I want to talk about you about something very dear to the heart of America and very close to its loins, something that the media can't get enough of -- or stop ramming down our throats. I want to talk to you about manly strap-ons, and the fear of The Fag Within that they're designed to banish but just end up advertising to everyone like a big, flashing pink arrow.
You've probably used a manly strap-on yourself, or had someone use one on you. No Vaseline. I'm talking, of course, about the "man" word strapped onto the front of anything that, without it, might look a teensy-weensy bit, y'know... faggy, or, what seems to be the same thing in many people's minds, not phallic enough: "man bags," "manscara," "man dates," guyliner," "bromance." That kind of thing.
Like fashion beards, the manly strap-on has become so common these days that it's difficult to remember what men looked like without them, and how men ever managed to do anything without them.
The manly strap-on is, of course, a con, a cruel deception, a prosthetic way of acknowledging a trend -- that men's behaviours are changing fast and furiously as they adopt all sorts of habits once deemed "feminine," at the same time as they deny its import. Don't worry, folks! No need to clutch the pearls! Men are still men! And, oh yeah, no need for advertisers to take fright; this isn't about a faggy niche! It's about normal guys!
The fear of The Fag Within is what prompted America's national nervous breakdown over metrosexuality in the mid-noughties, around the time that the U.S. realised the sexual ambivalence inherent in it, despite the marketers' repeated assurances that metrosexuals were all and always straight. It's not so surprising that people took fright. After all, metrosexuality represented a terrifying prospect: a 21st century in which straight men might not have their identity defined and their tastes, feelings and behaviours policed by fear of faggery. Cue the "menaissance," "manthems" and the "man code," all presented as "reclaiming manhood." From faghood. In a Hummer, eating a Whopper.
As those aisles in supermarkets devoted to male beauty products and that pretty, gamine POTUS who makes the Free World wait on his morning workouts prove, metrosexuality has continued to conquer America, of course. But on the downlow. Another national nervous breakdown must be avoided at all costs, so let's just keep strapping those "man" words on and hope that no one notices what's happened to the men underneath.
But they have, of course. Here's Holly Richmond of The Grist, critiquing the media's love of a manly strap-on they recently used to de-fag the trend for men giving up eating meat: "hegans" (no, honestly, they actually call it that). Examining "hegan" stories in three newspapers, she concludes that the subtext of all of them is: "See, veganism isn't gay!" While the pieces go out of their way to cite various big, butch, straight celebs and sporting stars who have given up meat, she says:
None of the articles mention the Long Island man who was "mercilessly mocked, labeled 'a homo' and canned for not eating meat." God forbid the pieces actually examine the complex issue of masculinity in our culture.
How about instead of "hegan" trend pieces, media outlets publish stories that don't confine men to rigid, outdated gender stereotypes?
You might as well ask for a slice of the moon, Holly.
While the manly strap-on was always a tad self-defeating -- could anything, in fact, be faggier? -- "hegans" really does sound like the end of the road for this particular trope. It is so not hitting the spot. In fact, it's impossible now not to giggle when you see or hear one of these joke codpieces.
That said, joke codpieces aren't always funny. They can be seriously uncomfortable to the point of being dangerously restricting. Miller Lite's mortifyingly unfunny "Man Up!" TV ad campaign attempts to strap their brand onto an entire nation of men, telling them that Miller Lite is the codpiece they can't live without, that if they don't drink Miller's diet beer and eschew scarves, tight trousers and karaoke, everyone will laugh and point at them like they're, y'know, fags.
So here's a red-blooded idea. Whenever you hear "man" or "he" or "guy" or "bro" strapped onto the front of some word in a desperate attempt to try and butch it up and banish the inner sissy, just replace it with "fag":
Fag bags. Fagscara. Fag vans. Fagthem. Fag code. Fagliner. Fag date. Fagmance. Fag food. Fagly fag. Faggans.
You know it makes sense.
It's a fun game that all the family can play, but you'll also be doing society a huge favour by outing The Fag Within and letting him swish around giddily to his heart's content, getting it over and done with so that we can talk about other stuff, instead of fixating over not mentioning this bloody, boring, big, fat, pink elephant in the room.
The Don't Ask Don't Tell policy of the U.S. military was finally and famously repealed last month, allowing gay servicemen and women to be open about their sexuality. Now, I realise that it's so much tougher being a trend journalist or an advertising creative than a paratrooper, but it would be nice if the U.S. media could end their own DADT policy about masculinity and fag up!
And who knows? It might even finally make a man out of America.
Follow Mark Simpson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/marksimpsonist