Archive for the ‘Fag Up!’ Category

 
Freud might have a field day with this ‘Man Extreme’  ad. The (phallic?) snake, eagle and lion are asking to be interpreted more than I have time for here. And anyway I am a bit preoccupied with the name of this gentle perfume: Man Extreme is a bit, well, extreme for something so fragrant. It’s ok, fellas, you can smell like lavender and patchouli if you want. That doesn’t make you a girl. Or does it?
 
Metrosexuality seems to be so blatant, so ‘out’, so obviously ‘feminine’ in many ways – those tits! those legs! that make up! that hair! – that it is no wonder many men, whatever their sexual identity, are a little bit anxious about giving in to something that seriously puts their ‘traditional masculinity’ into question. Before we blame straight men for this macho reaction to the explosion of men’s beautiful self-love, let’s not forget that the ‘gay beard’ craze is just as uptight and macho as any heterosexual expression of ‘manly’ anxiety. Remember 2011’s popular beardy ‘gay movie’ Weekend? And don’t get me started on GayBros – ‘straight acting’ gays who make the 70s Clones look positively forward thinking!
 
weekend
 
Then there’s Ballet Boyz. On one hand, this bunch of pirouetting peacocks remind us how comfortable young men are these days with a) showing off their bodies, b) embracing their ‘feminine’ side, and c) showing off their bodies.
 
 
On the other hand, there’s some familiar ‘disavowal’ of full on feminine flamboyance going on.  There’s the obvious ‘manly strap on’ in the name – Ballet BOYZ, with an added hard man hip hop flavour. And there’s the slightly ‘laddish’ (No Homo) atmosphere of an all-men dance company, run by two men, that enables a (bearded!) Guardian journalist to say:
 
“[the company] doesn’t do ballet. Instead, it does 21st-century choreography with a muscular and occasionally dangerous edge.”
 
Phew!  that’s ok then!
 
It is within this rather ‘backs to the wall’  21st century context of pretty boy, pretty insecure masculinity that Dove for Men have launched a new shampoo. And in which a Brazilian ad for their metrotastic hair care product has caused heads to turn.
 
 
Dove has traditionally described itself as being For Women. So when they launched their Dove Men cosmetics and toiletries range they needed to set it apart from the girls’ stuff.  And they’ve come up with quite an ingenious way of doing so. Judging by the reactions on twitter and elsewhere, this ad is a hit. But why? The advert involves an office worker who is plagued by long luscious locks, a la Pantene for women, and is only rescued by a colleague telling him how Dove for Men can restore his masculinity. Critics have called it ‘confused‘, as it veers between taking the piss out of men wearing ‘feminine’ cosmetics and celebrating (and of course selling) that very idea. But I think the cleverness of this commercial lies in its willingness to embrace the confusion that many men experience when buying into consumerism and narcissism, but also worrying about whether or not they are ‘still a man’. So the machismo that Dove are obviously espousing and exploiting is also subtly put into question and sent up.  Does shampoo really make your hair grow long and shiny? Of course not. As this tweet shows, the silliness of the premise is part of the ad’s success:
 
And making a man enact the exaggerated, posing, overly ‘coquettish’ movements of a woman in a shampoo ad, a subtle but not-missed message is put across about how ridiculous and unrealistic this version of OTT femininity is, and how gendered marketing for the same products is kind of lame in 2013. But for many men (and maybe women too) watching, whilst they are laughing at the joke, they are also reassured by it. Dove for men is a real brand, selling real shampoo to ‘real men’.
 
nivea
 
You’d think that maybe one group of people who are not convinced by these manly marketing strategies would be the ‘beauty bloggers’ and ‘male grooming’ bloggers who see these gimmicks day in and day out. But  the fact that consumer experts such as Grooming Guru are, despite a few misgivings, convinced by products labelled as ‘For Men’ shows how metrosexuality is still  somehow threatening, even to the most enthusiastic metrosexual men. GG says:
 

‘I’ve personally always found the ‘man’ prefix superfluous and silly (though I still think the “For Men” tag has value for brands like Nivea, Clinique and L’Oreal who need to differentiate their men’s lines (often reformulated to suit men’s skin and its unique needs) from women’s. So come on guys, don’t spoil your perfectly good products with thoroughly daft names okay?’

Pushing products ‘for men’ may of course in one sense be a wheeze to make more money – it creates two markets where once there was one – but I don’t think this is the whole story of Dove for Men, Or Man Extreme, or Ballet Boyz. Because the ‘market’ of men’s vanity and self-love (not to mention dance) has been growing and going strong for a long time now. I don’t think anything, not even – gasp! – gender neutral packaging would stop the tide of metrosexual consumerism.  But while that phenomenon is here, it may as well also do the job of soothing men’s troubled, but oh so moisturised brows, about their anxiety over what it means to be a ‘man’ in the modern age. Going back to Freud, I think that in the early part of the 20th century, he was exploring how the gender binary is a form of ‘neurosis’. Now, in the 21st century, I would like us to admit that as long as we split people into this arbitrary division between ‘men’ and ‘women’ and try and flatten out human complexity and the many many ways of expressing our identities, we will be stuck with silly, complicated but ultimately macho ads like the Dove for Men one.

The gender binary, unfortunately, seems to be a winning formula. But I’m not buying.

messi-

Lionel Messi showed up at an awards event recently, resplendant in polka dots. Some have said he is following in that 80s pop duo’s footsteps, Strawberry Switchblade. I hate to be a pedant, but I myself once aped those goth-pop beauties at my school disco aged twelve. And I think they were more ‘spotty’ than ‘dotty’.

But dots v spots aside, the question is in 2013 is Messi dressing up to the nines for a do ‘news’? according to metrotastic blogger Grooming Guru we are now in a ‘post metrosexual’ age and men’s grooming and preening habits are nothing to write home about.

I’m not so sure. But I do think we now have quite a substantial contemporary ‘history’ of tarty boys. And so rather than women role models it is quite possible Messi is following in the well heeled footsteps of the King (or queen) of metrosexual display, David Beckham. It was 15 whole years ago that Becks caused a splash with his sarong.

So maybe it’s too late for us to get our spotty knickers in a twist about a few dots…

dbeckham

 

gayiconbc

 

Ben Cohen, Calendar Pin Up, anti-homophobia activist and Rugger Bugger, posted this delectable photo on twitter, just before Christmas. He added that he is a ‘gay icon and proud’. This was quite a clever, if a little catty move. And was in response to an interview in the press with Louis Smith, Charleston dancing, hair coiffeuring, boxing winner of this year’s Strictly Come Dancing. The issue at hand is Louis’ disavowal of the ‘gay’ bit of his status as new gay icon on the block. Like many ‘straight’ metrosexual men, especially models, pop stars and sportsmen, Louis is happy to receive attention and adulation from wherever he can get it. But he is less delighted by some of the sexual undertones of this attention. The Telegraph reports:

‘After admitting that he has become a “gay icon”, he adds: “As long as gay people can see the line, and that I fancy women, that’s fine. I don’t want to be put in a difficult, uncomfortable situation.”’

These comments, also discussed in the gay press, received a lot of angry responses from (mainly white middle class) gay men. They seem to feel upset that lovely Louis is ‘playing’ with their affections, but unlike Cohen, refusing to play ball. Not only is Louis NOT an anti-homophobia activist like cuddly Cohen, he also has the audacity to throw a bit of a spanner in the works of gay men’s wet dreams about him. This ‘gay icon’ is doing it wrong!

But I have quite a lot of sympathy for Louis, and all men who identify as straight in our tarty, self-loving metro culture. Life is confusing enough, as it slowly dawns on them that they are as narcissistic – if not more so – as their gay brethren, that hair gel and moisturiser matters to them too, without being told they are also expected to be ‘up for it’ with homos as well!

Yes, metrosexuality is ‘well gay’. But more importantly it marks the ‘end of sexuality as we’ve known it’. And so gay men have no right to put the new generation of men pin ups in a ‘gay’ box. These boys won’t be fenced in and don’t have to be! So maybe the older gay generation are just jealous.

As for Cohen, I think he gets away with being an out and proud ‘gay icon’ because he looks more ‘butch’ than Louis. He seems to be maintaining his ‘straight’ status more successfully than pretty Smith, despite the oiled up calendar shoots and naked exhibitionism the rugby player displays. The irony is of course, that another reason the gays go easy on Cohen is he looks just like a gay bear with his gay beard and big muscles! He’s one of them!

But I vote for Louis in this stand off. We will be seeing a LOT more of him in the  future. He may be a gay icon, but mainly he is his own metrosexual man.

WeekendX390

This is a poem by Mervyn Morris, I think it speaks for itself.

http://www.poetryarchive.org/poetryarchive/singlePoem.do?poemId=14632

Casanova

Flaunting his gym-toned pectorals,

washboard stomach,

fashion- conscious locks,

he worked the image of philanderer,

every woman’s fantasy or threat.

But something tremulous inside

his gravelly baritone exposed

a small boy quivering in the dark,

his mother dead, his father gone away,

groping for explanations.

——————-

I have found myself returning again and again to the question of how machismo relates to metrosexual masculinity? I don’t know if I can answer it. But the above poem is definitely as good an attempt as any.

Someone on twitter this week was talking about how she tried to explain to her Dad the ‘homoerotic subtexts’ in the 1980s Hollywood film, The Lost Boys. But he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) see it, and thought it was just a movie about vampires.

 

But can the Dads of this world deal with the homoerotics of things they have relied on as being ‘manly’, ‘macho’, ‘safe’? Things like body building, hardcore violent war movies, and Arnold Schwarzenegger?

Even the young, gay, ‘masculinity expert’ Mark Mccormack finds the idea that Arnie might be homoerotic hard to er, swallow. He says:

‘Born in the 1980s, I grew up during a period where the most macho masculinities were esteemed. From Rambo to Rocky, Die Hard to Lethal Weapon, men were portrayed as all-action heroes whom neither bullets nor armies could vanquish. Professional wrestlers appeared almost understated in their gendered performances compared to the display of masculine bravado found in movies and revered in the wider culture.’

 

[redacted]

This is another version of my review of  Mark McCormack s new book on Declining Homophobia.

——————————————–

The Declining Significance of Homophobia, by Mark McCormack, is, according to its author, a ‘good news story’. The good news being that homophobia amongst young people is on the wane. His research with mainly young men students in three English sixth forms reaches very different conclusions to that of the more sobering surveys by LGBT organisations such as Stonewall.

The argument McCormack makes is clear:  in line with Eric Anderson (2009)’s theories of ‘softening’ masculinities, McCormack tells us that the young people he studied do not marginalize and discriminate against each other on the basis of sexual orientation, or even perceived orientation. This is because homophobia has declined in our culture, since the ‘homohysteria’ that characterised the 1980s and 1990s. He also looks at language, and argues convincingly that in many contexts, young people’s use of the term ‘gay’ to mean ‘lame’ or ‘rubbish’ is not homophobic, but merely a sign of changing times, and linguistic shifts.

I agree with McCormack that attitudes are changing and expanding, to accommodate a more accepting approach, both towards homosexuality, and towards ‘feminine’ behaviours amongst men, (think David Beckham in a sarong, or Alex Reid in women’s lingerie). However I have a few problems with his reasoning, and with the identity politics he uses to explain and celebrate this change.

One weakness of the book is a lack of depth of understanding on the part of McCormack about the history of homophobia. He relies almost solely on the work of his ‘mentor’ Eric Anderson to explain how homophobic attitudes gripped the (western) world during the 1980s and 1990s, when AIDS was seen by many as a ‘gay plague’. And when the age of consent was higher for homosexual men than for heterosexuals. Other writers who are missing from McCormack’s book who have carefully examined the recent history of homophobia, include Mark Simpson (Anti- Gay 1996), David Halperin (How To Do The History of Homosexuality, 2004), Steven Zeeland (Barrack Buddies 1993) and Keith Boykin (Beyond The Down Low 2005).

Whilst the end of the 20th century was indeed a bleak time in many ways for sexual freedom, in others it was positive. ‘Gay culture’ went mainstream in the 80s and 90s, with bands such as The Smiths, Culture Club, The Pet Shop Boys and Erasure topping the charts. Fashion and advertising began to exploit the ‘pink pound’, with models such as Marky Mark showing off their ‘assets’ to gay consumers. And even the awful reality of AIDS itself led to increasing visibility of LGBT people. When Princess Diana was filmed shaking hands and chatting to people who had the AIDS virus in 1989, for example, her status as a ‘gay icon’ was confirmed. And her high profile role changed some hearts and minds about homosexuality.

I think McCormack  is also wrong to focus as heavily as he does on ‘gay’ identities and ‘gay rights’ politics. One thing I remember most fondly about the 90s was the explosion of debate and activism around the concept of queer. Both in academic circles, with the ground-breaking work of writers such as Butler , Simpson and Paglia, and in everyday life, the politics of ‘gay’ expanded and diversified into the politics of ‘queer’, enabling many people who were marginalised on the grounds of gender and sexuality, to be included in the conversation. But McCormack is very dismissive of this ‘queer turn’, and in particular of writers such as Judith Butler who he describes as ‘elitist’ and ‘obscure’. He  reverts to the use of ‘gay’ identity politics and ‘gay’ terminology to describe and represent all LGBT people. One problem with this is that, as Simpson and colleagues wrote in their controversial book Anti-Gay (1996), the ‘gay’ identity itself has contributed to the erasure of other marginalised sexual identities such as bisexuality.

I have one final criticism of McCormack’s book, which extends to a general criticism of masculinities theory overall – it relates to what could be seen as an unmentioned, unacceptable great big pink ‘elephant in the room’. The elephant’s name? Metrosexuality. I think McCormack’s  thesis and research would be improved immensely by giving serious consideration to this ‘21st century’ phenomenon, of men expressing their ‘desire to be desired’ via consumer and media culture. According to Mark Simpson, originator and key theorist of the concept of metrosexuality,

‘Con­trary to what you have been told, met­ro­sex­u­al­ity is not about flip-flops and facials, man-bags or man­scara. Or about men becom­ing ‘girlie’ or ‘gay’.  It’s about men becom­ing every­thing. To themselves. In much the way that women have been for some time. It’s the end of the sex­ual divi­sion of bath­room and bed­room labour.  It’s the end of sex­u­al­ity as we’ve known it.’ (Simpson 2011)

It does not make sense to me, that a world in which the oppressive and repressive phenomenon of homophobia is declining and even disappearing, would also be a world in which sexual identity categories such as ‘gay’ remain unchanged. The ‘end of sexuality as we’ve known it’ is a difficult concept to grasp, especially for those of us who have been discriminated against because of our sexuality, and who consider it a key aspect of our identities. But I think it is on the horizon. For, to quote one of my favourite homos ever, Christopher Isherwood, ‘we’re all queer in the end’.

The Declining Significance Of Homophobia by Mark McCormack (2012)

 

I have critiqued the feminist concept of hegemonic masculinity before. The idea that there is a ‘masculine ideal’ that some men achieve and exploit, and others are oppressed by does not work for me. Also if there is a ‘hegemonic masculinity’ why is there not a ‘hegemonic femininity’. The concept relies on the idea that patriarchy exists, and necessarily is oppressive to women more than men.

I have also critiqued the feminist/academic blog Sociological Images. Its blindness to metrosexual men is particularly galling.

So I was interested when it came up with a cod analysis of some recent Superbowl ads, all featuring men. The description of Beckham’s H and M Bodywear video placed him as a beneficiary of ‘hegemonic masculinity':

‘Tattooed, rugged, athletic, showcasing a lean musculature and menacing glare, Beckham embodies a hegemonic masculinity that would surely resonate with sporting audiences. And while not presented in this commercial, it is important to also note that Beckham carries other cultural traits that ad to his hegemonic masculine status – he is globally recognized, financially wealthy, and married to a woman who also holds currency in popular culture. This last point is critical. By being married, Beckham confirms his heterosexuality, and her extraordinary beauty and international popularity raise his standing as a “real man”.’

This is a stark contrast to [redacted] s analysis of the same ad a few weeks ago. He wrote:

‘In keep­ing with the trade­mark pas­siv­ity of met­ro­sex­u­al­ity in gen­eral and uber-metro Becks in par­tic­u­lar, the ad fea­tures much bat­ting of long eye­lashes, and arms held defence­less above the head, as the cam­era licks its lens up and down and around his legs and torso. Teas­ingly never quite reach­ing the pack­age we’ve already seen a zil­lion times on the side of buses and in shop win­dows — but instead deliv­er­ing us his cotton-clad bum, his logo and his mil­lion dol­lar smile.

I’m here for you. Want me. Take me. Wear me. Stretch me. Soil me. But above all: buy me.

All, curi­ously, to the strains of The Ani­mals: ‘Don’t Let Me Be Mis­un­der­stood’. Is it meant to be ironic? What after all is to be misunder­stood? Don’t the images tell us every­thing? Even what we don’t want to know. About the total com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of masculinity.’

[redacted] does the unheard of as far as feminists are concerned, and points out how Becks is a ‘model’ in much the same way many women are. And if he is being ‘commodified’ in a ‘feminine’ way as women and their bodies are, how does ‘hegemonic masculinity’ even begin to relate to representations of him and other metrosexual men.

I agree with SocImages up to a point about Becks’ role as a married hetero, albeit totally tarty man. But whilst they seem to be saying his marriage to Victoria secures him a place at the top hegemonic masculinity table, I, influenced by Simpson, see it more as a failed attempt on his part to ‘vanquish the fag’ within. In his essays on Sporno [redacted] points out how stars such as Beckham rely on and court gay men fans, and the ‘gayze’. They are negotiating what is becoming a very complex ‘line’ between ‘gay’ and ‘straight’, ‘passive’ and ‘active’, ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’.

Sure, uber-metro uber-famous uber-‘virile’ men such as Beckham ‘get away with it’ usually. But look at other heterosexual metro-men who have been ridiculed and ‘queer bashed’ by the press, including sportsmen such as Shane Warne  and Ronaldo and politicians like David Miliband. It is not as straightforward as Sociological Images make out.

Or as boring. Feminist discourse on gendered representation of bodies just makes me fall asleep!

They can take their hegemonic masculinity and stick it where the ‘patriarchal’ sun don’t shine!