Thursday, May 24, 2012

Morgan Spurlock, Male Grooming and ‘Mansome’

For decades, women have been targeted by the personal products industry with everything from hair removal devices and creams to "odor" removing feminine hygiene products to make up and hair coloring. If you watch the commercials and look at the magazine ads, nearly everything that is natural about being female needs to be prettied up and sanitized. And aside from small enclaves around the world (most noticeably Boulder, Seattle, San Francisco, Flagstaff, and a few East Coast towns with women-only colleges in the U.S.), a LOT of women have bought into this marketing of the shaved, painted, and sanitized woman.

Now men are being targeted - a trend that seemed to begin with the metrosexual phenomenon in the 1990s and 2000s. But as Morgan Spurlock documents (and ridicules) in his new film, Mansome, the trend is also moving into the mainstream of masculine culture. The focus for men seems to be some of the traditionally masculine qualities - strength and muscle (but it often requires shaving one's whole body to highlight the muscle, as in bodybuilding and guido culture), six pack abs (again, super lean and muscular, with a strict attention to diet that used to be something only women worried about), nice hair (well-groomed and god forbid you should go gray or bald), and impeccable clothing (more guys seem to be getting things tailored than in the past), and so on. Those last two are where things cross-over into the realm of the metrosexual, withthe use of personal care products becoming much more acceptable.

My take: I use hair product, shower gel, cologne, go to the gym as often as I can, have six-pack abs, watch what I eat, like to wear nice clothes, and am strong and mildly muscular - but I do not think of myself as metrosexual, nor do I do any of those things because I feel some pressure to conform to an image (and I have examined this, thoroughly, since I do have a vanity part). I do it because it's who I am. If men want to get prettied up, or be rough and bearish, or live somewhere in between, who the hell cares? Whatever makes them happy.

I watch these trends in the media because they say something, no matter how trivial, about the evolution or transformation of masculine ideals in the culture. I think we're seeing some men beginning to take better care of their health and their appearance, but a trip to Walmart or Home Depot will show us just how small a minority of men are doing so at this point.

From the New York Times, an interview with Spurlock about the film.

Morgan Spurlock, Male Grooming and ‘Mansome’

Morgan Spurlock shaving his handlebar mustache in "Mansome." 
Morgan Spurlock shaving his handlebar mustache in “Mansome.”

After tackling fanboy culture (“Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope”) and product placement (“Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold”), the documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock has now turned his focus to men’s grooming habits with “Mansome.” The movie, which had its premiere last month at the Tribeca Film Festival, opens in theaters Friday.

In the film, Mr. Spurlock interviews many men, from celebrities like Jason Bateman and Zach Galifianakis, to the award-winning beardsman Jack Passion, in a quest to understand how men’s grooming habits have evolved in the 21st century and how male identity has changed in the process. Mr. Spurlock’s own handlebar facial hair factors into the mix.

The beardsman Jack Passion in "Mansome." 
The beardsman Jack Passion in “Mansome.”

In a recent interview at his SoHo production offices, Mr. Spurlock spoke about the film. Below are edited excerpts from that conversation.

Q. How did you want to structure the film?
A. We wanted to use characters as the best place to jump off from, to find people who had interesting and compelling stories. Jack Passion is an amazing character. Here’s a guy who is the European beard champion and the U.S. beard champion. He represents you and the rest of us Americans as the finest in “beard building,” as he calls it. Once I met Jack, I thought this is someone we should use as a model.

We wanted to find the people who represented the fringes of this idea. Only by understanding the extremes of certain people can you start to understand what the middle represents. I find myself more in the middle with the exception of this ridiculous mustache that I’ve been shaving around for eight years.

Q. You did a little bit of life imitating doc with your own mustache at the film premiere at Tribeca, correct?
Mr. Spurlock without his mustache at the Tribeca Film Festival. 
Mr. Spurlock without his mustache at the Tribeca Film Festival.
A. Yes, in the movie, I talk about how I came across Adam Garone, [a co-founder of] Movember, a charity fund-raiser for prostate cancer research where they get guys to grow mustaches. I called him and said I’ve had this mustache for a long time, so we came up with the idea of me shaving off my mustache during Movember to raise money for charity.

And then my little boy, who’s never seen me without a mustache, sees this weird man in his house and kind of loses it.

So for the premiere, I had my mustache, and while the movie showed, I shaved it off. After the movie, everybody’s looking at me like, “You kind of look like somebody I should know.” People couldn’t tell who I was. It was great.
Q. How did you determine which celebrities you were going to use?
A. Well, first you go to ZZ Top. You have these guys with these iconic rock ‘n’ roll man beards that they’ve had for years. It’s their identity. Then John Waters, with his pencil-thin mustache, was good. Zach Galifianakis is one of those guys who has always made fun of how he’s a bit of a schlub. Yet he’s incredibly successful with this dirty-mountaineer look to him. So I thought he’d be interesting.
Q. Beyond facial hair, what were you interested in exploring?
A. The film does look at this world of male body dysmorphia, where men are supposed to look and be a certain way. Shawn Daivari is an example of this. As a professional wrestler, there’s a certain way he’s supposed to look, which is completely ripped and cleanshaven without a hair on his body. He has to shave his whole body every single day before he goes to work. He has this mental image of what he has to live up to every single day. So there are some serious questions that are raised and some serious conversations that come up in the middle of a lot of funny parts.
Q. What ways have you found that male identity has most changed over the years?
A. Men now are made to feel as insecure as we’ve made women feel for decades. Magazines cater to this insecurity. You’re too fat, you’re too ugly. Get that girl! So you think: “I don’t have six-pack abs. What’s wrong with me?” I think that men have lost the confidence of self. We’ve lost this confidence of our own identity.
This brief article is from the LA Times, the land of bronze skin and botox - where youth is worshipped almost as much as celebrity.

Is the post-metrosexual manscape landscape the 'mansome era'?

Mansome Movie Stills

When it comes to answering the big questions about masculine identity and the male grooming ritual, Morgan Spurlock's latest movie, "Mansome" may barely scratch the surface (in spa terms that would make it more of an exfoliation than an extraction), but since the topic is being tackled on the silver screen at the same the makers of men's lotions, potions, salves, tonics and shaving implements are seeing increased sales, I decided to have a chat with Spurlock during his recent West Coast press junket. The result appears in Sunday's Image section.

Over the course of the interview, Spurlock shared some of the surprises and regrets from getting the documentary from idea to screen. One high point was finding Ricky Manchanda, a New Yorker who, at first glance, appears to be nothing more than a preening peacock of a narcissist.

"What I love about Ricky’s story is that he's a guy who has dealt with something we’ve all dealt with on some level -- peer pressure and being ridiculed by friends .... [A]nd Ricky’s saying: 'I’m not going to be that guy, I’m going to fit in by society’s standards.' That was a real 'aha' moment for me. "

Although there are a lot of voices (and I mean a lot; the press notes list 28 commentators by name -- from famous comedians to bloggers -- which doesn't include a slew of random men- and women-on-the-street interviews) there was some insight Spurlock wishes he'd been able to include.

"I would have loved more magazine editors and more people like that to chime in on their role in what’s happened," Spurlock said. "But it’s hard to get a lot of people to talk about how they've contributed to it. ... And we tried to get people from the modeling business to talk about it from the male modeling side  and we couldn’t get people to go on camera to talk about that."

Most discussions about male grooming and societal expectations eventually touch on the dreaded M-word -- metrosexual -- and when the topic finally came up Spurlock sounded ready to kick it to the curb once and for all.

"What’s the word for the post post-metrosexual era? I don’t know what it is," Spurlock said. "But I do know that we're beyond metrosexual. That was a term that came out to describe these men -- was almost a slag against them -- because they were engaging in something that had been quintessentially associated with gay culture [and] it was a negative connotation."

"We're at a place where [men taking care of their appearance] is being seen as normal, and it's becoming more accepted in society. So maybe we're living in 'mansome' era."

No comments: