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Die Metrosexual Die!

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 OPINIONS

Abercrombie & Fitch, what hath
thou wrought? The pretty boys on the frat-house clothier’s shopping bags taught
a
generation
of
heterosexual
men to shave their
chests. Then Maxim, the aggressively hetero men’s
magazine, extended its brand with . . . hair coloring. "Metrosexuality,"
the press dubbed it — a cultural movement led by urban
men
eager to embrace
their “feminine
sides” through
grooming
and shopping! The New York Times published an article titled “Metrosexuals
Come
Out.” Queer Eye for
the
Straight
Guy
became a TV hit and a seeming cultural mandate. Last month,
presidential hopeful Howard Dean tried to seize the Banana Republican vote by
declaring himself metrosexual; the next day, he discreetly
retracted the statement, confessing that he didn’t know what
it meant.

promotion

    Howie, we’re with ya. But before we could reach for some
ipecac
and
collectively
purge ourselves of this concept, Da Capo Press released The Metrosexual
Guide to Style: A Handbook for the Modern Man
by
Michael Flocker. To recap: it’s a book about a trend that doesn’t really exist
and
a label
that
means nothing.

     Fittingly, for
a
book
that
bills
itself
as
a “Guide
to Style,” it’s rather lazy in that department. (A typical revelation: “From
tuxedoes to T-shirts, Armani provides consistent quality pieces.”) Elsewhere,
passages on what wine goes with which food and how to determine the best hairstyle
for your face are interspersed with didactic tutorials on art and travel
that read like emails from your know-nothing, know-it-all friend: “There is a
commonly held misconception that Parisians are always very rude to Americans
visiting their city. This notion has been perpetuated over the years, but is
not always the case.” Amazing.

Like hand-me-down Drakkar Noir, the odor of
status anxiety wafts
from
these
pages.

    

That the book would have the intellectual gravity of Marcus Schenkenburg in a
wind
tunnel
is
no
surprise. Like its similarly designed
shelf-mate, The
Hipster Handbook
, The
Metrosexual Guide
is a crass attempt to cash in on a trend manufactured
by style writers for glossy magazines. we’ve never met anyone who described himself — or
anyone else — as a "metrosexual" or a "hipster," yet
somehow these demographically ideal lifestyle specimens crawl out of the woodwork
just long enough to go on
the record before morphing into the next new, new thing.

    As the term “yuppie” was to the ’80s or “hipster” was
to the late ’90s, “metrosexual” has become a lazy catch-all, something you can
call any guy who manages to shave himself properly or who falls short of John
Wayne in the rugged-masculinity department. But like those earlier terms that
warped into
epithets, "metrosexual" doesn’t
say anything about the person being referred to, but plenty about
the person making the reference.

    The odor of
status anxiety wafts
from
these
pages like hand-me-down Drakkar Noir. Here’s Flocker
on etiquette, for example: “To some, the rules of etiquette may seem outdated,
stuffy, and unnecessary, but the fact remains that they serve as a sort of social
weed-whacker eliminating unsavory growths from popping up in the world’s finer
gardens.” Or his justification for the metrosexual man’s fixation on clothing: “For
centuries, pharaohs, kings, and czars bedecked themselves in furs and jewels
while the underclasses toiled hopelessly clad in dull flea-bitten rags.” (Now
that’s what I call historical significance!)

    This anxiety reminds me of all those articles about
the Decline of the White Male that were published at the tail end of the early
’90s. Much sociological ink was spilled explaining how feminism, affirmative
action
and gay rights were lowering the esteem of white men. Perhaps the rise of the
metrosexual can be seen as a grasping for relevance — cultural, sexual, and (with
Dr. Dean joining ranks), political — by these forgotten white shadows. By stealing
plays from the gay playbook (assuming, of course, that things like "shopping"
and "grooming" are inherently "gay"), maybe
the
metrosexual
male
can
retake
the
field
of
American culture!

    That’s why Flocker’s book — and the whole metrosexual
moment — is so devious. It pretends to be about breaking down barriers, about
embracing diversity and stretching gender roles, yet in the end it supports the
same
old
thing.
A
cursory
glance at
men’s magazines from the late ’50s and early ’60s reveals fear and dread of the
breakdown of traditional hierarchies in articles like “You Have to Horsewhip
Your Wife” (Jem, January 1957) and “Women Don’t Want Equality” (The
New High
, March 1959).

    If the anxiety ain’t new, neither is the vanity. Whether
they were called Beau Brummels, fops, dandies, fancy lads, Teddy boys, mods or
pimps, certain men have always been willing to spend inordinate amounts of money
and time on self-maintenance. One need look no further than Muhammad Ali (an
African-American style
icon ignored — like most black culture — in this lily-white book) pronouncing
himself “So pretty!” to
find a non-’90s example of this. Or what about Warren Beatty in Shampoo as
the
flounciest
heterosexual hairdresser in Beverly Hills? Or John Travolta in Saturday Night
Fever
complaining to his working-class dad: “Would ya just watch the hair!
Ya know, I spend a long time on my hair!” Pick up any old issue of Esquire and
you’ll find ads for After Six tuxedoes, which “kind of make [you] feel part
of the upper crust” and Kanon skin products for “the care and preservation of
the male body for living, loving and enjoying life to its fullest.”

What’s missing is any awareness of how real people
live and what real people do.

    

There’s really no need for a “guide” to this “new male ideal” (as the back cover
calls it),
since it’s not new and it’s far from ideal. Any trend that’s solely predicated
on buying
shit should be regarded with the utmost skepticism by anyone over the age of
thirteen. But
self-identified metrosexuals like Flocker not only buy the shit, they actually
buy
the
trend
as
well.
And
here’s
where The Metrosexual Guide‘s
biggest failure is evident: what’s missing is any awareness of how real people
live and what real people do. For example,
I live in a city. I shave with a bowl and brush. I smear on Kiehl’s aftershave.
But
I
also
wear the same shoes I’ve had since college and rake leaves in paint-splattered
pants.
I’m not a paper doll waiting to be outfitted with a lifestyle. The metrosexual,
despite his numerous hairstyle and accessories options, is a one-dimensional
being.

    Maybe that’s why this book — and the term that inspired
it — feels
so
flat.

(Last
month,
Mark Simpson, the
writer
who
coined “metrosexual” in 1994, pronounced it dead. And apologized. So can
we let it go? Please?) With
all of its definitions and graphics, the Metrosexual Guide reads like
Flocker’s attempt to shape metrosexual mythology the way Dick Hebdige did for
mods, rockers,
punks,
and skinheads in his seminal Subculture: The Meaning of Style in 1979.
Problem is, the metrosexual myth-spinners don’t know dick, and it shows.  






ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Matt Haber has written for Spin, Entertainment Weekly, New York, Salon.com, and Wired. He lives in Brooklyn and writes for http://www.lowculture.com

©2003 Matt Haber and Nerve.com