The Summer of 2011 officially became the summer that the male gaze was reflected back at itself — and with enthusiasm! In the summer’s superhero movies, a supremely buff body became part of what made these heroes so super. The Captain America trailer had Dominic Cooper doing the old look-over-the-top-of-my-sunglasses move to get a load of the newly pumped up Chris Evans. In Thor, Kat Dennings’s audience-surrogate character spends half the movie talking about how nutso everything is and the other half pointing out that this blond god from the heavens is massively pumped. Fourteen years ago, America lost it when Batman’s costume included rubber nipples. Now we’ve got a Spider-Man whose costume lifts and separates.
It’s great that New York Magazine has noticed (and welcomed) how Hollywood has objectified men, and how men have objectified themselves. Difficult to believe, I know, but there are still plenty of people who do their best not to. Or refuse to admit that they’ve noticed. Including some feminists who want to pretend that objectification is something only done by men to women.
But despite NY Magazine‘s presentation of it, this isn’t something that happened in one Summer. I’ve been banging on about it myself since 1994 — my first book Male Impersonators: Men Performing Masculinity examined the way the so-called ‘male gaze’ had been reflected back at itself in movies, magazines and advertising. And rather liked what it saw. Even back then I wasn’t exactly the first to notice – though I did make more of a meal of it than anyone else.
‘Objectification’ is also of course the hallmark of metrosexuality – men’s desire to be desired is necessarily the desire to be ‘objectified’. Though I have to say I think the ‘O’ word clunky and outmoded. ‘Tarty’ trips and skips off the tongue better.
For those interested in ancient history – albeit ancient history that New York Magazine treats as news – all rights in Male Impersonators have reverted to me and I’m planning to e-publish it very soon, probably in downloadable PDF format for a nominal fee.
The image below is the jacket of the original Cassell edition of M.I., now out of print, sporting a classic 1950s Athletic Model Guild still. I chose it partly because it was a tad ‘overdetermined’ and camp – particularly the Grecian codpiece and the pedestal/butt-plug. And partly as an illustration of the kind of ‘objectification’ of the male that happened underground and illicitly in the past.
In contrast to today’s corporate kind, conducted on billboards and at the multiplex.
UPDATE: Male Impersonators is now available on Kindle.
Tip: Fraser K