Saturday, August 30, 2008

Is That A Hypodermic In Your Pocket, Or Are You Just Happy To See Me?

According to this article (via), skinny boys are now all the rage in fashion ads and runways.

In the late 90’s designers like Miuccia Prada, Raf Simons, and Hedi Slimane embraced an alternative male. He is slim, youthful, lean, frail, sensitive, lyrical, and odd, a little too odd at the time. This was not a man, it was a boy, and he did not go to the gym he went to the library, and in instead of growing muscle he cultivated interests. … And we find ourselves today in 2008 and those odd skinny creatures are ruling the runways. It’s almost impossible now for any muscle stud to find work in Paris or Milan save for a few fashion dinosaurs that still live out their heydays in the 90’s. Muscles have vacated the realm of luxury and have become especially low brow. The meek truly shall inherit the earth.

Until next week or whenever the fashion changes again, that is. I don’t think this is quite news – wasn’t there a media fuss a few years ago (1995, in fact) over Calvin Klein’s “heroin chic” ads, to say nothing of Twiggy (whose spare figure was called boyish) in the 1960s? I’m no fashionista, but this isn’t exactly insider knowledge: I believe I picked up on the CK brouhaha in the Village Voice.

I’ve always liked skinny boys myself, back before it was permitted by Our Shadowy Fashion Overlords. (Though I must say, some of the young men pictured here look downright anorectic; contrary to what Coco Chanel or the Duchess of Windsor or whoever it was said, you can be too thin.) But while the fashion world was catching up with me, I moved on to short, stocky, even chubby Latino men with strongly Indian features. Since I’m clearly prescient, forward-looking designers will want to start retooling for their Spring 2038 line, Aztec Campesino Chic.

What really annoys me about the piece, though, is not its failure of memory – we live in the United States of Amnesia, darlings, and this is a relatively trivial (if not benign) example. No, it’s the assumption that history moves in lockstep:

The male figure and visage, constantly idealized, is constantly morphing. In the 50’s it was solid and broad with large but poorly defined muscles. The face: reserved, strong jawed, and stoic, a man back from the war and ready to live the American Dream. In the 70’s the figure became leaner, sportier, and much furrier, think Burt Reynolds, (a young) John Travolta, and Mark Spitzer. It was a look that exuded sex on a more carnal level. But in the 80’s and into the 90’s the male ideal mutated into an inflated, steroid ridden, massive hulk.

Whose “male ideal”? A relative few designers, casting directors, and photographers I guess. But in any of those periods there were plenty of exceptions to the “ideal”: in the 50s, for instance, James Dean didn’t look like he’d just come back from the war, to say nothing of Sal Mineo or Elvis Presley. (Our blogger also seems to have confused Mark Spitz with “Mark Spitzer”, but the 70s was a long time ago.) No matter how often it’s pointed out that historical change doesn’t happen this way – that trends overlap, older strata coexist with newer ones – many people persist in talking as though yesterday goes into the dustbin of history, today is sparkling new, and Tomorrow Belongs To Me. Nor are individuals so simple: when I was younger I liked skinny boys and chunky boys, blonds and brunettes (and redheads). I rarely liked facial hair, but then every so often someone would come along and transcend type. I still like skinny boys, too, as well as barrel-chested morenos with bushy bigotes. I know that I’m far from alone in this charming messiness; what continues to mystify me is that so many people apparently want to think of themselves as being so narrow, so limited.

And what’s the post’s title about: “In Which Physical Perfection Becomes Profane Idolatry For the Masses”? They wish. Just because I want to get someone into bed, it doesn't mean I idolize him. But those who have something to sell – or who, as in this blogger’s case, identify with those who have something to sell – naturally wish they could make you buy their brand and none other. But it doesn’t work that way in the real world, and a good thing too.