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