too much typing—since 2003



Every year, Matt Groening produces a "Life in Hell" cartoon about the "List of Forbidden Words" for the upcoming year. These lists usually include jargon and buzzwords that allow the pundit classes and their readers to avoid thinking in favor of pointing at pre-approved thought-wardrobes. May I nominate for the 2003 list the term "metrosexual"? First, it's just queasy-making, as if there's some new sort of sexual orientation out there that's so attuned to the whims of fashion that the very vibrations of those exquisite tendrils arouse sexual desire. to put this...okay, I believe the whole anti-PC backlash of the late '90s was almost completely unjustified, and motivated by a weird desire among social conservatives to avoid having to think about their own actions, along with the strange public trend of the time to imagine that political resistance primarily consisted in acting like an asshole. But..."metrosexual" seems to participate in a tendency to imagine sexual variation from the norm (and I mean these two terms in a strictly statistical way) as far more common - and more importantly, far more a source of a sort of cultural authority - than they are. This is dangerous to say, as it's way too easy to slide such a comment into generic homophobia. So let me say, outright, that I am personally pissed off to a high degree at those who would presume to judge others' sexuality when absolutely no harm is done by the nature of that sexuality, and to condemn in the strongest terms those who would attempt to rule out of bounds something which is among the most deeply constitutive elements of human personality, one's own sexual desires. Still, in an effort to counter the ongoing right-wing effort to restrict sexual expression generally, and to suppress queer sexuality completely (I here use "queer" in the sense of "anything differing from the prevailing, socially acceptable norm"), at times it seems as if every artist, and everyone trying desperately to seem trendy and culturally aware, somehow manages to embody "transgressive" sexuality and perform or comment upon the same in their work. Sorry, but this has become popular to such an extent that I can't help but feel at least some of these folks are play-acting.

The term "metrosexual" isn't strictly related to that, but in trying to come up with a way to make yuppie (old-fashioned but still accurate terminology) ways of sexuality and consumption intimately yoked, it's just yuksome in both its etymology and its surface meaning. I think my objection, really, is to the effort to confine anyone's personality and sexuality into such a tiny little package - and to connect such an intimate, personal, deeply important thing to the trivial public realm of consumption.

Still, I think at least part of the phenomenon of pro-"transgressive" art is genuine and positive. At most levels, we do live in a tremendously conformist society, and the attitudes that accompany such ideas can be extremely limiting and depressive. So even if such expression gets coopted into buzzwords, and any physical manifestation of those ideas turns into regularized ethnic dances (say), there's a sense in which the receptiveness to that which displays "difference" is useful: we never would have seen the stuff otherwise. But like most terms, "metrosexual" oversimplifies and flattens the dynamic of the situation the term is designed to address...and this is in fact, a serious problem.

None of which has anything to do with whether so-called "metrosexuals" are really worthy of media attention...especially since the whole notion seems merely a modern buzzword for "those who construct their sexiness on popular consumer products."

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