I don’t know when it happened, but my Instagram “Explore Page” has become a slot machine sampler of mildly attractive men posing in not much more than their birthday suit.
Where once appeared unappetizing #foodporn, now appears pursed lips and clenched abs, perhaps, asking a broader set of questions: does Valencia make my abs look fat?
I guess there is nothing new about the male physique being a cornerstone of queer culture. Abs, in their silicon glory, have been a cultural linchpin since well… modern queer culture existed. Where would the gays be today without 1950’s beefcake magazines and their popularization of the athletic male figure, all the while exposing it for its latent homoeroticism? Or artists from the 1970’s and 80’s (like Robert Mapplethorpe and Warhol) who celebrated the hyper-masculinity of emerging queer hotbeds in the West Village and Fire Island by documenting their inhabitants in all their semi-nude glory?
In such a vein it would be easy to look at today’s Instagram thirst trap and celebrate it as a democratization of queer culture; its like we can all equally celebrate our abs and their impact on the gay zeitgeist together.
But such reasoning misses the transgressive nature of what nudity once represented. Mapplethorpe’s male nudes juxtaposed machismo with the then perceived sissy nature of homosexuality. Even Bruce Webber’s Abercrombie oeuvre feels as if it is a giant fuck you to heteronormative mainstream Americana masculine culture.
There was politics in dem abs. Today? There’s just privilege.
We’re no longer naked because we need to be; we’re naked simply because we can be. #equinoxmademedoit
Which brings us back to Instagram which is urging me to follow people simple because they look good in a pair of Chubbies.
Perhaps I’m a prude, but I’m not sure I understand the point of following a random guy on Instagram simply because they post photos of their abs every other day. Most of these people are neither interesting, nor funny, nor particularly inspirational. Unless of course looking masc while wearing American flag paraphernalia is something we should all aspire to?
I get that guys and gays love sex (I do too) but if a photo of someone WHO YOU DON’T KNOW is giving you a semi maybe you need to put down your phone and go to a bar.
One of the folks that the Instagram algorithm tells me to follow is a bloke by the name of Max Emerson. Max has over 400,000 Instagram followers, which makes him an Instagram celebrity. I suspect he’s found such an audience because every other picture he posts is him about as naked as a good mensch like Mark Zuckerberg would allow on what is perceived to be a family friendly social network.
Max has recently taken to using his Instagram audience as a pseudo political platform (how retro of him), presenting his audience with banal quotes (“It’s not the truth that matters, but victory”, “I’ve never seen a skinny person drinking diet coke.”) and asking: “who said it: Hitler or Trump?”
One could argue, with something of a straight face, that Max is the legacy of Mapplethorpe; he’s just your typical (naked) gay dude pushing his political agenda on his audience. But what agenda is this exactly? Attempting to convince the good citizens of West Hollywood to vote for Ted Cruz in the upcoming California presidential primary instead of Donald Trump? I’d like to see the venn diagram of Registered California Republicans and followers of the #instagay hashtag. Also if we’re going to expose Donald Trump for general stupidity – not sure these are the quotes that are going to make anyone burn their Nasty Pig jock in protest.
It’s not only laughable in its attempt at politics, it vacuously misses all the political points.
Wannabee country star Steve Grand also had a similar problem when he realized that people were just following him for the gym selfies and not for his attempts at music. It’s hard to pay attention to music when you’re also confronted with gym selfies and complaints about not having a boyfriend (PS check out the gun show!).
Beware the one that made you Steve.
Max and Steve are just examples of course, my Instagram is littered with men standing in front of a mirror with their shirts off, feeding off the validation from a 1000 likes from the anonymous masses. Who needs a Brotein shake when you’re racking up more likes than you are racking weights in the gym?
Perhaps my attitude veers down the path to slut-shaming. Can’t a gay bro just take a shirtless selfie and wait for the likes to rain? Yes. Yes we can. But in the world of social media + in a society which is accepting for a certain type of gay, i.e. white and muscular, the naked selife isn’t political or interesting, its just basic dick bait.
Queer media (or what’s left of it) has taken to feed off of such dick-bait posting images of shirtless male vloggers under the guise of: “Model Monday”, “Trainer Tuesday.”, “Hump Day Hottie.”, “Thirsty Thursday” or “Friday Fucks” or something equally banal.
Towleroad, which was once one of my go-to sites for gay news, now trolls my Facebook page with variations of the following:
Common denominator: abs for days.
Time for some radical candor: a six-pack is not an accomplishment. I mean… I guess it’s an accomplishment in that you’ve spent a lot of time at the gym and possibly weigh your food and haven’t had an M&M since the 90’s… but not so much an accomplishment when compared to, I don’t know… fighting or trans rights?
Physical attributes should not be the common attribute through which the queer community can rally around, the gym selfie has become the millennial “it gets better campaign”, only on steroids. Literally and figuratively. It’s as if we’re teaching young gay men that it does get better but only if you’re skinny and fit (and predominately white, but that’s a whole other kettle ball)?
Being gay and thin and living in New York or LA in the year 2016 is degrees of awesome but it shouldn’t be our only story. Can’t we all put on a shirt and heart something slightly more meaningful?
Suns out, puns out.