Notes on the Hairless Man
Today's American male is distinctly boyish.
Jun 21, 1999, Vol. 4, No. 38 • By DAVID SKINNER
A typical article from Men's Health tells readers how to decrease calories and stress ("Assign numerical values to the major parts of your life, such as work, marriage, and family; this can help you better apportion your time") while increasing earnings, physical strength, and sex drive. And "if Jane Goodall's research assistants have been creeping around your backyard, perhaps it's time to ask a dermatologist about hair removal with lasers. . . . A typical back treatment takes four hours and costs $ 500 to $ 2,000. Nose and ear procedures cost around $ 200. Backside denuding is at the doctor's discretion." After which, you can turn over and be made to look like the hairless man on the magazine cover. These magazines are an education in how to look exactly like a '90s man without having to think about what it means to be one.
Nor is this simply another case of gay fashion being a trendsetter for straights. The newly prominent hairless man is a sign of the convergence of gay and straight culture. Male vanity and the desire to prolong adolescence are becoming mainstream traits, no longer the markers of a subculture. Just two years after Ellen DeGeneres's "coming out" scored a ratings bonanza for her then-declining, now-off-the-air TV show, the arguments between gay activists and their critics over how visible homosexuality should be on prime time TV are already seeming quaint. Such arguments presume that there is a dominant, hostile majority culture. But there isn't. There are only tiny protest groups that get laughed at when they count the number of gay characters in TV shows and movies. The mainstream culture is the culture of the hairless man, at best indifferent to old-fashioned, grown-up male traits.
Here is a mainstream cultural moment. Cinematic stud Mark Wahlberg was interviewed earlier this year by Matt Lauer on the Today show. By the admittedly bland standards of morning television, the contrast in personalities should have made it an interesting conversation: Strong silent type who recently played an outsized porn star in the movie Boogie Nights confronts Sensitive New Age Guy, the kind of softy Americans want to see first thing in the morning. Instead, the only contrast in the interview was that of a regular SNAG versus a post-macho SNAG. It took Wahlberg, the post-macho SNAG, only seconds to reveal his vulnerable side: "It's kind of hard, you know, because the whole macho thing, you know, it's -- coming from Boston, it's -- it's also an -- an athletic place, you know, and there's not too much opportunity there. So being the tough guy is the thing to do. . . . It was -- it was difficult to -- to accept the role in Boogie Nights only because I was -- and it's stupid now to think about it, but I was worried about what my friends would think, you know, and -- and stuff like that . . ."
Machismo is never so talked about as when it is absent. But there was a worthwhile question answered by the interview: What do you get when you put two SNAGS together? Answer: a conversation about being gay.
LAUER: You said in an article in Premiere magazine that when you were growing up, it was tough to repress the fact that you were . . . creative. It was a little bit like being gay and not being able to tell your parents.
In fact, there is nothing ironic in Wahlberg's playing spokesman for the gay community. The rapper formerly known as Marky Mark was central to one of the most important sightings of the hairless man. Before his success in Boogie Nights had him making appearances on Charlie Rose and other talk shows, Wahlberg was a model for the famous Calvin Klein ad that appeared in countless magazines, but nowhere more prominently than on that humongous billboard above Times Square. Striking a pose in his skivvies, Wahlberg looked like a bit of rough trade freshly showered for a special occasion. But more important, he was, except for a butchy hairdo, as smooth skinned as the day he was born.