Read the interview on A Shaded View
Mark Simpson interviewed by Newsweek’s Teddy Cutler on the spornosexual movement and the leading role of Ronaldo’s pectorals in it (2/20/2016)
What exactly does ‘spornosexual’ mean?
The spornosexual is a man who has hammered and fashioned his own body into a hot, ripped, pumped, inked, vaguely lewd commodity at the factory of the 21st century—the gymnasium. He’s a man who aspires to be that ultimate male hero today —a Men’s Health cover model.
How do you spot one? You don’t. Their under-dressed body spots you—and then demands that you look at it, to admire its glutes and guns and dizzyingly low body-fat percentage. The spornosexual is that irksome, wannabe male glamour model who hogs your Instagram and Facebook feed. But strangely, you still haven’t got around to unfollowing.
How does “spornosexual” differ from “metrosexual”?
Spornosexuality is second-generation metrosexuality. A sexed-up, body-centred, “hardcore” form of metrosexuality. The spornosexual doesn’t want to be loved just for his wardrobe, clear skin and groomed beard. He wants to be wanted for his own body—something that he’s worked very hard to turn into the ultimate accessory.
Why did metrosexualism die out to be replaced by this newer concept?
It didn’t. It swallowed everything. Men no longer “act,” while women “appear.” Men do a great deal of appearing these days. Male vanity and product use is no big deal any more—in a visual, social media world, men have to be image-conscious or else they simply… disappear.
However, because the male desire to be desired—which is the self-regarding heart of metrosexuality—is so normal these days, it’s just taken for granted, especially by the younger generation. There’s little point in “outing” someone as “metrosexual” when pretty much everyone is. Likewise, and slightly paradoxically, being metrosexual isn’t in itself something that makes you stand out nowadays. Being spornosexual, though, does. After all, what’s more eye-catching than living, walking, talking porn?
How has 21st-century culture led to the rise of the “spornosexual”?
Metrosexuality was shaped largely by glossy magazines and advertising in the ‘90s. Then in the Noughties, celebrity culture, reality TV and Beckham and co. sent it into orbit. Spornosexuality on the other hand is shaped largely by selfie-obsessed social media—where young men are busy comparing body parts. Thanks to smartphones you can be the director and star of your own reality TV show.
What is the connection to sport? Is it just about fitness, or is there an element of narcissism, about fitness to look good rather than feel good?
Well, going to the gym is a kind of sport. And arguably, pornography is a kind of sport too—and not just a spectator sport any more. Spornosexuality is the interface between fitness and sensuality, feeling good and looking good, activity and passivity, heroism and sluttiness.
Sportsmen have played a big role in promoting spornosexuality themselves—with many of them appearing in their pants on the covers of magazines—including gay magazines—and on the sides of buses in their underwear. Many of them also use topless avatars on social media, the hussies.
They don’t regard their bodies as merely a “tool” for their trade of sports — they absolutely maximise its aesthetic/sexual potential too. Eager self-objectification is a major part of spornosexuality.
Why did you pick Cristiano Ronaldo as an example? How would someone like Ronaldo differ from the man you popularized as the ultimate metrosexual, David Beckham?
Although Beckham was never shy about taking his clothes off, and was of course an athlete, his body was never that buff. He doesn’t look like he spends a lot of time in the gym. Ronaldo on the other hand is totally shredded and hench and completely fits that advertising format. You wonder whether he scores goals just so that he can take his shirt off and flex for the roaring crowd. Like much of the younger generation of males, Cristiano seems very aware of his body as a sexualized object and very keen to enhance that effect.
In a nutshell: Becks, now 40, is metrosexual. Ronaldo, 31, is spornosexual.
Is there something about football especially that fits your term? Requiring a body to be athletic and muscular but not overtly so, defined yet lithe… would the footballer be the ideal of the movement?
Footballers in the U.K. didn’t use to go to the gym. In the 1970s and ‘80s some would spend most of their time in the pub. Many of them didn’t have upper bodies at all. The transformation today is quite astonishing.
That said, gymnasts probably more embody the ideal, with their defined muscles developed from moving their perfect bodies around in the air where we can get a really good look at them. After all, the word “gymnastics” derives from the Greek for “exercise naked.”
Football, of course, traditionally has a much bigger global following than gymnastics, which is not exactly the greatest of team sports. Hence Ronaldo, who has the body of a gymnast and is also one of the world’s best footballers, is such an arresting combination – and why he is no doubt persuading a generation of young men that they need to do more crunches.
Is the spornosexual out to gain the attention of the opposite sex, or is his sexuality more fluid?
The spornosexual usually prefers women in bed, but doesn’t mind who is enjoying their body in public. His body is an adult bouncy castle for the eyes. Everyone is invited. He might sometimes look a bit of a bruiser, but he’s still a cruiser. He’s always checking out who is checking him out.
In fact, the admiration of other men is often especially prized because other men are more likely to understand how much time and sweat has gone into getting those biceps. Or care. No matter how hetero, a spornosexual isn’t usually too squeamish about homosexuality. After all, his body advertises a deep understanding and study of the the sexiness of the male body. In fact, he often looks like a gay for pay porn star. Or is actually one.
(Available in in Castilian and Catalan – the interview was conducted through a very competent translator, but I fear some of my crap puns may not have survived.)
Mark Simpson interviewed by Clement Ghys in France’s Liberation newspaper about the evolution of his metrosexual offspring – and Justin Timberlake’s ass.
Unedited English email Q&A, April 2012
CG: In 1994, you coined the term “Metrosexual”. Looking back, how would you say the concept has evolved? In what way do you find this definition still relevant?
MS: Well, naturally the reason it’s still relevant, Clement, because I’ve recently published a book on the subject!
More seriously, metrosexuality is still relevant all these moisturised years later because the breadth and depth of the masculine revolution it represents has been obscured – often quite deliberately – in a lot of chatter about facials, ‘manbags’ and flip-flops.
Ironically, out-and-proud male beauty isn’t itself skin-deep. Metrosexuality represents a profound change in how we look at and think about men. The emergence from its closet of the male desire to be desired has revolutionised the culture and also opened up the options of what a man can be.
Metrosexuality isn’t about manbags. It’s not about men becoming ‘girly’ or ‘gay’. It’s about men becoming everything. To themselves. In much the same way that women have been for some time.
For all its faults, metrosexuality represents a kind of ‘male liberation’. It’s the end of the sexual division of labour in looking and loving – of bathroom and bedroom labour. And of ‘sexuality’ itself.
Male ‘passivity’ is the flip side of female ‘activity’ – and should be welcomed or at least accepted as much as the latter, but is mostly mocked instead. Metrosexuality has too often provoked a kind of reverse sexism.
How has the metrosexual man blurred the boundaries between the “gay” and straight” labels?
Irretrievably. To quote metrodaddy’s own definition of the metrosexual:
‘He might be officially gay, straight or bisexual, but this is utterly immaterial because he has clearly taken himself as his own love-object and pleasure as his sexual preference.’
There’s nothing ‘straight’ about metrosexuality. Even though most metros definitely prefer women in bed.
Narcissism was supposed to be the female quality par excellence. ‘Vanity thy name is woman’. It’s considered ‘feminine’ because inviting the gaze/exhibitionism is ‘passive’. Likewise homosexual men were considered deviant and ‘womanish’ because of their – real or perceived – passivity. In a sense, homos existed to lock up male passivity in the homo body and keep it away from ‘normal’ men.
Men were officially supposed to be always desiring, never desired. Always looking, never looked at. Always active, never passive. Always hetero never homo.
Metrosexuality queers all of that. By outing the ‘passivity’ in men, their desire to be desired, and also their keen visual interest in other men and their bodies. It’s precisely because of this blurring between gay and straight that many older and more traditional types have reacted with phobic and often hysterical hostility to metrosexuality. What indeed is straight a man to do – who in fact is he to be – if he can’t define himself as NOT a gay?
Particularly in the monosexual US, which had a gigantic national nervous breakdown over the metrosexual in the mid-late Noughties, precisely because of the queerness of metrosexuality – producing a so-called ‘menaissance’ backlash against it.
Though the backlash was largely a phoney one. Metrosexuality continued to conquer that conflicted continent, albeit on the down-low, and even the US is now led by a sveltely handsome man who makes the world wait on his morning workout and who, despite Michelle’s prettiness, is in many ways his own First Lady.
Even in less traditionalist countries like Britain there have been reaction-formations too, but less pronounced, and the younger generation has generally been quicker to seize the freedom from gay/straight, male/female ghettoes and binaries that metrosexuality offers. Recent research claimed that most hetero young men at university enjoy kissing their male friends full on the lips as an expression of affection. Quite a turnabout for an Anglo country that sentenced Oscar Wilde to three years hard labour!
Recently in The Guardian, you said that “the metrosexual revolution has taken an increasingly physical, sensual form”. Can you comment on that?
Metrosexuality is consumerist and fashion-orientated, but it isn’t necessarily about clothes. In fact, these days it’s perhaps less about clothes than the ultimate accessory: the body. It’s almost as if male nakedness has been abolished at the very moment that acres of male flesh are displayed everywhere you look. Young men have invested a great deal of time, money and supplements ‘fashioning’ their bodies into something they ‘wear’ – and show off. Shaven (often everywhere), sculpted, intricately tattooed, pierced. Never, ever unmediated.
The near-global hegemony of ‘Men’s Health’ magazine with its Photoshopped covers of men’s sculpted torsos bears testimony to this, along with the massive popularity of reality shows such as ‘Jersey Shore’, which feature young men like Mikey Sorrentino showing off their tits and abs.
In this they’re also following in the footsteps of tarty sporno stars like David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo and Rafael Nadal, whose bodies are marketed and promoted by corporate consumerism.
A whole generation of young men have grown up with metrosexiness. As the recent hit LMFAO single that is a kind of metrosexy anthem puts it: ‘I’m sexy and I know It’.
In the same article you evoked the highest and heightened interest of men in their own bodies (diets, steroids, gyms). What do you think is driving this?
It’s partly an effect of post-industrialism. It’s interesting that its most pronounced amongst young working class males who in the past might have looked forwards to a life of selling their labour and working on other men’s property, but who now instead of going to the factory go to the gym to labour on their own bodies and turn them into a product. Their bodies remain the only thing they own – their only asset.
But now they turn their bodies into a commodity themselves. By making themselves desirable they give themselves value in a consumerist world. Not for nothing are athletes such as Beckham who willingly strip off and push their packets down our throats on the side of buses often from a working class background.
It’s also the effect of course of an increasingly visual world – of webcams, facebook, camera phones, widescreen HD TVs, and reality TV. The desire to be desired is also about the desire to be noticed. To be wanted. To be popular. To succeed.
And let’s not discount the importance of all the vast quantities of porn that men and boys are now downloading, in which the male body is fully on display. And is usually worked out, shaved, tattooed, de-pubed. Lots of men aspire to be male porn stars these days. Or at least many of them seem to be auditioning for that job….
In recent years, male bodies have been very much shot on screen.
Sometimes, even more than female bodies. I’m thinking of Ryan Gosling in comedies such as Crazy Stupid Love, Justin Timberlake in Friends With Benefits or Alexander Skarsgard in the TV show True Blood. How do you explain this?
Friends With Benefits was a feature film all about Justin’s ass! It was in almost every scene. We even heard from his girlfriend that he likes a finger up it. His character was working as an art-director for American GQ but had a body by Men’s Health. How metrosexual can you get!
Women, who make up the majority of TV viewers, have discovered an appetite for looking at men’s bodies on screen. In some ways the sexy scantily clad male has become a symbol of women’s consuming power and their new assertive sexual appetite. True Blood especially seems to ‘feed’ on that.
But men also as we’ve seen also enjoy looking at other men’s bodies, and admiring, desiring and aspiring to them.
What do you think of this quote? The actor Thomas Jane said, after appearing naked on screen, “I now know what it’s like to be a woman, because I now have to say during a conversation, ‘Hey, my eyes are up here!’ “
It’s a funny quote, but it’s interesting that the sex of the person he’s talking to with wandering eyes is left unstated.
Men are ‘sex objects’ now too. Some might put it in terms of ‘men are the new women’. But actually what metrosexuality has done is to break down the boundaries between ‘men’ and ‘women’.
Ironically many feminists are completely blind to this phenomenon of men willingly objectifying themselves and other males. Or they pretend it’s a marginal thing in no way comparable to the objectification of women. When clearly in mainstream media, particularly TV and cinema, it’s at the very least the equivalent of female objectification.
Male nudity and sex is now a full advertising argument. How do you explain David Beckham’s “package” on the Armani/H&M camaigns? Or the homoerotic Dolce & Gabbana ads?
This is what I dub ‘sporno’ – the place where sporn and porn get into bed while Mr Armani and Dolce and Gabbana take pictures.
Sporno represents an intensification of metrosexuality. Where early metrosexuality was soft-core, sporno is hardcore. Metrosexuality is now so mainstream and so ‘normal’ that male coquettishness isn’t in itself likely to turn heads. So instead you have to promise the punters a gang-bang in the showers. Or, more usually, a prone, passive image of a sporting star with their legs apart literally making themselves available for the viewing public.
And of course the ‘hardcore’ aesthetic of sporno is flagrantly gay.
Some have tried to dismiss all this as some kind of conspiracy by gay fashionistas to corrupt young straight men and ram their proclivities down their throats. If it is, it’s worked. Spectacularly. Sporno is the aesthetic of the 21st Century.
Likewise, metrosexuality is now so mainstream that to point to someone as a ‘metrosexual’ these days is almost redundant. That’s why I called my latest collection ‘Metrosexy’ – because what we’re talking now is not a ‘type’ but rather a whole new male way of looking and being looked at.
Do you think that gay imaging has now completely entered (predominantly straight) society? How do you explain the fact that it is now a commercial tool?
Well as I say, it makes people look. Which is quite an achievement in this jaded age.
But also ‘gay’ imaging is inevitable once the male body is commodified, and once men begin to objectify themselves and other men. This is part of the reason why it was banned or resisted for so long.
It’s impossible to straighten this stuff out. Of course, people try. Men sometimes pretend that their self objectification is ‘strictly for the ladies’. But even if this weren’t a bare-cheeked lie it wouldn’t solve anything. Because the ‘queerness’ is in the male passivity. It’s about as ‘straight’ as being fucked with a strap-on.
It even turns out that many women have male-on-male fantasies which increasingly commercial culture is pandering to. In other words, men are being encouraged to ‘act gay’ to turn the ladies on.
More cynically, or perhaps more realistically, gay ideals of male beauty and perfection are largely unachievable. That’s really the point of them. They promise endless desiring – and also anxiety. Which is what consumerism needs….
Mark Simpson’s ‘Metrosexy’ is available on Amazon Kindle.
English (unedited) version of Q&A with Mark Simpson by Michele Masneri for Italian cultural magazine Studio in which he talks about the Italian roots of sporno, the next stage of metrosexuality – and the Silviosexual
Studio: What do you mean by the word “sporno”?
Mark Simpson: The place where sport and porn get into bed while Mr Armani takes pictures. Beckham and Ronaldo’s bulging packets rammed down our throat on the sides of buses. Dolce & Gabbana hanging around the Italian football team’s locker room. That kind of thing. So once again we mostly have Italia to thank.
Metrosexuality, the male desire to be desired, has become so normal now that it’s pretty much taken for granted. So in order to get noticed you have to go hardcore – and promise the viewing public a gang-bang in the showers. Hence sporno.
Is Italy the most metrosexual country?
In a sense the wave of metrosexuality that swept the globe in the last decade or so was really just the rest of the world catching up with Italia and becoming a little bit more Italian.
Male narcissism is at the heart of metrosexuality – and in Italy unlike in the Anglo world this has never really been properly repressed. Italy, home of Michelangelo, Marcello Mastroianni and Dolce & Gabbana, never seriously pretended that ‘beauty’ was a word that couldn’t sit alongside ‘male’, and pat its well-formed knee.
In Italy, particularly Southern Italy, young men often have an almost swishy but entirely assured way of walking that few Anglos can ever hope to match. And if we try, it just ends up a silly sashay.
Nonetheless, I think full-throated metrosexuality does break down traditional or official ideas about the sexual division of loving and looking even in Italy by undermining machismo and ‘outing’ the queerness of it all. The way that women look at men and men look at other men – and how men get very turned on by all the attention.
Do you know the Fiat-Chrysler CEO, Sergio Marchionne? Is he hummersexual or retrosexual?
I’m afraid I had to look him up. Are you sure he’s Italian? He looks like Jeremy Clarkson’s dad. Do you think he has a wardrobe at home with 365 identical shapeless jumpers and shirts?
Hummersexuals are guys who over-emphasise their masculinity with ‘manly’ accessories in a way that makes you wonder what they’re covering up. Retrosexuals are merely pre-metrosexual.
Sergio seems more retrosexual than hummersexual. Partly because Fiat cars aren’t terribly popular with the US military or Hollywood action heroes – too small and ‘faggy’, I expect – but mostly because he reminds me of my old chemistry teacher.
And how about former Prime Minister Berlusconi?
He’s quite something, that Berlusconi! But at least, as he keeps reminding us, he’s not queer. Even if he does look like a drag queen.
I don’t think any of the categories really fit Silvio. He’s far too special. He’s in a category all of his own. Silviosexual.
Mind you, his old chum Tony Blair, our former PM and rock star manqué, shared the same drag queen smile. But ultimately Silvio is a reminder to an Anglo like me of the mysteries of ‘machismo’. How something so camp can imagine itself something so butch.
Perhaps we need to go way back in time to locate Berlusconi’s painted, dyed, stretched, terrifyingly cosmetic look. Back to the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt….
Is David Beckham still the epitome of the metrosexual?
Yes, albeit the ageing metrosexual. In English we have an expression, ‘mutton dressed as lamb’…. But then there are lots of men his age and older who also don’t want to give up their sex-object status – so they look to him for inspiration. Though he’ll have to offer them something a lot sexier than those daggy H&M pants and vests he came up with recently.
Beckham’s metrosexual crown has of course been usurped by younger, prettier players such as Cristiano Ronaldo – who also famously stole his Armani undies. At the same time you have a new generation of tarty male reality TV stars, such as Mike ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino and his ‘gym tan laundry’ metro mantra from Jersey Shore. And at the movies you have stars like Tom Hardy, with those pouty, Brando-esque lips, muscles and his openly admitted bi-curious past telling us ‘Don’t be a afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.’
Is metrosexy the “next stage” of metrosexuality? The word ‘metrosexual’ was born in the Nineties. What happened to male narcissism since then?
Funnily enough Justin Bieber was born the same year as the metrosexual. They’re both sweet seventeen. In other words, metrosexuality is still waiting for its voice to drop.
That said, men’s narcissism has become much so mainstream and accepted in the last decade or so, to the point where it is often taken for granted, especially by the younger generation who has grown up with it. Hence the word itself is likely to become defunct at some point in the not too distant future. To some extent Metrosexy is about a post metrosexual world.
However, there are still reaction-formations and kinky backlashes against metrosexuality, particularly in the US which, because of a passionately Protestant history and an equally passionate denial about its own screaming gayness, continues to work out her issues. E.g. those hummersexuals….
Essentially ‘metrosexy’ is the tarty male sensibility that metrosexuals have injected into the culture. Metrosexuality has gone from being a ‘type’ – ‘the metrosexual’ – to be spotted and pointed at, to being a pervasive ‘feeling’. A way of seeing and being seen.
Also, a glance at the newsstand, the billboard, the TV, and the queue at the bus stop tells us that with many young men the desire to be desired and embody male beauty has taken an increasingly physical, sensual form: their lovingly, painstakingly sculpted and shaved muscles and their elaborate, expensive designer tattoos.
Following the cues of sporno, many seem to aspire to be sexual athletes. Hustlers. Porn stars.
What’s the relationship between hipsterism and metrosexuality?
Although most hipsters would probably rather die than admit it, hipsterism is a form of metrosexuality. But a very middle-class and enervated – or ‘ironic’ – one. It’s patently narcissistic, but usually regards the body and ‘sexiness’ as ‘vulgar’. Which it is of course – if you’re lucky.
What’s the “gay bomb”, Abercrombie & Fitch or American Apparel or Apple?
Abercrombie & Fitch were perhaps the detonator – Apple and iPhones were the explosion. iPhones are of course the ultimate vanity product – they’re really MEphones. The app that comes gratis with every smartphone is dumb self-obsession. And they’re also a great way to take a picture of yourself topless in the gym changing room mirrors to upload to Facebook, or perhaps a more ‘discrete’ ‘social network’…
Are the social networks, i.e. Facebook and especially Twitter, a form of a sublimated metrosexuality?
Inasmuch as they’re all about MEEEEEE! yes. They’re where people compete for attention and try to turn themselves into brands and commodities and market themselves, a hallmark of metrosexuality.
In the case of Facebook, often the metrosexuality isn’t even very sublimated. Young men can and do upload hundreds of topless pictures of themselves, apparently auditioning for that Men’s Health cover.
You’ve written that “in some ways Obama is the first US President to be his own First Lady.” Is there any metrosexy candidate in the Republican party?
Not in the current line-up of hopefuls. Though Mitt Romney does look like a mannequin in the window of a particularly boring department store.
Aaron Schock on the other hand, the Republican Congressman who stripped off for Men’s Health magazine positively drips metrosexiness – for a politician. He’ll probably end up President one day. Him or Justin Bieber….
Mark Simpson’s Metrosexy is available for download from Amazon.