Monday, August 10, 2009

Skin Care, or: the Metro-sexualization of the Budapest Male

Not too long ago, I wrote a post entitled the Hipster Conquest of Budapest, which delineated the susceptibility of local youth culture to overt and covert marketing strategies developed in the West. There is a flip-side to that story, however. Marketing is not entirely a social evil. There are instances where persuasive marketing can be a force for good (to my mind, Obama ran a marketing campaign as much as a political one–but that is another story). Take , for instance, the feminization of the average–typically Hungarian–urban male, disguised in the cloak of the metro-sexual: a marketing dream term if there ever was one. In evolving male conditioning about gender, where feminism failed in Hungary, marketing triumphed. Over the past ten years the average Budapest male is more attuned, whether they are conscious of it or not, to their feminine side.

There are several forces at work behind this transformation, and not all the usual culprits: the apparel and cosmetics industries, and mass media. I am thinking of role models, from the utter worship of ambi-sexual clothing horses like Freddie Mercury and football stars Ronaldo and David Beckham. And given that local men were already indulging in habits that would widely be considered overly feminine anywhere outside of LA (the double cheek, man-on-man kiss, and rosé wine spritzers); coupled with the lack of imaginative home-grown fashion, and adding unbridled acceptance of capitalism and mall culture, the territory was ripe for a metro-sexual revolution. Indeed, some of the change came from within. Take the Hungarian hip-hop band, Belga, who routinely, royally, and amusingly skewer macho behavior in their songs and videos. (On a digressive note: Belga also manage to consistently create original and entertaining Hungarian hip-hop. Not to mention, they smoke, live). Or the first openly out politician Gábor Szetey. Even Hungarian skinheads are more fashionable than ever, sporting their Lonsdale hoodies and Fred Perry logos. It absolutely delights me that working-class Hungarian skinheads are saving up 25,000 forints, around 130 USD, to sport a Fred Perry polo, along with 150 USD Doc Marten’s. The Magyar Gárda too, though far from the Magyar-Práda, are quite fastidiously dressed in their black Fourth Reich uniforms. Hitler’s tailor’s would have been proud

A change of attitudes is harder to verify. Correlating the drop in incidence of spousal abuse with the sightings of pleasingly colorful summer scarves, would be both speculative and irresponsible. But one thing is for sure: gay men are more comfortable coming out in Budapest, and have been doing so in legion; and showing their consumer muscle with the opening of numerous gay-oriented clubs and bars, and–for the first time in the country’s history–enfranchising themselves politically. This, in the eyes of anybody who believes in human rights, can only be a good thing. And don’t doubt that the marketing of gays to a straight audience has had a lot to do with that. Not everybody may cop to having a gay friend in Hungary, but everybody has seen Queer Eye for the Straight Eye. Just one more debt that will go unpaid by the straight world.

If we need any more evidence of the metro-sexualization of the local male, we need only look at the average cosmetics store, where there are a wide variety of colognes, and men’s skin-care products available, not to mention male cosmetics. These days the bald goon at the club door smells of winsome CK One and businessmen smell-test soap at Lush. I don’t want to harp on Hungarian Emo any more than I already have–it exists for a reason–and one of these reasons may very well be a rebellion against the expected standards of male behavior. (That, or the CEOs of all the hair-product companies got together in a dark room, scheming to leave no hungo-hairsyle unperfected without gel, spray or mousse.) As if this wasn’t enough proof, there is now a males-only day spa–because, you know, us men just need some alone space when nurturing our wellness.

The confluence of this might be the summer scarf–so aggressively pushed by Zara and H & M as the must-have summer accessory. Let’s face it, nobody, male or female, really needs a summer scarf, unless you are susceptible to hickeys. (Though, that kind of defeats the point of getting a hickey in the first place.) Summer scarves are gratuitous fashion, designed only to move more product off the shelves of the large department stores. Conversely, it does fly in the wind as a kind of liberating flag–that attitudes can change, albeit slowly, certainly slower than fashion. But that is not necessarily a bad thing.

I can’t prove, scientifically or otherwise, that marketing has done more to affect male behavior patterns than feminism in Hungary, but this being a personal blog and not a news-source, so I don’t feel particularly compelled to. But change for the better is afoot. It will not come without struggle or resistance, and backlash–but I am sure the marketers will devise a strategy to neutralize and sell that too.

Matt Henderson Ellis is a freelance manuscript editor and author coach working with writers who publish in print and digitally.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Fuck You (Very Very Much)

Is there any more universally understood phrase in the English language than a good old 'fuck you'? In this case, it is directed at our local frothing-at-the-mouth homophobes. Props to the various Hungarian sztárs here, whomever they may be. And a grand flaming fuck you to those who would deny them.