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A Men’s Man Meat Cult > Sporno II February 9, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Fashion, Gay Life, Lifestyle, MetroSexual, Sports.
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Hunks in the locker room

A female University professor at the department of literature wrote her doctoral thesis on pornography written by female authors, and now gives a course on pornography in the Women and Gender Studies Program. “Pornographic representations are explicit representations of sexual acts or representations that contain photographs of genitalia,” she says. “I don’t like the way the use of the term is expanded in all sorts of ways, thought it’s clear that there are mutual influences among porno, art and advertising.

“It’s true that the very positioning of these men as objects of pleasure and visual consumption already marks a change in the standard Western view in which men are not supposed to be objects of visual pleasure. But the way in which they are presented is not subversive. Take the picture of Freddy Ljungberg for Calvin Klein: Yes, he shows us a bit of his ass, but he’s portrayed here in an active role, as the potential penetrator, as the dominant male. Women are portrayed as inviting, not as dominant. In terms of the fantasy potential, of which scenarios are supposed to occur to us when we see them, the men are still portrayed more as active, and this preserves the identification of maleness with activeness and penetration.”

Simpson: “This is certainly the way that many of the participants in these images would like to see themselves, and also the way many of the voyeurs would like to see the sex object. However, the key here is that they are presented as sex objects, regardless of what they may or may not like to do in bed. This is a basic tenet of psychoanalysis: Exhibitionism, offering yourself up for voyeuristic pleasure, is passive and/or masochistic.”

When you have an ad showing five soccer players in their underwear in a locker room, is this an aesthetic of gay porn? Is the homosexual context explicit here?

Professor: “Yes, in the sense that homosexual porn often situates itself in classic male locations, like a locker room or a gym. The locker-room site represents a kind of coveted masculinity, especially in being very straight. The locker room is the place where gay teens often feel uncomfortable and embarrassed because maybe they’re laughed at for being gay, or they’re afraid that others will see them get hard from looking at another guy in the shower. Frequently in gay porno you find these kinds of scenarios of the fantasy that came true, so now it’s actually happening with that same male hunk you always fantasized about.”

“The traditional explanation of feminist sociologists was that soccer allows for homoerotic manifestations, because they are not openly declared as such,” says a professor at the University of Florida, whose specialty is the sociology of sport. “When soccer players score a goal and then hug and roll around on the grass, no one would dare call this homoerotic behavior. It’s legitimate because it’s brotherhood between sportsmen and not brotherhood between men who are enjoying one another’s bodies. But when the homoerotic manifestations become more explicit, this explanation is subject to question.”

How is it possible, this combination of overt homophobia among soccer fans and the flirtation we’re seeing of soccer players with gays? Shouldn’t homophobes be appalled at the idea of soccer players striking revealing poses as models?

Professor: “Without question, there’s been a change as far as what soccer players deem permissible, and it will be interesting to follow what happens among the audience. In the United States, it’s very rare for an American football player to openly appeal to a gay audience. Beckham is now becoming a star in the U.S., he’s going to play in Los Angeles for about $250 million over five years. But in America, soccer players are not models of masculinity the way they are in England or elsewhere. Here, soccer is a game of children and women. From this standpoint, it won’t be any problem for an American audience to accept him. The people who watch soccer here are the middle class, which sees itself as liberal.

“Beckham, and a few other leading players, are a walking business,” adds. “Each with the scarf or socks or whatever that they’re supposed to sell. And this being the case, they’re exposed to market discipline, which in the past decades has given more power to homosexuals, because of the DINKS, dual income, no kids, referring to gay couples with relatively high purchasing power. The hyper-commercialization of sports has given a boost to models like Beckham, now that corporations have such a big economic stake in reaching this audience.”

And is soccer still identified with the lower classes?

“Precisely, while branches of sport identified with the middle and upper classes also tend to include women. Therefore, the obsession with the boundaries of sexuality is less strong among branches identified with the middle class.”

The increasing openness to less rugged-looking models from abroad has also been accompanied by the discovery that the combination of athletes and advertising holds great economic potential. Advertisers are tuning into the values embodied by the public image of sportsmen. And the sportsmen, for their part, are becoming attuned to the generous possibilities for financial reward. A modeling agency, for one, recently signed tennis player Matan Sheetrit and pole-vaulter Udi Karni. Soccer player Oren Turjeman is signed with the Look agency.

Do athletes really help increase sales? “Athletes are a higher level of models,” says a deputy director of an ad agency and the person responsible for the Dudi Balsar campaigns for Castro Men and the Itzik Zohar campaign for Careline. “A model doesn’t bring any values aside from aesthetics. Athletes, especially successful and famous ones, bring the values of success, of hard work, of masculinity, lots of things. When manufacturers of a brand-name product choose someone famous, they want to make sure that the values of that famous person are positive and also suit the brand. We took Itzik Zohar for Titanium because the concept of men’s grooming needs to obtain some legitimacy; these products are not yet a common thing in every man’s home. So if you take a man who’s also a talented and admired athlete, and also well-groomed, the fact that he’s promoting the product gives it legitimacy for other men.”

And the athletes? What do they need this for?

Ad agency: “Sports, like many other areas, is a product that goes beyond talent. To be a soccer player today is not just about scoring goals, doing well in the league and getting a better contract: It’s also about being part of the pop culture, being a celebrity. In our research we see that the thing that teenagers dream about in the most overwhelming and singular way is becoming famous. When an athlete leads a campaign, it creates a process of mutual empowerment. The brand invests a lot of money in creating exposure for itself and for its leading presenter, and as a result both are built up. When you do a fashion campaign with a good brand and a good ad agency, hundreds of thousands of dollars are invested in making you look the best and the sexiest, because you’re representing the brand. What other opportunity do these people have to receive this sort of platform? And don’t forget that in sports, except for the really successful soccer players, the money isn’t that big. This is their opportunity to make money.”

The financial aspect is central to the sporno story, and is the part of the mechanism that Simpson calls “gay for pay.” British athletes have no problem striking sexy poses for the camera, as long as they know they’re making a bundle for it. They’ll gladly do homoerotic modeling, but only in return for hefty pay, to remove any doubt that these gay elements actually relate to them personally in any way. And so, at a time when women models are seeking to emphasize how important it is to them that their photos be respectful and artistic, for the male athletes who model, money is the first justification cited.

To a subversive eye, the attempts to regiment and tame homo-erotica in sports are no less noticeable than the homo-erotica itself. For example, a soccer player who takes his shirt off on the pitch risks being given a yellow card, and yet many still can’t restrain themselves.

In England, says Simpson, the soccer federation “tried to ban kissing by players in the late 1980s, ostensibly because of the ‘risk of AIDS.’ Of course, this was nonsense, because HIV is not spread by kissing. What was really happening was that the old men of the federation were now experiencing homo-panic every time a goal was scored. Ironically their campaign was unsuccessful. The ‘gay for pay’ phenomenon has been much more successful in suppressing post-goal snogging.”

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A Men’s Man Meat Cult > Sporno I February 9, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Fashion, Gay Life, Lifestyle, MetroSexual, Sports.
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Swedish Fredrik Ljungberg for Calvin Klein > The potential penetrator >

bodycult.jpg  Swedish soccer player Fredrik Ljungberg, who plays for the English team Arsenal, is starring in the Calvin Klein underwear campaign, photographed with an oiled body, his underpants partially pulled down.

Dolce & Gabbana’s most recent underwear ad campaign featured five members of Italy’s national soccer team, wearing nothing but underwear in a locker room. The Dieux du Stade (Gods of the Stadium) calendar features nude shots of players from the French rugby team, crouching on all fours, showering, being caressed. And David Beckham? Does he even need mentioning?

British journalist Mark Simpson, calls this “sporno”, a combination of sport and porno. In an article in last July’s issue of “Out” magazine, he described how sport has become the new homosexual pornography. “Much has been written about how porno is poised to go mainstream. Guess what? It already has … because sportsmen, like porn stars, are by definition show-offs, but more particularly because it means more money, more power, more endorsements, more kudos,” Simpson wrote.

In England, says Simpson, the homoerotic aspects of sport are no longer just hinted at. They’ve become an open and self-conscious flirtation. “Sportsmen on this side of the Atlantic are increasingly openly acknowledging and flirting with their gay fans, a la David Beckham and Fredrik Ljungberg, the man who actually looks the way Beckham thinks he looks. Both of these thoroughbreds have posed for spreads in gay magazines and both have welcomed the attention of gay fans because they ‘have great taste.’ They and a whole new generation of young males are actively pursuing sex-object status … In other words, they’re not just sports stars, but sporno stars.”

Simpson, who earned worldwide fame about a decade ago for coining the term “metrosexual” is a witty, sharp-eyed journalist and a skilled media animal. So it’s not surprising that last month The New York Times turned up the volume on the discussion surrounding “sporno”, pronouncing it one of the “Ideas of the Year”.

Simpson thinks the sporno phenomenon really began to take off a few years ago. “What is new about sporno is not that there is a (homo)erotic subtext to sport, obviously, well, to me at least, that was always there, but that this subtext is now the text, one that we are hit over the head with by consumer capitalism, or have rammed down our throats,” he says in a recent interview.

But the whole world has become more pornographic. Think, for example, of the well-publicized paparazzi photos of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton’s genitalia, or of the fact that a lot of female pop stars have a homemade sex video that’s distributed on the Internet. It’s not just sports.

Simpson: “Yes, many female celebs turned themselves into simulations of female porn actresses some time ago, and have become less and less simulated. What is interesting about sporno is that men who are considered to be ‘Alpha males’ because they are sports stars are going down the same prostituting route.”

This is the Cult of the body! Sporno was born, says Simpson, as a result of the wedding of the world of sport with the world of advertising, a match meant to be beneficial to both sides. In an age when sport has become so commercialized and has turned into showbiz, athletes hungry for public adoration are increasing their fan base, not to mention their bank accounts, by becoming sporno stars. Advertisers enjoy the aura of the athletes’ success and gain market niches by appealing to a number of population segments at once, straight men, who are viewed as the natural audience for sports, as well as gay men and straight women, who are discovering that soccer isn’t just 22 hooligans chasing after a ball, but guys who spread on lotion and like to hug.

“Sports and advertising have jumped into bed and produced a gigantic money shot,” Simpson explains. “Sporno is the product of a voyeuristic world in which media has multiplied itself. One in which more and more of us are spending more and more of our time. Screens have got bigger, cameras have become better and smaller and more invasive, pixels and channels and angles have multiplied. It is no longer simply the ‘game’ of football that is being watched: Now the bodies of the footballers themselves are being consumed by the audience.”

And in other countries? The trend is only in its infancy, if at all. Handball player and model Dudi Balsar posed partially nude for a Castro commercial, filmed on a nudist beach in Romania, and pictures of him in his underwear have adorned billboards on the Ayalon Highway; swimmer Eitan Orbach peeled off his clothes for the Fox ad campaign; soccer player Itzik Zohar parted with his shirt to help peddle a line of men’s grooming products and is currently negotiating to participate in an underwear ad; and lots of other athletes, some better known than others, including judo, tennis and athletics champions, have signed up with local modeling agencies in hopes of enjoying a second career, what Simpson would call a “spornographic” one, off the field.

Renen Carmel, creative director at the Euro ad agency, explains that “sex has always sold. That’s what sells fashion: youth and a perfect body. You can go back as far as ancient Greece. Athletes were always an icon of the body cult. Okay, then they didn’t have advertising, but a statue is like the billboard of the ancient world. The Greeks genuinely worshiped the male body, while geeks were never a physical model anywhere in the world. What has changed just a little is the openness to content that’s more homoerotic, because there is more cultural openness to it.”

Simpson rejects the parallel with ancient Greece. “The continuity with ancient Greece is really as much as a discontinuity. They would have been shocked by sporno. ‘Pornography’ is from the Greek meaning ‘writing of prostitutes.’ The Greeks would have had a nervous breakdown at the idea of their heroes being associated with prostitution. Today’s sporno stars are quite literally, quite openly, quite globally, prostituting themselves for money.”

“Obviously, sex sells,” Simpson continues, “but the key here is: What type of sex? What is new is that sports stars, men who are admired and worshiped by other men as paragons of what a man should be, are happy, hungry even, to offer their bodies to the world, and particularly to other men, visually, as sexual playthings. The use of sportsmen in place of models means that the effect is more shocking, more explicit. It also means, of course, that more men are likely to be interested in the ad. And what is equally new is that this doesn’t provoke waves of revulsion among their hetero male fans. Quite the opposite: Their young hetero male fans seem to enjoy this display almost as much as their homo male fans.”