Mad about the boys - Life and Style - The Independent

Mad about the boys

Young men, says Mark Simpson, have replaced young women as society's crumpet of choice. Meet the Nu-Buck, the tough yet tender, smooth-cheeked and pert-bottomed sex symbol for the Nineties (but don't worry girls, you can be Nu-Bucks too)

WHY IS THE media industry addressing us as if we were all dirty old men? Everywhere you point your pebble glasses nowadays they get steamed up by gorgeous, seductive young bucks in various states of undress. At the movies that young whipper-snapper Marky Mark is hustling it for us in Boogie Nights. Baby-faced Leonardo is shaking his girly locks manfully and getting his clothes all wet and clingy in Titanic, probably the most expensive shower-video ever made. Jude Law is doing his Oxbridge student psycho-crumpet routine in Wilde. Fresh-faced and fresh-acting Matt Damon is charming Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting. And pretty Ewan MacGregor is mooning around in just about everything, having stolen everyone's wallet with his scrummy rent-boy look in Trainspotting. Staying in and watching telly is no escape from the dirty raincoat factor. Pop programmes are full of svelte boy-bands. Advertising is full of doe-eyed young men who can't wait to take their clothes off. And, following on from the saucy surfer example of Australian soaps, even Coronation Street has a pair of exhibitionistic teenage pectorals in the underdressed blond shape of Adam Rickitts.

Welcome to the world of the Nu-Bucks. Like the rather sexy material somewhere between suede and leather they take their name from, they're soft-but- tough, smooth and nubile males somewhere between childhood and manhood that are meant to be worn close to your skin. There's no getting away from it. Nu-Bucks have supplanted women as the image of desirability and seductiveness. This is partly because these passive play-things acknowledge and appeal to women's new sense of power. And partly because they appeal to men frightened by women's new sense of power. Girl-Power begets Boy- Power. Pliant, rather than fierce, eager-to-please rather than in-your- face, Nu-Bucks are all the things that girls aren't supposed to be anymore. Who would you rather wake up to? Ewan MacGregor, or Geri Spice?

In an era of the worship of youth, Nu-Bucks are as inevitable as unhappiness. Young men better represent the ephemeral beauty and fickleness of youth than young women - and deserve such a fate too. Young men are androgyne. Young men are naive (or so we hope). Young men have stupid skin - always the most attractive kind. Young men are hopelessly now to the point of being premature. Young men do not carry the future inside them as young women do. Young men are as blank and as serious and as silly as buttocks.

In years to come, Diana's death will be seen as the turning point. With the pagan goddess gone to Mount Olympus, the world's attention turned to her teenage son William, the genetic and spiritual inheritor of her seductive beauty, and realised that her English blue blood had finally lifted the German Curse of the House of Windsor - which decreed that all male issue must be born middle-aged - and given us our first royal Nu- Buck.

How do you spot a Nu-Buck? Firstly, of course, they're young - but not that young. They're pre-adulthood, but post-pubescent. Tempting tit-bits, not jail-bait. They must look as if they're between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four - hovering in that fleeting, doomed space between manhood and boyhood like a cheque that can never be banked or a promise that will never be kept. Early Nineties Nu-Bucks like Keanu and Brad are out of favour now because they're not sexy boys any more - just talentless, immature men who won't go away. Secondly, Nu-Bucks are attractive to both men and women and it's clear they're tarty enough to want attention from both men and women. Thirdly, although they're vain and pretty they're keen to prove their manhood; they're a puppyish blend of softness and hardness (see especially Leonardo DiCaprio and Marky Mark). Fourthly, they're usually male but not necessarily so. Because they're now the image of desire, many women want to be Nu-Bucks too. Nu-Buck girls include Demi Moore (in Striptease as much as GI Jane), Geena Davis (the prettiest pirate you ever grappled with), Alicia Silverstone (the leather-clad tom-boy who goes motorbiking with male Nu-Buck Chris O'Donnell in Batman and Robin), Mila Jovovitch in The Fifth Element and any female in a Paul Verhoeven movie. As pretty guys with female genitals and big chests they are naturally irresistible to straight men (even though Nu-Buck girls have to be rather tougher than Nu-Buck boys).

Finally, Nu-Bucks are fit, but their bodies mustn't seem purely functional: they have to be aesthetic too - even and especially when they're professional sportsmen. Just as in Ancient Greece the young male athlete has become the acme of beauty, young footballers happily rent out their bodies, parading down catwalks and hawking shampoos. Oddly, the most famous of them - Ginola, Giggs, Cantona, Beckham, Redknap and the sainted teenager Owen - have all played for Manchester United or Liverpool. Apparently, the North West is the new Sparta.

David Beckham is a Nu-Buck par-excellence. Much, much more beautiful and better bred than his squeeze, Posh Spice, Cockney Beckham has the kind of handsome-yet-pretty, strong-yet-delicate looks that are the hallmark of the Nu-Buck. Even his sweat looks less functional than decorative (but always honest). The fact that one day he'll buy a wine bar in Southend, grow a pony-tail and fill his wardrobe with white loafers only makes his current beauty all the more poignant.

Smoothness is perhaps the most important signifier of the Nu-Buck (goatees are excepted because they're really joke beards that always look as if they've been stuck on). The smootness of the Nu-Buck advertises two things their admirers want to know about them: that they like to be looked at, and that they are boys not men.

In a sense this is a return to pre-Christian, "pederastic" aesthetics. The Ancient Greeks devoted much of their art to the praise of the beauty of the adolescent, beardless athlete and considered the worship and pursuit of such boys a sign of virility in a man, rather than a sign of deviance or a passion for disco. Apollo, the built, bisexual young god of sun, music, poetry and prophecy, the one-man boy-band of the Hellespoint Hit- Parade, is the template for all the Nu-Bucks.

The last great pre-Christian Roman Emperor, Hadrian, a big-time Hellenist, openly loved a fit Greek adolescent called Antinous and after his death had him made into a god. Temples and statues to him were erected around the Empire in an early forerunner of Calvin Klein's Marky Mark campaign. The flat-bottomed Early Christians cast a jealous eye on Antinous' geodesic marbled behind and made a mental note to suppress such non-reproductive shamelessness when they ran the show.

Which, excepting one or two slip ups, such as the Renaissance and a few sonnets by William Shakespeare and A.E Houseman, they succeeded in doing. Until, that is, the arrival of Hollywood - that Sodom and Gomorrah with valet parking which Christians are so right to lambast. In the buttoned- down, buttoned-up Fifties it brought us the Gladiator Movie, James Dean, Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and a thousand all-American boys doing their manly duty for democracy against the Nazi and the Jap (whom we knew had no chance against GI Joe because they weren't nearly as cute). And ultimately, Elvis Presley whose adolescent hussy hips and lips changed the world and who dyed his hair black because he had a crush on the young Tony Curtis, the Fifities fore-runner of a Nu-Buck and now just an Old Goat.

In the post-Christian, neo-pagan Nineties the beautiful boy now dominates the image industry in almost all its manifestations - cinema, television, advertising, music and sport. Apollo not Christ walks amongst us today. But in keeping with our times, the beautiful boy is less an ideal and more a commodity. Marketing is now more inspiring than aestheticism - the purity of the Ephebe has been replaced with the dollar-sense of the Nu-Buck. There's a scene in Titanic where DiCaprio leans over the prow of the ship, opens his arms and yells into the Atlantic wind. This is the victory cry of the Nu-Bucks, who have sunk bourgeois-Christian pomposity and are now the figureheads nosing us into the twenty-first century. Once sailors looked to images of beautiful women to guide them safely to the New World. Now our culture now looks to pretty young men to lead the way.

Mark Simpson is the author of `Male Impersonators' (Cassell) and `It's a Queer World' (Vintage)

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    History Teacher

    £110 - £160 per day + Mileage & Expenses: Randstad Education Leeds: Required i...

    Nursery Nurse

    £7 - £8 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Nursery Nurse jobs in South Glouc...

    English Teacher needed for long term cover

    £110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay TBA: Randstad Education Reading...

    SEN Teaching Assistant

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply special needs assistants Jobs i...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week