Where Have All The Real Men Gone?

Posted: November 14, 2011 in Masculinities, metrosexuality
Tags: , ,

This country pop song from Justin Moore pretty well sums up the cry ringing round the world (particularly America) at the moment: where have all the real men gone?

‘I heard you had to drive him home after two umbrella drinks
I heard he’s got a Prius, ’cause he’s into bein’ green
My buddies said he saw ya’ll, eatin’ that sushi stuff
Baby that don’t sound like you, that don’t sound like love, sounds like it sucks…

He can’t even bait a hook
He can’t even skin a buck
He don’t know who Jack Daniels is
He ain’t ever drove a truck’

It’s quite funny seeing a pretty man with Ryan Gosling looks and Beckham style narcissism in a pop video, expressing a retrosexual desire for old-fashioned, authentic masculinity. But thanks to the insights of Mark Simpson, we know that what this is really, is metrosexual denial. In the introduction to his latest book, Metrosexy, Simpson writes:


But when media types start cooing as they have done lately about ‘retrosexuals’ that are just metrosexuals with shaped chest hair, I can’t help but roll my eyes like the girlfriends of the lads flashing me their shaved balls.

You see, when I first used the word ‘retrosexual’ back in 2003, I just meant men who were not metrosexual. So-called ‘regular guys’. Remember those? But at the dawn of the second decade of the Twenty First Century, masculinity has been rendered so self-conscious in our mediated, mirrored world that even ‘regular guys’ are apparently just a fashion fad – this season’s accessory. We’re all like my post-op MTF transsexual friend Michelle (formerly known as the male stripper ‘Stud-U-Like’) complaining: ‘Where can you find a REAL man these days?? I’m so SICK of all these metrosexual PHONIES!’ Though probably with less self-irony.

What else could explain the squealing eagerness with which the media seized upon the confected character of Mad Men’s Don Draper as an example of the return of the ‘retrosexual’? An impossibly pretty and impeccably well-turned out Army deserter with identity issues – and a hidden, shameful secret – who works as an advertising creative and is the unwavering object of the camera’s voyeuristic gaze. We’re so metrosexualised now that this is what ‘old-time masculinity’ looks like to us. Put another way, metrosexuality is masculinity mediated, aestheticised and (self) fetishised. Even if it looks fetching in a trilby.


Now George Clooney, pin up, film star and sex symbol, has joined in the metro-denial. In a recent interview he said:

“I’m the least metrosexual cat you’ve ever met. I’ve never had my fingernails or toenails done, and I’ve cut my own hair longer than other people have cut my hair. On an awards-show day, I can play basketball, go in, take a shower and put on a tux – it takes me three minutes to put on a tux – and be out the door in 15 minutes.”

Me thinks the lady doth protest too much. But the ‘truth’ of Clooney’s statement lies in the fact that even now, in Metrosexy 2011, men, whilst primping and preening and showing off their bodies, are still in many cases uncomfortable with using the ‘m’ word, and with embracing its associations with femininity and passive display.

Clooney’s metro-denial is particularly ironic, considering one of his more famous roles was playing the vain escaped convict of yesteryear in O Brother Where Art Thou? The Cohen brothers cleverly tapped into Americans’ love of authentic old-fashioned Americana, whilst revealing Clooney’s character to be an archetypal modern-day metrosexual, who used pomade and checked his hair in the mirror every few minutes.

How many more times do I (and Mr Simpson) have to say it? Metrosexuality is here to stay. Retrosexual metro-anxiety is probably here to stay too, for the time being at least. But it’s only a symptom of the disease. It’s not a cure.

h/t Karen from the Man As Object exhibition

  1. elementary_watson says:

    Coming here over from FC, so, you know, you invited me 😉

    I think it is somewhat facetious to link Clooney the actor to metrosexuality because one of the characters he played arguably was. (By the way, how metrosexual was his version of Batman?)

    Hmm, asking that question makes me realize that I hardly know what is and is not metrosexual, but hey, you said you *wanted* comments 😉

    Cheers, e.w.

  2. Schala says:

    His version of Batman with tits on the latex costume?

  3. Hi elementary_watson nice to see you!

    You are right an actor can’t be judged by his characters but I think the Cohen Brothers were also referencing Clooney himself in that part, and he did make it his own.

    Batman with tits:


  4. Ginkgo says:

    Here I am without an invitation.

    Something occurs to me about men inviting the male gaze. Most often it is nt sexual. “An officer is on parade 24 hours a day”? Remember the opening scene in Dangerous Liaisons, where John Malkovich is getting dressed for the day and it takes like two hours? That kind of thing was about projecting and image of power, not sexiness.

  5. elementary_watson says:

    Well, Schala, the nipples got there with Schumacher already on Val Kilmer’s Batsuit, but Kilmer’s Batman still donned the costume because of his emotional torment about Crime. Clooney’s Batman, IMO, wears the latex suit because he likes the look of it when kicking ass – ah, screw that, when kicking ice.

  6. There’s snow excuse for Mr. Freeze puns, elementary_watson. Ski that you don’t do it again. 😉

    Nice article QRG. Might I add that O Brother Where Art Thou is one of my favorite movies of all time. The thing is that I don’t think Clooney’s character was the least bit out of place for the time. We’ve always had fops, dandies, popinjays, toffs, dudes, macaronis, blades,clotheshorses, gigolos, bucks, and lounge lizards. Heck, metrosexual’s just another word for ‘city boy.’

    The song in the begining of your article longs for men who know how to do things men stereotypically like to do for leisure outside of places that have many choices for leisure activities, and those places are becoming rarer and rarer. It reminds me of nerd culture, where some of us scoff about all the newbs who’ve never played Contra, Zork, or Space Invaders. Retrosexual is the perfect term for this mindset. This is no battle for masculine authenticity, just a clash in tastes. This is less Real Mean vs Faux Men than Trekkers vs Star Wars fans or, in the spirit of your articles, Silks vs. Leathers. 🙂

    • Interesting points Jay. I like O Brother too but I think it was/is very much of its time. Even though it is set in the past it is a contemporary film, and I think it captures the contemporary ‘metrosexuality’ of people like Clooney. I might go so far to say that the Cohen Brothers were making a direct reference to Clooney’s own metro-vanity, in the part they wrote for him…

      as for men with different ‘tastes’ I am not so sure. The bearded, ‘manly’ ‘retrosexual’ look, is a ‘look’ that you can achieve by going to the salon just like any other metro look. I don’t think they are that different at all.

      I know what you mean about pastimes though that’s a slightly different topic I will think more about that…

  7. elementary_watson says:

    There’s a clash Silks vs. Leathers??? I’m pretty sure there were times I wore silk underwear beneath leather pants; where does that put me in this conflict?

  8. elementary_watson says:

    But how metro-sexy was Clooney before O Brother? Before that movie, he had some soldiers and similar badasses, some South Park characters, a doctor and, you know, Batman in his actorly CV.

    Also, the spelling of the Coen Brothers’ name (without the “h”) is crucial; as legend has it, Bill Murray took his voice acting role in Garfield because he saw Joel Cohen credited as screenwriter, mistaking him for one of the Coen Brothers …

  9. Hola QRG-

    When I saw this music video, I don’t know why but it made me think of a homoerotic fight between David Futrelle and some MRA’s-maybe all the manboobage…..

  10. Hugh Ristik says:

    Agree that Clooney is protesting too much. Since he is a celebrity, that means (a) he works with stylists on his look, or (b) he is the stylist who works on his look. Clooney just falling into the attractive masculine celebrity look completely by accident without much effort is possible, but improbable. Any non-celebrity who devoted as much effort (and probably personnel) to clothing as Clooney does would probably get tagged as a metrosexual.

    The fact that Clooney’s look is on the more masculine end would not protect him from the category of metrosexual. Many gay men also groom themselves with a masculine aesthetic.

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