Metrodaddy v. Ubermummy
Mark Simpson interviews himself.
MS: WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF THE REPORTS IN SOME QUARTERS THAT YOUR BABY IS ‘DEAD’?
MS: Rumours of his death have been greatly exaggerated. Mostly by the marketing woman who kidnapped him two years ago, who has I believe another book to sell.
MS: SOMEONE SHOULD CALL SOCIAL SERVICES ABOUT THAT WOMAN.
MS: I blame myself. I should have fought harder for custody of the metrosexual. But I worried about him seeing my piles of dirty y-fronts and I had no place to put his shoe collection.
MS: HE WOULDN’T HAVE UNDERSTOOD HOW METRODADDY COULD LIVE LIKE THAT.
MS: OK, so the world may be — finally! — growing bored with the word ‘metrosexual’, which apparently I coined back in 1994 but which no one took much notice of until I returned to the subject again for Salon.com in 2002, prompting the last three years of metrosexmania — a media and marketing global gang-bang that makes the rape of Berlin by the Red Army seem like a pre-teen pyjama party. Despite the resulting, ahem, slackness of the word itself, the metrosexualisation of men continues apace. Masculinity is more mediated, more commodified, more exhibitionistic, more self-conscious, and more tarty than ever.
MS: I HAD A NEW FRIDGE DELIVERED YESTERDAY AND THE TWO MACKS CARRYING IT WERE WORKS OF ART. I FELT LIKE A DESPERATE HOUSEWIFE — ONE WHO SPENDS WAY LESS TIME ON HER APPEARANCE THAN THEY DO.
MS: Things have gone so far and so fey that even a retrosexual these days is frequently merely a metrosexual with shaped chest hair — or sporting one of those neatly trimmed, Emperor Hadrian/Guy Ritchie type beards that merely emphasise an exquisite boyishness.
MS: YEAH. LOTS OF GAYS HAVE BEEN WEARING THOSE SCRATCHY BEARDS FOR YEARS NOW. IT’S A GREAT WAY OF PUTTING THE CHICKS OFF: ‘NO, I CAN’T DATE YOU — IT WOULD RUIN YOUR COMPLEXION’.
MS: David Beckham, the man I once dubbed the ‘uber-metrosexual’ — sound familiar? — may be somewhat out of fashion at the moment in the UK, but largely that’s just because he’s been upstaged. Despite their gargantuan salaries, the entire Fulham FC squad, led by Fabulous Frankie Lampard seems to be moonlighting as male strippers. Even rugby, once the sport of hairy beer monsters, has gone raving metro with those gym-built-bodies, those oh-so-tight Gaultier-esque strips to show them off, and don’t get me started on Gavin Henson’s hilarious hairdos. Ditto cricket: the Ashes were won back from Australia this year by the gallant efforts of an England all-rounder hero who likes to wear a diamante ear-stud, a bashful come-hither grin and impeccably-cropped hair.
MS: NEXT TO IAN BOTHAM HE LOOKS LIKE A COMPLETE POOF.
MS: Or rather — an entirely different species. Metrosexual. With all these preening heroes, a whole generation of boys has been metrosexualised. A recent survey of 2000 teen males in the UK found that on average, boys admitted to looking in the mirror ten times a day. 96% of these young narcissists used deodorant, 90% used hair-styling products and 50% moisturisers while 72% would like a makeover. This new-found male self-consciousness comes at a price, however: 62% “disliked” their faces and 25% said they “might have plastic surgery”.
MS: BUT WHAT ABOUT THE ‘UBERSEXUAL’ THAT THE MARKETERS WANT TO REPLACE THE METROSEXUAL WITH? DOESN’T HE SOUND NICE AND SHINY AND NEW-FANGLED?
MS: More like some kind of Nazi memorabilia fetishist. The ‘ubersexual’ is just a badly repackaged metrosexual. Any discussion in the style pages of the media about what is desirable and attractive in men and what is ‘manly’ and what isn’t, is simply more metrosexualisation, even if it doesn’t come, as it has in this case, directly from marketers who have every interest in even more buying and selling of male-ness.
MS: WE’RE ALL HUSTLERS NOW, BABY.
MS: Yeah, but not everyone is buying. Contrary to most of the skin-deep coverage of the last two years, metrosexuality is not about going to spas and wearing flip flops, nor is it essentially ‘girly’ and ‘feminine’ — unless you think that narcissism and self-centredness are essentially feminine qualities. Metrosexuality, do I really have to spell it out?, is mediated masculinity. Mediated masculinity that has replaced the ‘real’ thing. This is why I described the metrosexual as a collector of fantasies about the male sold to him by the media. Those fantasies can be faux butch ones as well as faux fairy ones. Or both.
MS: YOU MEAN LIKE BRAD THE-ABS-THAT-LAUNCHED-A-THOUSAND-SIT-UPS PITT IN TROY WHERE HE SEEMED TO PLAY BOTH ACHILLES AND HELEN?
MS: Yes, and was felled by Orlando Bloom’s devastating cheekbones. Certainly metrosexuality is not something that is ‘replaced’ or ‘killed off’ by even more glossy self-consciousness — from advertising execs. If you look at the list of so-called ‘ubersexuals’ that the marketers have come up with many of them, such as Brad Pitt, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bill Clinton were on their list of metrosexuals two years ago. What turned these celebs from metrosexuals into ubersexuals in such a short period of time?
MS: IN THE CASE OF CLINTON, MAYBE IT WAS A QUADRUPLE-BY-PASS OPERATION.
MS: Well, desperation certainly had something to do with it. The demand for something ‘new’ but safely empty. To repackage. Ubersexuals are metrosexuals with the addition of — even more — media faddishness. The metrosexual is dead! Long live the metrosexual!
MS: WHY DOES THE MEDIA PLAY ALONG WITH THIS? WHY HAVEN’T THEY POINTED OUT THE NEW MONEY FOR OLD-SOAP-ON-A-ROPE DIMENSION?
MS: Because it sells newspapers, which very few things do these days, and because, largely due to their weakness caused by the proliferation of media which helped produce the metrosexual himself, newspapers are now a subdivision of the marketing-PR-repackaging business. Ironically, the only publication I’ve read that had a critical distance on the ubersexual guff was Advertising Age. The New York Times and all the other ‘serious’ newspapers just reprinted all this ubertwaddle as if it were the findings of a Nasa Mars probe. Except nearer the front.
MS: DIDN’T RUSH LIMBAUGH WHINE ABOUT NOT BEING ON THAT LIST OF UBERSEXUALS?
MS: Yes, but he was probably just excited by the Germanic overtones of the word ‘uber’. The reality is that Limbaugh is just a rather uninspiring retrosexual. The kind that reminds you why metrosexuality is so appealing.
MS: THE MARKETERS’ CLAIM THAT WHEREAS THE METROSEXUAL WAS ‘JUST GAY ENOUGH’, THE UBERSEXUAL ‘DOESN’T INVITE SPECULATION ABOUT HIS SEXUALITY’? KINDA CREEPY, NO?
MS: This is the only significant difference between the ‘ubersexual’ and the metrosexual: the ubersexual is much more uptight. That’s because he represents the marketer’s obsession with trying to straighten out the metrosexual, to rid the him of his seeming queerness and his narcissism — the very things that made him interesting, and glamorous, and gorgeous in the first place. Ironically, the very things that drew the marketers’ attention. They tried to do this with the metrosexual when they abducted him from his queer daddy two years ago, insisting, over and over, that he was always straight, OK??, and not so narcissistic, actually, more of a family guy, y’know? I kid you not. This earnest squareness was in contrast to my ambiguous, vainglorious definition: “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”.
MS: I DEFINITELY KNOW SEVERAL GUYS LIKE THAT. OR AT LEAST, I’D LIKE TO KNOW SEVERAL GUYS LIKE THAT.
MS: Marketers, I’m afraid, have small minds; they worry what the neighbours will think. They’re curtain twitchers. In fact, they’re worse than that: they measure curtain twitching. They imagine the way to persuade billions of men to buy more product is to keep telling them there’s nothing faggy about being・faggy. Which has a kind of truth to it, but it sort of misses the point that a certain kind of fagginess is exactly what is appealing to many straight men.
MS: TELL ME ABOUT IT. LIKE QUENTIN CRISP, I’VE ALWAYS FOUND OBVIOUSNESS A GREAT ADVERTISING STRATEGY.
MS: Unsurprisingly, the aversion therapy the marketers subjected the metrosexual to didn’t work — people insisted on being interested in his ambiguity. So what did they do? In order to metrosexualise those retrosexual men still holding out, buttocks clinched, against moisturiser, they tried to murder the ‘metrofag’ and put in his place the hyper-het, sexually hygienic, ‘ubersexual’. What could be straighter than Donald Trump? That ubersexual list they came up with reads like a straight pride parade. Hilariously though, this great victory for posterboy heterosexuality is the very thing that guarantees that everyone will have forgotten about the ubersexual even more quickly than they’ll forget about the metrosexual. The ubersexual is just a late 80s ad campaign for shaving foam. Cue cheesey MOR screecher: ‘GILL-ETTE!! THE B-E-E-E-EST A MAN CAN GET!!’
MS: HANG ON, DOESN’T THAT MARKETING WOMAN SAY IN HER BOOK THE FUTURE OF MEN, THE ONE THAT GAVE THE WORLD THE UBERSEXUAL, THAT METRODADDY WAS ‘OPENLY DERISIVE AND DISMISSIVE OF THE CREATURE HE HAD DISCOVERED’?
MS: Well, I’ve admitted that I was not the best dad in the world to the metrosexual, even though I gave birth to him, which is, let’s face it, more than most fathers do. Yeah, I’ve been a little harsh on him and his materialism sometimes — perhaps out of jealousy of his good looks and all the attention he got. But ‘openly derisive and dismissive’ ‘from word one’ is just untrue. As ‘proof’ UberMummy uses a quote from an article I wrote eight years after my original one and presents it as taken from the original. It’s a bit like finding yourself in a custody battle with a woman who will say anything to make sure you’re denied even visitation rights.
MS: WHICH IS REALLY CONFUSING IF YOU CAN’T REMEMBER THE LAST TIME YOU SLEPT WITH A WOMAN.
MS: Like the metrosexual himself, my feelings towards him are complex and ambivalent: he’s a product of a mediatised consumerist world but he’s also a response to it. But I’ll tell you what: since he’s been subjected to a homophobic kicking by those who have exploited him so shamelessly over the last couple of years, I’ve seen a lot more good in him.
MS: SO WHAT DO YOU PREDICT WILL FOLLOW METROSEXUALITY IF NOT UBERSEXUALITY? UNTERSEXUALITY? RURALSEXUALITY?
MS: Sorry to be boring, but barring a nuclear winter, or worse, a strike by personal fitness trainers, just more metrosexuality. Male vanity and mediated self-consciousness is a genie that can’t be put back in the Armani bottle. Male sensuality and ‘selfishness’ is necessary to sustain a global consumerist economy. Men must tint their eyelashes, otherwise we all starve.
MS: PERSONALLY I’D RATHER STARVE THAN HAVE PALE EYELASHES.
MS: Feminism has also made all this masculine self-indulgence indispensable. If men are, as some have put it, being more like ‘women’ maybe it’s because they can’t rely on women to be ‘women’ for them any more. Or even to stick around. Metrosexuality is a stab at a certain type of commodity-supported independence on the part of men. Armed with ‘product’, they’re not quite so dependent on a woman’s love, which is often a fickle thing in this day and age, but rather on their self-love, which in men we still tend to see as being sick or queer or laughable. In women, of course, we just call it ‘self-reliance’.
MS: YOU GO FOR IT, GURL! BECAUSE YOU DESERVE IT!
MS: Exactly. The double-standard here is remarkable. Can you imagine the furore if a man wrote a book called The Future of Women? One in which women were attacked for daring to appropriate characteristics traditionally associated with men to try and get ahead, or just survive? Compared to retrosexuals, metrosexuals, having imbibed the lessons of feminism in utero, don’t necessarily need women to dress them, feed them, tell them what they’re thinking or feeling — or what their future is. Some women find this a blessed relief. Others, such as UberMummy, seem to find it just another reason why they want him dead.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Simpson was born in York, England and attended the same school as Guy Fawkes, though not in the same year. He is a writer and journalist, and has been blamed/credited for inventing the term ‘metrosexual’. According to the Independent on Sunday he ‘writes with enough panache to make most of his peers toss their laptops into the waste disposal and weep.’
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, August 10th, 2005.