About Me

My photo
I am a performance artist and style icon, a wannabe and a mightneverbe. I am 28 and on the cusp of reality. I am currently fucking up masculinity and redefining music. i believe that the music video is the perfect cultural form.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Men and Mirrors

Narcissism has never been considered a properly male characteristic despite Narcissus being the alpha male, the hetero-hunk so handsome he fell for his own reflection. Ancient Greek/Roman culture has given us lots of words and icons to describe men in physical and aesthetic terms (Adonis, narcissus, athlete, ‘Greek god’) , yet men just aren’t allowed to obsess over their appearance.

Compared to women’s toilets, men’s are utilitarian cubby holes where you are lucky to get a wizened bar of soap. So male vanity is a little less taboo than it was during the Victorian hangover of last century- it is still deeply uncomfortable to be caught gazing into the mirror by another man.

What makes a good toilet:
(1) Soft natural lighting
(2) Large heavy duty mirrors that don’t warp your reflection
(3) Dry floors
(4) Dry toilet seats
(5) Dryers that actually dry your hand
(6) Air con

I am a mirror connoiseur, and I demand that men get the same opportunity to be vain as women do. It's only fair. For gender equality to work, men must be subjected to the critical gaze too, and be told when they are scrubbing up well in public, I hope to banish the days when husbands had money and wives had beauty. What's the point of (body) fascism if it doesn't apply to everyone?

So, here’s my list of good mirrors in Sheffield:

  1. Downstairs toilet in Sheffield Hallam University Union (it’s the only place worth going there)

  2. Razor Stiletto toilets @DQ toilets

And Bad Mirrors:

  1. Showroom Bar toilets

  2. All charity shop mirrors: (especially Bluebell Wood in town and St. Luke's on Ecclesall Road)

  3. Halifax mirror wall near Town Hall (shudder)

  4. H&M 360 degree fitting rooms (unless you're having a really good day)
Feel free to add to or contest these...

In public toilets I look in a mirror for as long as I am alone: as soon as a cublicle door opens or someone comes in, I rush out of the door.
But what would happen if I stayed there, messing with my hair? Maybe nothing, maybe a muttered “faggot”, maybe a snigger or unspoken disgust. In a Foulcauldian sense (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discipline_and_Punish) I police myself: by imagining that other people would do something to stop me, I stop myself. This is how institutions of power (and gender is one) work, it’s a way to behave that we learn through education, themedia and social interaction. But I'm not being all conspiracy theorist about this, it's a trusim that CCTV makes social control easier, and it's is just another version of peer pressure that stops me from getting caught looking in a mirror.
But a few (usually gay) places allow men to blatantly check themselves out, but these are special places where majority masculinity is suspended or even ridiculed. In Razor Stiletto (RIP) you could take a break from being butch to fight for a place at the mirrors. The pressure there was not to stop looking but to be the best looking, to allow your reflection to pay homage to your beauty in true Narcissus stylee. In most pubs and bars, the reaction is more like to be "perfumed ponce"

I don't think that men can never have that communal mirror gazing that women do: we haven't grown up as sisters sharing our secret beauty rituals, and so we can't allow any man to see the vulnerable and hidden ways that we make ourselves presentable.

Saturday, 4 July 2009


My problem is that I'm never in the moment. I keep expecting summer to be happening soon, but we're halfway through already. Fuck it. I have been wondering what to wear this summer and here's what I'm liking:

SUITS...they've always seemed way to manly for me before, but now they really appeal. There has to be something flamboyant about them mind you...not for me the brown or dark grey. I like PASTELS and I like shoulder pads...
The colour and fit says a lot:
Pinstripe, or dark colour says serious, professional, bureacratic dullness
White suits say Jesus complex (think Martin Bell, John Lennon)
Colourful suits say 80s or joker (Steve Martin was the comedy suit man)

(1) 80s Duran Duran pastel suits (Rio video). Now some of these are so cropped and big shouldered that they are seriously feminine now while being hyper-masculine at the time. It just shows that gender is made by the culture around it. New Romantics are the closest we've come to mainstream transvestism, it could never happen now we are way too hetero.

(2) Simon Baker in The Mentalist. Smug, short-arse and pompous but strangely likeable. I love his surfer hair with a banker's 3-piece suit combo. Maybe I like the way his personality looks?

(3) 1930s gay aristocrat look. See last month's GQ fashion shoot 'Med Men' (referencing BBC's macho 50's Mad Men series, and the posh holiday destinations of yesteryear), this gives a modern take on Brideshead Revisited closeted toffs: cream voluminous trousers, nautical but nice double-breasted suits, jaunty panama hats, pastels off whites and navy blues. I am flamboyant, effeminate and terribly vain. What I require of a suit is that it makes me look handsome and pretty, funny and serious. I have never been part of a style tribe because I haven't got the balls to decide who I am one way or another. I drift around, not quite being 90s or rock or emo or camp, and so I never know who to be like because I haven't got a me to be. I guess you could say that I don't know whether to be a boy or a girl. This Summer I'm going to try being a Man, whatever that is. I'm going to be a 70s take on a 30s rake: Robert Redford in The Great Gatsby, Jack Nicholson in Chinatown, and as counterpoint to all this the brooding, I also want to look like Steve Martin in the Man with Two Brains !!

(4) Ariel Pink: american outsider pop star. He is all the way round Eddie Izzard's style circle, nearly into the 'looking like twat' side. He is a 70s hobo, the essence of naffness, wearing the beachwear of an 80s billionairre fallen on hard times, a grumpy glam pop star who wants to sell out (he told me himself) but can't find a buyer...

Are you gonna look after my boys is the video that got me hooked on Ariel. I loved his 70s-tijuana bum style and his mundane exhibitionism- what a great idea to get your hair washed mid song ... He is grungey, effeminate, retro, glam, a bit emo and a lot freaky. Just like me in fact. When I met him he was shockingly small and thin, like a grumpy teenage waif. Another hero it would've been better not to meet.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

What did you do in the war daddy? Rape mummy?

War is an excuse for male indulgence: when else do men get to rape and pillage without being punished? By dehumanising the ‘enemy’ they are free to violate them.

If sex wasn’t about power, it wouldn’t be used as a weapon.

Soldiers have an ever ready supply of pork swords among their armoury. Everybody does it: in any given war, either religion or race is used to separate people into us and them, and the them become savages or animals or evil heathens and since they are no longer human, they are not subject to laws and morals. Ethnic cleansing, religious crusades, terrorism: the other weapons might be different but the pork swords remain the same. Most wars are fought for one god against another...my phallus dei is bigger than yours!

It’s standard procedure: Men are tortured and murdered. Women and children are given special treatment: a free gang rape with every sexual murder. We may boil in righteous indignation at the un-UN way that Mugabe stays on top, but his and 'our' soldiers are guilty of the same methods.

'Our boys'? I want nothing to do with them. The ones who have any humanity are bullied into suicide or get it raped out of them in the showers. Unity in inhumanity. If cleanliness is next to Godliness and war is the world's only hygiene we've got an unlosable case against religion and violence in one...

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

MGMT, Jesus, and the future

So who are we then?

Generation Next?

Generation X?

Generation Y?

Generation Why?

Millenialism turned the revivals and retrospection in our culture up to max, so we fetishised the cultural touchstones of the 60s and 70s, then the 80s and now the 90s and downgraded the now to a facile and forgettable moment. Just like the Elizabethans were obsessing over the ancients as the best there’s ever been, building fake Greek temples and writing about pagan gods to catch a whiff of their dusty greatness, so now we have a cultural industry obsessed with digging up the still warm corpses of 40 years ago, 30 years ago, 20 years ago, 10 years ago, 5 years ago, last year, 6 month ago: now is devouring then faster and faster and spitting out boneless chunks that bear less and less resemblance to the original. Is this the real legacy of postmodernism? Culture has become a moebius strip of rehashes and recycling...So now we have nothing of lasting value, just pound shops stuffed with cheap imitations of things that never existed, and flash in the pan bands with nothing to say....????????

A friend of mine recently said MGMT would never become ‘classic’...that they have no lasting value, no permanence coz they have no charisma: They aren’t the White Stripes or Al Green. I had to agree but I couldn’t explain why this didn’t matter to me...
But I think it goes something like this. MGMT are the whole package: the post apocalyptic rave-grunge style, the yearning voice, the expansive psychedelic pop, the brash Lost-on-acid videos and the effervescent sunshine of the whole NY scene tanning their naked bodies...Fuck whether they will be remembered in our middle age, they are now’s idea of the future, and that’s enough for me. MGMT imagine a world when everything we know has been wiped away. A slacker Tabula Rasa: all that’s left is LSD and the druggiest of exercise, surfing. This sounds like a lame student skunk revelation, but then you experience the beauty that they are, and it is way way more than the sum of its parts.

They are grand narrators in the style of Hemingway..."All along the Western Front/ People line up to receive" They make big statements about the ‘kids’ and the ‘youth’ in baby voices and look like they’re from the invincible side of puberty...But is their Cult of Youth ironic? They imagine a future with no adults, just vague memories of obligations and responsibilities to faceless long dead parents. It looks great: the vid to Time To Pretend shows them as a workshy Eloi-style (see the classic 60s version film The Time Machine which predicted the hippies) race of beautiful neo-hippies wasting their immortality surfing and tripping. But the song’s got bite: all the rocknroll clich├ęs end in puke and divorce. It’s escapism that ends up as realism. The altered states of drugs emulate religious rituals: The transubstantiated body of Christ is replaced by acid tabs, and Andrew VanWyngarden is Jesus reimagined as a cat-riding doped-up surfer. This is heady stuff. But it’s also about that tricky subject: male beauty. Andrew VanWyngarden is soft and narcissistic, knowingly sexy. His Jesus is jailbait, he is Jim Morrison without the death wish. He is vain but not effeminate, a tricky thing to master.

The American avant gard neo-hippy scene: Animal Collective, Devendra Banhart, Chairlift, MGMT, Yeasayer, Amazing Baby, Geneva Jacuzzi, Bubonic Plague, Ariel Pink (I've got loads to say about these last 3 in my next blog...). They all criticise the present by imagining a future where everything we think of as culture now is in ruins. ‘I can’t sleep at night/When I think of the world we’re living in’ (2080- Yeasayer). All this reappropriation of global rhythms (see also afro-beat pseudos Vampire Weekend) has an implicit critique of western values: white middle class blokes in a self loathing quest for authenticity, that age old project which began in earnest with the ripping off of black blues by white baby boomers (yeah you elvis, rolling stones, beatles). On top of this we’ve got the whole revival of the environment issue: but this time the apathy has turned eco warriors into eco worriers, fretting in blogs sites and through knowing world music revivalist pop songs.

We are fated to pretend in the great dressing up box that is culture now: everything is a Baudrillard style simulation of experience: we live through TV, reality replaced by reality TV, we live our lives according to movies (reality is American). Yada yada. Yet again we’re running back to nature with this world music/neo hippy scene: and technology doesn’t play a part in the future. Since the media was created, people used it to blame itself for all social ills. ‘Let me see you make a decision/Without your television’ (Depeche Mode- Stripped). Is TV to blame? Is it really an opiate of the masses, sapping our creativity and power and dictating our political voice? We wouldn’t be able to see MGMT’s gorgeous vids without it, and 'nu world music' itself would never have become flavour of the month. I think pop culture is great and TV is our great heirloom to the future...

Do we really care enough to save the planet? Or is it just a cheap way to blame the olds: ‘you’re melting the ice caps, that’s so unfair. I hate you’ or do we really care? Beatniks, Hippies, Crusties, Second wave feminists...is it just because these eco precursors are in fashion that we care? We wear the kaftan and we wear the politics? I have tried to live without hurting another living creature but it’s impossible and it just made me obsessive compulsive: I was living in perpetual guilt and apprehension. Jainist monks are the nearest you can get to guilt free life: they walk along, brushing the pavement before them, but even they cause insect genocide with their brush tips. Living for our children just makes us miserable: it’s the little people that are penalised and have to do all the work: collecting recycling, cutting down on waste. If the government penalised companies for the packaging they use and the way they use resources, we wouldn’t have to make up for their mistakes further down the line. But since the only incentive to make your bags biodegradable is to poach customers, it’s all got the wrong emphasis. This either sounds like a neo hippy polemic or some NIMBY resentment I guess, but I think there’s something in what I’m saying?

And you may ask yourself

Am I right...Am I wrong?

And you may say to yourself

My God what have I done?
(Talking Heads- Once in a lifetime).

The idea of waking up from modernity and thinking shit, how did this happen? (In 28 days later he regains consciousness and finds himself in a world orphaned by rage infected chimps: rage as the modern plague). Waking up naked and having to dress in a different reality, a different now. Moral panics (knife crime, aids, ASBOs, chavs, paedos, binge drinking, and terrorism) are created to distract us from the essential numbness of modern life. By making a few unrelated stabbings into a mindless plague of youth’s moral bankruptcy, the British press has made every London gang feel like they need to carry a knife and that’s the first thing to reach for in an argument. And so now a gang ain’t a gang unless their armed.

What have we done to the world?
Look what we’ve done
(Michael Jackson- Earth Song).

You're gonna laff but Earth Song is the best eco video ever. It is unique in combining the kitsch and the poignant: It makes me want to sob but keep watching unlike those miserable Oxfam ads which are too easy to turn off. It is so sickly that it becomes earnest. And anyway, we want a bit of sugar with our guilt please. Why is Jacko’s message any less credible than Yeasayer’s? They aren’t exactly living by example either. Sure they have the outward signs of hippiedom: long hair, ethnic clothes, pacifist demeanour. It’s an easy and a fashionable iconography to ape. It’s like the socialist anti-war protests of a few years ago: most people were there for the party not the Party. The hippy hangover has been long and shows no sign of abating: it has had a marmite effect on every decade since (early 70s love turned to late 70s punk hate, lasting until the second summer of love of 1987, until the 90s mod backlash of Britpop, more recently the naughties has seen two hippy revivals so far). All this post millennial angst has given me compassion fatigue, and I can’t be arsed any more. Global Warming? Like in J G Ballard’s The Drowned World, I’ll just follow the warmth.

Originality is dead...long live variations on a theme.