I almost fell off the platform when I saw this bodybuilding supplements poster busting out all over the London Underground last month. Depilated pecs and pixelated junk nakedly objectified in the rush hour for all to see: men and women, children and adults, wide-eyed tourists and jaded locals.
Worse, the poster encouraged other young men to objectify themselves ("reveal yourself"), and spend their hard-earned cash buying supplements that they hope will help to make them more desirable, more saleable, more shaggable -- bustier. I felt like writing to my local politician -- to complain about the fact that the posters weren't more widely-available.
Strangely enough, I was on my way to appear on a panel at London's Southbank Centre to talk about "Being a Man" when I was confronted with these man-knockers, to use an English idiom. On the panel I was responding to a presentation by the cross-dressing artist and TV presenter Grayson Perry, something of a man knocker himself -- in a more 'critical' sense.
Perry's presentation (along the lines of this piece for the New Statesman) was acerbic, entertaining, and not without insight, but sometimes seemed at least 30 years out of date. And I know this because I myself am only 20 years out of date.
My main issue with it was not that it problematised and pathologised masculinity and "toxic" testosterone and the Sauronic "male gaze" -- which it did in spades -- but that it reified, possibly fetishised masculinity as something unchanging, something monolithic. Sometimes the biggest critics of masculinity are its biggest believers -- including cross-dressing feminist men.
Of course, I tend to notice far too much what some don't care to see at all -- and I began my comments by warning the audience that I like men. Alot. But I was surprised how little Mr. Perry seemed to understand me when talking about the eager self-objectification young men today go in for and the breakdown of what I call the heterosexual division of labour, of looking and of loving.
I wonder if he uses the London Underground? Or even his eyes?
The recent movie version of Fifty Shades of Grey has been attacked by some feminists for setting back women (because it features female submissiveness and male masterfulness) and for glorifying "abuse" (despite being very consensual). Notwithstanding it is written by a woman, directed by a woman (Sam Taylor-Johnson), green-lighted by a woman -- and of course enormously popular with women. Likewise, the rehabilitation of female masochism in the last decade or so seems to have been forgotten and replaced by suspicion of women who like their sex submissive and spanky.
I haven't seen the movie, I'm still recovering from going to see my last "chick flick," so can't comment on whether or not the women involved in making it and the millions going to see it are suffering from false consciousness. And obviously I don't know much about womanhood anyway.
But I have watched the official trailer. Repeatedly. The masterful Mr Grey (Jamie Dornan) is a standard-issue spornosexual who probably has a Bulk Powders Gold Card. In the 2.23 min trailer there are seven topless shots of his sculpted torso, including a mirror shot which gives you a simultaneous, spitroasting front and rear view of it, vs 1.5 of Ms Steele (Dakota Johnson), sans nipples in her case. Oh, and one side shot of her panties -- with Dornan's pretty face in front of them.
My favourite shot, though, shows Dornan playing his grand piano shirtless, in a scene that looks a bit Behind the Candelabra -- but with Liberace as the boy-toy. I suppose that the grand piano represents Ms Steele submitting to the skillful fingers of Mr Grey. But it looks like a very camp -- sorry, I mean masterful -- form of masturbation.