England rugby captain Dylan Hartley was spotted bonding on the touchline with Jonathan Joseph at the England v Scotland match last weekend, Hartley playfully teasing Joseph’s pretty mouth. They’re both highly edible. Even more so sandwiched together.
The touching scene put me in mind of this documentary some years ago about the arresting (rom)antics of a Lancashire amateur rugby club and their pride in their well-endowed captain.
And also the time I attended the Army & Navy rugby match at Twickenham and saw more flirtatious male affection and tenderness on the terraces in five minutes than I did in three hours at an international gay rugby tournament.
Though admittedly I may not have been looking as hard.
It’s exciting to see that at last, male grooming is getting up close and personal. And also that now possibly the most important but hitherto most overlooked male consumer of all is stepping out of the shadows and finally being given a voice.
Because I’m such a dedicated fan of yoga (in kilts) I’m overlooking the beards and posting this very uplifting BBC Scotland video of Finlay, a yoga teacher from Dundee, and his pupil Justin, practising their inspirational moves in the bracing Caledonian countryside.
And while we’re all inspired, I thought I would also post this spornographic video ‘The Homoerotic Side of Wrestling’ below.
To be fair to the wrestlers, the homoerotics is mostly in the naughty editing here. And also the design of wrestling singlets: apparently, unlike kilts, it’s extremely tricky to get comfy in one. Even if some of the wrestling moves at the beginning look extremely snug to me.
Thank goodness the decision to drop wrestling from the 2020 Olympics was reversed.
Last year, in the run-up to the Rio Olympics I wrote, only slightly feverishly, about the inspiring way modern men’s gymnastics is responding to our hyper-visual culture and the spornosexual trend of eager male self-objectification by shyly taking its top off, going back to its naked/’gymnos’ Greek roots and showing us its ‘totally jacked’ body. And selling us jeans and cornflakes.
The globally-transmitted HD spornographic pleasures of the Olympics last Summer naturally only served to accelerate this shredded strip-tease – US gymnast Danell Leyva famously performing a Magic Mike routine on the parallel bars to a cheering universe.
As a result, gymnastics, once a rather uncool sport for boys, at least in the UK, is becoming ‘hot’. And is creating its own celebs, in the form of lithely leotard legends like Louis Smith (MBE), Nile Wilson and Max Whitlock, the latter winning two gold medals for gymnastics at Rio. (Previously the UK had won precisely zero gold medals in the sport.)
Gymnasts are after all superheroes without CGI or, officially at least, steroids. Unlike conventional bodybuilding – which of course has conquered the world, shaved it and put it in a posing pouch – gymnastics uses the human body as its ‘weights’, the skills and muscles it cultivates enable the human form to defy gravity. You’ll believe a man can fly.
Though it helps if you’re somewhat small – gymnasts are generally compact superheroes. But boy, do they walk tall.
The video below stars three of them walking tall and flying high: top-flight young British gymnast Nile Wilson (21 years old and 5’4” tall), with his chalk-dust brothers Brinn Bevan (19) and Jay Thompson (20) larking about in the gym in Leeds, West Yorkshire (where Nile’s charming accent hails from), with their tops off in front of a camera on Wilson’s popular YouTube channel.
Although titled ‘Ultimate Gymnastics Challenge’, instead of practising their skills on the parallel bars and pommel horse, they’re competing to see who can do the fastest rope climbs, the longest handstands and the best jumps. The clip is only few weeks old but has had over a million views already. Many of the comments are of course admiring of their physiques. Some more, ahem, explicitly than others. Some of the comments are from young men wondering how long it would take for them to get a ‘shredded’ body like theirs.
And one is from a chap who seems worried about the effect the video is having on him:
‘Atleast wear a fucking tanktop people will think that im gay’.
Fortunately, it’s not very likely Nile & Co. will save his blushes – and lose all those other fans – by covering up. Of course, although many if not most of their fans are female, and probably most of their male fans aren’t gay, there is something a bit ‘gay’ about this video and about modern men’s gymnastics, regardless of the sexuality of gymnasts. But clearly it’s not something that seems to worry Nile and his flexing topless buddies – quite the contrary. Like many of their generation, they seem very happy to flirt with it. Heavily.
It is after all this ‘gayness’ that has helped make the sport ‘hot’.
I’m not though posting the video just for the eye-candy – honestly. No, I’m posting it for the shameless sense of fun and joy on display –the lyrical motion of muscles moving bodies through the air that is sadly lacking from the heavy-metal, earth-bound muscle factories we are all labouring in these days.
And also the eye-candy.
Update: Since making this video, while training on the parallel bars Nile had a ‘freak accident’ badly injuring his ankle ligaments and putting him out of action for several months. Proving that even superheroes are mortal. You can follow his rehabilitation here – now wearing a clunky, earthbound surgical boot, but still frequently sans tank top.
Further update: Good news, Nile isn’t going to let his injury stop him making the Ultimate Gymnastics Challenge videos: here’s Episode 2: ‘Who is the strongest, the fittest and the prettiest gymnast?’
Nile in a glittery top and a surgical boot is probably the most eye-catching. But his buff mates put up some stiff competition.
Mark Simpson on some happy, warm – if scantily-dressed – memories of 2016
Last Summer in Brazil a tiny island in the South Pacific took on all the major sporting superpowers – and won the Olympics. Before a starting pistol was even fired.
When the flagbearer for Tonga, Pita Taukatofua, 32, made his sensational appearance at the opening ceremony in Rio, wearing just a grass skirt, a gallon of baby oil and a saucy grin – while gripping his massive flagpole with both hands – he melted Sugar Loaf Mountain and fused the internet. The Tongan’s torso glistening in a thousand spotlights. And billions of hot stares.
It was an historic moment. Finally, after all these years of hoping and praying, and all those letters I’ve written to my MP, male stripping had – at last! – been recognised as an Olympic sport.
Yes, the very nicely-put together Mr Taukatofua was nominally representing his country in the manly martial art of Taekwondo. But hardly anyone c ared about that. The slutty sexualisation of the sporting male body – what I have dubbed sporno – was the hottest, most popular game at the Rio Olympics.
And thanks to the wonders of modern telephoto lenses and HD widescreen technology – and the widespread use of lycra in modern sportswear – there was no end of money shots for the avid sporno fan. Wrestlers grappling each other’s groins.
Pole-vaulters poleaxed by their… poles.
Speed cyclists flashing their superhero thighs.
And decathletes like the Sweden’s (Christian?) Bjorn Barrefors going dramatically commando. The gaiety of the Games!
But it was men’s swimming and diving that proved to be the most spornographic event. Of course, Speedos are sporno anyway – not only because they’re skimpy but because they advertise the delicious versatility of the male body: offering us buns and lunchboxes at the same time. Decisions, decisions!
Spain’s men’s Olympic swim team/dance troupe
And if you think this is just down to my dirty mind, a meme widely circulating online mocked the placement of results banners on TV screens covering the swimmers’ swimsuits, claiming it made it look like they were porn stars. (And I wasn’t responsible for it – honestly.)
David BOUDIA/Steele JOHNSON in hot flip-flop scene (though it seems their studio can’t decide what size their Johnsons’ are)
Or perhaps the TV companies were providing an electronic fig-leaf for the almost starkers statuesque young men. After all, this was the year Team GB’s swimming trunks seemed to have been replaced by thongs. While it may have appeared like a salute to the host country’s famously brief beachwear – and pubewear – it turned out to be down to naughty Tom Daley’s doing. The British diver had advised Team GB designer Stella McCartney that the trunks he wore at the London Olympics in 2012 were ‘too big’.
His concern was entirely practical though. At least according to Tom: “They have to be small because everything has to stay in place,” he explained. “If you’re spinning around the last thing you want to do is have something come out of place!”
I’m not sure the viewing public entirely shared Tom’s concern here, but either way the ‘end’ result was that there was even less fabric to come between the voyeuring public and the divers. And even more opportunity to admire Olympic ‘obliques’ – or ‘cum gutters’, to give them their medical, Latin name.
Tom Daley & Daniel Goodfellow watching the playback & realising just how brief their new swim briefs are.
Which brings me to the spornographic climax of the actual Rio Olympics as opposed to the opening ceremony – the synchronised 3M springboard men’s diving. British divers Jack Laugher, 21, and brunette Chris Mears, 23, inseparable – and straight – best pals (they live together as well as train and compete together), were the hottest, loveliest diving pair to goggle at.
And since diving is perhaps the most aesthetic Olympic sport of all, it was a wonderful affirmation when they turned out to be a golden pair in every sense – making the best dives technically as well as aesthetically, becoming the first British divers ever to win Olympic gold.
Watching Jack and Chris’ bubble butts, v-backs, and curved thighs spin around in perfect, Speedo-synch was actually so sexy it was beyond sex. Compared to this perfection, actual shagging is just a big fat belly-flop. (Though I still would, mind.)
Likewise, their spontaneous shared happiness for one another on winning gold, Jack jumping into the arms of Chris – hams, quads and glutes agogo – looked as orgasmic as it was Platonic.
Stella McCartney personally painted on Jack Laugher’s Speedos. Wouldn’t you?
I should probably give a shout out here to the Olympic hot tub in Rio. It gave us viewers many hours of pleasure, in addition to keeping divers supple between dives. It’s a nice warm feeling to know that, thanks to anti-steam camera lens technology and also lowered inhibitions, we the viewers can nowadays join Olympic divers rinsing off in the showers after their splash and also sit with them in the steamy hot tub, relaxing and waiting for their next ‘go’. Much as you might at a gay sauna.
Gymnastics is the one sport that can give the aesthetics of diving a run and jump for its money. Whether on the pommel horse, flexing those triceps and tightening that butt, or doing ‘ringwork’ and flaring the lats, it offers viewer-voyeur a body-weight bodybuilding show that displays the form and balance of the perfectly-developed human frame – defying gravity. In much the same way erections do.
But gymnastics has a problem. Gymnasts wear too much. Way too much compared to today’s swimmers. In addition to over-modest singlets and criminally baggy shorts, they often have to wear full length pants/tights. And these are definitely not the kind of compression pants that the lads in my gym wear these days that leave nothing to the imagination while they do lunges.
Even the Rio skyline is aroused by the US male gymnastics team
No wonder the highly aestheticised Sam Mikulak captain of the US gymnastic team captain at Rio suggested just before the games began: ‘Maybe we should perform with our shirts off’ so that people could see ‘how yoked we are’.
Sam Mikulak showing Rio his bis, tris and jacked hair
Although he was ostensibly suggesting ways in which male gymnastics could become more popular in the US and step out of the shadow of women’s gymnastics, he was also expressing a timeless truth about his sport and the Olympics itself.
‘Gymnastics’ derives from the Ancient Greek for ‘exercise naked’. Greek gymnasia were full of naked male youths – being admired by Greek men. As were the Ancient Olympics at Delphi – though here the stitchless athletes could be gawped at by maiden women as well as men (though definitely not married women). Sport for the Greeks was starkers.
So in a sense US silver-medallist gymnast Danell Leyva was giving us a history lesson when he took his captain at his word. During the gymnastics gala towards the end of the Rio games he danced on the parallel bars and coquettishly peeled off his top, to loud audience whoops, and then performed half-naked, in a kind of aerial Magic Mike routine.
Or rather, an aerial version of the tarty flagbearer from Tonga.
This post is based on a piece by MS published in XY Magazine, Nov 2016
New Millenium George Michael refused to "go quietly" and "make it easy on himself." He was not what you might call a "good gay."
Mark Simpson on how George Michael was the missing, subversive gay link between Bowie and Beckham
(Rolling Stone, 28/12/2016)
Back in the early 1980s, I was one of those annoying ‘alternative’ teens who, when pressed, would admit they quite liked ‘Wham Rap!’, which extolled the freedoms of unemployment (‘I’m a soul boy! – I’m a dole boy!’), and acknowledged he was ‘really talented’, but essentially dismissed George Michael as ‘too commercial’. Which in the inverted snobbery of the era essentially meant ‘uncool’.
And also – you may find this rather difficult to believe – ‘too straight’.
Thanks to the massive influence of 1970s Bowie (who also checked out this year), the early 80s UK pop scene was queerer than Weimar Berlin on poppers. It was chock full of fabulously ‘freaky’ stars like Pete Burns of Dead or Alive (another victim of 2016), Boy George of Culture Club and Marc Almond of Soft Cell. None of them were particularly out at the time, but then, looking the way they did they probably didn’t need to be.
By dazzling-teethed contrast, the disco-dancing, bird-pulling, Mr Good Time persona Mr Michael presented – but which seems to have been based largely on his Wham partner Andrew Ridgeley – looked almost heterosexual.
Almost. OK, the leather jackets, the naked boy-flesh and the blow-dried hair appears très camp to us now, but that wasn’t necessarily the case at the time. George was officially very much for the ladies and the ladies were even more for him. But also, as his success grew, ‘loadsa’ straight boys wanted to be him.
After all, his (white) soul boy image was a tweaked, glammed-up, sexed-up, slightly Princess Di version of what many wedge-sporting, Lacoste-wearing working class London and Essex lads were styling themselves at the time. And he was mega rich and famous and getting his leg over.
In one of those peculiar postmodern ironies that made masculinity what it is today – flamingly metrosexual – George Michael’s ‘closetedness’ for two decades of pop stardom meant that straight women ended up expecting rather more from straight boys and straight boys ended up copying a gay version of themselves.
Michael’s multiplied image helped make ordinary male heterosexuality visually tartier, while his amplified lyrics helped make it more available emotionally. A straight female friend of mine told me that every single boyfriend she dumped in the 1980s sent her lyrics from ‘A Different Corner’.
George Michael was the missing, subversive – and actually gay – link between David Bowie and that other London pretty boy, David Beckham.
Even when a now-solo Michael ‘butched up’ for the rather more ‘traditionally-minded’ American market with his smash hit 1987 album Faith, the effect was… ambiguous. More so arguably, than the twinkiness of Wham! In the famous promo for the title single, he is wearing jeans, boots, a leather jacket and sunglasses in what looks like a homage to the previous year’s Hollywood fly boys hit Top Gun. But with a large crucifix earring and designer stubble (this accessorization of facial hair is something else ‘gay’ he helped popularise.)
He’s next to a 1950s jukebox like the one in the Top Gun bar, wiggling his butt apparently trying to invent twerking, while the camera zooms in on it relentlessly (the word ‘REVENGE’ hovering above on his leather jacket). Perhaps waiting for Maverick – or maybe Iceman.
This might sound like the wisdom of hindsight, but some contemporary gay boys were picking up the queer vibrations. An American gay male friend who was living on a military base at the time remarked: “He was the first teen idol that felt “gay” to me even though he was always with sexy women in his videos. I didn’t even know what the gay clone look was, but he was sort of replicating it. The earring also seemed a signal – my dad said fags wore those, especially in the left ear.”
George’s phenomenal success in the US and the subconscious ‘down low’ queer signals he was broadcasting in plain sight came, remember, at the height of the Aids crisis and the foam-flecked reactionary backlash in the late 80s against ‘Satanic’ and ‘sick’ homosexuality.
Perhaps it was because of how he’d helped redefine heterosexuality for a generation, when he finally came out in 1998, toilet paper stuck to his shoe, a surprising number of straight people were still shocked – despite having been fairly explicit about his orientation in the lyrics and dedications of his songs for most of that decade.
Though of course there is another piquant irony to be had in the fact that this man whose career had originally been based on ‘masquerading’ as a heterosexual was finally outed in a public restroom by a plainclothes Beverly Hills Police Dept officer who (George claims) was masquerading as a gay man.
However, the way George handled that incident was so defiant and assured that he completely turned the tables on not just the Beverly Hills PD and the tabloid press, but also homophobia itself. He immediately told the world he was gay and refused to display any shame.
Instead, he released ‘Outside’, a jaunty single extolling the pleasures of outdoor sex for everyone, regardless of sexuality – along with a video that featured cross and same sex couples getting it on in hidden away outdoor places, while being recorded by a police helicopter. George in gay cop gear disco dances in a public restroom where the glitter balls descend from the air vents and the urinals revolve. In many ways, this was the absolute zenith of pop music as propaganda for pleasure and against shame.
What George achieved with ‘Outside’ was certainly than historic. That original pop star Oscar Wilde had been convicted of Gross Indecency a hundred years earlier and been completely destroyed by it. George had turned his own ‘Ballad of Reading Gaol’ into an all-singing, all-dancing commercial and cultural triumph.
Now that he was out, New Millennium George still refused to ‘go quietly’ and ‘make it easy on himself’. He was not what you might call a ‘good gay’. He had a long term partner but was frank about the fact that their relationship was an open one – when most gay celebrity couples maintained a veneer of monogamous respectability.
He remained true to the dream (and nightmare) of masculine freedom that male homosexuality can symbolise. For all his faults and increasing foolishness, he refused to become that most absurd of things a ‘role model’. He insisted that he remained a sexual being – unlike most other celeb UK gays in the Noughties. ‘Gay people in the media are doing what makes straight people comfortable,’ he told the Guardian in 2005. ‘And automatically my response to that is to say I’m a dirty filthy fucker and if you can’t deal with it, you can’t deal with it.’
The tabloids thought they knew how to ‘deal’ with it. In 2006 they sent a flash photographer to follow him to the famous gay cruising area of Hampstead Heath, a large park in north London – at 2am – and plaster the results all over the front page, along with oodles of hypocritical concern about his ‘sick’ and ‘sordid’ behaviour and warnings/incitements that he ‘could get his throat cut’.
His reported response to the photographer when ‘snapped’ was, however, pitch perfect: “Are you gay? No? Well fuck off then!”
Sexual jealousy of course was at the root of it all. The scandalously free availability of ‘no-strings’ sex is an aspect of the gay and bi male world that many straight men tend to be very interested in, one way or another – and had been at the root of much of the tabloid attacks on gay men at the height of the Aids panic. Gay men ‘deserved’ Aids because of their ‘unnatural’ sex lives and their promiscuity. For having, in other words, too much fun.
One famous tabloid editor and columnist from that era worked himself into a violent lather of indignation: ‘I can’t stand George Michael and every time he tries to laugh off another vile gay sex exploit I dislike him a little more… I’d like to give him a good kick in the balls. Unfortunately, he’d probably enjoy it.’
But these bitter voices were already beginning to recede into the past – thanks in part to the changes that Mr Michael had helped bring about by being the kind of ‘commercial’ pop star I disdained in my teens. And of course, nowadays straight people have Tinder. While in the UK at least, straight(ish) ‘dogging’ has pretty much replaced gay ‘cruising’.
His continued, unapologetic – ahem – pride in his not always exactly wise life-choices remains invigoratingly rare in an age of safe sleb spin and public apologies as grovelling as they are empty.
‘I don’t want any children; I don’t want responsibility,’ he told Time Out matter-of-factly in 2007. ‘I am gay, I smoke weed and I do exactly what I want in my life because of my talent’.
Michael’s earlier secrecy about his sexuality was criticised by many – including gay pop stars who didn’t come out until after their careers were effectively over. Perhaps he could, as some have insisted, combatted the transatlantic anti-gay tide by coming out in the 80s or early 90s. Or perhaps his career would merely have been ended, and with it much of his influence.
Whatever his reasons for staying in so long, and whatever the long term effects on his happiness, being ‘openly closeted’ for so long seems to have been key to not only making Michael a commercially-successful artist but also a surprisingly subversive one.
And perhaps it also lay behind his determination, once out, not to go back into the biggest closet of all. Respectability.
The official point of these environmentally-friendly contraptions seems to be delicately saving you from the horror of actually having to touch your own penis or ball sack when adjusting your undercarriage. Or save others from the indecorous sight of you rummaging about.
But judging by the design, the name ‘Eletrunks’ – and the long-shot ‘footage’ of the very uncircumcised inventor demonstrating them while apparently doing some kind of arousing yoga in the park – the (semi) hard-sell is that using this new-fangled pee-wee winching system means you have a huge hose.
Despite this, and an entire page on Men’s Health treating them entirely seriously and declaring ‘No guy wants to adjust his junk in public’ these pants may struggle to sell in the UK. Here, wandering around with your hands down the front of your trackies having a really good grope and fondle – and just basically checking that it’s still all there and still lovely – is a favourite pastime for many young men who don’t possibly have quite the same concern for their environment as chaps from Brooklyn.
Men’s skincare commercials can be the pits. What’s the point of ‘all natural’ ingredients if the ad brings you out in a rash?
This one from the butchly-named Bulldog currently airing on UK television, is one of the most irritating I’ve seen – in a very competitive field.
In it two bearded elves beavering away in Santa’s workshop talk about how much they ‘love Christmas’. Then the one on the left announces: ‘We spend all year making gifts for people all over the world but we don’t get anything for each other. I mean who says guys can’t give other guys gifts, right?’.
His chum doesn’t answer. He just looks terrified.
‘So… I got you something,’ continues the chirpy one, bringing out a tube of Bulldog. ‘It’s moisturiser! For men!’
But they’re elves, not men. American elves. No wonder his chum doesn’t know what to do with the moisturiser for men.
Of course, that’s not the real reason for his strange behaviour. It’s because his buddy has failed to recognise the ‘man rules’ that dictate that men don’t give other men presents. Let alone moisturiser! Even moisturiser for men! Ho, ho, ho!
Bulldog is a UK brand that has had a lot of success in the US, probably in part because of that butch name – America likes its metrosexuality with manly strap-ons.
Though quite why anyone would spend their hard-earned cash on a moisturiser named after a dog with a wrinkly face I have no idea. No matter how reassuringly ‘fierce’, ‘alpha male’ and ‘big penised’ the brand connotation is.
This ad though is airing on UK television and seems to have been made by a British advertising agency. So I’m not sure why the elves are American, or why the ad is based on ‘man rules’ that I suspect are a bigger deal in the US than the UK.
Exploiting the ‘comedy awkwardness’ of men giving presents to other men is retrograde enough in an ad for male cosmetics, but this ad milks the ‘awkwardness’ to the point where there is almost a sense of homo panic about it.
The giftee appears unable to actually accept the gift, or even acknowledge or process its existence. It’s like his buddy just slapped a giant tube of anal lube on the desk.
Though that would actually be funny. Unlike this ad.
Then again, maybe I’ve been played. Maybe there’s a follow-up ad in which the awkward elf gets over himself and gives his chum a big manly hug and some ball antiperspirant gel.
‘So you sit there. There’s the nail, and there’s the piece of wood. And you wait.’
Probably for the Great Dark Man to bang it in.
Broadcast on UK television in 1975, the day after The Naked Civil Servant aired, thrilling and shocking the nation, this fine interview by the great Mavis Nicholson is one that I don’t recall seeing before.
Though of course, Crisp didn’t really do interviews – he declaimed. Gloriously. Crisp was forever in the dock, making a final, impassioned appeal to the judge.
Personalised number plates are the pits. The egotism of them! The silliness of them! The waste of them! The motoring equivalent of a sovereign necklace, their only value is warning everyone that the driver ahead is a BI6 DCK.
Or so I used to think. And I suspect many of you may have done so too.
Personalised plates or ‘vanity plates’ as they are sometimes called are booming. According to the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency almost 350,000 registrations were sold over the past year. More than four times the total in the mid-1990s – earning a pretty £102 million for the treasury.
It’s estimated that as many as 20% of cars are now fitted with personalised plates, up from less than 1% a few decades ago. Having a vanity plate no longer means you must be a plonker. Unless you think every fifth person you meet is a plonker. In which case you are probably the plonker.
To make matters worse for the vanity plate hater, there has been a 20-fold rise in the value of rare plates over the last two decades. ‘One and two’ plates (one number, two letters) that were purchased for £3000-5000 in the early 90s are now worth a cool c. £60,000. Very rare plates meanwhile can fetch absurd sums. Last year an ‘007’ plate from Guernsey fetched £240,000 at public auction. A couple of years ago ’25 O’ – coveted by 250 GTO owners – sold for £518,000.
Vanity plates add to the gaiety of the nation, are increasingly popular, raise money for the Treasury – £2.3 billion since they began to be sold in 1989 – and can represent a very good investment. In addition to being something you’ll never have to go back to check when it comes to entering your registration at a car park ticket machine or checking in at a hotel.
So why the hate? Envy may be part of it – and many of us can’t afford private plates and so will happily look for reasons to discount people who can. But we don’t necessarily hate people for having flash, or modded cars. Both of which are attempts to ‘make a statement’ and achieve ‘status’. Big exhausts, low suspensions, klaxons and even millionaire marques tend to make us smile rather than spit.
I suspect it’s because we tend to personalised plates as a form of cheating. Blasphemy, even. By default, a UK registration plate will accompany a vehicle throughout its lifetime. It is not attached to the owner. Unique as DNA, it is also usually the only bit of the car that is personalised – but not, we seem to think, by the owner. But rather, by the DVLA. Otherwise known as God. Which, by the way, bans the word ‘GOD’ from personalised number plates.
The DVLA giveth, and the DVLA taketh away.
Likewise, cars used by the reigning monarch – The Defender of the Faith – on official business have no registration number.
Perhaps it’s a hangover from the age of deference and feudalism, but many of us, myself included until I actually started researching the subject, seem to think in effect that number plates should only be allocated not purchased.
Registering vehicle and fitting a registration mark has been compulsory in the UK since 1903, in order to make it easy to trace a vehicle involved in an accident or law-breaking – and also easier to tax them. A kind of motoring Doomsday Book. Originally the only plates allowed to be transferred were ordinary registrations. But in 1989 the DVLA began selling personalized registrations unrelated to the registration districts, opening the egomaniacal flood gates.
In the age of ‘personal branding’ on social media and in fact all walks of life, it seems likely that personalised number plates are only going to become even more common. When people obsess over personalising their mobiles, why spend much more money on something you are going to be seen driving/wearing if it isn’t going to have your signature on it?
The nearest I came to having a ‘personalised’ number plate was when I happened to buy a used car with a registration that began with my first initial, followed by my (then) age. The second part started with my second initial. No one else would ever know it was ‘personalised’ – and in fact it was only after I bought the car that I realised the significance myself. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like it. It made the car feel more ‘mine’. So much so that when the new owner sent me a photo of it I felt a little bit jealous – of the plate.
Not that this stopped me still dissing people with properly personalised number plates. After all, mine had arrived by divine DVLA/Exchange & Mart lottery. Theirs by way of some grubby financial arrangement.
‘You should look at my face’, says Alexandra Daddario to Zac Efron after accusing him of staring at her breasts. ‘I’m trying,’ replies Efron, ‘but it’s so close to your boobs.’
So far so Babewatch. But the recently-released trailer for the upcoming Seth Gordon directed Baywatch movie knows times and tastes and focal points have changed. After this exchange about boobs, the very next scene shows Efron stripping off his shirt and flashing his tits and abs on a jetski. The boobs on display in the trailer are mostly male. And none of us are expected to be trying very hard not to look at them.
Baywatch has been updated. As slapstick comedy – which is what it always wanted to be. And moved to Muscle Beach. Or perhaps West Hollywood. It’s certainly looking way gayer.
The original hit 1990s TV series was hilariously naff. It starred the mesmerizingly un-sexy David Hasselhoff as ‘Mitch Buchannon’, a veteran lifeguard who acted as furry, heroic patriarch of the beach. Plus lots of babes. Most famously, Pamela Anderson – whose pneumatic breasts deserved their own credit and as the trailer jokes, always appeared in slow motion. This was the heterosexual division of perving on primetime TV back then.
In 2017 David Hasselhoff’s hairy, sucked-in dad bod has of course been upgraded to a massively muscular, inked, shaved Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson – whose beachball pectorals also deserve their own credit.
But such are the competitive, promiscuous times we live in that even all this isn’t enough. His boss is already bored with his ex pro wrestler and looking for a newer model. He’s found a young, ripped, spornoexual sidekick online, played by Zac Efron, and wants to bring him in to ‘restore the Baywatch brand’.
This movie may be silly, but it seems to know exactly what it’s doing.
Understandably, the shredded scamp seems to provoke jealousy and excitement in equal measure: ‘Why you grabbing me so tight?’ Efron complains to ‘Mitch’, who is riding pillion on a pink scooter.
Since his transformation from sweet twink to raging spornosexual, the former High School Musical star’s movie career has – like his shirt – taken off. His famous sexualisation has frequently become part of the characters that he plays.
So when Mitch’s boss enthuses about Efron’s character having won gold medals we know he means for taking his top off.
Zac Efron suddenly feeling very hot. (Accepting MTV award for ‘Best Shirtless Scene’, 2015)
'MERDE! He's got his tits out again for the fashion photographers - I'm not going to get fed for HOURS!'
Horse: ‘Oh, MERDE! He’s got his tits out for the cameras again – I’m not going to get fed for HOURS!’
We’ve seen a great deal of male pin-up tit-ilation over the last decade or so, in which men in traditionally masculine occupations get their clothes off and their tarty on as they occupy the traditionally ‘feminine’ and ‘passive’ position of the glammed-up calendar girl.
Not that I’m complaining. When it comes to male objectification too much is never enough.
Now French farmers are the latest traditionally blokey profession to get the full glamour model calendar boy treatment, in this instance from French fashion photographer Fred Goudon in his Le Calendrier des Agriculteurs 2017
So we see the ‘agriculteurs‘ lovingly lensed while going about their daily, honest toil in field and farmyard, keeping La France fed – while their overalls keep slipping off them in the hot Gallic sun, leaving them casually nearly naked. Save for their full body make-up.
If this calendar is to be believed, the French peasantry are definitely no longer revolting – but nor are they eating any cake. Nor in fact any carbs at all after 6pm.
It’s easy to make fun – so I shall, with captions – but while the French farmers collected here do look rather more spornosexual than pastoral, at least they’re not lumbosexuals.
Plowing fields will give you abs for miles
Gaston searches the horizon for gainz while doing bicep curls with a piglet.
French cows no longer bat an eye at the fashion photographers crowding their sheds.
All these nicely-presented years on from the birth of the metrosexual – he turned 22 this month – and my prediction that he represented the future of masculinity, out and proud male vanity shows no sign of getting bored with itself, or running out of cash to splash. ‘Male grooming’ is still booming: it’s a fine-smelling, thoroughly-moisturised market estimated to top £14.8bn globally this year.
But now that almost every post-pubescent male shares his bathroom with a buff puff there is a danger that the market could become as saturated as men’s skin. In order to continue growing, and create demands for new products, male grooming increasingly has to boldly go where no ad has gone before. Groping male consumers intimately in the quest for new frontiers of needs.
And this TV commercial currently airing in the UK is very bold, as Julian and Sandy would say. It features a man playing with his balls on prime time.
‘Only a few decades ago if you wore underarm spray you were not considered to be a REAL MAN,’ says the strangely robotic (butch?) voiceover, as we watch a young, worked out, fashion-bearded male performing his most personal ablutions in his mirrored privy. ‘A few decades’ looks like a millenia.
The Scottish-American text-to-speech app goes on to tell us that talcum powder ‘around your damp bits’ was acceptable back then, but ‘black suave underpants put paid to that messy solution’.
Yes, those black suave underpants that I’m probably to blame for.
He continues (I had to replay this bit several times to understand what was being said): ‘Lots has evolved since then, but men are still just as badly-designed downstairs.’
Are we? Speak for yourself, dear!
But before we can ponder that statement, or assess whether sweaty knackers are really such a major social problem, we’re slapped in the face with a irresistible question:
‘Surely modern man deserves the choice of being comfortable all day?’
Well, who can argue with choice, comfort and deservingness? And besides, the model is nodding in agreement at this point. Or maybe ecstasy – he’s clearly handling himself now. While admiring his reflection in the mirror.
‘Welcome to Below the Belt grooming and fresh and dry balls!’
Thanks! I think.
Then the corny kiss-off line which is, it has to be said, the dogs bollocks:
‘Your balls are safe in our hands!’
The effect is to make the ad – sorry, testimonial – a WTF? moment. Is this is a spoof? Is this product real? Or is there some double entendre here that I’ve somehow missed? Surely they can’t be being this direct on the tellybox?
And then you find yourself wondering well, why shouldn’t balls be mentioned in telly ads, without coyness or evasion? Even if yours aren’t ‘badly-designed’? Men’s balls exist! They have needs! They have feelings! (Which can, as any man will tell you, be hurt very, very easily.) And they need to breath! It’s about time they stopped having to hide and came out.
The sweaty nads ad is perhaps not quite as clever or funny – or even as ‘ballsy’ – as this ‘I’d f*ck me’ US Phillips manscaping ad from a few years back which took male vanity to its logical, self-loving conclusion, but it’s up there. Or down there. Certainly we’ve come a long way since this anxious 1968 UK commercial that sought to tell us that spray-on deodorant wasn’t girly or gay at all because manly, pub-going, bird-chasing, working class England footie heroes used it (and it was kept in the locker-room first aid cabinet because it was purely medicinal and not at all cosmetic).
Post-Beckham, all professional footballers have monogrammed Luis Vuitton washbags filled with the latest, most expensive male cosmetics issued along with their football strip.
Some of course will worry that the Below the Belt ad is just more horrifying evidence that metrosexuality has gone Too Far. That men are being emasculated by their ‘girly’ vanity. That along with ‘extreme’ manscaping trends such as increasing numbers of men apparently shaving their legs, and the arrival of ‘scrotal lifts‘ consumerism now has men by the balls.
And perhaps it’s true that consumerism is trying to create new male neuroses merely to sell more products, in much the same way that it has done with women for decades. That’s a kind of equality, I suppose.
Others might argue that it merely comes down to more freedom, that as the ad says, ‘surely modern man deserves the choice’. You don’t have to Immac your legs or baste your bollocks if you don’t want to. Pants may have got tighter but masculinity is much less restrictive than it used to be, and as a result men are less inhibited than they used to be – and more likely to do things that might seem a bit silly.
Besides, isn’t it a good thing that men are being encouraged to ‘examine’ their testicles daily – especially during Movember? Not all bollocks are created equal – some balls really are sweatier than others. And maybe testicle antiperspirant gel is a potential solution to that terrible modern scourge of ‘manspreading’.
As for me, my main concern is simply this: does Below the Belt come in different flavours?
While everyone else in the 80s wanted to look like they’d walked off the set of Blade Runner or Top Gun, Peter York looked and sounded like he’d stepped out of Dangerous Liaisons. Whenever the co-author of Style Wars and The Sloane Ranger Handbook popped up on telly, as he often did back then, talking about trends or ads in a dapper Saville Row suit, his hair looked like it should be powdered and bowed, and his upper-lip beauty-spotted.
In BBC Four’s recent TV doc The Hipster Handbook – which I was asked to contribute to but was unfortunately unavailable – York seems relatively unaffected by the vulgarities of time, sartorially or even much physically, given that he’s now in his 70s. That imperious ‘high’ hair is still there, if greyed. Though who knows? Maybe it really is a wig now.
His almost drag queen hauteur is still also present and incorrect, enabling him to be wonderfully rude and direct – but entirely politely. I have no idea about York’s sexuality, but in an odd way his persona reminds me slightly of Quentin Crisp (or rather, Hurtian Crisp).
When he visits Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NYC, the birthplace – though perhaps we should call it curationplace – of hipsterism he explains in clipped tones to a local complimenting him on his ‘fashionable’ Olde Worlde overcoat: ‘It’s the national dress of my country’.
York was an anachronism in the 1980s but also strangely, sharply (post)modern. Now that we’re living in a ‘post-postmodern’ world he looks like a time-traveller. Dr Who as market researcher. In Williamsburg he discovers that a decade or so on from their arrival, hipsters and even beards are now thin on the ground, having moved on to pastures more affordable – and are not much missed. Asked to define a hipster a young, clean-shaven man dismisses them as: ‘creatives about to turn into yuppies.’
York also travels to Shoreditch, London where hipsters are, as in most other ‘cool’ enclaves of large cities in the Western world, apparently still very much ‘a thing’ – after all these years of peak hipsterdom and regular pronouncements of its death. It’s full of young creatives being uniquely individual and amazingly authentic in their identical plaid shirts, compulsory facial-hair and passion for really-like-difficult-to-source coffee beans and expensive frosted cereals.
York like any good dandy, aspires to be as artificial as possible. Culture is nature’s enemy and vice versa. Hipsters however, perhaps because they usually have no idea about nature at all – and seem only to have the same ‘ironic’ idea about culture for that matter – are obsessed with authenticity.
‘It’s SO not me’ drawls York.
Paradoxically, the clean-shaven, sharply-dressed old man of slightly camp artifice seemed much more substantial than the young, earnestly ironic men in their ill-fitting beards and table-cloth shirts. Then again, I imagine Mr York is very substantial financially (according to Wikipedia, in addition to his best-selling books he works as a management consultant).
And yes, the doc was entirely focused on the male hipster: the only women interviewed were social commentators, academics or sales staff in hipster clothes shops. To the point where it sometimes looked like a documentary about a bear cub commune. But most people are only interested in the male hipster – and as York points out, most women can’t grow the hipster hallmark: a beard.
York’s mere presence offered a kind of mocking critique of our hairy young creatives – even without the impish glitter he had in his eyes when listening to them as they droned on about the ‘tradition’ and ‘craft’ behind the expensive bottled beer they like to drink and make.
The money shot came when he visited a barbershop in East London, now specialising in ‘facial-hair management’, observing a handsome man-bunned twenty-something chap reclining in a retro barber’s chair getting his bushy brunette beard ‘managed’.
‘Would you like it rounder at the bottom – a lumberjackfinish?’ asked the bearded, inked, young barber solicitously.
At the climax of the ‘management’, the barber rubbed beard conditioner into the customer’s pride and joy.
Regardless of what the actual, existing sexuality of these two young men is it’s difficult to see how this scene could be any gayer. In fact, if it had been properly gay, with your actual gay sex – cocks agogo – it would somehow have been considerably less gay.
And what’s more, it was gay threesome – with York as the older voyeur/punter (in a double-breasted blazer).
‘What does “lumberjack” mean?’ asked York, with a heroically straight face. The barber patiently explained that it’s a ‘wild’, ‘rugged’ look. He mentioned the ‘lumbersexual’. But pronounced it ‘lumbosexual’. Which is, actually, the way it should be pronounced.
The barber, who I think may not have been so much a true believer as just someone trying to make a living, made the salient point that a lot of his customers ‘work in media, architects, or web design, that type of thing’, who ‘spend a lot of time in front of a PC screen so don’t have that feeling of being in touch with their, like, masculine side’.
Amidst all this plaidery and lumbering York’s voiceover tells us that the shelves in the barber shop are positively groaning with beautifully-packaged product: ‘This is not a lumberjack’s cabin – this could be Mayfair’.
He suggests that hipsters’ laborious obsession with ‘masculine authenticity’ produces a look as constructed as what he terms ‘the metrosexual look that went before it’. He also admits that he can’t quite get the ‘beardy thing’ and that it strikes him as ‘a bit steampunk, a bit homosexual – a bit Clone Zone, a bit Tom Selleck in Magnum PI’.
This is probably where I would have popped up saying something unkind. Though I’m not entirely sure that I would have been needed.
All the same, I’ve listed seven unkind thoughts on hipsterism below:
1. Everyone hates hipsters – including & especially hipsters.
They’re far too special and unique and knowing to be captured in a word. Let alone that word. Hipsters want to be the curators never the curated. Which is why everyone delights in pinning the ‘H’ word on them as they try to wriggle away. It’s Kryptonite to their eclectic superpowers. Or garlic to a vampire.
2. Hipsterism is a cult with no credo
As that that big beardy Karl Marx put it: ‘Hipsterism is the sigh of the badly-dressed, a longing for authenticity in an inauthentic, online world. It is the OxyContin of the creative classes.’
3. Hipsters think they’re totally worth it.
And so should you. ‘Artisan’ means: ‘double the price coz expensively-educated kids got their hands dirty – and wrote something amazing on a chalkboard’.
4. Hipsterism is not locally-sourced.
It’s a thoroughly American cultural franchise. Hence hipsters in London or Brighton or Barcelona or Berlin or Rome laboriously replicate the obsessions of American hipsters – such as ‘gourmet burgers’, ‘craft ales’ and ‘real coffee’ – that were a reaction to the Budweiser blandness of American consumerism. Regardless of the fact that in Europe we already have amazing ‘real beer’ and ‘real coffee’ outlets. Called ‘Germany’ and ‘Italy’.
5. Hipster masculinity is also not locally-sourced.
It is imported, assembled and accessorised – curated – largely from officially ironic but rather anxious-looking retro ‘authentic’ American signifiers such as ‘the trucker cap’, or ‘the lumberjack’. Signifiers which are fairly meaningless in the UK – except perhaps as a Monty Python sketch.
6. Hipsterism is the anti-sexual wing of metrosexuality.
Maybe it depends on how aroused you are by gingham, but hipsterism sometimes looks like a form of male self-love that seems to be oddly self-loathing. Flannel shirts as hair shirts. Hipsters generally have big beards and big data allowances instead of bodies. (This is perhaps why some hipsters like to make ‘gender flip’ memes mocking the objectification of women which depend on the notion that men aren’t and can’t be objectified.)
7. The hipster beard is not a beard.
It’s far too heavily overdetermined to be mere face fur. There’s something magical and quasi-sexual about it. At least for hipsters. For all their famous love of irony, most don’t seem terribly ironic about the hairy thing on their chin that they treat like a prized, pampered pet.
The plain, unvarnished, but nicely-conditioned truth is that the hipster beard is a fetish – in the classic Freudian sense of a penis-substitute. This is why they have to be so BIG, and why they can’t leave them alone.
You’re stuck behind a MG Rover that is going a little slower than you would like. It’s driven by someone with white hair, glasses, and perhaps a hat and driving gloves. They are taking their time at junctions and traffic lights while peering over the steering wheel like that ‘Kilroy Was Here’ Second World War graffiti that they are probably old enough to have drawn themselves.
Suddenly the idea of bringing in compulsory re-testing of drivers who are over 70 becomes very appealing. Anything that thins out those doddery drivers from our roads must be a good thing, no? Especially now they’re getting so crowded.
Every few years, usually after some gruesome collision reportedly caused by an older driver, sections of the media launch a BAN OLDER DRIVERS NOW! campaign. Polls are conducted in which, unsurprisingly, most people who are not themselves older drivers say that people who are older drivers should have compulsory re-tests when they turn 70, and every three years after.
Earlier this year Prince Philip, aged 94, drove the President of the United States and the First Lady, along with the Queen of England, in his Range Rover. Though admittedly it was only 400 yards and on private – or rather, Royal – land.
Older drivers are certainly becoming more noticeable. As the number of younger drivers is falling, the number of older drivers on our roads is rapidly rising. In 1975 only 15% of over-70s had a licence. By 2010 the figure had risen to nearly 60%. Over the next 20 years the number of male drivers over 70 is predicted to double, while the number of women drivers will treble. By 2030 90% of men over 70 will be behind the wheel. By 2035 there will be c.21M older drivers on our roads.
This seems like a terrifying statistic. Until you realise that despite the tragic stories you’ve read about in the papers – often involving a confused pensioner driving the wrong way down a dual carriageway – older drivers are not necessarily more dangerous drivers just because they’re older.
In actual, statistical fact older drivers are no more likely to be involved in collisions than other drivers.
Research by the RAC Foundation suggests drivers aged 75 and over make up 6% of all licence holders but account for just 4.3% of all deaths and serious injuries. By contrast, drivers aged 16-20 make up just 2.5% of all drivers but 13% of those killed and seriously injured.
Older drivers are less inclined to speed, or take risks – or be distracted by gadgets. Many older drivers avoid driving at night, in the rain or on motorways. Just 7% of over 65s admitted to using a mobile phone while driving, compared to 21% of drivers in general. Only one in 10 over-65s said they had looked for something in the glovebox while moving, compared with twice as many drivers of all ages.
Older drivers are also more likely to have an eye test once a year than the rest of the driving population.
Perhaps most counterintuitively of all, older drivers are half as likely to have memory lapses while driving – the ‘how did I get here’ syndrome – than younger drivers. (Though perhaps older drivers felt less free to admit such lapses than younger ones.)
The RAC did however find that some drivers over the age of 70 struggle at high-speed junctions, high-speed roundabouts and slip roads – locations where drivers are required to look around quickly and make quick decisions. Another study by Swansea University, published in September this year, confirmed these findings.
The Swansea University study also found that older women are more likely to have small accidents when doing tight manoeuvres. Older people are also more likely to be involved in accidents involving other older drivers, suggesting they make similar errors.
Forcing older drivers to get re-tested has been tried in Australia and Denmark without improving results.
Educating older drivers about new risks they may face and encouraging them to refresh old skills and developing new ones, rather than singling them out and subjecting them alone to compulsory re-tests, is generally accepted as the best way forwards. Though perhaps as the road safety charity Brake have suggested, a compulsory eyesight test when reapplying for your licence – regardless of age – would be sensible.
The older you get the more your independence and social life tends to depend on your car, if you have one. It’s something you can rely on when everything else is failing. Men in their 70s make more trips as drivers than do men in their late teens and 20s.
Of course, this may mean that some older drivers refuse to voluntarily give up their licence – even when they really should.
But it also means that younger licence holders should be less keen to deprive older drivers of theirs simply because they’re older – and show some consideration to more mature road users slowing them down.
Particularly since one day that crumbly old bastard dawdling in front will be them.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has a website for older drivers to help them assess how their driving is changing, where to find a local driving assessment or refresher training – as well as how to take the decision to stop driving.
Mark Simpson sits at the feet of ‘The Bona of Verona’
Pietro Boselli, the ‘world’s sexiest maths teacher’ as he has been breathlessly dubbed by the press, is living, geometrically consistent proof that spornosexuals don’t have to be dumb. And also that for all their self-sexualisation, spornos can be romantico. Angelic, even.
Though if angels look like this who needs Hell?
Hailing from Verona, Italy, with his cherubic facial features, those bucolic, rosy cheeks that belies his 27 years, and that smiley submissiveness, Boselli puts me in mind somewhat of Antinous, the beautiful young male lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. After Antinous’ early death aged 20 years in 130 AD, a grieving Hadrian made him a deity, and his image was reproduced in countless statues and worshipped in both the Latin West and the Greek East.
Nowadays we can’t be waiting around until someone dies to turn them into a god. While smartphones and social media mean we don’t have to turn them into marble statues to reproduce – and worship – their image. The divine Boselli is of course all over YouTube and Instagram.
But beneath that angelic face he has that devilish body, which is rather more buff than most depictions of Antinous. The boyish face and the smoothly mannish body are slightly reminiscent perhaps of the young Marky Mark in Mr Klein’s underpants, sans the bad-boy rapismo. Boselli is a very good boy on the streets – but, we like to think, a very naughty one between the sheets. The bona from Verona.
As a reminder that we’re talking about second generation male tartiness here, Boselli was just four years old when Wahlberg was grabbing himself on the side of buses.
Boselli is not a maths teacher any more, but rather a full-time fitness model. And like any pro sporno he has his own YouTube channel, where we can dissect his beautiful body. Either to try and copy it, or perhaps to somehow penetrate its secrets.
In truth, he was never really a maths teacher in the way that perhaps most people probably understand or remember a maths teacher, though it is a great marketing moniker. While studying for his mechanical engineering PhD at London University he taught undergraduate mathematics to some lucky engineering students for a while. One of whom, according to Wikipedia, ‘took note of his physique and stumbled on his modelling career’.
Stumbled. Hmmm. I suppose you could ‘stumble’ while hyperventilating and rushing to Google someone’s name + ‘NAKED’.
Boselli was in fact a model long before he became an engineer: he landed the Armani Junior campaign in 1995 – aged just seven – and carried it for four years. But there is no question that he is a highly intelligent and highly educated young man. That he is not ‘just’ a pretty face attached to some pretty pecs.
However, the ‘world’s sexiest maths teacher’ moniker ensured he became even more famous than he would have done if he had just been a pretty face.
It’s interesting how we – by which I mean ‘I’ – still seem to have this difficulty reconciling beauty with intelligence, regardless of whether the ‘object’ of our desire is male or female. Perhaps it’s a form of Freud’s observation that men frequently separate affection and desire, tending to debase those they desire.
Pietro is confusing-intoxicating phenomenon to behold not just because of his near-androgyny – as Susan Sontag said all truly beautiful things are a mixture of masculine and feminine – but because we don’t know whether to put him on a pedestal or in a sling.
The Ancients saw beauty and virtue as being related: Antinous was likely intelligent and well-educated and Hadrian would have expected nothing less. But Christian dualism put paid to that. Crudely, in the Christian worldview the body is the world, thus corruption and sin, and belongs to the devil – while our minds/souls are non-material, eternal and belong to God.
And bodies that provoke lust – such as Boselli’s – are doubly damned.
Tasty Pietro Boselli
Boselli’s TED talk earlier this year played on the cultural contradiction he represents, and was titled: ‘How I survived as professor on the runway and model in the classroom‘. And truth be told, he does look like a model on the runway talking like a professor. There seemed to be a lot of telephoto lens action from the audience, who may not have been entirely focused on his message.
His adorable accent and equally adorable nervousness do definitely add to his many other distractions.
As far as I can remember (my mind did wander) he was talking about the mind/body dualism of our culture and why it should be disregarded. It’s a message he seems to touch on again in this, the first of his new YouTube ‘Workout Philosophy’ talks. Cartesian dualism be damned!
That said, most people watching the video above will probably see, in their mind’s eye, the video below. Even when he keeps his t-shirt on it looks like it is taking itself off.
Does the empowerment of women need to take the form beating up on men? And isn’t it anyway something of self-defeating strategy?
These are the questions often lurking in the back of my mind when I read one of those sassy columns that seem to be a list of insults hurled at men – or MEN! – as a sex. But I usually think twice about voicing them.
Apart from anything else, even though it’s almost never stated, it’s straight men as a sex that are in the crosshairs. Since I’m not terribly straight, and thus not exactly a fully paid up member of the patriarchy, it’s generally wise for me to keep my head, er, down in the (hetero)sex war.
That couldn’t be the case, could it? I re-watched it a couple of times, hoping to have my humourless, censorious first impressions dashed.
I really don’t want to be an advertising traffic warden.
But the more times you watch the ad, the clearer the implication is. Female ’empowerment’ is about giving men a good, slapstick pasting. In addition, of course, to buying clothes from Bonmarché.
Although the pasting is presented as ‘accidental’ – it’s obviously not meant to be taken that way. It all happens to men. As a result of women’s ‘empowered’ behaviour.
In the space of just 30 seconds, three ‘ladies’ (the form of address the ad itself adopts) trip a male jogger, slam a café door into a man holding a smoothie, knock a phone out of a man’s hand into his coffee, cause a male waiter carrying a tray to slip and fall, thump a male diner in the head with a large handbag, and slap the hand of another (apparently) male diner trying to attract the attention of the already downed male waiter.
Without breaking a sweat. Or even noticing.
Of course, the ostensible message is that women should pay no heed to men or anxieties about body image when they buy clothes, and in effect just dress for themselves – ‘this is me and I feel bloomin’ awesome’. Or as the blurb on the Bonmarché website puts it: “’Own the Day’ is all about empowering women and inspiring confidence.”
Which is great. Or it would be if it weren’t for the way that men have to pay for this sentiment.
The feel-good message of confidence is completely undermined by the hypocritical execution – in effect, the ad is all about men. About beating them up.
One of the men in the ad, with the possible exception of the male jogger gawping at lady #1 declaiming to camera, did anything to warrant being slapped, tripped or thumped on the head. Except perhaps the crime of possessing a penis. They were all happily minding their own business. Or waiting tables.
In fact, it begins to look like the men are being punished for not paying attention to the women. So maybe I would have got a handbag in the back of the head, too.
Yes, it’s ‘just a silly ad’, frantically trying to draw attention to itself. And yes, the ad also seems to be making fun slightly of its own language of empowerment – perhaps because in the end it’s a commercial, not a political statement.
But the bottom line appears to be that a spot of misandry – contempt for men as a sex – is good for business.
I’m not suggesting the ad should be protested or banned – though there would be with enormous kerfuffle if the genders were reversed. But I would suggest that the ad is an indication that sassy misandry, once justified as a ‘necessary corrective’ to the patriarchy and women’s subjugation, is so common these days it has become a corporate cliché.
Which in turn would suggest that it’s no longer quite so necessary – that instead it’s shaded into abuse. And that’s not very empowering. Or ‘bloomin’ awesome’. Whatever that is.
Premier Inn appear to have launched a builder-themed gay night. Or a Top Gun-themed builder night. Either way, I’m checking in.
This hilarious, very smart new TV ad ‘Scaffolders’ for the budget UK hotel chain is currently airing nationally – not just in Manchester’s gay village. It masterfully deploys the famous Kenny Loggins ‘Highway To the Danger Zone’ MOR track from the classic 1986 Tom Cruise fighter ace movie, along with some of the iconic/camp styles, shots and heavy filters to synthesise an entirely convincing Top Gun-ness. In a provincial Premier Inn. With scaffolders standing in for the flyboys, and JCB’s standing in for the F-15s.
Though the opening scene, in which a naked ‘Maverick’ rubs his pumped chest and possibly erect nipples in ecstasy while enjoying a ‘power shower’, would probably have been too slutty even for Top Gun, the movie that gave a catapult launch to the process of shameless sexualisation of the male body, climaxing in today’s spornosexuality.
The famous homoeroticism of that flyboy movie (our changing attitude to which I analysed on its 30th birthday earlier this year) is also referenced. For a moment you – or was it just me? – think the hairy ‘daddy’ builder waking up in the ‘kingsize Hypnos bed’ has spent the night with the young sporno scaffie taking that sensual shower.
Top Gun‘s ‘gayness’ is now an officially cherished part of our culture. ‘Whatever your story’. Or sexuality.
It’s a nice touch as well that the other builders are of various, more realistic shapes and sizes – but the sporno scaffie is definitely the star of this ‘movie’. Which is probably about right. After all, scaffolders are often the most agile, gymnastic even, of builders and are very much at the showbiz end of the ‘trade’. The scaffold they’re ‘erecting’ is also something of a stage, and whether to get some rays or to get looks – or both – scaffies often seem keen to strip down to their shorts, boots and hard-hats the moment the weather gets above freezing. Though I’m sure there must be some scaffolders who dislike the way the public perves on them….
‘Gay’ builders seem to be all the rage on UK TV at the moment. The price comparison website Moneysupermarket recently launched ‘Epic Squads’, featuring bearish male builders and half-cross-dressed businessmen with big booties in a ‘gender flip’ twerktastic dance-off.
Moneysupermarket’s previous ad, ‘Dave’s Epic Strut‘ featuring a lone male middle-aged twerker in a jacket and tie and denim skirt and heels shaking his money maker at baffled passers-by was the most complained about ad of 2015. The Advertising Standards Authority failed to uphold these complaints – the cleverness of the ad is that it is quite ‘shocking’ and very memorable in an age of instant amnesia and e-distraction. But is funny rather than actually offensive. As well as, perhaps accidentally, managing to say something about changing gender roles, male versatility and the rise of the sexualised male body/booty.
Either way they seem to have aimed to up the stakes here. As Bob the Builder might have said: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – just shake it harder, honey.
On a recent visit to London, thanks to the randomised wonder of ‘dating apps’ – or online cottaging – I found myself, as you do, visiting someone I didn’t know terribly well but wanted to get to know much better. He happened to live very close to Noel Road, Islington. This is the road where, at No.25, the 1960s queer playwright and keen old skool pre-internet cottager Joe Orton famously lived – and died, fifty years ago next year – in a bedsit with his rather less successful, less attractive, less popular, but possibly more talented, older partner and co-conspirator, the would-be novelist and dodgy toupee enthusiast Kenneth Halliwell.
Having walked the length of it on the way to my ‘meet’, and past No.25 with its plaque, I can report that Noel Road is no definitely longer the slightly slummy street of rooming houses it was in Orton’s time. Full of new Porsche’s and Jaguars, the street’s rooming houses seem to have mostly been turned back into very wealthy, if rather lonely family homes. With no doubt the very latest in Wallpaper magazine interior design and decor.
But I expect none of them have anything like the seriously classy wallpaper that Joe and Kenneth had in their bedsit flat at 25 Noel Road. Apparently angered by the ‘rubbish novels and books’ – and perhaps by the poor quality of the general culture they found themselves sentenced to in late 50s early 60s Britain – they used plates culled from books purloined from Islington Central Library to cover the dingy walls of their 16 x 12 room.
Public-spirited vandals, they selflessly improved the dust-jackets of some of the dusty books with their own collages – replacing them on the library shelves, Orton sometimes observing at a distance people’s reaction to their irreverent sabotage: ‘I used to stand in the corners after I’d smuggled the doctored books back into the library and then watch people read them. It was very fun, very interesting.’
The art deviant odd couple eventually had their collars felt by Lilly Law and were sentenced in 1962 to six months imprisonment – a harsh tariff for first offenders which Orton put down to the fact that the judge had realised ‘we were queers’. The case made the national press, with Orton’s working class family in Leicester only hearing about it after reading a report in the Daily Mirror: ‘Our Joe’s been nicked!’ exclaimed Mr Orton to Mrs Orton. The custodial sentence, served in separate prisons, seems to have broken Halliwell, who tried to commit suicide, but was the making of Orton who emerged determined to shock more than just a few fortunate readers at Islington Central Library.
In a sense, their criminal collage was the only joint work which was a ‘success’, or at least reached a wider audience. It was also Orton’s first, minor taste of notoriety, before his first play ‘Entertaining Mr Sloane’ became a huge hit and scandal three years later in 1964, with its dramatic ‘collage’ of British hypocrisies. It was also Halliwell’s last. Not counting his posthumous fame for murdering Orton by attacking his celebrity head with a hammer in 1967 in a drug-fuelled, possibly jealous and/or paranoid state – splattering his brains all over the collage-covered walls.
Last Sunday BBC Radio 3 also pricked up my ears, airing ‘The Visa Affair’ (which you can listen to for the next month) – a fine adaptation by the novelist Jake Arnott of a previously ‘lost’ and incomplete work of Orton’s about his Byzantine attempts in 1965 to obtain a visa to visit the US to oversee the Broadway translation/production of ‘Mr Sloane’.
The prison sentence he’d served for the collages, together with the nature of the crime itself – denoting, in disapproving American official eyes, ‘moral turpitude’ – meant he had to go through a series of darkly comic interviews with US bureaucrats and doctors at the US Embassy in London, which as Arnott points out in his introduction to his adaptation, closely resembles the kind of officious absurdities his own plays lampooned.
This is much more than just an adaptation, however. Partly because, as Arnott explains in his introduction to the play, ‘The Visa Affair’ was incomplete, and partly because it could not, pre decriminalisation of male homosexuality (which happened in the UK in July 1967 – the month before Orton’s death) ever be really completed. Orton could not be ‘completely’ honest with either the US Embassy or the British public about the real nature of the ‘conspiracy’ between him and Halliwell and the motivation for their cultural sabotage.
Hence Arnott adds scenes set in the infamous tiny bedsit that deftly and touchingly explore Orton and Halliwell’s conspiratorial (“‘breath together’ – that’s what ‘conspire’ means”) relationship, how Halliwell cultivated and tutored Orton’s talent, and their shared darkly comic – ‘camp’, if you will – sense of humour. Anatomising their ‘crime of passion’.
Although I very much enjoyed the film version of Alan Bennett’s play ‘Prick Up Your Ears’ when it was released in 1987, I think Arnott captures something much more convincingly intimate. As well as a boyish vulnerability in Orton that Oldman’s swaggering, slightly renty portrayal obscures with bravura. Sexy bravura to be sure, but perhaps bravura all the same.
Arnott’s ‘The Visa Affair’ achieves something remarkable: it lets you glimpse what Joe might have seen in his bald, impossible, unpopular and ultimately murderous ‘flatmate’.