Sunday, February 01, 2009

Superbowl Sunday a k a Retrosexual Day

My studies of the homolexicon have shown how one term gives rise to another, in a potentially unending stream. For example, “alcoholic” begat “shopaholic” and “chocoholic.” "Peronista," a follower of the Argentinian leader, yielded "Perotista," an adherent of an ephemeral US political movement headed by H. Ross Perot. More recently we have seen the rise of “fashionista” and “frugalista.”

This posting concerns another recent begetting. “Heterosexual” previously gave rise to “metrosexual.” Now the latter term has engendered a kind of opposite: “retrosexual.”

It seems that the phenomenon is all explained in a book “The Retrosexual Manual: How to Be a Real Man” (2008). In fact, I haven’t seen the book. I’m already such a model of the retrosexual ideal that I don’t need it! NOT [Waynespeak, of course].

At all events a comprehensive summary in Britain’s “Daily Mail” tells you all you need to know about the subject. The piece is addressed to the aspiring Retro guy--or maybe he is already confirmed in that status.

“Remember, you have a number of qualities, almost all deriving from your testosterone, which women can't help but admire. For example:

1. Your mind is uncluttered. Consider the female brain, filled as it is with multiple anxieties about its owner's hair, figure, health, diet, clothes, shoes, emotions, digestive transit, sex life, competitive female friendships, multi-tasking duties as a worker/lover/ wife/mother/whatever.
Instead, your mind is focused on the important things in life: sex, beer, football. Women secretly envy a mind like that.
2. You can make decisions on your own. You don't need to talk it over for hours with all your friends, or consult a horoscope, or worry about feng shui.
3. You have strong arms which come in handy whenever bottles need opening, suitcases need carrying, or a girl just feels like gazing at a strong, muscular limb.
4. You do not clutter up the bathroom. No woman wants a man who owns more beauty products than she does [a metrosexual, gasp!]. A man who showers, shaves, then gets out of the way is ideal.”

So much for generalities. Here is some other advice.

“1. You do not cook anything more sophisticated than Pot Noodles or baked beans. [You would never even think of heating up a quiche.] Cooking is her job.
2. Women like to talk, bless them. So don't try to stop her getting her feelings off her chest, however daft they might be. There's no need actually to listen, however. Nor does she expect, or even want you to express an opinion of your own. A nod of the head, roughly every 90 seconds, combined with a concerned frown, or a cheery laugh, where appropriate, is perfectly sufficient.
3. Of course, you want to have sex. Afterwards, however, it is important to avoid saying 'I love you' or 'I'm sorry, that's never happened before'.
4. She may be interested in commitment. You are not. It is vitally important that you never even acknowledge the possibility that you are in a relationship. The moment she uses a sentence that includes words such as 'wedding', 'children', or 'meet my parents', make your excuses and leave.”

Here are some points to observe while driving.

“1. Never ask for directions, because you are never, ever lost. You're just taking a little longer than expected to get there.
2. Nor do you require sat-nav [a GPS navigation device].
3. The correct speed for a retrosexual is 5 percent above the stated limit  -  at all times.
4. The correct distance between you and the car in front is 3 ft.”

"You have buddies  -  but never Best Friends. Famous pairs such as Starsky and Hutch, Butch and Sundance, Batman and Robin . . . are highly suspicious relationships.

“No matter how tough those men may be, or how straight, the Retrosexual can't help thinking they're all riding a little too close to Brokeback Mountain.

"When dealing with his friends, the Retrosexual sticks to basic, common-sense guidelines:
• NEVER be alone with another man for any longer than is strictly necessary.
• AVOID learning the other man's name for as long as possible and then never, ever use it (a humorous nickname, preferably abusive, may be permitted after many years of acquaintance, or when playing in the same sports team).
• NO ARRANGEMENTS for meeting again are permitted beyond a general 'See you around'.
• HUGS, tears and kisses are acceptable only if both parties are hopelessly drunk, and provided apologies for any indiscretions are exchanged as soon as they have sobered up.” 

The following points concern home arrangements.

“A Retrosexual does not actually have a home, as such  -  not unless he has woken up one day to find that he has somehow got married. Of course, he has to have somewhere to live, but he demonstrates his inherent manliness by his absolute indifference to his physical surroundings.
So, while he may be forced to acquire chairs, tables, a bed and something to lie on while watching TV, he pays no attention at all to what they look like. He may, on the other hand, devote considerable care to choosing his 42-inch widescreen plasma TV, his DVD recorder and his surround-sound home cinema system.

"No Retrosexual ever watches any home-decorating TV show. His notion of a Grand Design is a 6-foot high pyramid of beer cans.

"He does, however, have a number of possible decorative styles at his fingertips. These include:

• MINIMALISM: Nothing in the place but a TV, a bed, a fridge, and a pile of clothes on the floor.

• MODERNISM: Same as minimalism, only with better TV, more gadgets (serious hi-fi, computer, video games, etc), and a large selection of power-tools.

• SHABBY CHIC: In which random styles of furniture, all bought second-hand, are combined to give an eclectic, cluttered charm  -  a pigsty, in other words."

"The key is to tread a fine line between having such an untidy place that any women would run away, and being so clean and tidy that she questions your virility.

"If in doubt, do nothing. Bare walls, lightbulbs and an absence of girly soft furnishings (eg. cushions, tablecloths and even curtains) are safe options. And never, ever light any candles.”

A pretty fair summary, I think--well worth extensive quotation.

In reality,though, the whole phenomenon was first sketched out in a short-lived TV show that aired on the Comedy Channel in 2004. Alexandra Stanley explains:

“''Straight Plan for the Gay Man,'' on Comedy Central , , , , is an inversion of ''Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,'' the hit makeover reality show that started on Bravo and is now also on NBC. Unlike the Bravo show, in which five gay men [the “Fab Five”] help a hapless straight man find his inner metrosexual, these advisers help gay men rediscover their outer alpha male. And like the original, the parody is a one-joke conceit that manages to have legs.

“Sticking closely to the ''Queer Eye'' formula, ''Straight Plan'' is as engaging as the show it mercilessly mocks. It is also funnier, which which is not always the case with satire. Partly scripted, partly improvised, ''Straight Plan'' works because the four straight consultants, all comedians and actors, are engaging; theirs is a deadpan routine reminiscent of Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi in ''The Blues Brothers.'' The humor never gets too cruel or homophobic; the joke is as much on the straight buffoons as it is on their gay clients, shown as good sports who can often get the last word.

“So far Comedy Central has ordered three one-hour episodes, and each ''man mission,'' as the makeover artists call them (they call themselves the Flab Four) is similar yet just different enough to hold viewers' attention. . . .

“The four advisers are as crude and slovenly as the Fab Five are sophisticated and sleek. Rob, ''the culture guy,'' is a tall, stern taskmaster; this actor and comedian is a former marine. Billy, ''the appearance guy,'' is good-natured and burly. (Jonathan describes him on the phone to a friend as a ''John Goodman type.'') Jonathan says that Kyle, the smooth, leather-jacket wearing ''information guy,'' looks like Shaft. Curtis, ''the environment guy,'' is friendly despite his deer-hunting jackets and hats. Together they ramble around New York in their ''straight mobile'' a black Dodge Ram 3500, making rude noises and telling stupid jokes on their way to teach a gay man how to pass as straight for a day. . . .

“They meet Jonathan . . . in his all-white Upper East Side apartment full of flowers, Lalique and a collection of Limoges teacups. When a French country armoire is opened to reveal an 11-inch television, Rob is appalled. ''Oh, c'mon,'' he hollers. ''They've got bigger TV's on JetBlue.''

“The advisers decide to mold Jonathan into a meatpacker. Each episode includes a mock-documentary. In Jonathan's case the clip is a facetious look at the history of meatpacking in America, illustrated with what looks likes snippets from a 50's industrial film.

“On the second episode the men are charged with helping Steven, a Broadway dancer who poses in pearls and a thong in his introductory video, learn how to pick up women as a straight man would. An important tip, they explain, is never really to listen to a woman when she speaks. ''I'll tell you where you went wrong,'' Rob says after a practice round in a bar. ''You were making friends.'' He spells it out: ''You don't want to be listening. While she is talking, you just play out the rest of your weekend, things like that.''”

PS (February 14, 2009)

On reviewing this piece I find that it was somewhat hastily thrown together. I confess that I do not have much empathy for retrosexuals. They strike me as a throwback to the "vulgarians" who were so vociferously prominent in the 'fifties. The androgynous 'sixties were supposed to have taken us beyond that. As Goethe (I believe) once remarked, there are no new ideas, just varying combinations of old ones.

At all events I failed (as a lexicographer) to do due diligence with regard to the origins of this neologism. (Another term I hope to come back to is "fauxmosexual," someone who pretends to be gay but is not--or at any rate allows this perception to exist. The concept shades over into "gay friendly"--though that is not quite the same.

Here are some notes that I have shamlessly copied from that very useful site, WordspyL

"(ret.roh.SEK.shoo.ul) n. A man with an undeveloped aesthetic sense who spends as little time and money as possible on his appearance and lifestyle. Also: retro-sexual.
—retrosexuality n.

"Example Citations:

";Genuine guys are sometimes known as retrosexuals, to distinguish them from metrosexuals, who are men with the good taste of gay men, only they're straight. Metrosexuals are scrupulous about their grooming and are great consumers of men's cosmetic products. They use hair gel. Retrosexuals are scared of hair gel. Some people think that retrosexuals automatically have Neanderthal views about women, but this is not the case. A retrosexual is simply someone who doesn't know the difference between teal and aqua, and frankly couldn't give a damn.
—Margaret Wente, "I married a retrosexual," The Globe and Mail (Canada), February 14, 2004

"'My mission: to queer-eye myself through a full spa treatment. Friends saw the mission more pointedly: Could a highly-resistant retrosexual be transformed into one of the metro variety?
—Ted Weesner Jr., "For 2004: A metrosexual in the making," The Boston Globe, January 18, 2004

"First Use:

"'Beckham is the uber-metrosexual, not just because he rams metrosexuality down the throats of those men churlish enough to remain retrosexual and refuse to pluck their eyebrows, but also because he is a sportsman, a man of substance — a "real" man — who wishes to disappear into surfaceness in order to become ubiquitous — to become media.
—Mark Simpson, "Beckham, the virus,", June 28, 2003

" Notes:
It's entirely appropriate that this sense of the word retrosexual — that is, man as the anti-metrosexual — was first used by Mark Simpson, the coiner of metrosexual. Note, however, that Simpson didn't coin the word retrosexual. The singer Bebe Buell released an album called Retrosexual in 1994. Also, there's another sense of the word that refers to a person who hasn't had sex in a long time:

"Homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, I've heard it all before," said my friend Ms M. "Then again, I haven't had sex in so long I'm retrosexual."
—Karen Krizanovich, "Talk dirty to me," The Guardian (London, England), August 10, 1995



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