shaming

You may have seen this photo of four young (white) working class lads minding their own business enjoying an evening on the town together, dressed in the way many working class lads dress these days – showing off their ink, their worked-out bodies, and their shaped facial hair. Spornosexuals.

Taken by a stranger a couple of summers ago, it was originally posted by Connor Humpage (on the right) to his Instagram, with the self-mocking caption ‘Tight trousers chose us’. The photo was then hate-memed to death by people who didn’t know anything about them. Except that they could abuse them with impunity.

Initially the remarks and abuse were mostly about their ‘bizarre’ appearance – clearly from extremely-online people who never got out much, even before lockdown. As Connor told The Tab:

The lads were mystified as to why an innocuous picture of them had gone viral in the first place. “I still can’t get my head around why,” says Connor. “It’s just a normal picture with my mates.” Whilst their tight clothes have been mocked, all say they work hard at the gym and just wore normal clothes. “If we were wearing flares or bootcuts we’d get the piss taken out of us,” says Connor.

Well, quite. Every weekend thousands of lads like these decorate city centres across the UK, out for a good time. And perhaps proffering a good time to be had. These particular ornaments were from the Midlands and were on a night out in Birmingham. (The photo seems to be of them outside All Bar One at New Street Station.)

Things took a turn for the even worse when at the height of last year’s BLM demonstrations, their image was appropriated by people making bigoted assumptions about them based entirely on their appearance again – in order to signal moral superiority on social media. Which led to the guys being abused online all over again, one of them even receiving harassing phone calls at work.

One of these memes was tweeted by a (white, gay male) features writer at woke website Vice to his 19.4K followers. It remains up – despite the Tab article last year about the guys’ experience (which includes Connor’s George Floyd/BLM art), and another last month on the BBC website.

One not untypical reply – from an account with a rainbow flag and pronouns in their bio – reads: ‘Every single one of them with their course of antibiotics in their back pocket.’

I’m old enough to remember when gay men were smeared and abused for ‘spreading STDs’. But apparently bigoted slut-shaming of young men you know nothing about is prideful these days, and worthy of 11 likes (including one from the woke gay Vice writer). So long as they’re white, working class and assumed to be heterosexual.

This is just good old-fashioned snobbery – in social justice warrior drag. With a nasty strain of sexual jealousy thrown in. My dear! Have you seen the low-life riff-raff hanging around that awful All Bar One in their vulgar clothes and common, brutish bodies? Ghastly!

The whole demented furore around the photo is essentially a social-media updating of the time the rather plain and dumpy middle-aged middle-class writer Charlton Brooker penned entire column in the Guardian abusing and slut-shaming the underdressed, pumped, young straight(ish) men in Newcastle-based MTV reality show Geordie Shore, as ‘awesomely creepy’, ‘synthetic meat’ and ‘vinyl sex dolls’. But, strangely, had absolutely nothing to say about the equally processed and underdressed women in it.

We’ve also been here before with Vice, before it went woke, back when it was the hipster’s Bible. It was a hilariously sexually confused piece published there some years ago, beating up on ‘sad young douchebags’, which prompted me to rush to their defence: selflessly interposing myself between them and the cruel barbs. It was also when I coined the term ‘spornosexuals’, to emphasise the continuity between metrosexuality and its second-generation, more, ahem, ‘fleshly’ incarnation. As I put it then:

What’s a douchebag? Someone with bigger arms than you, who’s getting more sex than you – and probably earning more than you, despite being considerably less expensively educated than you.

Not to worry – there has however been enormous progress in the years since. Nowadays bitter jealousy is presented as uplifting wokery.

The All Bar One lads got virally memed yet again recently, prompting the current round of media interest. But this time the meme was much more benign, a ‘deep-fake’ TikTok animation of them singing a sea-shanty – which has had 6.9 million views.

Nonetheless, they are once again being ventriloquised – and thoroughly objectified. Albeit in a more sophisticated fashion. The meme is funny because they appear to be convincingly singing the shanty and, like Olde Worlde sailors, they are muscular, have tattoos, ‘silly’ pants and are drinking. But of course, the punchline is that their spornosexuality is a long way from Olde Worlde sailors.

It’s worth noting that sea shanties (a current TikTok craze) are songs from an era when pleasures for the working man were few and far between and ‘grafting’ was hard, and filled almost every daylight hour. This particular shanty, “Soon May the Wellerman Come”, is all about looking forward to that tantalising pleasure:

[c. 1860-70] is a whaling song which has drawn academic praise as “a genuine cultural expression by exploited workers for whom “sugar and tea and rum” provided a much-needed respite from the drudgery and toil of their daily lives.”

Pleasure for the working man, now that ‘the tonguin’ is done’, is much easier to come by today – but clearly not everyone is happy about that.

For their part, the much-maligned lads have good-humouredly welcomed the TikTok meme: Connor thinks it’s ‘hilarious’. And are also relieved that it has prompted a completely different kind of response online to the first two waves of memes – friendly comments instead of hateful. As Connor told BBC’s Newsbeat:

“At first we were blown away by how negative everyone was. We didn’t ask for any of this,” he says.

“I think people forget about the people they’re trolling behind their phones or keyboards. We actually are real people and it does affect you.

“It gets to a stage where you don’t even read the comments anymore. You feel sorry for the people trying to ridicule someone just on how they look.”

Jamie, Connor, Kevin and Alex also ended up on one of the UK’s most popular breakfast TV shows, Good Morning Britain, finally talking in their own voices and own words about their experience. Though very briefly and, understandably, somewhat nervously.

Predictably though, it seems to have been mostly an opportunity for presenters, Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid to reheat the stale ‘bants’ that would have got them totally cancelled if they used them on a woman guest who had been mobbed online for wearing a fashionably short skirt: ‘Couldn’t you find a pair of trousers that fit, was that the issue?’… ‘Couldn’t you find the right size?’…

‘With a bit of hindsight,’ persists Morgan, 55, clearly unable to help himself, ‘would you have worn different trousers?’

Absolutely not,’ replies Jamie. Good for you, fella.

But then, no one – NO ONE – wants to see Morgan’s arse.

Connor Humpage and his insufferably vulgar body

Further reading:

Prince Charming – Adam Ant’s Pop Apotheosis

Some years back I posted a piece called ‘The Prettiest Punk’, about the most fetching three minute wonders. Scandalously, Adam Ant appeared nowhere in the list.

Perhaps this oversight was an unconscious censorship – because otherwise none of the other candidates would have stood a chance. Or more likely down to the fact I was born a bit late for punk and so only remembered Adam Ant in his much more successful, much more made-up new romantic ‘dandy highwayman’ phase, which twas technically new wave musically, but very much new romantic visually, and ideologically.

When he transformed from a punk Cinders into a glamorous, baroque butterfly, drowning in lip gloss.

Born Stuart Goddard in 1954, and raised in an unplumbed two-room north London slum, this art school ruffian chose the punk name ‘Adam’ because ‘he was the first man’, and ‘Ant’ because ‘they will survive nuclear war’. He personified more than anyone else (even, dare I say, that other London boy made good, D**** B****) the open secret that British youth cults of glam, punk and new romanticism, although they officially hated each other, were all part of the same aesthetic rebellion.

One that eventually culminated (or degenerated, depending on your point of view), via the assimilation/proliferation of glossy magazines, consumerism and advertising, and the increasingly mediated nature of masculinity, in metrosexuality.

The tongue-in-cheek but seriously extravagant by the standards of the time ‘dandy highwayman’ promos for ‘Stand and Deliver’ and ‘Prince Charming’, both shot in a day and released in 1981 (forty years ago next year), were at least as influential in shaping the sensibility of the 1980s as Paul Schrader’s more ‘adult’ Hollywood feature film and young Richard Gere panopticon, American Gigolo, released the previous year.

‘Stand and Deliver’ was a pitch perfect pop song, noisily celebrating male narcissism and declaring, with wailing warcry, a national uprising against naffness – while holding grown-ups to ransom.

“It’s just stealing people’s attention. I’m a very big history fan of certainly the Georgian era and I like the flamboyance and sexuality and bawdiness of the time. I’ve seen films like Tom Jones and I grew up going to Saturday morning pictures and seeing all these other influences. I put them all together and Stand And Deliver was just purely grabbing people’s attention and using the whole sort of classical English highwayman feel as a theme.”

Adam ant

The promo, directed by Mike Mansfield, begins with us enjoying in close-up a fully-made-up but apparently naked Adam gazing smolderingly at himself in the mirror as he applies his ‘war paint’ – while the hunting horn sounds. The ‘threesome’ mirror-shot that invites the viewer to gaze on a beautiful young man gazing at himself is a trope which has become a cliche in the decades since, in a world where metrosexuality is completely mainstream and corporate, and social me-dia is rampant. In 1980 however, it was still an arresting vista.

I'm the dandy highwayman who you're too scared to mention
I spend my cash on looking flash and grabbing your attention

Mr Ant is entirely upfront and personal about his ravenous desire to be desired. In fact, he wields it as a weapon. Instead of holding up travellers with a pistol he holds a mirror to their faces. (Perhaps inspiring 1980s Taboo nightclub ‘door whore’ Mark Vaultier’s infamous habit of holding a mirror up to hopeful punters, asking:”Would you let yourself in?”).

Stand and deliver your money or your life
Try and use a mirror no bullet or a knife

Tossing the phallic pistol and replacing it with a mirror is a provocatively fey gesture, as befits the ravishing passivity of male vanity. It also perhaps references the raucous Sex Pistols-style guitar chords that open ‘Stand and Deliver’ (who also styled themselves as ruffians).

Working class Adam completely embraced the nascent medium of glossy, aspirational pop promos, coming up with many of the grandiose ideas himself – as well as the medium of glossy, aspirational self-love. Both of which were of course abhorred by ‘proper’ punks and the ‘serious’ music press.

The devil take your stereo and your record collection (oh-oh)
The way you look you'll qualify for next year's old age pension 

Which is why, in addition to being enormous fun, ‘Stand and Deliver’ went to No.1 in May 1981, and refused to budge from its pole position in the hit highway for five weeks, relieving nearly a million teenagers of their pocket money. But then, unlike most pop singles, it did contain useful fashion advice:

It's kind of tough to tell a scruff the big mistake he's making

During the ‘hanging’ sequence (which was banned by the BBC) accompanied by the divine Georgian gibberish chorus of ‘Qua qua da diddley qua qua da diddley‘, we are regaled with knee-clasping stylised shots of stylised Blitz Kids. There’s more than a nod in this video to The Dame’s seminal ‘Ashes to Ashes’ promo of the previous year, at the time the most expensive ever made, which also featured eminent denizens of London’s hyper-cool Blitz nightclub, paying homage to their prophet.

‘Stand and Deliver’ ends as it began, just you, me, Adam and his reflection sharing an intimate moment: a close-up on mirrored glossy lips again, as if (re)discovering their own irresistibility.

And frankly, has anyone worn lip gloss and full foundation better? Blondie’s soft-focus kisser looked crusty in comparison. Even Tim Curry’s iconic smackers as pouty Frank ‘n’ Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show seem drier than a Weetabix discovered behind a radiator after Mr Ant’s spangly lusciousness.

If ‘Stand and Deliver’ was Adam Ant’s glamorous gospel, ‘Prince Charming’ was his shining apotheosis. It is quite the most perfect promo ever made – delivering him straight into pop cultural heaven.

The track has a repetitive, terrace/school playground chant-like quality to it, like some of the best glam rock singles. But unlike glam rock it doesn’t really exist separate from the panto pop promo. In fact, ‘Prince Charming’ is more pop promo than song. This is not a criticism. It is part of its historic achievement.

It starts with Adam as Cinders, his bandmates singing to him:

Don't you ever, don't you ever
Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome

It’s a touching image of male camaraderie in the British youth cult tradition, and reminds me somewhat of Bowie’s ‘When you’re a boy/Other boys check you out‘ line from ‘Boys Keep Swinging’.

His fairy godmother turns up, played by camp icon Diana Dors – on a cloud, surrounded by toned oiled-up topless young black male dancers. With a wave of her wand he is transformed into a sexy Beau Brummell – something I suspect Mr Brummell never actually achieved himself. (Check out those tight breeches and the way they reflect the light – gadzooks!).

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Quite so. Male vanity only really works if it is unashamed and fearless. Ridicule is a form of attention, after all. And frequently a form of envy.

At the ball that Cinders/Adam attends, the chanting and the arm-crossed synchronised dancing is wonderful, but also slightly Satanic, in a thrilling Dance of the Vampires sense, despite or perhaps because of the childish panto theme. As Adam mounts the cloudy staircase towards a landing mirror, the revellers freeze and fade away to nothingness and our hero is left alone, with his Orphée-esque reflection – and our gaze.

He smashes the mirror with a handy candelabra, fragmenting himself, and we see Adam as a series of male pop cultural icons: the Man with No Name (Clint Eastwood), Alice Cooper, Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan (Rudolph Valentino) and Adam in his dandy highwayman garb from ‘Stand and Deliver’. It’s the drag sequence in Bowie’s ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ promo, but this time cross-dressing in the clothes of the same gender. Metrosexuality is, after all, about accessorising attractiveness.

With admirable arrogance, this slightly odd-looking, very tiny man from the humblest of backgrounds imaginable has, via the powerful transformative magick of pop, inserted himself into the immortal iconography of male celluloid stars. His desire to be desired made famous flesh.

Cinders has found his Prince Charming – in himself. At his coming out ball.

Mind, he is only really convincing in his dandy highwayman role and as Valentino. His Valentino is actually quite devastating – a revelation, both in terms of Valentino and Ant. Besides, the fact that he knew and understood the long-dead silent screen star’s importance as one of the first male sex objects, let alone coveted it, is an indication of his close study of the subject.

But there is a ghost in attendance at this ball. The ghost of Johnny Depp Future, who was only 18 when this video was made. Depp credited Keith Richards with inspiring his criminally successful Pirates of the Caribbean ‘Jack Sparrow’ character – but curiously didn’t mention Adam Ant’s dandy highwayman. Which, visually at least, it clearly references. Perhaps he didn’t because Ant did it even prettier.

Some of Adam’s (much) later looks also put one in mind of Depp. Maybe it’s because facially they do share some genes. Or perhaps it’s because they are both, for that reason, stealing styling tips off each other – seeing each other as their respective reflections.

Call me a biased Limey, but I think it’s pretty clear that in all essentials, Adam is the original and Depp is the copy.

I posted a brief piece about Adam Ant and ‘Prince Charming’ on this blog many years ago – but it seems to have mysteriously vanished. Much like the revellers at Adam’s ball...

Nadal Hammered Into Sexy, Slippery Pieces by Armani

As if the tarty Armani poster of Rafael Nadal offering his arse to the world wasn’t slutty enough. Along comes the sporno video.

The tennis ace is being shoved up against the (unplastered) wall and then thrown down and hammered on the builder’s bench. Twice.

By the camera. Which chops up his body into sexy, slippery bits and pieces. Tits and ass and abs. Total, rampant, ruthless objectification. Which Mr Nadal – like many young men today – appears to relish.

And that liquid he’s half-drowning in. Is it bodily fluids? Or is he being water boarded by our gaze?

Could this video in fact be any sluttier, without actual penetration? Then again, wouldn’t your actual, standard-issue penetration diminish the sluttiness by making it both ‘hard’ and banal?  Instead of the grainy non-specific sluttiness that drips off everything in our mediated, metrosexy world.

Quentin Crisp & Hurtian Crisp

The Naked Civil Servant is the best and funniest TV drama ever made. And I’m sorry, but it’s a scientific fact.

And like its subject it could only have been made in England.  Even if Crisp said he hated England – and he did, over and over again.

So many lines in Philip Mackie’s superb screenplay for the Thames TV adaptation glitter like, well, the icy aphorisms that Crisp filled his 1968 eponymous autobiography with. But it was Hurt’s breakthrough performance as Crisp which is most historic: rendering Crisp, as Quentin himself acknowledged – and welcomed – something of an understudy to Hurt’s Crisp for the rest of his life.

The actual, quasi-existing Crisp, born Denis Charles Pratt in Sutton, Surrey in 1908, sometimes sounded by this stage (he was nearly 70 when the drama aired) like a vintage car tyre losing air ve-ry slow-ly. And was almost as immobile. Hetero dandy Hurt injected a kind of rakishness – a hint of phallicism, even – to Crisp’s defiantly passsssive persssssona that came across rather more invigorating and sexy than he actually was. Hurt rendered Crisp rock ‘n’ roll when he probably wasn’t even up for a waltz. When Hurt repeatedly intoned Crisp’s Zen-like answer to the world and Other People and Desire in general – ‘If you like’ – it sounded slightly more aggressive than passive.

(And for me, Hurtian Crisp was further improved and made edgier by what I shall call Hoyleian-Hurtian Crisp: I met the performance artist David Hoyle in the early 80s when we were both teenage runaways to London’s bedsit-land. He would perform key moments from TNCS mid conversation about the weather or who was on Top of the Pops last night, adding a dash of David Bowie and Bette Davis to the mix. David always succeeded in making these impromptu excerpts sound as if they were flashbacks to his earlier life. Which, since he grew up a sensitive boy in working class Blackpool in the 1970s watching a lot of telly, they were.)

TNCS, both the book and the dramatisation, is criminally funny precisely because so much of what Hurt/Crisp says/declaims is so shockingly true.

The line whispered delicately in the ear of the leader of a 1930s queer bashing gang is now almost a cliche, but still has hilarious force: ‘“If I were you I’d bugger off back to Hoxton before they work out you’re queer.” 

Some roughs are really queer, and some queers are really rough.

Crisp’s truths, particularly about human relationships, are the truths told by someone who has nothing to lose – largely because they’ve already lost everything to the bailiffs of despair. This is the ‘nakedness’ of the Civil Servant.

Because it was one of the first TV dramas to depict a self-confessed and unapologetic – flaunting, even – homosexual TNCS has been frequently misrepresented as a ‘gay drama’. But Crisp’s sexuality is not really what TNCS is about – or in fact what Crisp was about.

To a degree it is about being ‘out and proud’, or at least determined to inflict oneself on the world, but not so much as a homosexual, and certainly not as ‘a gay’, in the modern, respectable, American sense of the word. It’s not even, thankfully, a plea for tolerance. Rather it’s a portrayal of the heroic self-sufficiency of someone who decided to stand apart from society and its values, henna their hair and work as a male street prostitute – and then, lying bruised in the gutter, turn a haughty, unsentimental but piercingly funny eye back on a world which regards him as the lowest form of life. It’s the blackest and cheekiest kind of comedy – which is to say: the only kind.

‘I am an effeminate homo-sex-u-alll’, declared Crisp to the Universe. Over and over again. And the Universe had no choice but to agree. By being utterly abject Crisp forced the Universe to do precisely as he instructed. A blueprint for celebrity that was to be repeated many, many times by others before his death in 1999 and even more times after – though usually rather less wittily and with less jaunty headgear.

Crisp added that, as an effeminate homosexual, he was imprisoned inside an exquisite paradox, like some kind of ancient insect trapped in amber: attracted to masculine males – the famous Great Dark Man – he cannot himself be attracted to a man who finds him, another male, attractive because then they cannot be The Great Dark Man any more. Hence the famous, Death-of-God declaration in TNCS, after many, many mishaps and misrecognitions: ’

There. Is. No. Great. Dark. Man!

Strictly 19th century sexologically speaking, Mr Crisp was probably more of a male invert than a homosexual and often said that he thought that he should have been a woman, and even wondered whether he was born intersexed (this despite famously dismissing women as ‘speaking a language I do not understand’ – perhaps because he didn’t like too much competition in the speaking stakes). Either way, he doesn’t appear to have been terribly happy with his penis or even its existence – something homosexual males, like heterosexual ones, are usually delirious about. But then again, perhaps rather than expressing some kind of  proto-transsexuality Quentin’s Great Dark Man complex was merely setting up a situation in which he could remain ever faithful to his one true love. Himself.

In Thames TV’s TNCS, which begins (at Crisp’s request) with a pretty, pre-pubescent boy as Quentin/Dennis dancing in a dress in front of a full-length mirror, Hurtian Crisp is an out-and-proud narcissist, who simply refuses to take on board the shame that such an outrageous perversion should entail. When he attempts to join the Army at the start of the war he causes apoplexy in the recruiters for being completely honest about his reasons for doing so: he doesn’t mouth platitudes about ‘doing his duty’, ‘his bit’ or ‘fighting Nazis’. He just wants to eat properly and the squaddies he knows seem to have quite a nice time of it, loading and unloading petrol cans in Basingstoke. His openness about his homosexuality is palpably less shocking to the Army officials than his honesty about his self-interestedness. About his interest in himself.

Or as Hurt/Crisp replies as a preening adolescent youth when asked by his exasperated, buttoned-up Edwardian petite-bourgeois father:

“Do you intend to admire yourself in the mirror forever??”

“If I possibly can.”

And boy, did he. TNCS, which aired slap in the middle of the 70s, was probably more of an inspiration to the glam, punk, new-wave and new romantic generation than to gays in general. Hurtian Crisp and his hennaed hair and make-up sashaying the streets of 1930s London symbolised in the 1970s the idea of an aestheticized revolt against Victorian ideas of proper deportment and dullness that had dominated Britain for much of the Twentieth Century. The best British pop music had always been a form of aesthetic revolt, and Crisp seemed very much his own special creation, which is what so many teens now aspired to be. Crisp was taken for a real original and individual in an age when everyone wanted to be original and individual. Or as Crisp put it himself later:

‘The young always have the same problem – how to rebel and conform at the same time. They have now solved this by defying their parents and copying one another.’

TNCS changed Crisp’s life and made him very famous indeed. A reality TV winner before such a thing existed, his prize was the chance to move to America. Since he had loved Hollywood movies from childhood and was later treated like a Hollywood starlet (albeit in air raid shelters) by American GI’s in London during the Second World War, no wonder he grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

But if there’s anything to be learned from An Englishman in New York, the sequel to TNCS broadcast on ITV recently, it’s that it may all have been a terrible mistake. Even if Mr Crisp never thought so. Although Hurt turns in a technically fine performance, he seems to have become more Crispian and less Hurtian. Perhaps that’s inevitable with the passage of time (Hurt is nearly 70, the age Crisp was when he first played him). Or perhaps it’s simply that his acting skills have increased. Whatever the reason, it’s not a welcome development here. And I’m sure Crisp would have agreed.

But much, much worse is the redemptive reek of this sequel. Everything is made to turn on Crisp’s ‘AIDS {upper case back then, remember} is a fad’ quip made in the early 80s and the trouble this got him into in the US – and why he was a good sort, really. Despite the things he actually said. So we see him adopt a gay artist dying of the ‘fad’, fussing over him and arranging for his art to be exhibited. We discover him sending secret cheques to Liz Taylor’s Aids foundation. We even hear him explain what he meant by ‘fad’ (supposedly it was a political tactic: minimize the gay plague to avoid a hetero backlash).

Now, this obsession with redemption may be very American and has of course, like many American obsessions, become more of an English one of late – especially when trying to sell something to the Yanks, as I’m sure the producers of this sequel are hoping to do. But if there was any point to Crisp at all it was that he was utterly unsentimental – except where royalty were concerned – and relatively free of the hypocrisies of everyday life.  This sequel supposedly about him is full of them. So forgive me if I’m unconvinced.

Crisp was invincible in his determination to regard the US as the dreamland of the movies of his youth made real: America was as he put it ‘Heaven’ where England was ‘Hell’. And why not? If you’ve spent most of your best years deprived of almost every single illusion that comforts most other people, why shouldn’t you have one big one in your retirement?

And to be fair, much of what he had to say about the friendliness and flattering, encouraging, open-hearted nature of Americans compared to the mean-minded, resentful, vindictive English is quite true, even today. But Crisp’s whole approach to life was even more at odds with American culture, even in its atypical NYC form, with its emphasis on self-improvement, aspiration, uplift and success. ‘If at first you don’t succeed, failure may be your style,’ said Crisp, who regarded himself as a total failure. Could there be a more un-American worldview? Apart that is from, ‘Don’t try to keep up with the Jones.  Try to drag them down to your level.  It’s cheaper.’

In an early documentary from 1970 Crisp, sitting in his London bed-sitting room sipping an unappetizing powdered drink he takes instead of preparing food, which he can’t be bothered with, that ‘has all the vitamins and protein I need but tastes awful’ he describes himself as a Puritan.  Actually, Crisp was a Puritan with an added frosting of asceticism. Crisp was deeply suspicious of all pleasure (save the pleasure of being listened to and looked at) and most especially of sex, which he described as ‘the last refuge of the miserable’. And four years of house dust is a very good way of showing how above the material world you are.

It’s a very middle class, middle England, middle century Puritanism – just like Crisp’s background. But Crisp was also his own kind of revenge on himself, or on the world that had made him – of which he was a living parody. Ultimately, none of us are really our own special creations. The most we can hope for is a special edition.

Crisp’s Puritanism was part of the reason why he could never embrace Gay Lib (‘what do you want to be liberated from?’). He was recently subjected to a stern posthumous ticking off by Peter Tatchell, an original Gay Libber, in the Independent newspaper prompted by what he sees as the ‘sanitising of Crisp’s ignorant pompous homophobia’ in An Englishman in New York. Post-60s Crisp was apparently jealous of a new generation of out queers who were stealing his limelite: he wasn’t the only homo in town any more.

This broadside was a tad harsh, and Tatchell sometimes sounds as if he’s on the Army board that rejected Crisp (while accusing him of ‘homophobia’ threatens to make an absurdity of the word). But I agree that the sequel does ‘sanitise’ Crisp, though I think this a bad thing for different reasons to Mr Tatchell. I also suspect there’s some truth to the accusation of ‘jealousy’, but I’d be inclined to put them in another form. Maybe Crisp didn’t want homosexuality to be normalised because if it were it would undo his life’s work. Likewise, I think Crisp would have loathed metrosexuality.

And as the sequel suggests, in one of its few insightful moments, one reason for Crisp’s failure to answer the gay clarion call was simply that he didn’t believe in causes, or the subjugation of truth and dress-sense to expediency that inevitably goes with causes. Unless that cause is yourself.

Besides, like many ‘inverts’, Crisp was a great and romantic believer in Heterosexuality – the ideal kind, of course, rather than the kind that heterosexuals actually have to live, and which they execute very, very badly.  He used to call heterosexuals ‘real people’ (as opposed to ‘unreal’ homosexuals), but I suspect he thought he was the only real heterosexual in town.

And, in a sense, he was.

‘If they’ve lost their nerve wear beards.’

***

I can’t leave you without pointing out that while Quentin Crisp may have dismissed Aids as a ‘fad’, Hurtian Crisp became more associated with ‘the gay plague’ than almost anyone save Rock Hudson: literally becoming the sound of the seriousness of the subject. In 1975 hetero Hurt plays the most famous stately homo in England. The success of this gets him to Hollywood, where four years later in 1979 he is cast in an even more globally famous role – as ‘Patient Zero’ in Ridley Scott’s Alien: the first host for the terrifying unknown organism that enters his body by face-raping him and which proceeds to kill-off in horrifying, phallic-jackhammer fashion, his shipmates. Two years before the first identified Aids cases in NY.

Eight years later, Hurt was the unforgettable fey-gravelly voice for those terrifying tombstone ‘AIDS: Don’t Die of Ignorance’ ads (complete with jackhammers) that ran in heavy rotation on UK TV, urging people to read the Government leaflet pushed through their letterbox and practise safe sex.

In other words, The Naked Civil Servant had become a rubber-sheathed civil servant.

Old Spice: interview Crisp gave Andrew Barrow of the Independent a year before his death.

Crispisms

In an expanding universe, time is on the side of the outcast. Those who once inhabited the suburbs of human contempt find that without changing their address they eventually live in the metropolis.

It is not the simple statement of facts that ushers in freedom; it is the constant repetition of them that has this liberating effect. Tolerance is the result not of enlightenment, but of boredom.

To know all is not to forgive all. It is to despise everybody.

I simply haven’t the nerve to imagine a being, a force, a cause which keeps the planets revolving in their orbits and then suddenly stops in order to give me a bicycle with three speeds.

Even a monotonously undeviating path of self-examination does not necessarily lead to self-knowledge. I stumble towards my grave confused and hurt and hungry.

It is explained that all relationships require a little give and take. This is untrue. Any partnership demands that we give and give and give and at the last, as we flop into our graves exhausted, we are told that we didn’t give enough.

The consuming desire of most human beings is deliberately to place their entire life in the hands of some other person. For this purpose they frequently choose someone who doesn’t even want the beastly thing.

The simplest comment on my book came from my ballet teacher. She said, “I wish you hadn’t made every line funny. It’s so depressing.”

Someone asked me why I thought sex was a sin. I said, “She’s joking, isn’t she?” But they said, “No.” Doesn’t everyone know that sex is a sin? All pleasure is a sin.

You fall out of your mother’s womb, you crawl across open country under fire, and drop into your grave.

The End of Michael Jacksonism

Michael_Jackson_sculpture

By Mark Simpson

(Edited from a feature that originally appeared the Independent on Sunday in July 1997, titled ‘Now the end is near’)

Only a Michael Jackson gig could begin with a ten-minute computer-generated sci-fi video which obviously cost more than most artists can muster for an album.

The film beamed on to the three giant screens at Wembley, the first leg on MJ’s current tour of Britain, show a golden android getting into a capsule and then riding a big-dipper track at high speed through pop culture, art and the last thirty years of history – the moon landings, little Michael performing ABC, Nixon, hunger and war in Africa, tall skinny Michael in ‘Wannna Be Startin’ Somethin’’, the Berlin Wall coming down, macho Michael in Bad. And then, on the vast stage with a large bang and a flash, out steps the android and takes off his mask. It’s the King of Pop!

Michael Jackson, you see, is the present, the past and the future. He’s our connection with the looking glass world of media: he is the man in the mirror. His-story is our story. Michael Jackson is all human culture. Moondancing.

All the same, few things could be as uncool in Britain today as admitting you like Michael Jackson. You can wear slip-on shoes. You can watch A Question of Sport. You can even drink lager and black – but don’t ever, ever admit that you like Michael Jackson. American, inauthentic, corporate, sincere, tacky, irony-free and no sense of modesty whatsoever, MJ is the antithesis of Britpop – the great Satan to Britpop’s fundamentalism.

When uber-cool Jarvis Cocker made his now legendary stage invasion at last year’s Brit awards, interrupting the King of Pop’s ascension into heaven serenaded by a choir of angelic children during a vast performance of ‘Earth Song’, he was supported not so much by revulsion at the (dropped) child-abuse allegations but by a much stronger feeling: revulsion at an American taking themselves so seriously at the Brit Awards.

And yet, Jarvis’ mooning might possibly have been inspired by  jealousy. MJ’s performance of ‘Earth Song’ (containing probably the best and most bathetic pop lyric ever: ‘And what about the elephants?’) did steal the show and really was a religious experience. Yes, it was astonishingly arrogant, tasteless, blasphemous and doolally, but then the best pop always is.

Brit-pop – despite its much-heralded demise – still has a stranglehold on British pop music, and is a highly reactionary music form, harking back to the Sixties sound of all-white bands like the Beatles, but surgically removing any of the R&B sound that informed so much of the ‘Fab Four’s’ music. Oasis are not the Beatles again: they’re the Beatles minus Chuck Berry. And MJ, despite his kabuki-mime pallor, is very ‘black’ in the sense that most of his music is rhythmically orientated.

Though of course the basis of MJ’s brand that he mixes his American blackness with American whiteness until you can hardly distinguish the two: ‘Black or White’ is as much a question as a statement – like asking how you like your coffee. (Funnily enough, it was probably precisely because his skin-colour changed that many white British critics felt able to attack Jackson.)

So I’d love to report that the latest show is brilliant – but in fact it’s an epic, grinding disappointment. The intro video was by far the best part of it. Anti-climax is probably inevitable when you go to see the most famous man in the world. But there’s also a kind of pointlessness to it. MJ is so fantastically plastic, so extravagantly synthetic that there is nothing really added by going to see him ‘live’ and watching him on a giant video juke-box with thousands of others in a sports arena. In fact, something is taken away. MJ is a simulacrum, a copy for which no original exists. The image is the man, not the tiny imposter jigging around on stage between the video screens the size of football pitches – and beneath the towering Stalinist statue of himself.

It’s precisely because MJ is so phoney, so artificial, so mass-produced, processed and pre-digested that he has been so popular. MJ is the Big Mac of pop music – scorned by faddists and know-betters but very popular with people who want something fast, fun, and nutrition-free that gives them a buzz. Most people are uncool, thank god, and quite happy that way.

But for all his popularity with the masses, the MJ brand, like Big Macs, is clearly in decline. This tour has failed to sell out and there isn’t anything approaching the ‘Jacksonmania’ that has greeted previous ones. His last couple of albums have been less than impressive and the kiddie-fiddling charges can’t have helped. But perhaps the real problem for MJ Inc is beyond the MD’s control. The world’s love affair with Americana has peaked. When the Cold War ended and the Stalinist statues were pulled down and replaced with McDonald’s golden arches, people stopped dreaming the American dream. It had become an inescapable reality.

Michael Jackson, the greatest embodiment of that dream, the creature of consumerism, individualism and aspirationalism, the most famous man who never lived, is also a victim of his own success. Hence the hubristic use of that blockbuster intro video and Ceaucescu-esque statues on the cover of the History album and next to the stage on this tour is eerily apt. Those who try to embody history usually end up victims of it: toppling over beneath the weight of their own contradictions. And besides, Jacksonism isn’t much of a replacement for Jacksonmania.

Put another way, Michael’s audience has grown up while he, valiantly has not. At Wembley, while MJ cavorted with some female dancers on-stage, a fan behind me shouted out: ‘They’re a bit old for you, aren’t they Michael?’

You really know the world’s changed when MJ fans get cynical.

© Mark Simpson 2009