Amol Rajan: Piling on the pressure for modern men to look good


If even a sliver of doubt was loitering in your mind on the central question of modern culture – is The Only Way is Essex (Towie among friends) the best programme of the 21st century? – last week's exhilarating developments should have eradicated it.

A contretemps between Mark Wright and Lauren Goodger, his long-term ex, who didn't like his very public flirtation with Sam Faiers, precipitated Mark's tearful and hopefully temporary departure from the show to be in that lesser crucible of modern culture, I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!

Recent episodes of Towie have illuminated one of the major themes of the show, which is the argument at the heart of modern manhood: are you Mark or are you Arg? Best friends they may but these two (Arg is the nickname of James Argent) could hardly be more different. Arg has charmingly admitted that he is enduring a crisis of confidence, worries deeply about his weight, looks and uninspiring wardrobe. So he has sought the counsel of best pal Mark, and the equally sexed Joey, on how to improve his manliness. First tip: head for a sunbed (which he did, emerging "like a tomato"). Arg is an instinctive homebody who eats too much and can't run for 10 minutes.

Mark couldn't be more different. A fortnight ago, as he stood upright in nothing but a towel, he was asked the question on all our lips: "Mark, what's it like being so fit?" Chiselled of jaw and honed of torso, the man is a walking erection who elicits an instinctive "phwoar!" from boys and girls alike. Most of us are somewhere in between, and like to think we have our Mark Days and our Arg Days (generally the latter). But like the characters of Ed Norton and Brad Pitt in Fight Club, Mark and Arg represent who we aspire to be and who we actually are, respectively. They also represent the gulf between our young, libidinous past, and our fear of an older, balder future.

Mark and Arg help men understand the pressure to look good that women endure in the age of celebrity. By personifying alternate visions of our idealised and actual selves, they give modern culture one of its most useful dichotomies. Of course, that is only one reason among many that Towie is the show of the century, and if you've got any beef with that suggestion, by all means get in touch.