Friday, March 24, 2006

Haven't We've Read This Before?

Some interesting food for thought.

The Last Gay Word: Making Men Meatby Brent Hartinger, March 22, 2006

Does anyone else think it's really ironic that our society's solution to the objectification of women wasn't to stop objectifying them, but rather to start objectifying men?

You can see it on the pages of any magazine or newspaper: sleek, ropy muscles; oiled chests shaved completely smooth; nipples jutting out like pencil erasers. As a kid, I remember when they use to airbrush the bulges out of underwear ads (I know because I was, uh, looking). But now they must airbrush the bulges in. Either that, or they're keeping photography studios a lot warmer than they used to.

Same for television. Honestly, One Tree Hill, The O.C., and Smallville are just a couple of steps away from Bel Ami porn videos, except with worse acting. And it's not just that there's more male flesh more openly on display; the flesh itself is sleeker, buffer, and more ripped.

Compare the masculine ideals of yesteryear to the physical specimens of today. These days, Burt Lancaster, Rock Hudson, and Burt Reynolds would be the scrawny kid on the beach in that old Charles Atlas comic book ad. Back then, not only was there no word for a “six-pack,” no one even knew such things existed. How is it possible, in the space of ten years, to create an obsession for whole new body part? Who knows, a decade from now, we might all be envying some model's “ripped” elbows. Young men, both gay and straight, have clearly taken the new “himbo” ethic to heart.

Go poke around It seems like every other video is a young man showing off his muscles. I made movies when I was teenager too, but virtually none of them involved me and my friends stripping down to our briefs and flexing. No, we resigned ourselves to movies with plots (at least if you can call a story about a man-eating wig a “plot”). Straight men who shave their backs: it's not an unappealing combination. And straight teenage girls everywhere must surely appreciate the fact that it's not just gay boys who are flossing and wearing a good deodorant. (But when it comes to body sprays, a little goes a long way, guys.)

Why has all this happened? In fact, we can pin-point the exact date it started. It was that 1983 Calvin Klein underwear ad featuring Brazilian Olympic pole vaulter Tom Hintnaus leaning back against a phallic looking white obelisk. Designed to appeal to gay men, it debuted first in Times Square, but was then emblazoned directly onto a blank spot in our collective unconscious. ",

In other words, blame Calvin Klein. For good measure, you can also point fingers at Scott Madsen, the original Soloflex guy in all those late-night infomercials. No, seriously. It's all their fault. Anyway, this is, of course, all totally gay. The weird thing is, most straight guys don't see it as particularly gay. True, Abercrombie and Fitch had a brief public relations disaster a couple of years ago when word swept high school campuses across the country that the store was “gay.” Hmm, I wonder what clued them in -- the pairs of hot young men grunting and writhing around the football field in state of frenzied pre-orgasmic rut, or the piles of naked male bodies draped together in a post-orgy exhaustion?

Anyway, straight men are finally discovering what some honest women and gay men have known all along: sometimes it's fun to be an object of desire. That said, there's definitely a downside. Spent any time around a young man lately, gay or straight? They're often obsessed with abs, steroids, glutes, and protein shakes. When I was that young, all I used to worry about was making it so my hair didn't stick out in back. Oh, and these young guys almost all hate their bodies, certain that they don't measure up to the ideal. It doesn't matter how great they actually look. "

Oh, and these young guys almost all hate their bodies, certain that they don't measure up to the ideal. It doesn't matter how great they actually look.

In other words, they sound like women. I admit that I find it kind of sad that straight society has been so eager to pick up the parts of gay male society that are potentially the most unhealthy –- our obsession with youth and looks, and the whole casual hook-up phenomenon. Admittedly, they've also picked up some of our strengths –- our ironic wit, and our interest in different cuisines. (Needless to say, we get blamed for STDs, but we don't any credit for Golden Girls and olive bars.)

Some of my dumpy straight friends are even starting to complain that they're being “oppressed” by the new male ideal. And they're right: who can measure up to an airbrushed fantasy? But as one of my female straight friends likes to say, “Finally men are getting a small taste of what it's like to be a woman in this society. Imagine growing up with a female ideal that's anorexia with huge breasts.

This new male ideal is at least possible without reconstructive surgery.” She's absolutely right, of course. Modern-day Puritans who froth and rage at the “sexualization” of men don't seem to be aware that women have always been sexualized, only no one ever seems to notice. Why would they? It's so ubiquitous as to be invisible, except to the women and girls whose souls it is crushing. And so, even now, Tom Ford stays fully clothed on the cover of Vanity Fair while Scarlett Johansson and Keira Knightley recline naked at his feet. Female celebrities, no matter how famous, must apparently always strip down to their skivvies for photo-shoots. "

But things are changing even here. Increasingly, Ben Affleck and Colin Farrell are starting to unbutton the top two buttons on their jeans. Soon they'll be stripped down and spreading their legs wider than Charlize Theron in a high-profile glossy spread determined to prove that she's not really the dumpy coal-mining agitator of her latest movie. This is America's idea of progress? The truth is, it just proves that this is still a man's world. Men like to look; now that gay men have some measure of power, and the stigma about them has lessened a little, corporate America has decided it's okay to give them something to look at. It's ridiculous, it's exploitative, and it's dehumanizing. But as long as it's all around us, you can't really expect me to look away, right? And that, alas, is the last gay word.

Brent Hartinger is the author of the gay teen novel, Geography Club, which is currently being adapted for the movies. "Respect Other Opinions, For Dissension is the Progenitor of Democracy"", The sequel, The Order of the Poison Oak, is just out in paperback, and his latest novel, Grand & Humble, is in stores now. Explore "Brent's Brain," his website, at

All of that being said, woofiness is in the eyes of the beholder. Have a great one, guys. Big hairy muscle hugs of appreciation and gratitude.


Teddy Pig said...

Who knew eventually we would be overwhelmed in a sea of segment marketing and hype?

The 5th Ave Idea of utopia is to sell you something and to do just that they know they have to make you feel really bad about who you are and what you look like.

Sell by intimidation and abuse and promises they wil never ever keep.

Now where is that rock I was planning on hiding under?

JB said...

"Spent any time around a young man lately, gay or straight? They're often obsessed with abs, steroids, glutes, and protein shakes."

*cough* *mumble*

Mind you, maybe I don't count as "young" anymore...