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

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Final Triumph of Metrosexuality: Men’s Tits More Popular Than Women’s

Men's Health

It’s official. Men’s tits are now more popular than women’s. With men.

Men’s Health, the metromag with the pec-fest, ab-tastic covers is now the best-selling men’s magazine in the UK, selling more than 250,000, compared to 235,000 for previous best-seller so-called ‘lad mag’ FHM with its famous cover babes sporting udders almost as big as those of Men’s Health models.

The truth is of course is that FHM is as much a metromag as Men’s Health (or ‘Men’s Hypochondria’ as I like to call it). It just used the ‘lad mag’ tits-and-booze formula as a beard for its metrosexuality. When it was attacked by female journalists for being ‘sexist’ FHM’s publishers secretly cheered because this meant that these mass-circulation magazines peddling male vanity, fashion and self-consciousness might be mistaken for something traditional.

The real money shot in FHM — and the reason for its very existence — was never the ‘High Street Honey’ spreads but rather the pages and pages of glossy ‘high-value’ ads featuring pretty male models in various states of designer undress.

But fifteen years on from the launch of the first ‘lad mag’ – and also fifteen years on from my first use of the word ‘metrosexual’ in an article for the Independent which predicted that male vanity was ‘the most promising market of the decade‘ – the moisturised future has arrived.  A generation of young men have grown up with metrosexuality, see it as ‘normal’ – and don’t need the hysterical heterosexuality of lad mags.

In a sense, lads mags have done what they were invented to do: metrosexualize men on the sly.  So they aren’t really needed any more.  And arguably, post YouTube/iPhone, magazines in general aren’t needed any more either.

Men’s Health by contrast was always the most nakedly metro of the metromags – and as a result of those covers the most openly narcissistic and homoerotic. In a post metro world, men are most interested in themselves — and can download hardcore porn 24-7. So they choose the lifestyles mag that puts men’s (shaded) tits and abs on the cover, rather than hiding behind women’s.  (In one issue earlier this year, having nothing better to do on a train journey, I counted 73 male nipples and 4 female ones, the latter partly obscured by ‘superfoods’).

But no revolution is ever complete.  And everything is relative. Precisely because everyone knows what it is, Men’s Health are still trying convince you that none of their readers are gay or bisexual — or even metrosexual.  Instead the deputy editor reassures The London Times all their readers ‘have kids or want to have kids’, and and are ‘heteropolitan’ — an uptight marketing inversion of the word ‘metrosexual’, with HETERO in place of anything ambiguous and with that dangerous ‘sexual’ part surgically removed.

As I noted a couple of years ago in a piece lampooning their prissy denial, I suspect that most of even their straight  readers (and most of their readers are probably straight – just not very narrow) are way ahead of them. But then, marketing tends to be instinctively dishonest even if there’s no particular reason to be any more.

Whatever, I think it will be a while before male homoerotics and steroids, those unspoken staples of every single issue of Mens Health, get a strapline on the cover — even if female-on-male strap-on sex apparently already has (see the cover picture at top).

By the way, a similar trend has emerged in Australia, with MH also outselling FHM down under.  This recent piece in The Age, complete with rather amusing mock-up of what a men’s mag might look like in the not-too-distant future (which I thought for a moment was an publication currently available), provides a rather better analysis of what’s going on than much of what appeared in the UK press.

Shame then that The Age, along with its sister publication The Sydney Morning Herald, ‘borrowed heavily’ from — or in Australian: plagiarised — my 2002 Salon essay ‘Meet the metrosexual’  for a feature it ran in 2003 called ‘The rise of the metrosexual’ — with no mention of me or my Salon essay they thieved from.  I’ve yet to receive an apology.

I suspect I’ll get a column in Men’s Health before I do.

Tip: Sisu

Bottoms From Outer Space – Anal Anxiety at the Movies

Mark Simpson on those big scary rings at the movies

You might think me obsessed with men’s bottoms. And you’d be right. But if you want to know what a real bottom obsession looks like, one that makes my own heavy breathing look positively flirtatious, just visit the movies.

Take the Summer blockbuster Independence Day (written and directed by Roland Emmerich). Here’s a film so fixated on bumholes that it can’t see anything but bumholes. Bumholes so big and special-effected that they threaten to swallow up the whole world.

In this startlingly excremental (figuratively as well as literally) movie, American civilisation is dwarfed by vast, round alien arseholes which saucily position themselves over the biggest, proudest, pointiest buildings in New York, LA., Washington etc. After twenty-four hours of teasingly hovering above these phallic monuments, they open up their sphincters to dump a stream of shit-from-hell which first demolishes the skyscraper below and then engulfs, destroys and generally wreaks havoc on the nicely ordered American metropolis beneath it. That’s some bottom.


In case we’ve missed the point, the gung-ho US pilots who attempt a counter-attack talk a great deal about how they can’t wait ‘to give it to those aliens up the ass!’ However, they fail to penetrate the aliens’ defences with their hot, hi-tech rockets – even the nuclear-tipped babies – because the cheeky Pushy Controlling Bottom aliens have a force-field hymen protecting them from such unwanted attentions.

Fortunately, wily Jeff Goldblum saves the day and mankind’s reputation as fuckers not to be fucked with, by craftily working out that what is needed to lower the aliens’ defences is a virus. Jeff infects one of the smaller alien vessels and thence the mother vessel by ‘docking’ with it, and soon the virus is transmitted to all the alien ships, whose force-fields/immune systems collapse.

This allows Randy Quaid, playing a kamikaze love-missile, to fly up the sphincter of an alien vessel opening to crap destruction on a city below, while shouting ‘ALIEN ASS-HOLES!! UP YOURS!!’, before exploding and destroying the alien ship, helpfully showing the rest of the Earth forces ‘Where the aliens’ weak-spot is.’ That is to say: in the same place as men’s.

You can’t get more botty-fixated than this. Except, that is, in 1994’s Sci-Fi blockbuster Stargate. This film, made by the same team as Independence Day, featured basically the same explosive anal ending, in which an alien desert despot is destroyed by an American bomb, sent shooting up the arsehole of his space-craft by Kurt Russell (who is much the same thing as Randy Quaid), shortly after Kurt has uttered the only expletive in this 15 Certificate movie – ‘FUCK YOU, ASS-HOLE!!’.


Men’s bottoms are officially meant only to allow one-way traffic, any reminders that it can admit as well as expel tend to make men uneasy – unless they can be projected onto something hated. Stargate was a movie which begins with the discovery of a huge ‘ring’ in the Egyptian desert which turns out to be a ‘portal’ to other worlds – which is fine and dandy. But it is also a point of entry to our own – which isn’t. So commander Kurt and his men are dispatched to plug that hole good and proper and protect Earth Men’s virtue.

As film star Mel Gibson made clear in an infamous interview where he was asked about whether he worried that people might think he was a homosexual because he was an actor, the possibility of two-way traffic in the region of your own posterior must be denied. Pointing to his not uninviting arse he allegedly shouted: ‘This is for shitting; nothing else!’ All the same, it’s just a little odd that his hard, manly, hairy performance of Scottishness in Braveheart against the soft, smooth, nancy-boy English reached its climax in a scene where he was publicly disembowelled by the Sassenachs without so much as blinking.

Invasion, enslavement and defeat have long been seen as analogous to anal rape – a form of emasculation. Recent revelations about the sexual-humiliation practises of victorious troops in the Bosnian conflict on their male prisoners have only reinforced this idea. Perhaps this is why in Independence Day Randy Quaid, the man who finally ‘gives it to the aliens up the ass’ on behalf of all Earth men is an alcoholic ex-Vietnam vet who, we’re told, years ago was abducted by the aliens and subjected to ‘sexual experiments’.

The ending of Stargate also owed something to recent American history: A T-shirt popular with US forces during the Gulf War, depicted Saddam Hussein – that other scary despot the yanks liberated desert people from – bent over with an American missile up his butt and the legend beneath it reading: “WE’RE GONNA SADDAMIZE YA!’

The direct representation of male violation, like consenting male homosexuality itself, used to be a taboo; in the Seventies the play Romans in Britain was prosecuted for indecency because it featured a simulated male rape scene (defended, interestingly, as being ‘a metaphor for imperialism’). John Boorman’s film Deliverance (1972) was considered ‘controversial’ because it hinted rather heavily at male-male sexual assault. Nowadays, however, in the arsehole-anxious nineties, male rape scenes are practically de rigueur in mainstream movies, popping up (and being held down) in films such as Pulp Fiction (1994) and The Shawshank Redemption (1994), while, as we’ve seen, the theme of forced, vengeful posterior penetration has even become the stuff of science fiction movies ostensibly aimed at kids.

This might just have something to do with the rising visibility of homosexuality and the increasing fascination with male passivity – along with the inescapable fact that, no matter how many aliens the guys blow away at the movies (and in Stargate and Independence Day saving the world is strictly a guy thing) they still keep losing the sex war with the aliens they live with. Females.

So, without wanting to come over all Vito Russo, it’s probably no coincidence that the Stargate alien is played by Jaye Davidson who also played the ‘chick with a dick’ in The Crying Game (1992), is surrounded by muscular young men in leather, and flies about in a spaceship that likes to sit on pointy pyramids. Nor is it without significance that in Independence Day, Harvey Fierstein, playing as usual an extremely annoying gay constantly on the phone to his mother (“Oh, mother, it’s AWFUL, the aliens are getting MORE ATTENTION than ME!”) is the first character to be killed by the alien attack. Eliminating early on (but not early enough for my money) the only Earthling who willingly takes it up the ass.

Hollywood science fiction these days is not so much about man’s fear of invasion from outer space as that of the invasion of man’s inner space. As Kevin McCarthy shouts to the freeway traffic in the classic 50s sci-fi paranoia flick Invasion of the Body Snatchers – ‘THEY’RE HERE ALREADY!!’

Standing right behind you.

This essay  originally appeared in Attitude magazine, September, 1996 and is collected in ‘Sex Terror: Erotic Misadventures in Pop Culture

That Nice Mr Alain de Botton Can Be Nasty Too!


It’s just been drawn to my slow-witted attention that the ‘popular philospher’ and professionally nice Alain de Botton last month had an hilarious hissy fit over a critical review of his latest offering ‘The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work’ by Caleb Crain in the New York Times.

Now, none of us writer types like bad reviews – and I’ve penned a tart note or two myself in the past, knowing full well that such things are ‘not done’. But Mr de Botton is famous for being so incredibly nice and proper and pointy-headed and hovering above the dirty world the rest of us actually have to live – and work – in. He has made a career out of offering us poor mortals his Zen-like insights into such human pursuits as ‘Love’ and ‘Travel’, and ‘Status’, and ‘Happiness’ – usually deploying the regal ‘we’ in place of the vulgar, egotistical ‘I’.

So you can imagine it caused quite a stir when he stooped to flaming the NYT reviewer on his blog. ‘I will hate you until I die’, he railed.

It may be the most interesting, most lively thing he’s ever written.  What’s more, it’s free – and he appears be saying now that he thought it was only going to be seen by Caleb.  So here’s the full text (note the curious emphasis he puts on the idea of ‘nice people’):

‘Caleb you make it sound on your blog that your review is somehow a sane and fair assessment. In my eyes, and all those who have read it with anything like impartiality, it is a review driven by an almost manic desire to bad-mouth and perversely depreciate [sic] anything of value. The accusations you level at me are simply extraordinary. I genuinely hope that you will find yourself on the receiving end of such a daft review some time very soon – so that you can grow up and start to take some responsibility for your work as a reviewer. You have now killed my book in the United States, nothing short of that. So that’s two years of work down the drain in one miserable 900 word review. You present yourself as ‘nice’ in this blog (so much talk about your boyfriend, the dog etc). It’s only fair for your readers (nice people like Joe Linker and trusting souls like PAB) to get a whiff that the truth may be more complex. I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make. I will be watching with interest and schadenfreude.’

Of course, the real schadenfreude has been everyone elses’ shameless joy at the sight of someone so airy-fairy getting his knickers in such a furious twist.  Mr Nice being unmasked as Mr Nasty.  With a touch of ‘Every Breath You Take’ stalkerishness thrown in (‘…in every career move you make.  I will be watching….’).

That and the refreshingly childish spitefulness of the incredibly wise and thoughtful de Botton, even as he is admonishing the reviewer to ‘grow up’.

But what were the ‘manic’ and ‘extraordinary’ and ‘daft’ and ‘perverse’ accusations levelled against de Botton?  In a polite and almost exasperatingly balanced review Crain dared to suggest that de Botton had been a bit sniffy about some of the people he interviewed – de Botton complained for example that one interviewee’s house ‘smelled strongly of freshly boiled cabbage or swede’.  Or swede.  Deft touch that – showing us that Alain isn’t prejudiced against cabbage, just proley vegetables in general.  (Even in his flaming of the reviewer for mentioning this, he’s still wrinkling his nose: ‘…it’s only fair for your readers… to get a whiff of something more complex’.)

So you can only imagine what Nice Alain made of this rather less polite review by Nasty Mark  a few years ago for the Independent on Sunday, which took his book ‘Status Anxiety’ to task for the fact that  it nowhere addresses the author’s own status or his anxiety about what people think about it (his father was one of the richest men in Europe – his mother is one of the richest women in the UK, ranked not far below the Queen):

Precisely because the author is such a polite, learned and charming writer with a fine appreciation for history, literature and the arts which he is so very generously keen to share with us, he never explicitly touches on the subject of his own status, or his own anxiety about what the world thinks of him. Despite the fact that he must be entirely and painfully aware of exactly what people whinge about when his name is mentioned, and that it has probably ever been thus since Harrow. This is a shame, since it would have made his beautifully written but bafflingly pointless and aimless book, which claims to deal with something as real and worldly and dirty as status, rather more readable and infinitely more relevant.

Actually, we don’t have to imagine what Nice Alain made of it.  Following the review, The Independent on Sunday books desk received an irate email marked ‘For Publication’ from a reader which spanked my bottom soundly, taking me to task in very similar terms to the Botton comment on the NYT reviewer’s blog, decrying as I recall, my ‘lack of responsibility’ and my disgracefully ‘ad hominem’ review. And most of all, the fact I’m not Nice.

Unfortunately, the letter writer had neglected to delete the bit at the bottom of the email from an earlier forwarding which read: ‘Alain – is this OK?’

That’s the terrible thing about the Interweb.  It brings you down to the same level as everyone else. Which isn’t terribly Nice.

Kirk Makes Love to the Manly Mountain

Bruno Schmuno


‘There is, on the evidence of this movie, no such thing as gay love; there is only gay sex, a superheated substitute for love, with its own code of vulcanized calisthenics whose aim is not so much to sate the participants as to embarrass onlookers from the straight—and therefore straitlaced—society beyond.’

Let’s be honest, Bruno is pretty bad. And quite tedious.

But not as bad, or as overlong as this earnest review of it by a crestfallen Anthony Lane in The New Yorker.  Which happens to also be inaccurate: one of the biggest disappointments in a film brimming with disappointments was the way that after literally jamming a pedal-powered dildo up the audience’s behind, Bruno copped out at the end with a gay marriage and conventional Hollywood love-story happily-ever-after. Schmaltzy gay wedlock replaces kinky bumsex and Bruno is seemingly cured of his predatory lust for any and all men that come his way and even his own narcissism. Hurrah!

Sacha Baron Cohen saw you (and GLAAD) coming, Miss Lane.

I know, I know: neither of us have much to whine about as there really is no need to see any SBC film. Everyone should know that now. Disappointment is SBC’s stock in trade. Anyone who actually goes to see one of his films – and lots and lots of us do – automatically disqualifies themselves from criticising it by making themselves look even more stupid than SBC’s unwitting and (increasingly) unsophisticated victims.

Not just because all the best gags have been relentlessly trailed months before the opening, but because the endless publicity opps and stunts are the nearest thing to a point. And let’s be blunter than the gay Austrian’s most terrifying sex toy: Bruno’s be-thonged buttocks in Em’s nose-wrinkling, fear-distorted face at the MTV Awards was, oh, about 1000% funnier than anything in the film. A film which is, reassuringly, even more vacuous than celeb-addled fashion victim Bruno himself.

But if everyone knows this, it seems the more educated you are the less likely you are to admit it. Or likely to take a film like this seriously. A lot of tosh has been written in ‘quality’ publications about how this ‘clever’ movie ‘confronts homophobia’. The film makes rather a lot of fun of bummers and their bumming – which, I’m all in favour of, of course. But not under the cringe-making guise of ‘confronting homophobia’ –- that kind of guff makes me gag, and not, as Bruno might say, in a good way.

SBC himself effectively admits that he’s not ‘confronting homophobia’ by making Bruno so annoying/desperate as to be beyond sexuality — and sympathy. He’s in a category of his own. Usually he only manages to make people – such as the rednecks he goes on a hunting trip with or the swingers – lose their temper and use un-PC words (shock! horror!) by literally getting into their faces. And frankly if someone had smacked him in the face it would have made the film a lot more watchable.

The unaccountably critically-adored Borat was an embarrassingly bad and (this is being kind) pointless movie that likewise presented as its official message: ‘anti-Semitism is wrong and stupid’ – while basically offering the viewer an anti-Slavic extravaganza, complete with ruthless economic exploitation and humiliation of Romanian peasant extras (the character of Borat was originally based on a Southern Russian – Kazakhstan is just a red-herring).

So instead of a review I’ll just tell you about the funny bits you might not have seen in the trailer, or saw but forgot, to save you the trouble of seeing the film yourselves – even though I know you’re going to anyway.

1) The eye-popping sequence early on the film where Bruno describes him and his ‘Pygmy’ boyfriend as ‘just like any other boring couple’ and then we see Bruno ramming everything in the house up his boyfriend’s bumhole, and vice versa, including a bottle of champagne, a fire extinguisher and a pedal-powered dildo. (This was probably my favourite part of the film – but only because I knew it would incense the ‘gays are just like everyone else’ crowd.)

2) The interview with Christian ex-gays, when Bruno says to one of them, who does look very faggy, ‘It’s a shame you are straight because you have cocksucking lips.’

‘These lips were made for praising the Lord.’

‘Your lips were definitely made for zomething, but not that.’

brunoold(Though personally I prefer his very similar TV interview nearly ten years ago when he asked one of the Christian ex-gayers about ‘gay’ habits of his that he might have to give up: ‘What about eating chocolatey things all ze time?’ Came the earnest reply: ‘If eating chocolate is a shared family experience then that is fine – but if it is something that reminds you of your previous lifestyle, that’s wrong in the eyes of the Lord.’ In fact, I think I prefer the Bruno and the SBC of ten years ago – he was less extreme, more likeable, more whimisical, more… funny.  But if you look up some clips you’ll also see that Bruno of ten years ago is… what straight men look like today.)

3) The very short ‘Bruno Joins the Army’ section, where he is shouted at by three US National Guard DIs (who are clearly in on the joke) is rather amusing, but was done much better nearly 60 years ago by Jerry Lewis in ‘Jumping Jacks’.

4) It’s not very funny – more creepy and cringemaking – but one of the few scenes that doesn’t look staged (probably because his victim is so old as to be clueless about SBC) is the interview with former Presidential Candidate Ron Paul ‘He’s queer! He’s crazy!’ says Mr Paul, fleeing as fast as his rickety old legs will take him after Bruno starts undressing next to him in a hotel bedroom.

He’s not queer, of course, and he’s not crazy. He’s just very, very ambitious and even more ruthless. SBC, that is.

The ‘climax’ of the film, where Bruno, having ‘straightened himself out’, appears in a cage fight in some redneck town is clearly something SBC & Co. feel very proud of, but I’m not sure why. In it he starts undressing and kissing his opponent (who is actually his German assistant, the one whom he marries at the end of the film in the next scene). The crowd, which has probably been stage-managed, goes wild and throws chairs, women scream, grown men cry. The camera zooms in on all of this, while romantic music plays. It feels like something powerful is being said – but that’s it. It just feels like it. Largely because of the music and the fact that there is no punchline.

‘Homophobia’ isn’t being ‘confronted’ – a bunch of rural rednecks are being exploited. By a sophisticated, Cambridge-educated, Hollywood comedian in order to make him even more famous and fabulously wealthy than he already is – and get even more big names to join him for the charidee record spoof that rolls over the credits. After all, everyone can feel superior to rednecks.

Oh, and the whole movie, and the concept of the Bruno character going to Hollywood is redundant from the get-go: why would America need to import a foul-mouthed fame-fag with no sense of shame or self-consciousness from Austria? After all, it already has Perez Hilton.

If you want to watch a movie about a fashion victim that is actually funny and doesn’t leave the wrong kind of bad taste in your mouth, rent Zoolander.

The only filmic spoofs that SBC does that work any more are the ones he plays on the liberal film critics like Mr Lane.

And that kind of gag isn’t nearly funny enough.

Tip: Elise M

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