Popular culture is constantly evolving. There are many influences on what is considered hip and stylish at any one time. Some tend to command, nevertheless. And one growing tendency is the effect of gay male sensibilities on many facets of mainstream culture including films, television and fashion. No longer on the borders of mainstream culture, gay men are often making its rules.
Take the breakout show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. This entertaining television program took the (often accurate!) stereotype of homosexual males being more style conscious, cultured and aesthetically skillful than straight men and made it the essential idea. These witty gay men ran a mock, giving advice to clueless straight guys on everything from their pick of swimwear to their behavior with the opposite sex. The show was a tremendous hit in the united states and internationally, and even spawned localized variations in different countries.
There are other, more general examples. Take the gay ideal of masculinity, which has a focus on good grooming and physical fitness. While homosexual male idols are often Adonis like, their heterosexual counterparts have long been able to get away with being less than fit and occasionally downright slobby. But this has seemingly changed lately.
A couple of recent “sword and sandal” epics exemplify this good. In Troy, both primary stars (Brad Pitt and Eric Bana) were fitter, stronger and more muscular than in any of their previous jobs. A similar appearance was required for the picture 300 about Spartan warriors. All of the principal actors, as well as the extras, had certainly spent a lot of time at the fitness center. The star, Gerard Butler, followed a punishing training regime for four months prior to filming, often working out with a well-known body builder.
One wonders how many of the first Spartans would have looked so buffed. They surely didn’t have the advantage of digital blood sugar monitors, isometric gym gear, protein bars and all the remainder. (Though they’d have been much more lethal, obviously!)
Compare these films with the Roman epics of the fifties and sixties. In movies for example Ben Hur and Spartacus physical perfection was not nearly as significant. Stars such as Tony Curtis, Kirk Douglas and Charlton Heston were surely fit, but hardly the perfect physical specimens we have seen parading across the screen recently.
The evolving character of James Bond is another case in point. Sean Connery, the original film Bond, was a masculine icon. He’d an imposing physique and was hairy chested. He surely was not big-boned, but he was not toned either. While he did get around in his swimming trunks in at least one picture, this was as much to serve the storyline as it was to give the women something to ogle.
Then there was Roger Moore. While he was dapper and trendy, he was not really athletic. He was most comfortable in a suit, and seemed to have an aversion to gay mens swimwear.
The most recent Bond, Daniel Craig, is more fit and muscle than any of his predecessors. He is likely been training with Gerard Butler! In one only ornamental scene in Casino Royale he rises from the surf to show his (hairless) barrel chest and washboard stomach. Obviously, when dressed he’s always wearing the most fashionable apparel.
It is interesting that these are all large budget films that are made appeal to a broad demographic. They’re guy movies; not homosexual movies. Yet the action men in them look appropriate, sleek and commonly hip while killing all the bad guys. While the rising influence of homosexual male aesthetics is not the only reason for this phenomenon, it’s surely a major factor.