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

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Goodbye, Mr Bond – Hello Buff New World

Mark Simpson on how Sean Connery’s self-objectification helped sire a generation of young men licenced to thrill

So, Mr Bond finally did what Mr Goldfinger expected him to do. Even if it took 56 years.

This October, two months after his 90th birthday, Sir Thomas Sean Connery, the first, most definitive, most popular, most alluring, most stirring incarnation of the unshaken British secret agent, died.

Connery made six official and one unofficial Bond films. And of course, many more non-Bond films, some of them classics, such as Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964), The Man Who Would be King (1975), and The Name of the Rose (1986).

But frankly, I’m not very interested in them.

It was his astonishing, revelatory appearance in the first Bond film, Dr No, in 1962 that stunned and changed the world. And made those other roles possible. Although he famously came to detest Bond, seeing him perhaps as a kind of insult to his own ego or simply his own freedom, Connery’s appearance in the early 1960s on the big screen as Mr Bond was by far his greatest achievement – cinematically, culturally and sexually.

The plaudit ‘Sexiest Man of the Century’ handed him by People magazine in 1999 probably made him guffaw loudly – but was in fact entirely plausible.

And this was precisely for the reason that author Ian Fleming initially disdained Connery’s casting.

“He’s not what I envisioned of James Bond looks, I’m looking for Commander Bond and not an overgrown stuntman.”

Ian fleming

Dismissing him as an ‘overgrown stuntman’ and also mentioning his ‘lack of refinement’ was code for class – Connery’s lack of it. Born in the slums of Edinburgh in 1930, the air redolent from a nearby rubber factory and several breweries, his mother a cleaner, his father a lorry driver, Connery was Scottish working class through and through. With ‘Mum & Dad‘ and ‘Scotland Forever‘ tattoos from his three years as a rating in the Royal Navy to prove it.

The name is Sailor. Hello Sailor.

He was discharged due to a duodenal ulcer – later claiming that it was his inability to take orders that caused it:

“I’ve never had ulcers since. Looking back it was probably my inability to take orders from officers – especially those I found had reached their position largely through privilege – that gave me ulcers.”

Fleming, who liked to be photographed cigarette holder in hand, was born in London’s moneyed Mayfair to an upper class English family, and rather than the school of hard knocks, was sent to Eton, the school for the scions of the ruling class. During the war he served in Royal Naval Intelligence as a Lieutenant Commander. He wanted Richard Todd, the smoothly handsome, stiff upper lip, ‘OK chaps!’, Squadron Leader star of The Dambusters (1955) to portray his alter ego.

Instead he got a Scottish, working class, bolshie able seaman.

And this was of course part of the thrill of Connery’s sado-exhibitionistic Bond – who exploded onto UK cinema screens a year before The Beatles released their first album. As I wrote back in 2006 on the release of the Casino Royale reboot:

Most working-class U.K. males in 1962 were licensed to marry young, impregnate their wives three or four times, and then take up pigeon-fancying. Wartime-rationing of food and luxury items didn’t end until 1954, two years before Elvis’s first hit and less than a decade before Dr. No was made – although sex-rationing continued for decades afterwards.

Connery, born and braised in slum district of Edinburgh, presents a Bond who, by contrast, is a vain, single young man jetting around the world and literally taking his pleasures where he pleases, living a glossy magazine lifestyle, albeit as an undercover agent. This lifestyle was not to come out of the secret-service closet until over 30 years later with the emergence of the metrosexual – a man whose mission was also to save the West, but by shopping instead of shooting.

Made trade – Connery in Dr No, 1962

If Connery’s Bond was proto-metro, he was equaly proto-sporno. Fleming’s phrase ‘Overgrown stuntman’ also alluded to the fact that Connery had a body. Which was terribly, terribly vulgar by mid-century upper middle class British standards. And, for that matter, still is today.

And what a body! By underfed post-war British standards he was totally hench. Or, less anachronistically, totally Athletic Model Guild. Connery had been seduced by bodybuilding when he was 18, and from 1951 took on a professional trainer, a former British Army gym instructor. He was worth every penny.

Connery, AMG stylee

Connery even entered NABBA’s 1953 Mr Universe contest in London, but the winner in the amateur category was American Bill Pearl. Connery abandoned his pro bodybuilding dreams when he realised that he was never going to be as big as his steak-fed colonial cousins, later saying:

“Despite what many claim, I never won any awards. I appeared ridiculous next to the winner…. I looked like a seven stone weakling.”

That seems harsh, if typically self-deprecating. Connery would likely have fared better in today’s Aesthetic/Beach Body/Board Shorts category.

When 007 was 024, Mr Universe, 1953 (centre)

But his physical culturist habits did open up another career – one that would garner him much more success, cash and attention than bodybuilding could ever have done before the invention of YouTube, Instagram and, er, OnlyFans.

Odd job? – ‘Big Tam’ painted by Al Fairweather, 1950s

The Edinburgh College of Art was in the entirely understandable habit of employing buff lads from his gym as life models. ‘Big Tam’, as he was known at the time (Connery was 6’2″ tall: a regular giant back then), was not averse to attention, nor an easy way to earn a few bob – since leaving the Navy he had worked in various manual jobs: lifeguard, brickie and even coffin polisher. So he followed his gym pals into the the posing-pouched life classes.

(Around the same time the ‘Naked Civil Servant’ Quentin Crisp was also doing modelling for life classes in London – sans the bodybuilding.)

Licenced to thrill – Connery painted by Rab Webster, 1950s

The Edinburgh artist and promoter Richard Demarco was perhaps Connery’s first fan, finding his looks inspiring and his company enlivening:

“I was a student at the art college at the same time he was a life model. He inspired me. You weren’t supposed to talk to the artist’s models, but I got away with it because I knew him. He and I used to spend lunch breaks together… as an artist’s model he was the perfect example of a young Greek God.”

Demarco has also reportedly described young Connery as “very straight, slightly shy, too, too beautiful for words, a virtual Adonis”. Googling around doesn’t provide much context, and it’s not entirely clear whether ‘straight’ here refers to his posture, plain-dealing or his sexuality – perhaps all three.

‘Adonis’ Connery painted by John Demarco, 1950s

Demarco claims he nudged Connery in the direction of acting, telling him to try out for a part as a guardsman extra in a production of Sixty Glorious Years in Edinburgh. Big Tam got the job, his first appearance on stage.

Likewise his participation in Mr Universe might have left him without a trophy, but it did push him up the showbiz ladder a bit further: another competitor tipped him off that the London Drury Lane production of South Pacific was looking for ‘muscular men’ to play US Navy sailor chorus boys in the Drury Lane production of South Pacific. Ironically, given how his bodybuilding dreams were dashed by the pumped Americans, he was cast because his size meant he ‘looked American’.

‘Yankee’ Connery stealing scenes with his furry pecs in ‘South Pacific’ , 1954

It was during his nautical-themed time in South Pacific that Connery decided that the actor’s life was for him. He was taken under the wing of fellow cast member Robert Henderson, an experienced middle-aged American Thesp, who gave him an improving reading list that included Stanislavsky, Wilde, Ibsen, Proust and Thomas Wolfe.

Despite his earthy Edinburgh accent wasn’t proving popular with 1950s British casting directors, perhaps fearing dreaded English assimilation, Connery wasn’t very interested in elocution – and his accent was to remain pretty much unchanged throughout his half-century career. Whatever nationality he happened to be playing. But he did take ‘movement lessons’ from a Swedish male dancer, Yat Malmgren for three years. Something that was to prove to be of great use to him in the visual and global medium of movies.

Requiem for a Heavyweight (BBC, 1957)

After South Pacific, he landed a series of small acting parts on stage, TV and film, mostly playing boxers, hoodlums, lorry drivers and welders. His first starring role came in 1961 in Adventure Story, a BBC TV play based on the stage play by Terence Rattigan about Alexander the Great and his conquest of Persia. Both Rattigan and Alexander were famous fans of ‘Greek love’ – Alexander famously ‘yielding’ to his life-long friend’s Hephaestion’s ‘thighs’. But Rattigan was very ‘discreet’, and this was mid-century BBC – so there wasn’t much of that in the script, save as a subtext for Classicists.

(Camp trivia #1: Alexander’s friend/lover Hephaestion was played by future Dr Who companion William Russell. Camp trivia #2: The other great alpha male bewigged sex object of the 1960s screen, William Shatner, also played Alexander the Great a couple of years later in a 1963 pilot for US TV that wasn’t picked up.)

Connery in despotic earrings as Alexander, William Russell as his epic chum Hephaestion

Connery’s dynamic Alexander provoked praise. The Times observed: “certain inflexions and swift deliberations of gesture at times made one feel that the part had found the young Olivier it needs”. (You can watch scenes here.)

Those ‘movement classes’ with the Swedish dancer, along with all that bodybuilding in his early years, were finally paying off. When he met with producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to discuss the role of Bond, Broccoli’s wife Dana overruled their objections.

“Women – and men – will love him,” she said. And she beckoned the pair over to the window to watch Connery as he crossed the street outside, and told them: “He moves like a panther.”

She was right, of course. Just as right as Fleming was wrong.

After Connery’s death last month, Dana’s daughter and – in a sign of the changed world since the 1960s – James Bond producer Barbara Broccoli released a statement acknowledging that he was largely responsible for the success of the film series. Adding that Connery had “revolutionized the world with his gritty and witty portrayal of the sexy and charismatic secret agent.”

She was as right as her mother had been six decades previously. It was Barbara Broccoli who insisted, against many naysayers, that Daniel Craig step into 007’s bespoke suit in 2006, in Casino Royale. And out of it into a pair of powder blue Speedos. Casino Royale saw the belated realisation of the sex object promise of Sean Connery’s Bond, squandered by his stodgy successors: Bond finally became his own busty Bond girl.

As I wrote back then:

But perhaps the most proto-metrosexual aspect of the first James Bond is that he is also a sex object almost as ravishing as any of the ladies he ravishes, almost as fetishized as any of the objects of desire he toys with: a playboy we would like to play with. Raymond Chandler might have famously described the Bond of Ian Fleming’s novels as “what every man would like to be and what every woman would like to have between her sheets,” but the original screen Bond, for all his masterfulness, was a voyeuristic pleasure that men might want between their sheets and women might want to be.

Further reading:

Egypt’s Spornosexual Pride Parade (Police Academy Section)

The young men of the Egyptian Police Academy put on a pec-tacular display this week in Cairo, surrounded by — and perched on — the butch toys that come with the job.

It’s easy to snigger, but it’s definitely not easy to stay rigidly most muscular on those moving tanks, speed-boats and wobbly triple decker floats slick with baby oil.

Am I the only person that thought some of those floats looked like swole sweet trolleys?

“We can now see a group of vehicles with a group of students from the police academy,” says a female voiceover…

While the officers pose with arched arms and tanned and immobile bodies, distributed among motorboats, vans and police armored cars, the announcer praises the “strong men who show their strong bodies.”

tellerreport.com

Meat the Spornosexual

The second generation of metrosexuals are cumming. And this time it’s hardcore

Dan-Osborne-Spornosexual

by Mark Simpson

What is it about male hipsters and their strange, pallid, highly ambivalent fascination with bodies beefier and sexier than their own? Which means, of course, pretty much everyone?

You may remember last year that last year the Guardian columnist and TV presenter Charlton Brooker had a very messy bowel-evacuating panic attack over the self-sexualisation of the male body exhibited in reality show Geordie Shore.

Now the hipster bible Vice have run a long, passionate – and sometimes quite funny – complaint about today’s sexualised male body by a Brooker wannabe (and lookalikee) titled ‘How sad young douchebags took over modern Britain’.

At least the Vice writer isn’t in total denial. Brooker was so threatened by the brazen male hussies on Geordie Shore and the confusion their pumped, shaved ‘sex doll’ bodies, plucked eyebrows and penises the size of a Sky remote provoked in him that the poor love had to pretend that they didn’t exist outside of reality TV. That they were some kind of science fiction invented to torment and bewilder him and his nerdy body. Perhaps because he’s rather younger than Brooker, Mr Vice on the other hand has actually noticed that these guys really do exist and are in fact pretty much everywhere today, dipped in fake tan and designer tatts and ‘wearing’ plunging ‘heavage’ condom-tight T-s.

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In a media world which largely ignores what’s happened to young men Mr Vice is to be commended that he’s clearly spent a great deal of time studying them. Albeit with a mixture of envy and desire, fear and loathing – and a large side order of self-contradiction and sexual confusion.

He laments that these ‘pumped, primed, terrifyingly sexualised high-street gigolos’ have been imported from America, but uses the execrable imported Americanism ‘douchebag’ to describe them – over and over again. What’s a douchebag? Someone with bigger arms than you, who’s getting more sex than you – and probably earning more than you, despite being considerably less expensively educated than you.

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But by far the most infuriating thing about ‘sad young douchebags’ is that they are so very obviously not sad at all. They and their shameless, slutty bodies are having a whale of a time, thank you very much. They’re far too happy being ‘sad young douchebags’ to sit down and write lengthy, angry rationalising essays about why someone else’s idea of a good time is WRONG. Or read one. Or read anything, in fact. Apart maybe from Men’s Health.

A strong smell of nostalgia emanates from this Vice jeremiad, like a pickled onion burp. The writer laments a lost Eden of masculine certainties and whinges that these young men with their sexualised ‘gym bunny wanker’ bodies have replaced older, more ‘authentic’ English masculine archetypes, ‘the charmer’, ‘the bit of rough’, ‘the sullen thinker’ (which, I wonder, applies to him?) and that as a result:

Nobody wants to be Sean Connery any more. With their buff, waxed bodies and stupid haircuts, the modern British douchebag looks more like a model from an Attitude chatline ad than a potential Bond.

Ah yes, Sean Connery – the former Mr Scotland gym bunny wanker ex chorus boy who wore a wig and fake tan in those glossy, slutty Bond films. Masculinity is never what it used to be. Even back in Ancient Greece everyone was whining that real men went out of fashion with the Trojan War. And what’s so wrong with wanting to look like an Attitude chat line ad, rather than a hired killer?

Oh, that’s right – coz it looks gay.

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All this moaning, along with the writer’s complaints that these buff young men are disappointingly ‘soft’, crap in a fight and don’t have nearly enough scars, reminds me of those gays on Grindr who stipulate in their profile ‘I like my men to be MEN!!’. Or the camp queens who over the years who have solemnly informed me: ‘If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s camp queens!!’ Actually, it reminds me of myself when I was much more hopelessly romantic than I am today, and before I realised real men were really slutty.

There is nothing gayer than the longing for masculine certainties like this. Especially since they never really existed anyway. It’s like believing that the phallus is the real thing and the penis is just a symbol. It’s Quentin Crisp’s Great Dark Man syndrome, but sans the self-awareness, or the archness and the henna.

In fact Mr Vice is so nostalgic – and so young – that he seems to think metrosexuality is something prior to, distinct from and more tasteful than these sexed-up shamelessly slutty male bodies that insist on grabbing his attention, wistfully contrasting how the ‘natural confidence’ of metrosexuality ‘has been replaced by something far more flagrant’. Take it from metrodaddy, today’s flagrantly sexualised male body is merely more metrosexuality. More sexy, more tarty, more porny, more slapped in your face. So stop bitching and suck on it. Metrosexuality has gone hard-core -the ‘sexuality’ part has gone ‘hyper’.

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The metrosexual was born twenty years ago and had to struggle to survive in an untucked ‘no-homo’ 1990s – but the second wave take the revolution he brought about in masculine aesthetics for granted. Steeped in images of male desirability from birth and masturbating furiously to hard-core online porn from puberty, they have totally sexed-up the male body and turbo-charged the male desire to be desired, which was always at the heart of metrosexuality rather than expensive fashion spreads and fastidious lists of ‘dos and don’ts’. Their own bodies rather than clobber and cosmetics have become the ultimate accessory, fashioning them at the gym into a hot commodity. Nakedly metrosexy.

If we need to give this new generation of hyper metrosexuals a name – other than total tarts – we should perhaps dub them spornosexuals. These mostly straight-identified young men are happy to advertise, like an Attitude chat line, their love of the pornolised, sporting-spurting male body – particularly their own. Along with their very generous availability to anyone’s gaze-graze. Especially at premium rates.

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And everyone is calling their number. Though admittedly not many do it via the extremely kinky route of writing long essays denouncing them and explaining why they’re TOTALLY NOT INTERESTED. Hipsters, who of course think themselves above the vulgarity of sexiness, are simply the ironic, anti-sexual wing of metrosexuality – which is to say, absolutely fucking pointless.

It’s the obvious, if often oblivious, visual bi-curiosity of today’s totally tarty, hyper metrosexuality that alarms people even more than its ‘vulgarity’. Male bisexuality is still largely a taboo precisely because it threatens the final, fond, sacred, and highly phallic myth of masculinity: that it has an (heteronormative) ‘aim’ and ‘purpose’. The scattershot sluttiness of spornosexuals signals a very sticky end to that virile delusion.

Mr Vice argues repeatedly that these young men enjoying their bodies and their lack of inhibition compared to their fathers and grandfathers, are having a ‘crisis of masculinity’. This just smacks of more middle class resentment dressed up as ‘concern’ – a pissy, passive aggressive way of calling them ‘sad douchebags’ again. Or ‘gay’. When people talk about a ‘crisis of masculinity’ they’re usually talking about their own – in dealing with the fact that masculinity isn’t what they want it to be. And particularly when working class chaps aren’t what middle class chaps want them to be.

It’s true that our post-industrial landscape often doesn’t know what to do with the male body apart from shag it or sell it, but that’s not necessarily such a terrible contrast with the ‘glorious’ past. For a younger generation of young men no longer afraid of their own bodies there’s no crisis – but rather a liberation. From the dehumanising, sexist constraints of their forefathers. Men’s bodies are no longer simply instrumental things – for fighting wars, extracting coal, building ships, scoring goals, making babies and putting the rubbish out that must renounce pleasure, vanity, sensuality and a really good fingering and leave that to women and pooves.

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Instead the male body has been radically redesigned, with the help of some blueprints from Tom of Finland, as a sensual sex toy designed to give and particularly to receive pleasure. Maybe it’s not terribly heroic, and admittedly some of the tatts are really grotty, but there are much worse things to be. Such as a slut-shaming writer for a hipster magazine.

Of course, I would say that. Because I find these spornosexual, totally tarty young men fuckable. But that’s kind of the point. They desperately want to be found fuckable. It would be extremely rude and ungrateful not to find them fuckable when they have gone to so much trouble doing all those bubble-butt building barbell lunges at the gym for me.

And in fuckable fact, it’s their fuckability which makes the unfuckables hate them so fucking much.

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© Mark Simpson 2014

Mark Simpson’s Metrosexy: A 21st Century Self-Love Story is available on Kindle.

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Totally tarty Dan Osborne gifs from here – h/t DAKrolak

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Muscle: Hollywood’s Biggest Special Effect

By Mark Simpson

(Independent on Sunday 31 March, 2002)

Guys! Do you worry that your body isn’t sufficiently lean and muscular? Do you frequently compare your muscles with other men’s? If you see a man who is clearly more muscular than you, do you think about it and feel envious for some time afterwards?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions it used to mean that you should send a postal order to Mr Charles Atlas to ask for advice. Nowadays, if the myriad articles about the latest ‘disease’ to afflict men are to believed, it means you might need to see a therapist to talk you out of going to the gym so much because you may be suffering from ‘bigorexia’ – the delusion that you’re not beefy enough.

On the other hand, it might just mean that you go to the movies.

We expect as a matter of course that our male leads these days will have perfect pectorals, bounteous biceps and corrugated steel stomachs that speak of thousands of hours of sweat, tears and neurotic dieting. ‘Brad Pitt’ is now Esperanto for ‘six pack’. What, after all, is the point of being a film star if you can’t hire the most sadistic personal fitness instructor in town and feast on egg white omelettes and rice cakes? More pertinently, why should we puny punters pay good money to gaze up at men on the big screen who aren’t themselves bigger than life, but sport waistlines that speak of no life at all?

It wasn’t always thus. In fact, until the Eighties muscles were usually so few and far between on the screen that the oiled man in swimming trunks bashing the big gong at the beginning of Rank films was as much meat as you were likely to get at the movies. It was of course an oiled Austrian action hero and former Mr Universe who changed all that, banging a gong for bodybuilding in ‘Conan the Barbarian’ (1982) and ‘Terminator’ (1984) introducing us to the spectacular male body and changing forever the way we see the male physique.

True, all those steroid-pumped chests look excessive now, ‘tittersome’ even, and screen muscles have tended to come in a more manageable, more covettable size for some years, but a male Hollywood star who doesn’t work out is as unthinkable now as an American who doesn’t floss.

And Arnie, like the cyborg he played in his most famous movie – or a personal fitness trainer from hell – keeps coming back. He refuses to acknowledge that he’s mortal, or, which is much more hubristic, out of fashion. Next week sees the opening of his new action-hero movie ‘Collateral Damage’, in which he plays a fireman seeking to avenge the murder of his wife and son by terrorists. Next month he begins filming ‘Terminator 3’, quickly followed by ‘Total Recall 2’ and ‘True Lies 2’ Single-handedly, and Promethian-like, fifty-five year-old Arnie, who had major heart surgery five years ago, seems to be trying to haul the Eighties back. (Not least because his political ambitions seem to promise ‘Reagan 2’.)

Meanwhile, his former arch-rival and Sylvester Stallone is currently trying to get funding for yet more sequels to his Rocky and Rambo films (6 and 4, respectively if you’re still counting). Also fifty-five years old, Sly hasn’t had a hit movie for a decade. Post September 11th he hopes America is ready again for a muscle-bound, if slightly wrinkly hero and that Hollywood will buy the idea of Rambo parachuting into Afghanistan in a thong and putting the fear of god into Bin Laden and Al Quaeda. So far his attempts to get funding have been unsuccessful, but if the Austrian Asshole succeeds in making a comeback from the knackers yard, who will be able to stop the Italian Stallion?

Of course, Arnie and Sly weren’t the first musclemen to make it in movies – just the first to succeed in making it really ‘big’ business.

Back in the 1930s there was Johnny Weissmuller, Olympic swimmer turned jungle vine swinger in a loincloth. His muscular tartiness in the Tarzan movies was made acceptable by the fact that his physique was practical in origin (swimming, vine climbing and wrestling alligators). He was also an ‘ape-man’. As a (white) noble savage, who hardly spoke except to ululate loud enough to make the tree tops quiver, or shout ‘Ungawa!’ at a startled passing elephant or chimpanzee, he was spared many of the enforced decencies of 1930s Western civilisation. Interestingly, like Arnie he was originally Austrian: ‘Weissmuller’ is German for ‘white miller’; while ‘Schwarzenegger’ means ‘black plough’. Modern bodybuilding owes everything to Aryan farming.

By the 1940s and 50s Sword and Sandal epics, the pre-cursor of the action movie, starring people like Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, and B-movie body-builder-turned-actor Steve Reeves legitimised the display of more naked, shapely male flesh (hence the line in ‘Airplane’ when the pervey pilot asks the lad being shown the flight-deck: ‘Son, do you like watching gladiator movies?’). Russell Crowe of course was to revive this genre in 2000 in ‘Gladiator’ and went out of his way in interviews to claim that his brawny physique had been formed not in the gym but in ‘practising sword fights’ – in a leather skirt. (Some cynics might say that he failed to gain the Oscar for ‘A Beautiful Mind’ because by then he seemed to have lost his beautiful body).

In the Fifties and Sixties, Rock Hudson, epitomised the ‘All-American’ clean-cut hunk. A Tarzan of the suburbs, if you will. He had a body, but was not sexual. His masculinity was pleasingly superficial and unthreatening. (And now we know that there was never any chance that he might do Doris Day at all).

But it was that other fifties phenomenon Marlon Brando who inaugurated a new era – the male as brazen sex object. His tight-T-shirted, sweaty muscularity was openly erotic; his brutish, built but sensual Stanley Kowalski was the streetcar named Desire (‘Stell-la!’). Clift and Dean were faces, but Marlon was a face on a pouting body. There was something androgyne yet virile about the Wild One’s most physical roles. Perhaps as a kind of revenge on the industry, Marlon famously developed an eating disorder (something usually associated with women) and later became notorious for his ‘work outs’ with gallon tubs of ice cream. In an odd way, Brando’s weight-problem is a kind of ‘bigorexia’, and probably even harder work than staying trim in the way that, say, Clint Eastwood has (and having sex in ‘In the Line of Fire’ with his tight white T-shirt at 70).

In the Fifties-come-around-again Eighties, Tom ‘Risky Business’ Cruise somehow managed combine Brando’s erotic narcissism with Hudson’s clean-cut sterility, this time in a pair of Y-fronts. Later, in ‘Taps’ he played an intense right-wing recruit with an obsessive interest in bodybuilding and showering. In ‘Top Gun’, the definitive Eighties movie, he legitimised the new male narcissism as something patriotic and Reaganite. Most of Tom’s oeuvre since then has stuck to the same theme of boyish vulnerability mixed with determination; passivity and masculinity; sensuality and respectability – and the identity problems that this creates (e.g. ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ and ‘Vanilla Sky’). By the same token, his muscles, with the exception of those seen in ‘Taps’ – and his preposterous forearms in ‘Mission Impossible’ – have never been huge, but they have always been very definitely there if needed. Or desired.

The Eighties ‘roided’ bodybuilder action heroes such as Arnie, Sly, Mel, Bruce ‘Die-Hard’ Willis (who for most of the Eighties seemed to be wearing Brando’s unwashed vest from ‘Streetcar’) and the ‘Muscles From Brussels’, Jean Claude Van Damme were less happy to be sex objects. True, these were film stars whose claim to fame rested largely on their willingness to display their bodies, but there was also slightly desperate disavowal of any passivity – hence the emphasis on being action heroes. Arnie and Sly were offering their spectacular bodies for our excitement. Like the explosions and the stunts, their bodies were special effects – in a pre CGI era they were perhaps the most important special effects of all.

Since then the mainstreaming of bodybuilding, the increasing sophistication of CGI and the reconciliation of a new generation of young men to their ornamental role has left their Eighties action heroes’ antics looking rather embarrassing. Today’s male stars work out, but the compensation of hysterically massive musculature, hard-on vascularity and single-handedly wiping out entire armies isn’t needed. Aesthetics have become more important than arm-aments. Arnie may have succeeded in getting Hollywood down the gym, but it is (early) Marlon and Tom who have inherited the World. Keanu Reeves, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Ethan Hawke, and all those close-ups on hunky-but-pretty Josh Hartnett’s long-lashed Nordic eyes in the war movies ‘Pearl Harbor’ (2001) and ‘Black Hawk Down’ (2002) prove this. Even Will Smith in ‘Ali’ (2002) doesn’t really look terribly heavyweight.

And former WWF wrestler Dwayne Douglas Johnson ‘The Rock’ who made his debut in ‘The Mummy Returns’ may be hailed by Vanity Fair as ‘the next Segal, Stallone and Schwarzenegger rolled into one’ (a queasy image), but seems extravagantly ornamental, with his plucked eyebrows, lip gloss, make-up and decorative tattoos.

However, that’s not to say that the new relationship to the male body is any less pathological. When for example we see Brad smoking or eating a hamburger in ‘Ocean’s Eleven’, we can’t help but wonder how much it cost in CGI. (Reportedly he and his wife don’t keep any food in the house and have all their meals calorie counted and delivered to their door). It’s difficult to imagine any of today’s generation of male stars finding anything they’d actually swallow – and keep down – on the menu at Planet Hollywood.

Meanwhile Arnie and Co., the ‘bigoxeric’ heroes of yesteryear’s big screen, seem unlikely to bring back the outsized Eighties not just because no one really needs them or can find a use for them, but because they are looking their age – older actually, in Hollywood terms. The steroids Arnie began using at the age of 14 to produce those ‘special effects’ can hasten the ageing process and may well have contributed to other ‘collateral damage’, such as his heart problems (they have also become mainstream – 7% of High School boys in the US admitted to taking them). Having been convinced by Arnie to put so much faith in working out and getting beefy, the world does not want to be reminded that it can’t keep you young forever and in fact can have the opposite effect.

Yes, in ‘Collateral Damage’ Arnie’s Panzer body is still there, trundling around beneath his pill-box head, but it is faintly embarrassing now – so much so that everyone in the movie pretends not to notice it. He plays a fireman, which is nice and useful and human-scale. But we know, post September 11, that most American firemen, beefy and worked-out as many of them are, do not look like ageing male masseurs. As one of the characters complains, almost surreally, when Arnie turns up unexpectedly: ‘You order cheese pizza and you get German sausage’.

Copyright Mark Simpson 2010

This essay is collected in Metrosexy: A 21st Century Self-Love Story

From Finland With Lust – How Tom Re-Designed the Male Body For Pleasure

The teenage Tom of Finland’s gay fantasies from the 1940s of muscular men have come to define a mainstream view of masculinity, argues Mark Simpson

UPDATE March 2020: On the centenary of his birth, a major new exhibition of Tom’s art opens in London, from 6 March to 28 June.

(Originally appeared in The London Times, Nov 2008 and collected in Metrosexy)

The first time I saw a Tom of Finland drawing was in a well-thumbed, seventh-hand issue of Fiesta, a top-shelf favourite of schoolboys in the 1970s. The image, buried at the back, was in a small ad for more “specialised” publications, probably missed by most of my schoolchums who had thumbed the issue before me. But it jumped out at me like an outsized erection.

It depicted a pair of muscular butch young men with big chins and broad grins grabbing each other’s bubble butts and straining packets while winking at the reader. I immediately rushed out to the post office to buy as many postal orders as my pocket money would allow.

Although I was sorely disappointed with the ‘Biker Boy’ lame leather fetish magazine – with no Tom of Finland drawings – that eventually turned up, I have spent much of my adult life and a fortune on gym membership fairly ‘fruitlessly’ trying to recreate that Tom of Finland image that I glimpsed as a teen.

I needn’t have bothered, however – because as it turned out the whole world was going to become a Tom of Finland drawing. His sensualised, cartoonish über-male body and its endless potential for pleasure and pleasuring has become commonplace. Think of the rugby player Austin Healey pulsating on BBC One’s Strictly Come Dancing in tight pants and a sleeveless top. Or all those footballers keen to strip off and show us their assets on the sides of buses.

The notes for artist retrospectives usually make extravagant claims, and those for a major retrospective of Tom of Finland in Liverpool, part of that city’s annual Homotopia queer culture festival, make some very extravagant ones indeed: “Tom had an effect on global culture unmatched by that of virtually any other artist,” we are told. But for once, there’s something to this hyperbole, despite the artistic merit of his work being very debatable.

Tom was born Touko Laaksonen in Kaarina, Finland, in 1920 and his work is literally the masturbatory fantasies of a lonely young homosexual Finnish boy – he began drawing in his locked bedroom in the 1940s, pencil in one hand, penis in the other. His fetishised, overobserved, long-distance gay appropriation of masculinity has, in a mediated, long-distance world, become… masculinity.

It’s often said that Tom’s greatest achievement was in drawing gay men who were masculine, happy and proud at a time when they were supposed to be effeminate, neurotic and shameful. This is certainly the reason why so many gay men are Tom devotees, wittingly or not. Today’s gay porn is merely filthy footnotes to Tom, endlessly replaying the narrative of “regular guys” with very irregular-sized penises and pectorals having spontaneous, shameless sex at the drop of a monkey wrench.  (And it’s entirely apt that one of the sponsors of this retrospective is Gaydar, the gay ‘dating’ site where gay men post Tom-ish pictures of themselves looking for other Tom-ish men to have Tom-ish sex with.)

However, the out-and-proud gay biker look – identity even – that Tom perfected after seeing Marlon Brando in The Wild One (Brando was a Tom drawing in 3D) and which became so popular in the pre-Aids 1970s and early 1980s, reaching its peak with the climactic success of the Liverpool band Frankie Goes to Hollywood, has become a dated cliché. See, for example, the tangoing, mustachioed leather men in the Blue Oyster basement bar in Police Academy – and few if any young gay men today aspire to it.

But when you look at Tom’s drawings in this retrospective, which features 25 of his works in the basement (predictably) of the Contemporary Urban Centre in Liverpool, it becomes apparent that his achievement goes much further than just making gay men feel good about themselves or love the snugness of leather harnesses. Tom, who worked as an illustrator in the Finnish advertising business until the early 1970s, when he became a full-time gay propagandist, sold the male body as a pleased, pleasuring and pleasured thing several decades before Calvin Klein thought of it. In the middle of the 20th century, Tom was effectively sketching the blueprint of 21st-century man. And boy, was he blue.

Before Tom almost no one drew men like he did, making them such unabashed sex objects and sex subjects, giving them such exaggerated male secondary – and primary! – sexual characteristics: big chins, strong jaws, full lips. Masculinity, and virility end up looking so… nurturing. Buxom. Busty. Tom’s men have round firm breasts, saucer-like aureolas and nipples you can adjust your thermostat with. One (from 1962) struts down the street, biceps bulging, chest literally bursting out of his shirt, and dressing very much to the left: no wonder he’s being followed.

His saucy curvaceousness a testament to the way in which aestheticised hyper-masculinity is oddly androgyne. And while Tom’s men may have had their tits out for the lads, the kind of Tom-ish male body he helped to invent is nowadays getting them out for lads and lasses, gay or straight, online or in real time.

Likewise Tom’s drawings also reveal the male derrière as a sexual organ: not just in some of the more hardcore examples, but the way that Tom-ish buttocks are so spherical, so sensual, so inviting. One of the most striking and prescient sketches, from 1981, is also one of the tamest: a row of bedenimed male bubble butts sticking out at a bar – awaiting perhaps the attentions of the hugely powerful Abercrombie & Fitch photographer Bruce Weber (a big Tom fan), or perhaps the vaselined, wide-angled lens of a Levi’s commercial.

Tom’s big break came in the 1950s from Physique Pictorial, an underground, semi-legal gay American fanzine disguised as a straight men’s bodybuilding magazine, which frequently put Tom’s men on the cover. Half a century later, and 17 years after his death in 1991, the world is inverted: flesh-and-blood men who look like Tom’s drawings appear on the cover of bestselling corporate mags such as Men’s Health. Flick one open, and you’ll find it full of advice on how straight men can turn themselves into something Tom-ish.

POSTSCRIPT Feb 2011

Compare the 1960s Tom of Finland sketch of the pneumatic young man swaggering/sashaying down the street at the top of this essay, with the one below of 21st Century Jersey Shore star Mikey ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino.