Culled from the premier issue of Men's Health Philippines Magazine
METROSEXUAL? NO THANKS
Our straight man turns a queer eye towards the latest trend, and decides he’s not ready to mousse, moisturise or exfoliate just yet
By Joe Queenan
No trend has come and gone faster than the “metrosexuality” craze that erupted last year. Metrosexuals, so the theory went, were an entirely new breed of straight, urban young men who unhesitatingly drowned their bodies in raucous cologne, who obsessed about body hair, who spent an enormous amount of time and money shopping for chic, upscale clothing, and who were not afraid to be confused with gay men.
True, to the uninitiated this sounded suspiciously like every cool waiter in Cape Town, but those in the know insisted that metrosexuals were not in fact snooty busboys at trendy bistros. They were in fact a new, improved kind of manly man. It’s just that they spent more time exfoliating.
When I first heard about the metrosexual craze, I thought it was yet another example of media hype. But one day the local gangsters who were repaving my driveway turned up reeking of an extremely esoteric cologne. Then the plumber who dropped by to replace my defective U-joints spent the whole day creaming his hands with moisturising lotion while listening to the soundtrack from Amélie. And then at a touch rugby game on a scorching late-summer afternoon, the teams were divided up not by “shirts” and “skins”, but by “hirsutes” and “exfoliateds”. Oh, no! I couldn’t believe it. Metrosexual dementia was invading my refined, low-key, super-non-cutting-edge suburban hamlet!
Puzzled, I decided to investigate the phenomenon. Devouring newspapers, magazines and Michael Flocker’s hastily assembled Metrosexual Guide to Style, I learnt that members of the new tribe had cobbled together their mix-and-match personalities from traits shared by soccer star David Beckham, noted thespian Antonio Banderas, rock singers David Bowie and Sting, director Guy Ritchie, and politician Al Gore. According to Flocker’s book (which begins with the suspiciously gender-neutral word “Hmm”), metrosexuals were a subversive force poised to rise above the rules of society, to “shatter them, and subsequently change the course of history”.
These hypershopping, hairless Robespierres were men of “stellar character” whose spiritual antecedents ranged from Mozart to Gandhi to Picasso, but apparently did not include Beowulf, James Brown, Shaka Zulu or Jonah Lomu. They were men, or quasimen, who were clearly in touch with their feminine side and who piously monitored any disturbing developments (fraying, sagging, stains) in their underwear drawer. And, according to reports in the New York Times, they were poised to take over the world.
Before long, the prospects for a global metrosexual coup d’etat seemed in place. Justin Timberlake had a monstrous hit record. Veteran heterosexual Harrison Ford began sporting an earring. Eminem performed with Elton John. For one sweet-smelling moment, it seemed as if every male on the planet was exuding something pungent, citrusy, woody or musky.
Then, unexpectedly, all the air went out of the balloon. David Beckham, who had worn out his welcome in England, got banished to Spain. Antonio Banderas made a couple more atrocious movies that tanked at the box office. Justin Timberlake got pelted with bottles at an outdoor concert in Canada and had to be defended by cada-verous, nonmetrosexual Keith Richards. Guy Ritchie married a woman who had once voluntarily gotten into bed with Sandra Bernhard.
Far more damaging to the prospects for a metrosexual putsch was the speed with which the trend was seized upon by the masses – including those guys in my driveway – and turned into something vaguely ridiculous. Before you knew it, the revolution had consumed its own children. Or been consumed by its own children. Or something equally fatal.
In retrospect, it is not clear whether metrosexuality was a naturally evolving trend that quickly reached the end of its life cycle or one of the biggest hoaxes of the past half century (see Vanilla Ice). Let us not forget that the men’s movement of the early 1990’s was originally canonised by the media, who then, as now, thought they were in the presence of a dramatic zeitgeist shift ushering in a watershed era of male demureness. With lots of tribal drumming in the sweat lodge. But then it was revealed that the men’s movement consisted almost entirely of middle-aged misogynists, and the craze abruptly expired.
The fate of the metrosexual movement is eerily similar. Originally a satirical concept dreamed up by a British journalist in 1994, the derisive notion of metrosexuality was deliberately perverted into an urban myth in a desperate attempt to get young men to buy more merchandise. Retailers had reason to be concerned, for no matter what anybody said or did, heterosexual men of all ages have traditionally refused to shop. To the average man, it’s time that could be put to better use drinking, fixing up their cars or fantasising about Jennifer Love Hewitt coiled like a python. Preferably around Sarah Michelle Gellar. So there was always something contrived, something statistically suspect about the breathless reports of a metrosexual craze.
For example, at the very same moment that the New York Times was hyperventilating about hip young males forking out over R1 000 for blue jeans, USA Today was publishing a troubling report that the largest group of male clothing buyers consisted of ordinary guys who liked khakis and loose-fitting shirts and who “tend to buy out of need, such as replacing a frayed shirt or stained trousers”. This was chilling news.
If USA Today was correct and most men were still enthralled by khaki, how were the outnumbered fashionistas going to seize the palace and proclaim a metrosexual republic? It was enough to make a young urban man with a refined aesthetic sense write home to Mother.
Further fuelling such discontent were approximately 97 million baby boomers, who annex (and thereby destroy) everything. They quickly developed a cognate concept of the “midlife metrosexual”, donning earrings and humming the theme song from Will and Grace. What next? Metrosexual car dealerships, metrosexual bike shops and even metrosexual garden services? Metrosexuality, which had started out as something edgy and exclusive, was now being sold in every mall.
Another major cause of the metrosexual implosion was the inevitable collision with the fat community. Sensing that the metrosexual powers-that-be were seeking to marginalise them, the fat community began developing its own subculture. Pro wrestlers began appearing in the ring in microbikinis, bathing their bodies in cold cream to easily avoid the grasps of their opponents. The term “metrosumosexual” soon entered the vernacular to describe heterosexual men who did not mind people thinking they were fat.
Ultimately, metrosexuality was done in by its own inherently flawed logic. There simply weren’t enough warm bodies to man the barricades. While it was true the nation abounded with young, urban males who obsessed about clothing and body hair and who did not mind being thought of as gay, this was because they were, in fact, gay. Metrosexuality was the cultural equivalent of The Blair Witch Project, a case of fleeting mass delusion that left everybody feeling horribly embarrassed after it was over. Personally, I can’t wait till my chest hair grows back.