Popular culture is constantly evolving. There are many influences on what is considered fashionable and stylish at any one time. Some tend to dominate, however. And one growing trend is the effect of gay male sensibilities on many aspects of mainstream culture including films, television and fashion. No longer on the margins 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 true!) stereotype of gay males being more fashion conscious, cultured and aesthetically adept than straight males and made it the central idea. These witty gay men ran amock, giving advice to clueless straight guys on everything from their choice of swimwear to their behavior with the opposite sex. The show was a huge hit in the USA and globally, and even spawned localized versions 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 gay male icons are often Adonis like, their heterosexual counterparts have long been able to get away with being less than fit and sometimes downright slobby. But this seems to have changed in recent years.
A couple of recent “sword and sandal” epics illustrate this well. In Troy, both main stars (Brad Pitt and Eric Bana) were fitter, stronger and more muscular than in any of their previous roles. A similar look was required for the movie 300 about Spartan warriors. All of the principal actors, as well as the extras, had clearly spent a lot of time at the gym. 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 original Spartans would have looked so buffed. They certainly didn’t have the benefit of digital blood sugar monitors, isometric gym equipment, protein bars and all the rest. (Though they would have been far more lethal, of course!)
Compare these films with the Roman epics of the fifties and sixties. In films such as Ben Hur and Spartacus physical perfection was not nearly as important. Stars such as Tony Curtis, Kirk Douglas and Charlton Heston were certainly fit, but hardly the perfect physical specimens we’ve seen parading across the screen lately.
The evolving character of James Bond is another case in point. Sean Connery, the original movie Bond, was a masculine icon. He had an imposing physique and was hairy chested. He certainly wasn’t overweight, but he wasn’t toned either. While he did get around in his swimming trunks in at least one film, this was as much to serve the plot as it was to give the women something to ogle.
Then there was Roger Moore. While he was dapper and stylish, he was not very athletic. He was most comfortable in a suit, and seemed to have an aversion to swimwear.
The latest Bond, Daniel Craig, is more fit and muscular than any of his predecessors. He’s probably been training with Gerard Butler! In one purely ornamental scene in Casino Royale he rises from the surf to display his (hairless) barrel chest and washboard stomach. Needless to say, when dressed he’s always wearing the most stylish attire.
It’s interesting that these are all big budget movies that are made appeal to a broad demographic. They are guy films; not gay films. Yet the action men in them look fit, sleek and often fashionable while killing all the bad guys. While the rising influence of gay male aesthetics isn’t the only reason for this phenomenon, it is certainly a major factor.