David Beckham, global poster-boy for metrosexuality, sporting an Edwardian beard, had a hot date with Obama at the White House today.
Though he had to bring his team-mates along as LA Galaxy were being honoured with a reception after winning the Major League Soccer Cup, America’s equivalent of the Premiership.
After listing the soccer star’s achievements, introducing him joshingly as a “young up-and-comer,” and adding that, “half your teammates could be your kids”, Obama quipped (almost fluffing the line): “It’s a rare man that can be that tough on the field and have his own line of underwear.”
Or as rare as a GQ Commander in Chief?
Contrary to recent reports, Obama is not the first gay President. He’s the first metrosexual President. Or as I wrote in Metrosexy:
“A well-dressed mixed-race, polyglot male who makes the Free World wait on his gym visit every morning. A man whose looks are regularly praised – particularly by male journalists. A man who won the Democratic nomination in part because he was much prettier than his more experienced female opponent. His wife Michelle is very attractive too, of course – but in some ways Obama is the first US President to be his own First Lady.”
Which makes the Beckham and Obama’s hot date quite a historic occasion.
I can’t quite decide though whether Obama’s own rampant metrosexuality makes his bitchy remark to Beckham about his underwear funny or a bit… pants.
English author and journalist Mark Simpson on love-hating the metrosexual, why bromance lacks balls, and why women are strapping on Captain Kirk.
By Elise Moore (Suite 101, May 6, 2010)
If you could copyright neologisms, Mark Simpson would be a billionaire. Since you can’t, the British gay/gender issues and pop/culture commentator talked to Suite101 about the real definition of metrosexuality and gave his views on gay marriage legalization, slash fic, bromance, and more.
The Metrosexual Past and Present
Being responsible for the metrosexual could keep less hearty souls awake at night. But Mark thinks the guilt should be shared. “Probably consumerism, post-feminism, Men’s Health magazine and JerseyShore should shoulder at least some of the responsibility for the normalization of male vanity. I mean, the fact the President of the US now makes the Free World wait every morning for him to finish his work-out, and is something of his own First Lady, isn’t entirely down to me.
“Like most people, I have a love-hate relationship with the metrosexual. I love it when he pays me attention, and hate it when he’s flirting with someone else. Then I call him ‘self-obsessed’.”
Speaking of love-hating the metrosexual, Jerry Lewis arguably made the first metrosexual movie, The Nutty Professor, in 1963. “The Nutty Professor is a remarkable film,” Mark agrees. “It’s a kind of proto-metrosexual sci-fi. Geeky, unkempt, invisible and unlaid, Lewis concocts a potion that makes him the centre of attention and irresistible – by boosting his narcissism to monstrous levels. It’s Viagra and Biotherme Homme for Men in one product – decades before either were invented.”
“Metrosexuality has lots of antecedents of course: the virile degeneracy of Brando, Dean and Elvis in the 1950s, Jagger ‘s petulant narcissism in the 60s, Bowie’s glittering glamness in the 1970s, the mirrored male world of Saturday Night Feverand American Gigolo – and the military gay porn aesthetic of TopGun. But they didn’t coalesce into the mainstream, High Street, off-the-peg phenomenon of mediated, commodified, love-me-or-love-me masculinity known as metrosexuality until the late Eighties, early Nineties.”
This close correlation between the metrosexual and increasing consumerism is what gets Mark annoyed when he’s confused with the late 19th century dandy. “As if we can pretend that the sexual and aesthetic division of labour of the Nineteenth and most of the Twentieth Century didn’t happen. As if Oscar Wilde – perhaps the most famous and in many ways the last dandy – hadn’t been destroyed by Victorian morality for his ‘gross indecency’. As if male narcissism and sensuality hadn’t been associated with male homosexuality – and thus criminalised and pathologised – for the next hundred years.
“And as if a dandy would have done anything so vulgar as go to the gym and get sweaty.”
Manlove for Ladies and Bros
Mark is also up for equal-opportunity equal opportunity when it comes to women who like the idea of man-on-man, as exemplified by the fan fiction phenomenon known as “slash fic.” “I’m fascinated and sometimes a little scared by the way that women interpret and fantasize male-on-male sex. Manlove for ladies is very different to gay porn. For starters, it uses imagination. Gay porn never does that. Slash-fic also tends to have a lot of feelings. Which always, always cause loss of wood in gay porn.
“Sometimes it seems as if women are trying, rather fabulously, to escape their prescribed feminine subjectivity by projecting themselves into the bodies of their male protagonists. Captain Kirk as the ultimate strap-on.”
Is “manlove for ladies,” as Mark calls it, comparable in any way to the new neologism in town, “bromance”? “Manlove for the ladies has much more in the way of… balls than ‘bromance’. As the name ‘bromance’ suggests, actual sex, or in fact anything physical, would be a form of incest. It seems like it’s being left to women to put men in touch with their bi-curiousness. Which is as everyone knows – but pretends not to – even more common than the female variety.”
The Greatest Iconoclast
If the views expressed above haven’t made it clear, Mark has upset a few people in his career, not least other, more “orthodox” gay commentators. But who out of his infatuations and inspirations would he deem the greatest iconoclast – Camille Paglia, Lady Gaga, Morrissey, Jerry Lewis? “I would probably have to pick Gore Vidal. He took on everything that is sacred in America: Machismo. Empire. The Kennedys. The Cold War. Hollywood. Monotheism and Monosexuality. What’s more his hilarious late 1960s transsexual novel ‘Myra Breckenridge’ figured out what was happening to masculinity and femininity before I was out of short trousers and long before the Twenty First Century got underway.
“Come to think of it, I should probably clast Mr. Vidal for leaving so little for the rest of us to smash.”
Future of Metrosexuality
Now that the 21st century is unavoidably underway, what does the new millennium hold for the metrosexual?
A profile on the truck driving Republican Presidential hopeful from Boston Scott Brown in Vanity Fair caused a few chuckles last week with his wife’s cheeky revelation about the pink leather shorts he wore to his first date with her in the 1980s. Here’s the money shot:
“The pinkish color drained from [Brown’s] face when I asked him about it during a conversation in his campaign office just before we took off in the truck. He clarified that the shorts weren’t something that he went out and purchased — it wasn’t like that at all. ‘I did the couture shows, and instead of paying in cash, they paid in clothes,’ he said. ‘And one of the things I had to wear were leather shorts. And these happened to be pink.’”
It’s certainly a relief to know Mr Brown didn’t buy them – that would be kinda faggy. That instead he was given the pink leather shorts for sashaying up and down the catwalk at a couture show.
How funny to think that the US was the only country that had anything approaching a serious backlash against metrosexuality, back in the mid-Noughties. Oh, come on now, surely you remember? That so-called ‘menaissance’? Those prissy lists of ‘manly’ ‘do’s and don’ts’? And those completely non-ironic ‘Reclaim your manhood – go shopping in a Hummer’ ads? It got lots of coverage in the press at the time. Supposedly metro was out and retro ‘regular guys’ were back in. Oh, and George W. Bush was re-elected in part on an anti-gay marriage anti-metro ticket (his Democrat opponent was portrayed by the Republican machine as a girly-man metrosexual passivist).
And yet, just a few years on, faux Texan ‘bring it on!’ George Bush has been replaced by a svelte mixed-race President who starts every day with a workout, who ran a campaign based on slogans printed in the GQ font, and who is, for all Michelle’s prettiness, something of his own First Lady.
And now the great white hope of the Republicans, who whipped Obama’s skinny ass in a Democrat stronghold, is a former Cosmo centrefold and male couture model who liked to wear pink leather shorts because they showed off his tanned legs.
But perhaps the most interesting thing about Scott Brown’s very successful 1980s male modelling career, looking at the pictures, is this: he wouldn’t get the work today. He’d have to do hardcore gay porn. And certainly not Falcon or any respectable studio – no, Scott would have to do fetish/extreme stuff. Fisting in black (not pink) leather, that kind of thing. Or cash-in on his surname. And he still wouldn’t get paid very much. Though they probably would let him keep one of the XXL toys.
I’m not being bitchy. No, really. I’m just being realistic. And anyway, it’s not about him; it’s about us.
He was nice enough looking in a wooden sort of way, but since the 1980s an entire generation of young men have been raised to be male models – and they work at it a lot harder than Scott evidently did. They also look at themselves a lot harder. Scott had it relatively easy because there was much less awareness of what was ‘desirable’ in the male body back then – amongst women and men. Young men as a sex hadn’t learned to desire to be desired. That was still officially women’s role. And because there was probably also rather more in the way of stigma attached to his profession there was even less competition.
Yes, it looks like Scott had a pert bum and what they used to call back then a ‘hunky’ physique – but today it would be a case of ‘Don’t call us dear, we’ll call you.’ Such is the choice available of absurdly desirable, obscenely fit young men, I doubt anyone would even bother to tell him what he so obviously needed to do: get down the gym and take steroids and crystal meth. (And if you work really hard and you’re really lucky you’ll end up on Jersey Shore.)
His body looks far too natural to be credible today as a idealised male image: the lack of porno pecs, a six-pack and ‘cum-gutters’ is heinous. The untrimmed, un-waxed body hair is grievous. The unbleached teeth unforgiveable. He wouldn’t make the audition for today’s male Cosmo – Men’s Health – let alone the cover.
In fact, the most buffed and pumped thing about the young Scott Brown to our critical 21st Century eyes is his hairdo.
It died a death during the Bush years in 2005, but it’s back. I’m talking of course, about the American Dream. Rebooted. In kinky boots.
The first teasing trailer for the new Star Trek movie in January last year showed glimpses of a shiny new USS Enterprise “under construction”. In the background President Kennedy was famously speechifying about space and Neil Armstrong’s crackly “One small step for Man” was heard. And then came the voice of a much more famous figure: Mr Spock, speaking the immortal, still spine-tingling line: “Space, the final frontier . . .”.
As things turned out, a year or so later it wasn’t just the Enterprise that was “under construction”. It wasn’t just the most successful TV and film franchise to date being rebooted – it was also the USA that was hitting the “reset” button. And what is the default setting? That Sixties optimism. They believed in the future back then.
There was always a very close relationship between the American Dream – not to mention American imperialism – and Star Trek, with its liberal, secular, multiracial, technophiliac vision of the future. But the two seem almost to have mind-melded with the election of an optimistic, liberal, iPod and Blackberry-loving multiracial President with a Kenyan father and a white American mother (Star Trek featured the first interracial kiss on US television, sparking protests at the time) – and, who is himself something of a 1960s tribute act, with his JFK and Martin Luther King cadences. Suddenly, with Barack Obama ‘taking the con’, America looks like a brand that people can believe in again. Or at least root for at the movies.
Obama has admitted that he was a big fan of the original series. Others have already pointed out that “No Drama Obama” bears some facial, voice-pattern and character similarities with Tuvok, the black Vulcan chief of security in Voyager, the third Trek spin-off TV series, a character who learnt how to master his emotions.
It’s entirely apt then that the Star Trek franchise went into suspended animation in the middle of the Bush presidency – along with the American Dream itself – after the critical and commercial failure of the Next Generation movie Nemesis, the TV prequel series Enterprise – and the blockbuster Operation Iraqi Freedom. Bush, who probably saw himself as something of a Captain Kirk figure, was certainly at least as inclined to ignore the “prime directive” (of non-interference in alien worlds) as James Tiberius, not to mention the United Nations/Federation. But instead of the loveable, roguish Kirk, the world, and eventually much of America itself, just saw a cowboy.
What’s remarkable about the Star Trek franchise is how closely each series corresponds to Republican or Democrat presidencies. The original series (1966-69), with its radical optimism and Cold War ethos (the Klingons are clearly the Russkies), maps the Lyndon Johnson Democrat presidency and the “Great Society” (1963-69). The rather more corporate and hygienic Next Generation (1987-94) covers the Reagan-Bush Republican era (1981-93), while the deeply dull but industrious Deep Space Nine (1993-99) and the feminist vehicle Voyager (1995-2001), featuring a female captain (Hillary played by Catherine Hepburn), falls into the Clinton Democrat years (1993-2001).
The ill-fated Enterprise series began the same year as the ill-fated Bush presidency, in 2001. It starred Scott Bakula looking eerily like Bush in a flight-suit and even, opportunistically, included an evil-doing adversary called the ‘Suliban’. Now, of course, we have a movie series reboot that corresponds to the beginning of the Obama presidency – however long either franchise lasts, we can probably expect their fates to be closely related.
There is perhaps another reason why Star Trek has gone back to the original Sixties series: to get back in touch with Kirk’s massive, tight-trousered mojo. Although disliked by Gene Rodenberry, Star Trek’s creator, for hijacking his rather sexless, sweatless vision of the future and for taking his shirt off and wrestling with rubber aliens too much, William Shatner, stressing words and syllables that mere mortals might think had no importance, pausing painfully . . . in the middle… of… sentences . . . while-rushing-over-their-conclusions, somehow conveyed something credibly human. Even Shatner’s immense soft-focus vanity is sympathetic. Real people are faintly preposterous after all.
Above all the original Star Trek was very . . . pointy. As well as Shatner’s urgent libido, there were the fabulous pointy boots (low-risers for the men, knee-length ones for the mini-skirted ladies), pointy sideburns, pointy breasts, pointy ears, pointy engine nacelles, pointy Federation logos, pointy lettering in the credits, and also the pointedly pointy mission statement: “To boldly go where no man has gone before,” which of course was bluntly desexed/corrected in The Next Generation to “where no one has been before”.
The new movie though is gratifyingly pointy. The kinky boots are back, as are the form-hugging uniforms and miniskirts – though now they look like fashionable sportswear. The cast is pretty, male and female, and now, forty years on, the men also have bodies and pointy-chests (the two stars, Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, reportedly work out at the same gym in LA – and share the same trainer). It looks like there’s enough (metro)sexual tension to power the warp drive. Back too are the brightly Utopian colours of the original series’ sets and costume design. The Enterprise herself handles like one of those pointy Sixties sports cars.
Kirk himself, of course, is back. But not Shatner, who, unlike Nimoy isn’t allowed on board, even for a cameo, perhaps because the director, J. J. Abrams, wants to make sure that his Kirk, played by Chris Pine, is not going to be overshadowed by Shatner’s intergalactic manhood/ego. Whatever the reason, Pine’s Kirk is a Daniel Craig moment, a reminder of the startling sexiness of a franchise that had become lifeless and effete.
Back also, and very much in the foreground, is what Abrams has quite rightly suggested is the relationship without which Star Trek really makes no sense: Kirk and Spock. Here Spock is played by an androgynously fringed Quinto (apparently channelling early 80s Marc Almond), and we finally learn how they met at Starfleet Academy and overcame fierce rivalry to become the most famous male “marriage” in pop culture.
Despite Spock’s pointy ears, there doesn’t appear to be however, anything terribly pointy-headed in this reboot: no cerebrals, no reflecting on where the American Dream might have gone wrong – just the enhanced, sexed-up aesthetics of hope. But while great effects, pecs and kinky boots might not be enough to rescue the American Dream, they’re probably enough to be getting on with.
As camp comic Kenneth Williams might say: ‘ark at ‘er!
An entertaining, often incisive, if rather, er, campy, Huffington Post article ‘The Diva’s Camp’ about Hillary’s diva power (and why this turns off ‘Obama-colytes’) compares Hillary Clinton to Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest:
‘Hillary Clinton is possessed by the spirit of Joan Crawford. Like that notorious über-bitch immortalized by Faye Dunaway in the camp classic Mommie Dearest, Hillary bulldozed into a Democratic primary dominated by men and brazenly declared, as any self-respecting diva would: Don’t fuck with me fellas! This ain’t my first time at the rodeo!’
Now, that’s funny, but where did I hear that before?
Oh, yes, that was me a month ago talking about the “3am” ad in a piece after her Ohio comeback called ‘The Bitch is Back’ on Guardian Unlimited:
‘…Hillary answering the White House phone in scarlet lipstick, has both a touch of 1990s nostalgia, and also one of timeless thrilling glamour – a hint of Joan Crawford talking to the board of Pepsi in Mommie Dearest: “Don’t fuck with me, fellas – this ain’t my first time at the rodeo!“‘
Even though I hear that Guardian Unlimited is quite popular in the American blogosphere, I’m sure it was just a case of diva-revering minds thinking alike. And I very much doubt I’m the first person to compare Hills to Joan.
Actually, though, we weren’t really thinking alike. Despite my comparison when discussing the ad, I don’t think that Hillary is possessed by the spirit of Joan Crawford, or is camp as a row of tents full of impossible divas on the blob. Apart from anything else, camp isn’t really possible in a world like the all-singing, all-dancing shameless one that cavorts and disports itself before our jaded eyes these days.
Everything and nothing is camp. Including the Huffington Post. More to the point, to talk about Hillary as being ‘so camp!’ seems to argue, whether intended or not, that the notion of a woman as the most powerful person in the world is merely ‘failed seriousness’. Or a joke.
And this is a very serious business. Medically serious. Sometimes it looks as if the Democratic Party is having a gigantic nervous breakdown over the idea of Hills as their ‘man’, or, rather, over the ‘arrogant’, ‘hopeless’, ‘divisive’, ‘ugly’ idea that she thinks she could be rather than Mr Obama. It’s tangibly Oedipal.
Despite that, I do believe that America is slowly, slowly, very, very tortuously, negotiating the five-alarm idea of having a ‘bitch’ and ‘cow’ and ‘whore’ and ‘c**t’ – to use the progressive, uplifting, non-partisan vernacular of righteous Obama fans – as Commander in Chief. America will learn not to cross its legs and whimper when Hillary is on TV, even if MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson doesn’t.
After all, Hillary has almost all of the crucial big states, and if the Democrats used the same first-past-the-post electoral system used during the Presidential contest itself, she would be well ahead of Obama. Contrary to what the media likes to tell us, she’s anything but Box Office Poison.
Perhaps because it attracts insecure men keen to big themselves up, it seems to be mostly the US media that’s having the nervous breakdown. The more than slightly deranged and hysterical – certainly much more deranged and hysterical than she is accused of being – nature of the press bias against Hillary and the extreme, frequently all-but murderous personal abuse casually levelled at her,compared with the loving, swooning indulgence bestowed on her stripling rival, does rather suggest that anxiety about a female Big Boss, thus far at least, looms and lurks much larger in their minds, than a black (or, rather, half-white) male one. This isn’t to say that ‘sexism is worse than racism’, it’s just to point out that sexism – no, sorry, untrammelled, uninhibited, shuddering, shivering, gut-wrenching misogyny – unlike racism, is considered perfectly acceptable prime time fare.
And as somebody who isn’t entirely free of misogyny myself, I think it terribly unfair that they should be able to get away with it.
Sometimes, watching the American Primaries coverage has been like watching an especially horrifying episode of 60s retrosexist drama Mad Men, but without the irony or the smoking.
In her bitter battle to win this unconscious – and therefore by definition unfair – struggle, Hillary is using every powerful American feminine archetype she can lay her hands on. Unfortunately for her, there aren’t too many. Unlike our first female leaderene Mrs T (whom America loved, partly because she was, like Churchill, and Tony Blair, great at giving America head, but mostly because she wasn’t their leader), she doesn’t have chariot-driving Boudicca or Armada-vanquishing Elizabeth I or globe-ruling Victoria to call on as legitimising ancestral memories.
Because of the vital symbolic importance of these women in our national mythology, or maybe just because of Coronation Street, the UK is sometimes rather more matriarchal than the US. Elton John, who admittedly is not perhaps the best argument for matriarchy, recently announced himself shocked by the misogyny America has displayed during these Primaries.
Republics and their ‘Founding Fathers’ favour women even less than monarchies. Monarchies, which are after all based on reproduction and families, occasionally cut them a break, when no worthy male heir turns up – which is what happened with the Tory Party in the 1970s when it anointed Maggie. Though if she had used the famous line of Elizabeth, “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too,” everyone would have scoffed at the idea that her body was ‘weak and feeble’. Even her famous handbag was seen as a fearsome weapon.
Powerful women in American history, save perhaps Eleanor Roosevelt, don’t really exist – except as kindling in Arthur Miller plays. So they had to be imagined in 1940s Hollywood melodrama, aimed, of course, at powerless women: producing, literally, ‘divas’ such as Joan, Bette and Katherine. So if Hillary sometimes channels a little bit of Joan, Bette and Katherine it’s because she needs to imagine herself as a powerful woman in a man’s world, and American history doesn’t offer her much else to work with.
OK, she might possibly be a psychotic bitch too, but the media has yet to make that case – though it keeps trying. Hillary isn’t possessed by the spirit of Joan Crawford, as the Huffington Post has it – rather, Joan Crawford is possessed by the spirit of Hillary.
Handsome half white/half black but entirely male (if very eager to please) Obama can and does draw on both Martin Luther King and Jack Kennedy, and in fact American political history at least as far back as Lincoln for his legitimation – and invites us, with that sexy smile, to a ‘more perfect union’. It’s an invitation that, oddly, seems to turn men on more than women. Hillary hating MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, for instance, talks openly about how how listening to Obama gives him ‘a thrill up my leg’ (a very different kind of feeling, I’m guessing, to that experienced by Tucker Carlson listening to Hillary). Lots of guys are gay for Obama – and out and proud it seems.
And as for Hillary being a ‘gay icon’, despite gay parade marching Hills being closer in many ways to the gay community than Obama, and despite (English) Elton John’s support, most American homos I know can’t bear her, while the main gay blogs practically dance on her head daily. Preposterously bearded MTM transsexual and recovering Republican Andrew Sullivan is completely obsessed, practically screaming ‘DIE, BITCH! DIE!’ at her, calling her a ‘horror movie without end’ and comparing her to Glenn Close’s insane stalker character in the infamous 80s career-woman hating flick Fatal Attraction. Get a grip, Mary. And a shave.
Despite Mr O’s reluctance to be interviewed by the gay press or attend gay parades, his Christian church base, and his gay platform vagueness, he is much the ‘gayer’ candidate simply because he is younger, better-looking, better-dressed, cooler – and male. He is, in fact, metrosexual.
If we are going to talk about camp, and if camp is a form of style over substance, mediagenic Obama is much camper than Hillary – and more of a diva too. Doesn’t he roll his eyes during debates with Hillary? Doesn’t he fill stadiums with his performances? Didn’t he flounce out of a press conference in which he was actually grilled instead of applauded in a huff, protesting ‘You’ve asked me like, eight questions already!’‘.
It’s the male divas you have to watch out for in politics. Over here in the UK we are still getting over our own Christian pop star politician, that nice Mr Blair who took us, smiling his drag queen smile, into a disastrous American war.