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June 01, 2007

Swish and Swagger

But surely Jack Sparrow's swish-and-swagger masculinity isn't anything new? Weren't Liberace and Elton John both sex idols back when men spent most of their time sawing wood and suppressing their feelings? Didn't this country go through a period of disco worship, when sparkly outfits were considered perfectly appropriate? And didn't dudes wear wigs back in the day?

June 1, 2007 | Permalink


Wigs and silk breeches, Ezra. Wigs and silk breeches. And I've heard of something called a "bodkin" that just sounds all kinds of fey.

Also, I hear women are wearing suits and pants now. When will this incomprehensible gender bending cease?

Posted by: justin | Jun 1, 2007 6:04:34 PM

"sawing wood"? I don't believe I've ever used that euphemism.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Jun 1, 2007 6:42:04 PM

It was ok back then because people were more sexist.

Posted by: Sara | Jun 1, 2007 7:06:23 PM

Of course, the real winner is the fact that he is pretending to be english, where people are still "sawing wood and suppressing their feelings."

Posted by: Raff | Jun 1, 2007 7:32:40 PM

Macho Men, Serbian Style ...David Lublin

"Both Serbian and Kosovar men are macho men in a metrosexual packages. There's just not that much work for the Queer Eye guys here. Young men already dress carefully in the most stylish duds and haircut they can afford. People in Pristina and Belgrade dress far better than in Washington (faint praise, I know). Male friends put their arms around each other in ways rarely seen outside the gay ghettos of the USA.

Balkan men nonetheless remain very traditional. Indeed, it the absolute taboo on homosexuality rather than comfort with it than makes such things possible. Shortly before my departure for the Balkans, a gay Kosovar received political asylum in the United States due to persecution in his homeland:"

My emphasis, tho I don't know if the assertion is true. There have certainly been "flamboyant" male societies & times, Sparrow's being one of the most obvious, but also societies with little fashion, if I am not mistaken, Sparta & Rome.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jun 1, 2007 7:52:14 PM

Wait - did she completely miss the '70s and '80s? David Bowie? Duran Duran? Adam Ant?

Posted by: Morfydd | Jun 1, 2007 8:12:45 PM

Not to sound like an angry rad fag or anything... but really, what is the point of this post? I'm trying not to be kind of insulted by this whole discussion of effeminacy (Liberace, Elton, Jack Sparrow... these are my options?).... but really, where are we going with this? The last big discussion of androgyny was in the eighties, when Britpop brought us Annie Lennox in menswear and fey images of George Michael and Wham!, Morrissey etc (there's dozens - Duran Duran, Haircut 100 etc; even Bono looked self consciously pretty early on). In that sense, this story is not new, and somehow feminism is always blamed for blurring the lines for men (since, of course, this goes back to being gay=being a woman). I'll take Johnny Depp at his word - that the main inspiration for Sparrow was the notion of a louche survivor like Keith Richards (that sure seemed right to me when I saw Part 1). But really... what's the point here?

Posted by: weboy | Jun 1, 2007 9:38:07 PM


Laura Sessions Stepp would be out of it if it was 1976. Christ on a cracker, I'm 47 and I rembember being mesmirized in 1971 by the antics and stage personae of Mick Jagger and David Bowie when I was 11 years old. Only this preternatuarally aged dowager could think that this sexual androgyny is new, i.e, something that has occurred since Little Richard emerged on the scene before I was born.

It is just painful to have someone so square (as our older brothers and sisters used to say) trying to report on trends among the young. It makes me want to weep and scream things like -- "I've tried drugs -- I had a lot of sex before I was married -- I started drinking when I was 15 and I was slow for my age." This shit is beyond laughable. She is a slow-witted middle aged cow who was lucky to ever have gotten laid. Please stop paying attention to her. She speaks for no one who was born after 1950.

Posted by: Klein's tiny left nut | Jun 1, 2007 9:40:58 PM

Kids these days.

Get off of my lawn.

Posted by: idlemind | Jun 1, 2007 10:36:18 PM

Here's a case where evolutionary biology doesn't seem to offer an explanation. Normally, in those species where females get to choose their mates, the females are bland in decor, and the males are literally like male peacocks - big shows of feathers, bright colors and patterns, carefully rehearsed moves and dances, etc.

I note also that there are species where the male chooses his mate, usually after a struggle or some kind with other males for exclusivity over the females. In this case, strength, bravado, perseverance and reputation prevail, not bright colors or fancy dances.

Somewhere along the line, the richer, more powerful females began the displays in jewels, rich fabrics, elaborate hairstyles, revealed breasts, ass-emphasizing bustles, etc. But the average women still dressed demurely. How is this change explained either.

As the metrosexual/androgenous males today or in the 70's, the cast this as the sole image of gayness (including wearing drag) is a deep misunderstanding of the range of male/male culture of homosexuals. The great majority dress like woodsmen, or average guys, or whatever. So, I'm with weboy: But really... what's the point here?

So, let me return to my first point. Is male dress and behavior a reflection of evolutionary biology or not? Who's wooing (or zooming) who these modern days? Does it matter?

My guess is male opulence is a (perhaps mistaken) belief that they need to stand out from the group in the company of mostly middle income folks who can't rely on position or wealth as a differentiator over other males in order to score (ensure the propagation of their DNA), but I admit my cluelessness if this isn't it.

Otherwise, big body builds and other bravura would explain human males.

Is it possible both models are in play, and that men are confused on which role (man as peacock or man as gorilla) is most effective?

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jun 1, 2007 10:38:56 PM

The real problem with this post is that it shows a surpising ignorance about the changing definition of masculinity over the years in America. It's certainly the second time today a bit of homophobia has crept its way into this site. Let me suggest you check out Celluoid Closet. It's a good place to start to actually not only understand gay issues, but the issue of masculinity. I know people who think anything intellectual is gay. If we start playing into the game of what's femine or not- being a guy who sits on his ass writing all day is considered effeminate to them. That's what happens with this slippery slope. And what happens when you define manhood in certain ways, but not others.

Posted by: akaison | Jun 1, 2007 11:30:10 PM

I thought gay men had mustaches and looked like the Malboro Man. There was something about bandanas as well. I could be wrong as the 70's of my youth in Ontario is a bit hazy.

Posted by: Windsor | Jun 2, 2007 1:25:50 AM

No that would be straight men now. See that 70s show with kelso.

Posted by: akaison | Jun 2, 2007 1:29:52 AM

weboy: I think you're missing the point, which is that male flamboyance is an unreliable and shifting index of sexual identity, and has been so for a long, long time.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Jun 2, 2007 1:38:50 AM

Ezra is a homophobe or conversely commenters are full of it.

Posted by: 50/50 | Jun 2, 2007 2:22:10 AM

Liberace. A sex idol? Ezra, your yoot is showing again. Stick to health care.

Posted by: Joe S. | Jun 2, 2007 8:08:57 AM

To me, the biggest shock about modern "masculinity" has been the embrace of irrational emotionalism. For instance, in politics politicians are often labeled "masculine" for saying crazy, ignorant, paranoid, and impassioned things (see recent Republican debates). In movies and on television, male Heroes often ignore all rational choices and then embrace extreme violence - often because of love and fear.

I guess I always thought masculinity was suppressing emotion, remaining rational and cool, and kicking ass in a calm, detached manner.

Of course intellectualism isn't the height of masculinity - masculinity is all wrapped up in physical achievement (this actually does reveal major progress on the front of equality & feminism - intellectual achievement is increasingly open to everyone equally).

This brings me to a final point - men dominate the discourse. Individual men tend to identify what they think is good, and then they argue that masculinity demands it.

Posted by: MDtoMN | Jun 2, 2007 9:26:45 AM

One final note - almost every vision of masculinity on offer today involves "swagger". Some involve no swish, others involve swish. But they all involve swagger.

Personally, I find swagger annoying and completely unattractive. I wish we could move away from this.

Posted by: MDtoMN | Jun 2, 2007 9:27:59 AM

hence why weboy is right- once you start this game of continually trying to ask "what's masculine" or what's not or allowing people do so then you end up with a slippery slope. I had someone recently ask me whether their car was masculine or not.

Posted by: akaison | Jun 2, 2007 10:00:57 AM

"One final note - almost every vision of masculinity on offer today involves "swagger". Some involve no swish, others involve swish. But they all involve swagger."

Yeah, Mansfield is big on swagger in his Manliness book. I am a tad skeptical. Definitions of masculinity are in flux and vary greatly depending on social grouping.

Posted by: Steve | Jun 2, 2007 10:37:47 AM

I blame Beau Brummel.

Posted by: Jackmormon | Jun 2, 2007 11:37:58 AM

But I liked Liberace!

Posted by: FS | Jun 2, 2007 11:56:09 AM

I think beards are safely masculine, tho not in any normative sense of masculine. My ponytail is possibly metrosexual for anyone born after 1960.

I am nearly obsessed with the universal and historically unprecedented Western fashion for idiosyncratic styles of facial hair during the second half of the 19th century. Muttonchops, shaving everything but the neck, full flowing beard on only one side of the face...ok,I made that one up.

Was this the expression of capitalist Imperialism?

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jun 2, 2007 12:51:07 PM

I dunno - Jack Sparrow's always seemed more swish and stagger to me, but . . .

Posted by: Dan S. | Jun 2, 2007 9:30:26 PM

Dan S.: hee!

Also: Jack Sparrow is not hot because he's swishy and swaggering, or whatever. He's hot because he's played by Johnny Depp, the same person who made girls swoon over Edward fucking Scissorhands (...please tell me that wasn't just me?)

Also: weboy, I think the point of this post is mostly that Laura Sessions Strepp (who wrote the aritlce linked to in the post linked to) is a dumbass and needs to stop being hired, because SERIOUSLY PEOPLE, she is hopelessly out of touch with everything and thinks she's hip to the young people's jives and OH GOD PLEASE JUST STOP--Polo shirts are considered effeminate? POLO SHIRTS? Yes, athletes wear them, but not because they're confident they're getting ass, it's because athletes frequently are pretty preppy, and so are Polo shirts. So, the point of this post is to highlight that Sessions Strepp is identifying a "recent trend" which, in addition to being a rather ridiculous topic of discussion, isn't even a recent trend.

Possibly, my own instinct by now to groan inwardly whenever I read the words "Laura Sessions Strepp" is coloring my reading of the post. Just... maybe.

Posted by: Isabel | Jun 2, 2007 10:04:57 PM

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