The New Normal: Dissecting the Male Ideal

TEXT: Alexander Sauve 

Similar to the female standards of beauty, the male ideal is nearly impossible to achieve and maintain. It’s a standard that continually evolves and is driven by the media and entertainment industry. With Pride month well underway, Novella takes a look at the emerging new standards of male beauty and we find that one size does not necessarily fit all.

1960s: Liberated and Outrageously Sexy

The 1960s was a decade of significant cultural and political upheaval. Before the gay liberation movement, it was absolutely imperative to “pass” as heterosexual. After the Stonewall Riots of 1969, coming out became an act of defiance against the anti-gay establishment. Men in greater numbers would break free from the traditional clean-shaven, perfectly quaffed and overly conservative mold of the ’50s. By the early 1970s, gay men found inspiration in uber-masculine male stereotypes — the lumberjack, the cowboy, the biker, and the construction worker would become the epitome of the masculine ideal.

1970s: A decade of Decadence

In the era of Studio 54 and Bowie and Warhol, a period of decadence and self-expression rolled in. Although the uber-masculine ideal was in full swing, many gay men would begin to defy old-school gender binaries by experimenting with makeup, tight clothes, and longer hairstyles. The look was androgynous, young, and free-spirited. The underground Drag Ball culture of New York was gaining popularity and would eventually become synonymous with the worldwide LGBT community.

1980s: The Athletic Ideal

As the fitness models exercised, sweated, and posed in various states of undress in Olivia Newton-John’s 1981 smash hit Physical, the athletic male ideal was born. Men were muscular, athletic, and tanned to a leathery golden crust. Essentially the “All-American Look” of the 1980s fitness craze would have a tremendous influence on male beauty, fashion, and grooming ideals. A body that is fit, healthy, and lean remains the most sought after body type for both men and women alike.

1990s: The Era of the Supermodel

Arguably the last generation of the true supermodel-models Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, and Kate Moss was the envy of every young woman and gay man in the 1990s. But a crop of top male models — Marcus Schenkenberg, Mark Vanderloo, and Tyson Beckford — would set the standard of male beauty in the era of perfection. With their chiseled features and tall and well-defined physiques, these guys were the new epitome of the masculine ideal.

Early 2000’s: The Metrosexual Man

By the early 2000s, we saw an increase of confident and stylish men taking greater pride in their appearance. In this era, men enjoyed high-quality grooming products, designer threads, and perfectly styled hair. The metrosexual is usually found in urban jungles where grooming and shopping is easy. Most often heterosexual, these stylish and well-groomed men put some of their gay counterparts to shame.

2010: The Casual Hipster

In many ways, the hipster would set a new standard for male grooming and style. From full and thick beards to plaid shirts and oversized frames, their casual and uber-sexy style is one of the most sought after styles for millennials. Noted to be somewhat overly trendy, the hipster loves all things organic, distinctive, and individual. Unfortunately, the individuality thing only goes so far, since the term ‘hipster’ goes as far back as the 1940s and saw an reemergence with a different meaning in the 1990s.

Today: The Bearded Beauty

Today it’s all about lumberjack. The new male archetype is bearded, uber-masculine, and is good with an axe (probably not really though). An ode to the lumbersexual and anti-establishment of the 1960s and 70s, beards give a rugged and enigmatic appearance to even the prettiest of male faces. Think Ryan Reynolds in The Amityville Horror (2005), without the crazy.

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Television Review: Crisis In Six Scenes

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Image Credit: IMDB

After much speculation and curiosity, Woody Allen’s mini-series, Crisis In Six Scenes, became available on Amazon Prime on September 30. The series is divided into six, roughly-twenty minute long episodes. The term “episodes” however, should be taken lightly, as none of them feel self-contained in any way. Rather, they simply feel like twenty minute long chunks of a movie, with most of them immediately following the next in the very linear and simple plot. Now, this isn’t the worst description a television series could be given, especially during a time when audiences are being more conditioned than ever to binge watch several episodes in a short span of time. But Crisis in Six Scenes unfortunately feels shockingly overlong and underwritten— so much in fact that one may wonder why Allen didn’t take this story and make it into a 85 to 90 minute long film, as opposed to a two hour long series. Perhaps Amazon offered him an amount of money that was too large to turn down. If that is the case, it will hopefully go towards funding his next films, because this series will prove disappointing and forgettable to even the most die-hard and apologetic Woody Allen fans.

The story takes place in the 1960’s during the height of the Vietnam War and revolves around Sidney J. Munsinger (Woody Allen) and his wife Kay Munsinger (Elaine May). They are a well-off surburban couple— Sidney being a novelist with hopes of getting a television deal off the ground, and Kay being a marriage counsellor—who are both on the verge of their golden years. They also have a houseguest, Alan (played by John Magaro), a family friend and banker, who plans on marrying his girlfriend but also harbours feelings of guilt about not partaking in the war, due to a medical issue. Although Kay and Sidney are aware of the current events in Vietnam, their lifestyle allows them to be slightly emotionally removed. “Kay is a liberal. Sidney is an ostrich. He prefers to keep his head in the sand,” says Alan.  But their comfortable life is slowly thrown into turmoil with the unexpected emergence of Lennie Dale, played by Miley Cyrus, a political protester who is on the run after escaping from prison. She begins staying with them, and as result begins influencing the Munsinger’s and their friends in unexpected ways.

That premise alone should intrigue those familiar with Allen’s previous work. As many of his films tend to focus on the relationships and neurotic tendencies of urban intellectuals, audiences rarely get a glimpse into the more socially conscious side of his personality. Also intriguing is how the Woody Allen character, Sidney, is positioned in the plot. Many conversations between Sidney and other characters emphasize how out of touch he is in modern society, to the point where it can easily be interpreted that Allen may be poking fun at himself, as well as the types of characters he regularly depicts in his films. Lennie looks down on him for his political indifference, a barber says it took him all winter to read one of his novellas, and studio executives dismiss his television idea as not being very “contemporary.” There certainly seems to be a refreshing awareness from Allen throughout the series regarding how mainstream audiences may perceive him. Unfortunately, whatever promise this series contained, in terms of quality or originality, is undone right from the beginning.

 The opening scene is the conversation between Sidney and the barber. The barber is giving very harsh opinions about Sidney’s recent creative endeavours and life developments. The dialogue should feel quippy and energetic, as Sidney is unexpectedly forced to defend himself. Instead, the entire scene is awkward and quite predictable.   The dialogue and the jokes, which include Sidney wanting to look like James Dean and the barber comparing Sidney to Job in the Bible, mostly feel easy and obvious. As a result, this relatively simple introductory scene mostly feels needless and indulgent, and the potentially interesting metafictional aspect is greatly undermined. Even though Woody Allen has tended to repeat himself, especially in terms of the types of stories that he is interested in telling, one would be hard pressed to find another project of his that feels this loosely structured and cobbled together.

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Image Credit: IMDB

To make matters worse, the jokes are not the only lazy aspect to the writing throughout the series. The way Allen chooses to dole out information regarding characterization can be very blunt. At certain points, Allen makes the characters blatantly explain their motivations, as opposed to having such feelings simply be subtext in scenes that could be enforced by the performances of the actors. Following an initial conversation with Lennie, where Kay convinces Sidney to let her stay in their house, there is a scene in their bedroom. Kay begins speaking at length about how she used to know Lennie’s parents, and says she admires Lennie’s rebellious streak and desire for social change. As a result, she also begins voicing to Sidney questions regarding why they are not more politically active. While watching this scene, it is hard not to think of ways in which Allen could have given the audience that character information in a way that is more engaging or resonant. Couldn’t this have been established in a more interesting way, simply through an extended, emotional conversation between the two women, which would also enforce how persuasive Lennie is supposed to be? Instances such as these feel slightly belittling, as though Allen is trying to get the information across in the fastest and easiest way he can. Not only do scenes like these, where characters stop to explain their emotions, prove to be uninteresting to watch, they also cause the narrative drive of the series to slowly diminish, and what could have been a fast-paced and frantic story, becomes a slog to sit through.

One has to think that the actors must be trying their best with the material they have been given. Though Kay’s characterization is forced in early scenes, Elaine May is always charming and fun to watch. Even the actors who play the married couples during Kay’s sessions, or her friends that attend her book club in one amusing scene make a lasting enough impression. However, Miley Cyrus feels severely miscast as Lennie, a decision that becomes a significant blemish on the entire production. Too often, she appears stiff in her actions—as though her movements are very calculated as opposed to coming across as naturalistic—and her speaking tone more often conveys that of a petulant teenager and less of a seasoned radical that can stir indifferent hearts and minds.  As this character is meant to be a catalyst for increasingly unbelievable events, the reverberations of her performance are constantly felt, most notably seen in how the character of Alan begins having doubts about his engagement, as he feels he might be falling in love with her. In a series that includes a bomb going off and Woody Allen jumping across rooftops to elude police, the notion of the John Magaro banker character developing feelings for the irritating Lennie is by far the most ridiculous plot point. It becomes quite difficult to buy into similar emotions that other characters end up feeling for her as well.

It’s a real shame that such an enticing experiment ended up being so easy to dismiss, as Woody Allen has proven himself to be a better writer and director of actors than this series would suggest. If you’re looking for a light hearted family-centric romp directed by Allen, you will be much better off re-watching Radio DaysMighty Aphrodite or the under appreciated musical Everyone Says I Love You, while hoping that the next thing he does is more realized in its’ potential.

Five Fall Television Premieres to Watch Out For

When you think about it, September is the kick-off point for the prime binge-watching time of the year. Temperatures outside are dropping, making the image of staying at home in sweatpants, with that half-finished bottle of rosé, the most alluring it has been in the past five months. And let’s be honest with ourselves, with all the family gatherings about to happen, we’re all about to become a lot less concerned about our waistlines, at least until the deep-seated feelings of regret come in January. So, as you begin to kick back for hibernation season, we have taken the liberty of listing off the television premieres that we feel are going to make the biggest splashes this Fall.

Westworld (2 October)

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Photo Credit: IMDB

HBO has been teasing audiences about this release since late 2014, when the first set of photos were posted online. This was soon followed by news that production was shut down, as the writing for the show began falling behind schedule. It is therefore reasonable to assume that the production has been quite troubled—not surprising, considering the trailers released this year make it seem hugely budgeted and ambitious. The original 1973 film, written and directed by Jurassic Park novelist Michael Crichton, centres around a resort comprised of different worlds, each being an artificial society populated by nearly-flawless humanoid robots, with Westworld being a replication of the old west. Rich vacationers were able to go and live in these societies, however they pleased, that is until the robots unexpectedly turned violent and uncontrollable by those in power. This television adaptation, which boasts a cast that includes Ed Harris, Anthony Hopkins, Evan Rachel Wood, and Thandie Newton, seems to have added and fleshed out many of the characters, both in Westworld, as well as those in the rather sinister looking control room where the robots are created. And where the original film slowly builds tension, as the feeling of security amongst the vacationers is slowly lost, this series looks to be going for a creepier, psychological thriller vibe throughout. Moments in the trailer between Hopkins, playing the creator of the resort, and Wood, a Westworld robot, feel reminiscent of scenes in Inception and more recently, Ex-Machina. Brief hints at the shootouts and chase scenes suggest action sequences of blockbuster movie calibre. With a list of producers that includes Jonathan Nolan (brother of Christopher) and J.J Abrams, this has potential to be the biggest hit of the Fall. Fingers crossed! Watch the trailer here.

 Luke Cage (30 September)

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Photo: Marvel TV/Netflix

Daredevil offered awe-inspiring action direction and choreography, that quickly allowed the series to stand toe-to-toe with other popular superhero shows like The Flash and Arrow. Jessica Jones soon followed, immediately setting itself apart as a thriller, with flourishes inspired by classic detective fiction tropes.  This new addition to the Marvel Netflix universe, judging from the trailer, seems to be a superhero show taking inspiration from such inner-city crime dramas as The Wire and Southland—a show that creator Cheo Hodari Coker also produced. The series is set to follow the title character, played by Mike Colter, who develops super-strength and invulnerability after being experimented on, while in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He then escapes, and begins to clean up the streets of Harlem. Early reviews are beginning to be shared on social media, and like its predecessors, they are roundly positive. And of course, there will be plenty of easter eggs and hints for what’s to come, as the already invested die hard fans are surely looking ahead toward the 2017 release of Iron Fist and the eventual team-up series. Marvel has proven themselves to be as adept in handling these more tortured, complicated characters, with the same degree of respect and emotional depth as those that populate their brighter cinematic universe. And with each show providing a distinctive style and tone, they are likely going to continue to attract a wider, more mature audience that may not be fully aware of all the possibilities the superhero genre has to offer.  Watch the trailer here.

Crisis In Six Scenes (30 September)

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Photo: IMDB

To label this Amazon series, created by Woody Allen, as a “curiosity” would feel like a massive understatement. Allen first inked a deal for a half hour series with Amazon when, according to him, he was not yet sure as to what the show would be. Furthering public scepticism, he later spoke in a couple of interviews about his hope that executives will not be disappointed with the end result, his struggle of fitting the filming of the show around his regular movie schedules, and his feelings of regret concerning the whole endeavour. Such remarks have subsided, and since then, we have been given a clip of a scene involving Allen, playing a neurotic author in a barbershop, and a characteristically vague plot summary. Starring such names as John Magaro (The Big Short), Elaine May (Small Time Crooks), and Miley Cyrus, the series will be a period piece set in the 1960’s, and will centre around a middle class family whose lives are disrupted by the emergence of an unexpected guest (Allen?). Even if this experiment turns out to be a trifle on his filmography, it will hopefully be more of the Radio Days or Mighty Aphrodite variety, showcasing his ability to deftly blend his affection for eccentric characters, clever writing, and occasionally screwball scenarios. As long as it doesn’t feel like a tired rehash of old ideas (looking at you, Scoop and To Rome With Love), the opportunity to see a cinematic titan adapt for an ever-changing digital landscape, will likely be too tempting to refuse, and will surely provide interesting water-cooler discussions for cinephiles.  Watch the clip here.

Transparent (23 September)

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Photo: Amazon Prime Video

The show that announced to world that Amazon is a force to be reckoned with, when it comes to quality serialized drama, is coming back for a third season. The series follows the Pfefferman family—siblings, Ali, Josh and Sarah, and their mother Shelley— as they navigate their own relationships and personal issues, while coming to terms with the shock of their father’s confession that he has always wanted to live his life as a woman. The writing has been frequently superb, veering from laugh-out-loud to uncomfortably real territory, with ease and authenticity. And the deeply resonant performance by Jeffrey Tambor, who plays the patriarch-turned-matriarch of the family, Maura, is something to be marvelled over, as he can move effortlessly from playing unapologetically confident to frustratingly narcissistic to tragically bewildered. The first season was met with a bevy of accolades at the Golden Globes and Emmy’s, mostly for series creator Jill  Soloway and Tambor. By the time the second season premiered, it had won a Peabody, which acknowledges excellence and merit in the television, radio broadcasting, and online media industries. This is no surprise. Transparent hits a sweet spot, where the subject matter feels of a niche, as it magnifies the common experiences and prejudices of those in the trans community, while also exploring themes of otherness and the apprehension towards expressing one’s true self, in ways that feels infinitely relatable. After a few episodes, these characters will feel like equally welcome houseguests as your own family. Watch the trailer here!

Better Things (8 September)

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Photo: HITFIX

Pamela Adlon is one of those actors that everyone loves—they just may not be aware of it. She was the voice of Bobby Hill from King of the Hill, as well as multiple characters on Bob’s Burgers and Beavis and Butthead. Her acting roles are also nothing to scoff at either, as she stole pretty much every one of her scenes in Californication, and many others in the Louis C.K.-produced shows, Lucky Louie and Louie. Now, it appears as though C.K. is helping her finally obtain that leading role that she has long-deserved, by producing her show on FX, which she also has writing and directing credits for. Better Things will be heavily inspired by her own experiences as a single mother taking care of three daughters, while also being a working actor in Hollywood. The trailer shows tender moments between herself and her daughters that feel true, while also bluntly illustrating the struggles of having a sex life in one’s 40’s, and having kids who may be more culturally savvy than their parents. Coupled with Adlon’s seemingly-innate ability to play fiery, “not-taking-any-of-your-crap” women, this show should hopefully be able to stand alone from the other Louis C.K.-centric work she has done, and cement her status as an actress to watch out for.  Check out the trailer here.