Part One: Strange Bedfellows
‘The ’80s saw a steep rise in the American male’s awareness of gays-and with it his desire not to be mistaken for one by in any way signalling that he had an ass and a packet.’ (Simpson: 2007)
‘In the early Noughties I described the exhibitionism of metrosexuality as ‘literally asking to be fucked’. I’m sure people thought I was being absurd and vulgar again. I was, of course. But I was also on the money (shot)’ (Simpson, 2010)
What is the connection, if any, between Sporno – ‘the place where sport and porn meet and produce a gigantic money shot’- and Speedophobia – ‘the tortured relationship between American men and their swimsuits’?
Or, to put the question more graphically, how can these two such contrasting expressions of a man’s attitude to displaying his body, coexist, not only in the same culture, but on the same (obviously not shy about displaying his assets) man?
I do not have a definite answer to this question. My investigation here is exploratory, probing and as thorough as I can make it, into the complex and seemingly contradictory attitudes we have in contemporary ‘Metrosexy’ society, towards the dressing and undressing of men’s bodies.The following discussion is based on my readings of the original and groundbreaking work of Mark Simpson, who has defined and dissected both Sporno and Speedophobia, as separate concepts, but has not examined them so extensively in conjunction with each other.
Keep still boys, I’m going in.
According to Simpson, in his first 2007 explanation of the meaning of ‘speedophobia’:
‘everyone knows that male bikinis-or, to give them their trade name-turned-generic moniker, “Speedos”-are unofficially banned from all main beaches in the United States, whatever your age’.
With that statement in mind, my attention was drawn recently, to this curious story about a Life Guard in Long Island New York, who seemed to be the victim of an unusual case of ‘reverse speedophobia’.
‘Despite passing every exam, despite being able to swim so far that you’d need an ocean liner to catch him, Mr Lester has been banned from serving as a guard because he turned up for work modestly attired in a pair of knee-length wetsuit shorts. These didn’t fit into the uniform instructions, apparently.
The swimsuit regulations on the state parks department website say all lifeguards taking the qualifying test for Long Island beaches must wear boxers, briefs or board shorts, a regulation, Lester says, he had never encountered until 2007’ (the same year Simpson ‘discovered’ speedophobia! The plot thickens).
Mister Lester was eloquently irate:
“There should be a law against anyone over the age of 50 wearing Speedos” he declared. And, it does seem as if this case may involve some ‘ageism’.
“Basically, the state’s been trying to get rid of the older guys. They really don’t like older lifeguards.”
‘Lester said the jammers had never been a problem in the past during the re-hire test. Neither board shorts nor boxers are an option, he said, because they inhibit speed, a key component of the timed test.’
What interests me, is whether or not the young buff lifeguard recruits who do their re-hire tests in speedos, actually then wear speedos on the beach, when they are working. And do the beaches they patrol have ‘speedophobic’ regulations for the punters? The media reports I have seen do not address these important questions. Rather, they tend to use Mister Lester’s situation as an excuse to launch into some speedophobic diatribes of their own. So, regardless of the specifics of this case, or any cultural shifts that may have occurred around men’s beachwear in America since 2007, the media coverage of the story just reinforces Simpson’s original point. Men are frightened of speedos because they think these inoffensive items of clothing have hidden powers to expose both the wearer and the spectator, as gay. As Simpson explained:
‘The ’80s saw a steep rise in the American male’s awareness of gays-and with it his desire not to be mistaken for one by in any way signalling that he had an ass and a packet.’ (Simpson: 2007)
But it seems that speedophobia has spread from the uptight American shores to Europe and the rest of the world. Indeed, back in 2009, Alton Towers the UK theme park, banned men from wearing speedos ‘to prevent embarrassment among fellow members of the public’.
As the recent speedophobic article about Mr Lester in the UK Telegraph says:
‘On the beaches of Pembrokeshire, the wetsuit has come to dominate the male dress code. It is not simply the fact that trussing up protects against the chill of the Irish Sea, it also helps preserve the sensibilities of those obliged to watch others cavort. It is, frankly, only polite.’
The ‘sensibilities’ of those ‘obliged to watch others cavort’ as well as the sensibilities of the journalist here, are obviously extremely homo-anxious about the effect exposure to the male body can have on a man. And, as is apparent from the photo of Becks and his broken surfboard above, the ‘male dress code’ on the beaches of Malibu also involves designer sack cloths and ashes, covering up all indication of the supermodel, I mean footballer’s best assets.
Simpson told us in his original Speedophobia essay, that the baggy short tradition actually came from professional sports.
‘Unfittingly enough, this tragic trend began with someone wearing two pairs of shorts at the same time. In the ’70s basketball shorts were skimpy (almost like Oz football shorts), but Michael Jordan popularized sexless long shorts in the NBA in the late 1980s. “He wanted to keep wearing his lucky [University of] North Carolina shorts under his Chicago Bulls shorts,” explains Australian academic David Coad, author of an upcoming book on sexuality, gender, and sport, “and decided to wear a longer pair to cover the shorter ones.” Because Jordan was Jordan, others copied, and thus baggy shorts became fashionable. It seems that this evil trend spread to male swimwear.’ (Simpson, 2007)
If you watch any men’s sport nowadays, from football to rugby to tennis, you will see how the ‘phalliban’ has become a worldwide phenomenon. Even Speedo itself, has given in to speedophobia and many of its costumes for men are all-over-body-burkhas. This makes me think that while unfair, Mr Lester’s experience of ‘reverse speedophobia’ was not only probably an isolated case, but it was also an excuse to reinforce speedophobic attitudes throughout the world’s media.
Bindel’s Beach Babes
Speedophobia is not exclusively restricted to puritanical attitudes to men’s outdoor ‘leisure’ costumes. But the female-oriented variety seems much easier to laugh off and discredit. Partly because it is mainly only expressed by radical feminists and pearl-clutching conservatives, but also because everyone knows that we all like to look at nekked laydees, really. Don’t we? Unless of course we are homos. ‘The painfully unequal sexual division of labor on U.S. beaches, where women wear little more than eyeliner and men wear tents-without the pole’, that Simpson decried in 2007, has extended not only across the globe, but also into professional sports. Women tennis players, swimmers, footballers and er, beach volleyball players are allowed to show a lot more flesh than their male counterparts.
Julie Bindel, radical feminist and conservative pearl-clutcher:
‘ is unhappy that women olympian beach volley ball players are conducting their sport, in, gasp! bikinis. She thinks it is sexist and an example of how women’s sports is not taken seriously, and how women athletes are nothing more than ‘eyecandy’ for ‘pervy’ men’ (QRG:2011)
My response to Julie’s apparent inability to take any pleasure in the (female) body whatsoever, despite her status as an out and proud ‘lezzer’ as she terms it, was to refer to Simpson’s Speedophobia thesis and say:
‘Julie, dear, the claim of ‘sexism’ really depends on your perspective. I for one am delighted to see some bronzed beautiful women playing top level sport in next to nothing. I only wish the men could do the same. I am an equal opportunity pervert’.
The fact that, as Julie tells us in dismay, the women beach volleyball athletes have a barcode on the arse of their bikini bottoms, that links to a website with photos and sexy videos, shows us that the commodification of sports bodies- male and female- is unstoppable. Women’s ‘sporno’ is not used quite as ubiquitously or as directly to sell products as men’s, but it certainly does exist. The photo below of the German women’s football team, enjoying a ‘wet t-shirt’ moment is one of the more ‘arty’examples, even though it is in Playboy, that well known ‘smutty’ magazine for ‘pervy men’. But, again, it was frowned upon by ‘pearl-clutching conservatives’:
The Times newspaper England printed a very moralising article about the Playboy shoot, suggesting the women were distracting from their duties as sportswomen by posing for ‘raunchy’ photos’.
But these naysers seem to be in a small minority and the general consensus is that it is fine for women to show off their spornotastic bodies both on and off the pitch (and of course, on the beach). In LA, there is even a women’s ‘Lingerie Basketball’ tournament, stockings and suspenders included.
‘The Lingerie Basketball League is a recent and refreshingly honest and entertaining form of sport created – where else? – in Los Angeles. As the name says, it’s a female League, where the teams (right now 4, but watch out for its quick expansion) play in uniforms that resemble lingerie and give the game that little extra attractiveness.’
Can you imagine a men’s lingerie basketball tournament? No. Nor me. So my next question, with regards to the approach to sports stars showing off their, um, prime cuts, is, why is it one rule for the girls, but it’s different for boys.?
Different For Boys
Here are some shots of two of the most famous tennis players in the world: Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal. Both are shown in two different contexts: one, on the court (both a vision in green tops), and one in a more ‘objectified’ pose, Serena on the cover of a magazine, Rafa on a MuHassive billboard ad for Armani.
Mark Simpson, of course, only had eyes for Nadal’s Armani sporno shoot:
‘In the early Noughties I described the exhibitionism of metrosexuality as ‘literally asking to be fucked’. I’m sure people thought I was being absurd and vulgar again. I was, of course. But I was also on the money (shot).
The Daily Mail tastefully describes this saucy image of the world’s No.1 tennis player half-naked, bent over and looking imploringly at the camera over his shoulder as ‘confident’. Which is reassuringly masculine sounding enough for their readers I suppose. While perhaps implying ‘spunky’. But let’s not pretend that this image is summed up by any other word other than ‘coquettish’. Coquettish with knobs on’.
He goes on, mouth-wateringly:
‘It isn’t just the fact that a half-naked Rafael is apparently offering himself on a prop from a porno movie set (‘Builders’ Big Erections’). It’s the smoothly inviting, defenceless musculature of his prone shoulders and back. And the small of his back before the tempting swelling bubble of his butt filling out the product so alluringly. Along with that ‘come on big boy’ expression on his flirty face — which added all together shouts out: WANT ME! As with much of sporno the dynamic of the image is the deliberate provocation of an athlete who lives by ‘masculine’ ‘activity’ flaunting his flagrant ‘feminine’ ‘passivity’ to the world.’
Apart from the fact that I find Simpson’s spornographic prose almost as arousing as the sight of Nadal’s ripped torso and inviting buttocks (I said almost!), I think there is more to be said about the ‘contrast’ between Nadal’s ‘masculine’ ‘activity’ as a tennis player and his ‘feminine’ ‘passivity’ as a model. The contrast in the two photos of Nadal above, isn’t just active v passive, it is also covered v uncovered. The principles of speedophobia, applied to Nadal’s tennis uniform here: the long shorts, baggy t shirt and long socks, mean that when he is being ‘active’ you hardly see any of the raw physicality of Rafa’s ‘masculine’ side at all. He is just a blur of fabric! If you compare that photo with the one of Serena, you can see how much tighter and figure-hugging her green top is, accentuating her breasts and neck. Her skirt is tight and short, and even her socks are shorter than Nadal’s so she reveals much more flesh. She looks overtly ‘sexy’ whereas Nadal, despite his very sexy body, doesn’t.
But this means that when Serena actually ‘bares’ all for a magazine cover, the effect is not as pronounced as when Rafa strips off for Armani. It is almost as if we have seen it all before. And, even though unlike Nadal she is butt naked in this shot, her pose is very ‘closed’. Serena is not ‘literally asking to be fucked’ as Nadal is.
Simpson contrasted Rafa’s Armani photo, not with pictures of him playing tennis, but with another Armani shoot for the same campaign, featuring the model and actress Megan Fox. He pointed out how,
‘lovely as it is, it doesn’t have quite the same charge as the Nadal snap, and in fact seems to have been designed to merely draw more attention to the tartiness of Nadal’s pose’.
I decided to look at ‘why there is less of a ‘charge’ in this photo of a woman, Megan Fox, than the picture of Nadal in all his glory.’ And in doing so I made a similar observation as I have here about Serena.
‘There is something different about a topless man and a topless woman. I’d say that in general, a topless woman, especially one like this, hiding her breasts, is more vulnerable than a topless man. Neither model is totally nude, but Megan is covering her ‘assets’ in a moment of modesty. There is nothing modest about Nadal’s pose however, and you get the impression he’d feel and look just as potent, if not more so, if he completely stripped off.’
This could be in part, because, as I suggested over at The Good Men Project:
‘masculinity itself contains within it an element of ‘invisibility’. There is something about those perfect bodies with tits and abs aloft, that remind me of suits of armour…There are many reasons for it, but I think a topless woman will always seem more ‘naked’ than a topless man. She just doesn’t have his invisible shield of masculinity to protect her, to hide behind’.
So Serena as naked cover girl, and Megan as Armani pin up, both try to cover up and hide their nakedness. Nadal on the other hand can flaunt his sluttishly, because he has ‘the invisible shield’ of masculinity to protect him, to save him from the consequences of ‘litterally asking to be fucked’ as he does in the photo.
Lest we forget, along with their ‘invisible’ shield, men also have a much less invisible ‘sword’ of masculinity. The lack of charge in women’s sporno and in objectified images of women in general, could be due to their very basic ‘lack’ – of the phallus. The contrast between Nadal’s active sportsman role and his ‘passive’, ‘feminine’ ‘do-me’ sporno pose, relates to the role of the cock. His ‘active’ cock that fights Federer for domination on the court, and the symbolic ‘fucker’s’ (or viewer’s) cock that wants to take him up on his offer to ‘do-me’ in his Armani (s)porno shoot. Serena, no matter how fit and strong she is as an athlete, no matter who she dominates on the court (and she could of course beat many talented male tennis players), does not have access to that phallic symbol, or its fleshy real-life imitator.
Megan Fox is even more lacking in the phallus department than Serena. She ‘has always been a ‘passive’ object of desire, both as a porn and a film actress. Her modelling role is not a departure, a surprise, but just what we would expect of her’ (QRG:2010)
The ‘gigantic money shot’ Simpson alluded to in his definition of Sporno is not called the ‘money shot’ for nothing. Overall, though I do not have the figures to hand, I am pretty sure that sports men earn a lot more than sports women (maybe with a few notable examples such as Kornikova and graff?) out of selling their bodies off the court or the pitch.The fact that Nadal’s name is emblazoned in large letters at the bottom of his Armani ad, but Fox’s is not on hers, tells us much of what we need to know about that ‘gendered inequality’ of sporno earnings. And David Beckham tells us the rest.
So maybe, part of the reason for men covering up on the pitch and the courts, is to protect the ‘product’ – their spornotastic bodies- that they need to preserve to sell in mint condition elsewhere. The product might be worth less if it was freely available for all to see at sporting fixtures (and their media representations).
Those barcodes on the bikini bottoms of the women Olympic beach volleyball players springs to mind here. Sportswomen’s bodies seem to be commodified along existing commercial lines of women’s sexual objectification: Playboy, soft –porn websites, men’s magazines. But the men’s bodies are more carefully commodified – into specific fashion and lifestyle brands. The ‘high end’ of the market if you like. And the high end of the market seems keen to keep its brands pure – as pure commercialism that is- not sullied by the dust and sweat of sports, or the dust and sweat of actual porn.
Or am I being too cynical about corporations, and not cynical enough about good old fashioned speedo – and homo- phobia?
One thing that is different between ‘sport’ and ‘sporno’ is that in sport, men have direct and physical contact with each other, as both players and spectators. If Nadal and Federer went head to head at Wimbledon or the French Open in outfits as suggestive as Serena’s above, we might be forgiven for thinking it was an all-out buggery session. The sweat, the lunging, the grunting. It could be too much for everyone to bear (too much, now we have that image in our minds, of Nadal, prone on the ledge, ‘literally asking to be fucked’). Sporno is mediated masculinity. There is something inbetween the (male) viewer and the (male) body on display. A screen, a camera lens, the pages of a magazine.The male viewer of sporno is ‘safer’ than the male viewers and players of live sports, safer from the ‘threat’ of the metrosexual passive ‘fuckee’, who is so blatantly asking for it.
Another reason Sporno is ‘safer’ than sports, as Simpson observed, in relation to advertising and men’s fashion, the beautiful boys on show tend to be photographed and filmed alone. There is no danger of the homo fucker/fuckee relationship. Not like with Federer and Nadal, or Beckham and all his male fans at the match.
‘The following pages show our ‘homeboys’ walking the streets arranged in a variety of faux proletarian/peasant designer workwear, the New York skyline beckoning behind them but never in the same picture…The New York Story is a tragedy’.
I made a similar observation in relation to the German women’s football sporno:
‘Also there is the obvious situation here whereby a group of young women are frolicking together in their wet-tshirts, indicating a familiar lesbian chic’ vibe. In men’s sporno, especially in this hyper-aware metrosexual age, men are rarely photographed other than on their own. This could be seen as a double-standard whereby women’s ‘bi-curiousness’ is presented as acceptable and even ‘hot’, whereas men’s is kept firmly in the closet.’
So when it comes to sexualised imagery of men in mainstream media (rather than actual porn, though it really is getting pretty difficult to tell the difference between the two) , pictures like this of a solitary, lonely buck, are a lot more common
Than gang-bang ones like this:
‘The current ‘Ce’st So Paris’ advertising campaign promoting travel to Paris ‘Capital of Love’ which features rugger buggers scrumming and snogging (‘Make love not war’) is clearly meant to be funny, which it is. But given the rise of sporno in the world of rugby it isn’t so absurd.The only unbelievable thing about the ad is the fact that none of the fake snogging rugger buggers are nearly as buffed or beautiful as some of the real-life ones.’ (Simpson:2007)
The most telling thing about Simpson’s Commentary on the ‘joke’ French Rugby World Cup ad from 2007, is the fact that the kissing ‘rugger buggers’ are ‘fake’. If they photographed real rugby players snogging in their kit on the rugby pitch, the whole house of cards might fall down. This ‘gay’ advert is allowed to happen because it is saying that real rugby players would never do something this ‘gay’. (They just look like they are buggering each other every Saturday afternoon in the mud). Because the over-riding message of all men’s contact sports, even (or especially?) in metrosexy, ‘do-me’ culture, is, of course, ‘No Homo’.
Coming Soon in Part Two: No Homo- How Metrosexual Man Keeps The Gay Away – By Showing You His Ass(ets).
NB:This is work in progress. But I am putting it up to see what it looks like.