Mark Wahlberg: Will the real Mark please stand up

Wannabe rock star Mark Wahlberg plays a wannabe rock star in his new film. No change there, says Mark Simpson. He'll always be like an extra who's blundered into a starring role
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The Independent Culture

'Are you wearing eyeliner?" an amazed office clerk asks Mark Wahlberg as he repairs a photocopier in his new film Rock Star. "I'm in a rock band," Mark explains testily. Of course, he isn't really. He's in a Steel Dragons tribute band and he's a facsimile of its lead singer Bobby Beers (who is, as it happens, a facsimile of the former gay Judas Priest frontman, Rob Halford). But one so eerily accurate that he ends up taking his place (just as a fan ended up taking the place of Rob Halford). And Rock Star, like most Marky Mark films, isn't really a film but a facsimile of one.

Perhaps this is why Mr Wahlberg always seems to be cast as a photocopier repair man: in Three Kings this was his job when he wasn't a reservist pretending to be a soldier in the Gulf War (a war which we are solemnly informed by Marky Mark's CO is a "media war"). In Planet of the Apes, he's essentially trying to solve a jam in the cosmic photocopier of evolution. Even when he's the star, Wahlberg seems to be tinkering away in the background.

As the oddly – yet fondly – duplicitous nick-name "Marky Mark" suggests, Mr Wahlberg is the facsimile star of a facsimile world, a plastic icon for a Planet of White Trash, an extra who appears to have blundered into the lead role. His own story always overshadows that of his movies: a white boy who became a rapper, a "hustler" who became a Calvin Klein model, a novelty act who is now hailed on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine as "Hollywood's leading man" and "the next Cary Grant". Not bad for a boy who used to have to drop his pants to get our attention.

Wahlberg, of course, achieved global fame in the humongously successful Calvin Klein underwear poster campaign of the early Nineties – in which he was depicted masturbating on the side of buses. Or more precisely, grabbing his bulky lunch-basket through his Calvin's and showing off his pumped pecs – stimulating millions of men around the world to buy Calvins in the especially vain hope that they might look like Marky Mark in them.

So it was either ironic or simply a case of more photocopying that Mr Wahlberg's big screen breakthrough was in Boogie Nights (1997), in which he plays a mega-hung hustler who "jacks off for men" and who is "talent spotted" by a porn director played by Burt Reynolds. Of course, the main reason anyone went to see Boogie Nights was to finally get a butchers at Marky Mark's cock – one which was already much more famous than that of John Holmes, the unfeasibly hung Seventies pornstar Dirk Diggler was based on. Which is why the director made damn sure that you don't even catch so much as a glimpse of it until right at the end – and then all we get is a deliberately plastic-looking prosthetic.

Which serves us right, since Wahlberg has made a career out of a perpetually deferred, postponed, polymorphous, plastic manhood. This is also the reason why he is so closely associated with homosexuality and homosexuals, who are experts in facsimile masculinity. It was media regents David Geffen, Calvin Klein and Herb Ritts who launched his career into the stratosphere with posters that looked like they'd cut and pasted an Irish altar boy's face onto a gay hustler's body. Marky is the man-boy for a man-boy age of facsimile manhood in which men no longer grow up, their chests just get bigger instead.

In his "adult" movie career, Wahlberg never seems to play a healthily heterosexual role. In Boogie Nights, he's a freak show surrounded by failed men and sick women; in Rock Star he replaces a gay star and ends up trading Jennifer Aniston for a life of sad, groupie debauchery. And the way we know he's really hit rock bottom is not that he loses Jennifer but because he loses his six-pack. Meanwhile, in Planet of the Apes, his main romance is with a creature that is a cross between Michael Jackson, Bubbles and Helena Bonham Carter. (Apparently, in what passes for real life, Mr Wahlberg, who is now 30, avoids relationships and still lives with his mum.)

And Marky always seems to be a victim in his films, as if he has to pay for his narcissism – or at least, pay for our interest in his narcissism. In Boogie Nights he's a sad loser who is exploited by other losers and ultimately falls victim to his own vanity – even ending up being queer-bashed. In The Perfect Storm he is the victim of terrifying, gigantic special effects. In fact, The Perfect Storm is merely 90 minutes of watching Marky Mark drown, deliciously. Even in Planet of the Apes, where he was supposed to be playing an action hero, he was the passive victim of circumstances: just when he thought he'd won, he discovered he'd lost (the Apeman Lincoln moment).

In Three Kings he is captured by the Iraqis and stripped down to his underwear (again) and tortured by a rather nice looking but very cruel young Iraqi officer. Poor Marky is beaten up, electrocuted and has oil poured down his throat. He also gets shot and has to have a valve painfully inserted into his famous chest in extreme, invasive close-up to allow him to breathe.

All this is very peculiar – especially when you consider that Wahlberg is definitely not a victim or a homo; he is a multi-millionaire success story with hordes of women and Hollywood directors pursuing him everywhere he goes. Moreover, Marky has a proven track record as a bully. This former, dissed rapper is much "badder" than that contemporary white rapper with another double "M" moniker who is all mouth; he's even badder than most black rappers. This "motherfucka" did time when he was 16 for assaulting two Vietnamese men in an attempted robbery.

In other words, our facsimile film star really can act. It's just that his act is convincing us that he's more altar boy than hustler, more lovable loser than wily winner, more bottom than top – the photocopier boy with eyeliner.

'Rock Star' is out on Friday. 'Marky' Mark Simpson is the author of 'The Queen is Dead' (Arcadia)