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

Tag: metrosexual (page 1 of 21)

Metrosexual Podcastery

Back in early March I contributed over the phone to a Slate magazine podcast by Willa Paskin on the history of the metrosexual Stateside.

I first wrote about my insufferably pretty offspring in the UK’s Independent newspaper in 1994 – but in 2002 I introduced him to the US on Salon.com. The essay went viral and he quickly spread himself around like nobody’s business.

After I spoke to Slate, another kind of pandemic intervened. But the podcast is now up and you can, if you’re so inclined, listen to it here.

I’ve not yet got around to reviewing it myself (you won’t believe me, but I hate the sound of my voice). So can’t vouch for its accuracy or otherwise.  

If I sound a little rough around the edges this may have something to do with the transatlantic connection, and the fact I was coming down with gastric flu at the time. Which definitely wasn’t pretty.

Though of course, now I wonder whether it really was gastric flu – or something more ‘novel’….

Danish Spornosexuality

According to a recent article on male image from DR, the Danish version of the BBC, ‘From Hippie to Sex Symbol‘, the 21st Century belongs to my Rocky Horror-esque creations – the Metrosexual (‘metroseksuelle’) and the Spornosexual (‘spornosexsuelle’).

Although I might quibble with some of the things the article says – at least as filtered through Google Translate – I can’t disagree with them about that.

Shame they didn’t actually credit Dr Simpsonfurter. 

(h/t David S)

Metrosexmania: How America Lost Its Mind Over Metrosexuality

By Mark Simpson

(Originally appeared in Out magazine, October 2017)

The US had a national nervous breakdown over male beauty in the early noughties.

It seems ridiculous now – and actually it was fairly ridiculous at the time – but it’s simply an objective fact that the US went completely fucking berserk over the metrosexual: my insufferably pretty offspring with the really great, hydrated skin. Not since the Beatles had a British import caused so much screaming – and so much moral panicking.

In 2003 – only a year or so after I’d introduced the him to the US in an essay for Salon.com that went virulently viral – ‘metrosexual’ was proclaimed ‘Word of the Year’ by The American Dialect Society. Handsomely beating SARS.

The same year, the networked animated cable TV series South Park devoted a whole episode to him satirising his stunning popularity, called ‘South Park Is Gay!’. In it all the straight men and boys in South Park turn, we are told, ‘metrosexual’ – which here seems to mean ‘effeminate’.

The ‘Fab Five’ swishy gay male grooming and lifestyle experts from Queer Eye For the Straight Guy – that year’s new, smash-hit makeover show – are blamed for the epidemic of preening. They turn out to be alien monsters and are executed by the men’s angry wives, who explain: ‘men need to be masculine!’.

Strangely, this disturbingly silly cartoon spoof  pretty much predicted/incited how America ended up reacting in non-animated real life to the scary sexual ambiguity of metrosexuality.

The uptake of ‘gay’ beauty concerns by men along with the ‘feminine’ desire to be desirable, was something well underway by the noughties – without an intervention from the Fab Five (I’d originally written about metrosexuality for a British newspaper back in 1994, predicting the future of masculinity was moisturised).

In hindsight, I wonder how many of the straight men in NYC the Fab Five rescued from flaky skin, cheap chinos and TV dinners were just slumming it for the sake of a free facial, some product and plenty of attention.

For my money, Queer Eye For the Straight Guy, which was often described as the ‘metrosexual reality TV show’, had a typo in the title. It should have been ‘Queer Eye OF the Straight Guy’. But then it wouldn’t have been commissioned.

Queer Eye was entertaining, mostly safe fun precisely because it restated the already blurring boundaries in a reassuring way: straight men were hopeless at appreciating male beauty and gay men were fabulous. The queer eye belonged to the queers. Despite this, Queer Eye still managed to outrage some at the time – including apparently the makers of South Park.

My own definition of the metrosexual from my Salon essay had though been carefully inflammatory about the sexual ambiguity 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.’

Though of course the US marketers who tried to appropriate – and spay – the metrosexual after my essay went viral, vehemently insisted that the metrosexual was always straight. And never vain. Just ‘well-groomed’. No one really bought this. His ambiguity and out-and-proud vanity was the only reason anyone was interested in him.

And it’s also why America, which really wasn’t ready to face up to this stuff back then, ended up having a full-blown backlash against metrosexuality by 2006, when the full, horrifying implications of metrosexuality began to sink in. Anti-metrosexuality became the 21st Century ‘Disco Sucks!’ campaign, but with even more pronounced gay panic.

The US media now aroused itself talking up hilariously butch reaction-formations such as ‘machosexuals’, ‘retrosexuals’ and a ‘menaissance’. Lots of books with annoying, anal lists of ‘manly’ do’s and don’ts were published. Most of all, the MAN word was hysterically over-deployed, often as a reassuring manly phallic pacifier strapped on the front of something that so wasn’t: MANdates, MANscara etc.

Metrosexuality of course, along with hyper-consumerism and visual culture, continued conquering the world. But in the US it wasn’t polite to mention it: metrosexuality was now on the downlow. As the South Park wives had put it in 2003: Men need to be masculine!

Or at least we needed to pretend they need to be.

All of which was of course way camper than the metrosexual ever was.

Queer Eye itself was axed in 2007 – the same year that the legendary cable TV drama series Mad Men first aired. But the star of the show, and the apple of the camera’s eye, the very dapper Don Draper (John Hamm) was essentially a late noughties metrosexual daydream of what a 1960s retrosexual looked like.

Either way, he certainly didn’t need the Fab Five to pick out his shirts.

In Defence of Male Tartiness (Again)

Mark Simpson on how metrosexuality is now part of masculinity’s ‘gayish DNA’

The lights have gone off at Instagram and YouTube. Men’s Health has folded. The male grooming market valued at $50B globally until just last week has imploded. Those reports about how men are now spending more time and money clothes shopping than women can be binned. Tumbleweed is blowing around the 272 new gyms that opened in the UK last year. Tinder is totally toast.

Most apocalyptically of all, young men are putting their shirts back on and Love Island has been cancelled.

Or so you might be forgiven for thinking if you read Martin Daubney’s piece last week in Telegraph Men about the findings of a study into masculinity he helped organise. ‘We can say confidently’, he said, confidently, ‘that British men in 2017 are increasingly abandoning narcissism, the perfect body and promiscuity’.

Apparently, instead of being selfie-admiring, ‘vain’, ‘shallow’, ‘dopey metrosexuals’, today’s men are now looking for ‘greater depth and meaning’ and emphasising ‘traditional’ and ‘moral values’, including marriage.

In other words, men have – finally! – stopped being so bloody gay.

Male vanity’s death sentence was supposedly delivered in Harry’s Masculinity Report, sponsored by and named after an American male grooming company that is, well, muscling in on the lucrative UK male vanity market. But Harry’s you see is a straight-acting all-American grooming company. On their website they boast that they make ‘a high-quality shave that’s made by real guys for real guys’. Sweet!

Of course, as a big ol’ homo and the ‘daddy’ of the metrosexual and his ‘shredded’, under-dressed younger ‘bro’, the spornosexual, I’m a tad over-invested in male prettiness – even if I don’t always invest enough in my own. But I really don’t see much evidence for the demise of male self-reflexivity and image-consciousness. Except perhaps in the popularity of man-buns. (No one could wear one of those and own a mirror.)

I suspect what we have here is more a case of wishful/murderous thinking. The report seems to me to have found the ‘traditional’ values and morality it was looking for.

Were the guys surveyed ‘real guys’, like the guys at Harry? Well it seems they were simply the first 2000 men aged between 18-85 living in the British Isles who completed a lengthy online questionnaire. It was promoted in male-related online forums and ‘to ensure broad UK reach across all demographics, the survey was also promoted by Martin Daubney.’

Martin, a high-profile, right-of-centre, white, male, heterosexual, married journalist, indefatigable campaigner around men’s issues and ‘porn addiction’ – and infuriatingly likeable chap – has 17K followers on Twitter. It would be unfair to call this Daubney’s Masculinity Report, but we should at least wonder how much Martin is inadvertently admiring his own reflection in it.

It’s difficult to tell though – the ‘men’ in this study are rather opaque. Monolithic, even. There’s an age and marital status breakdown, which seems fairly representative, but no information about their ethnicity, their sexuality, political affiliation or their class/occupation. Though the fact that nearly half of them were from London and the South East (there is a regional breakdown) might be a bit of a clue as to the latter.

There are 35 ‘core values’ options listed in the questionnaire. The first four are: ‘Dependable, ‘Reliable’, ‘Loyal’, ‘Committed’, and the seventh is ‘Honest’.

The top five rated by respondents were, in order: ‘Honest’, ‘Reliable’, ‘Dependable’, ‘Loyal’, ‘Committed’.

‘Helpful’ isn’t in the list, but I suppose that’s implicit in the answers.

‘Fit’ and ‘athletic’, the only two options in the list of ‘core values’ that aren’t moral values appear at 21 and 22 and were rated by respondents at 31 and 35. Though perhaps the ratings for them should have been added together, as I’m not sure what the difference is between ‘fit’ and ‘athletic’. Both arouse me.

It’s great that men want to be, as they say in their online dating profiles, ‘100% gen’. Or seen as that. But I’m not sure how that shows they’ve abandoned the gym and their own reflection.

As for the evidence of men ‘abandoning promiscuity’ – the questionnaire doesn’t have anything to say, or ask, about ‘promiscuity’, or for that matter, monogamy. Unless of course you think that valuing honesty, reliability, dependability, loyalty and commitment is necessarily incompatible with having sex with more than one person. Or rather, sex with more people than you – probably the most accurate definition of ‘promiscuous’.

The trad-dad moralising thrust of all this becomes evident in the ‘main lessons from this survey’ section we are told the factors found to be associated with men’s ‘mental positivity’ are ‘good job satisfaction’, ‘stable relationship’, ‘living up to their roles as men’, ‘more connected to a sense of spirituality’ and ‘engage in sports’ – that’s manly team sports, I’m guessing, not posing around the gym like a tart.

I’m sure this is all well-intentioned. But it does sound a shade School Speech Day, c.1956. Especially the ‘living up to their roles as men’ bit.

I can understand why report’s authors want to ‘detoxify’ the ‘brand’ of masculinity (this ‘core values’ shtick is mostly used in a corporate context) and offer some ‘good news’ about men that goes against the bad news grain. And think it’s great that the oft-neglected issue of men’s mental health is being addressed and men’s intimate preoccupations are being probed.

But re-stigmatising the hard won right of men of whatever sexuality to be pretty and ‘gay’ isn’t going to help. I mean, really? No gym. No porn. No Tinder. No preening. This is supposed to reduce male suicide?

Male narcissism has added enormously to the gaiety of the nation. It should be celebrated as a Great British tradition, from Byron to Bowie to Beckham to Bromans. Puritanical Yankee grooming go home. What’s more the acceptance of it has made homophobia less acceptable. Non-gay men today, particularly younger men for whom metrosexuality is just ‘normal’, are much less hard on The Gays than their fathers were because they are less hard on themselves.

Being soft on yourself is surely the key to being soft on others.

Most men are not going to dedicate themselves to becoming a Men’s Health cover model, thank the baby Jesu. Apart from anything else, if they did I’d never be able to get on the squat rack at 5pm. But metrosexuality, love it or loathe it, is part of masculinity’s gayish DNA now. It’s far too late to straighten it out.

And even if you could, you’d just cause a global economic catastrophe, like the terrifying End of Days one envisioned at the beginning of this article.

Balls on the Box: Male Grooming’s Groping For New Markets

by Mark Simpson

All these nicely-presented years on from the birth of the metrosexual – he turned 22 this month – and my prediction that he represented the future of masculinity, out and proud male vanity shows no sign of getting bored with itself, or running out of cash to splash. ‘Male grooming’ is still booming: it’s a fine-smelling, thoroughly-moisturised market estimated to top £14.8bn globally this year.

But now that almost every post-pubescent male shares his bathroom with a buff puff there is a danger that the market could become as saturated as men’s skin. In order to continue growing, and create demands for new products, male grooming increasingly has to boldly go where no ad has gone before. Groping male consumers intimately in the quest for new frontiers of needs.

And this TV commercial currently airing in the UK is very bold, as Julian and Sandy would say. It features a man playing with his balls on prime time.

Below The Belt Grooming Commercial

‘Only a few decades ago if you wore underarm spray you were not considered to be a REAL MAN,’ says the strangely robotic (butch?) voiceover, as we watch a young, worked out, fashion-bearded male performing his most personal ablutions in his mirrored privy. ‘A few decades’ looks like a millenia.

The Scottish-American text-to-speech app goes on to tell us that talcum powder ‘around your damp bits’ was acceptable back then, but ‘black suave underpants put paid to that messy solution’.

Yes, those black suave underpants that I’m probably to blame for.

He continues (I had to replay this bit several times to understand what was being said): ‘Lots has evolved since then, but men are still just as badly-designed downstairs.’

Are we? Speak for yourself, dear!

But before we can ponder that statement, or assess whether sweaty knackers are really such a major social problem, we’re slapped in the face with a irresistible question:

‘Surely modern man deserves the choice of being comfortable all day?’

Well, who can argue with choice, comfort and deservingness? And besides, the model is nodding in agreement at this point. Or maybe ecstasy – he’s clearly handling himself now. While admiring his reflection in the mirror.

‘Welcome to Below the Belt grooming and fresh and dry balls!’

Thanks! I think.

Then the corny kiss-off line which is, it has to be said, the dogs bollocks:

‘Your balls are safe in our hands!’

The effect is to make the ad – sorry, testimonial – a WTF? moment. Is this is a spoof? Is this product real? Or is there some double entendre here that I’ve somehow missed? Surely they can’t be being this direct on the tellybox?

And then you find yourself wondering well, why shouldn’t balls be mentioned in telly ads, without coyness or evasion? Even if yours aren’t ‘badly-designed’? Men’s balls exist! They have needs! They have feelings! (Which can, as any man will tell you, be hurt very, very easily.) And they need to breath! It’s about time they stopped having to hide and came out.

The sweaty nads ad is perhaps not quite as clever or funny – or even as ‘ballsy’ – as this ‘I’d f*ck me’ US Phillips manscaping ad from a few years back which took male vanity to its logical, self-loving conclusion, but it’s up there. Or down there. Certainly we’ve come a long way since this anxious 1968 UK commercial that sought to tell us that spray-on deodorant wasn’t girly or gay at all because manly, pub-going, bird-chasing, working class England footie heroes used it (and it was kept in the locker-room first aid cabinet because it was purely medicinal and not at all cosmetic).

Post-Beckham, all professional footballers have monogrammed Luis Vuitton washbags filled with the latest, most expensive male cosmetics issued along with their football strip.

Some of course will worry that the Below the Belt ad is just more horrifying evidence that metrosexuality has gone Too Far. That men are being emasculated by their ‘girly’ vanity. That along with ‘extreme’ manscaping trends such as increasing numbers of men apparently shaving their legs, and the arrival of ‘scrotal lifts‘ consumerism now has men by the balls.

And perhaps it’s true that consumerism is trying to create new male neuroses merely to sell more products, in much the same way that it has done with women for decades. That’s a kind of equality, I suppose.

Others might argue that it merely comes down to more freedom, that as the ad says, ‘surely modern man deserves the choice’. You don’t have to Immac your legs or baste your bollocks if you don’t want to. Pants may have got tighter but masculinity is much less restrictive than it used to be, and as a result men are less inhibited than they used to be – and more likely to do things that might seem a bit silly.

Besides, isn’t it a good thing that men are being encouraged to ‘examine’ their testicles daily – especially during Movember? Not all bollocks are created equal – some balls really are sweatier than others. And maybe testicle antiperspirant gel is a potential solution to that terrible modern scourge of ‘manspreading’.

As for me, my main concern is simply this: does Below the Belt come in different flavours?

The Swedish Chemist's Shop

h/t: Peter Watkins