Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"Mansome" in the age of "Metrosexuality"

Morgan Spurlock has another little whimsical documentary, “Mansome” (2012), from Paladin Pictures (and Electus and Warrior Poets), produced in part by Jason Bateman and Will Arnett.  It rather fits as a companion to the earlier TLA release of the British series “Metrosexuality”  (1999, by Reade Beatl Blair). 

The movie poster is a little bit suggestive of what may happen in the movie.  It is all about looks.  It covers the development, that now men are allowed to decorate themselves, just as women always had been.  Men groom themselves not only to find mates for reproduction (they do that, and it’s an essential part of immortality), but they also do because they will be judged by other men.

The film starts innocently enough, covering mustaches and then beards.  Morgan shaves his own handlebar mustache (no fistful of dollars here), and when he points out that something is gone from his face to his three year old son, the boy suddenly cries.  That scene with daddy is quite moving (in an earlier film about bin Laden, Morgan ended his dissertation with his showing his tenderness during his wife’s childbirth).

The beard used to be what distinguished men, and a couple of men who win beard-growing championships are shown.  Lions have manes, but tigers (genetically almost the same) don’t, since tigers aren’t social animals.  It’s always seemed interesting to me that, what distinguishes men from women conspicuously, is normally removed.  It has always been women who were to be noticed for looks, until more recent times.
Then the film moves on to “The Body”.  It presents us with a professional wrestler of middle Eastern ancestry who prides himself in becoming smooth.  He shaves his own body with an electric, and lets an attendant do his back. (There’s one other scene of back waxing).  The film focuses particularly on back hair is inappropriate.  But otherwise, it always seemed that, for Caucasian men especially, body hair was something that stayed out of sight except in warm weather, and wasn’t supposed to be noticed – but was (except in soap operas).  Men might use it as a measure of competitors’ manliness.  Back in the 1950s, as I recall, the Washington Post had reported on a British study finding that bald men had more chest hair.  In terms of heredity, it seems from general observation, that perhaps “hairy” is dominant. 

The movie stays in the heterosexual world (metrosexuality is for straights, but not for sissies).  And while the gay male world sometimes parades hairlessness in porn magazines and circuit parties, in the “real world”, it’s not very different.  The most popular stereotype on the dance floor today is tall, thin, well muscled, and probably hairy – virile.  Back in June, 1999, in fact, the “Weekly Standard” (a conservative rag) had run a comical piece by David Skinner, “Notes on the hairless man”, which said that Western society had developed a fetish for immaturity, what we now know as the Justin Bieber larval look.

Here’s the official site

I recall a funny sermon in Lawrence Kansas back in the 1960s, when I was in graduate school, “What does it mean to be a man?”  Then, it was to emulate James Bond.  Remember, Sean Connery had a hairy chest, but later Roger Moore didn’t.  Washngton Nationals Manager Davy Johnson said, one time, after a walk-off win, that he liked pinch hitters to have hairy chests.  On the other hand, it seems as though some Hollywood males, notably Justin Timberlake, have taken to thinning out their conspicuous body hair.

The film pays some homage to another institution – the barber shop (itself a movie franchise from MGM).  Here’s another oddity I’ve noticed.  In my coming of age, everybody expected women to shave their legs, out of sight, and were shocked when they went to Europe, where many women didn’t.  On the other hand, many people (women and men both) lose leg hair as they age, for reasons that seem to go unnoticed – probably an early warning of atherosclerosis.  As one guy said back in 1972 in a commuter carpool, "a lot of guys go bald in the legs."  Particularly if they smoke cigarettes.

Update: Aug. 12, 2013

Morgan Spurlock did an interview on this film for CNN here. Spurlock calls himself a "Manicorn".  He says he likes the idea of keeping enough chest hair to "feel like a man" (but you don't need as much as Robin Williams has, especially in "The Birdcage").  What if you have to star in "Mrs. Doubtfire"?)  

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