Lads are dead, long live blokes

Kathy Marks on the new 'tough but tender' male sub-species
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FORGET "laddism". The next big thing for modern male culture is the new bloke.

According to the men responsible for creating the leviathan that is laddism, the creature is dying, to be replaced by a gentler, more loveable fellow.

Not that this death is easy to detect. In a final fling reminiscent of the last days of the Roman Empire, the phenomenon known as new laddism is imploding in a frenzy of orgiastic excess.

The magazines that grew rich preaching a philosophy of booze, birds and football are vying to outdo one another in salacious imagery and lavatorial humour in their final battle to retain their red-blooded readers.

The February issue of FHM, for instance, which boasts a circulation of half a million, features an explicit description of anal sex, and Kylie Minogue in a series of provocative poses. Maxim has advice on how to "read your own vomit" as well as a guide to the "totty" to be found at ski resorts.

Yet the cultural indices all tell the same story, that laddism - which was to some an ironic riposte to new man, and to others a device for giving full rein to men's basest instincts - is over.

Men Behaving Badly, favourite sitcom for lads to curl up in front of with a six-pack, has disappeared, never to return. Simon Nye, writer of the series, confessed in one interview that he despised "yob culture", adding: "I feel I've created a monster."

Meanwhile, Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby's paean to soccer, appears to be losing its appeal. At 54 in the bestseller list a month ago, it fell to 135 last week.

And, most worryingly of all, the lads' bible Loaded has hired a public relations agency to promote a more cerebral image. The editor, Derek Harbinson, denies that Loaded is reinventing itself as a highbrow magazine. But he states, ominously, that "knickers and boobs are not the be-all and end-all".

According to Mr Harbinson, new laddism was always "bollocks", a neat label for a type of man who had always existed but until a few years ago lacked the cultural furniture to validate his views. Yet it was more than a media-generated fad. It was a trend that seemed to capture the spirit of the mid-Nineties, reflecting the backlash against feminism and political correctness.

Now the tide is turning again, and swiftly. Peter Howarth, editor of Esquire magazine, said: "Laddism was the antithesis of cool and groovy, an excuse to revert to a nostalgic view of blokedom. But people have realised that it is too reductive. The Loaded generation is maturing and is disillusioned."

Mike Soutar, the former FHM editor who transformed the magazine's fortunes, is even more dismissive. "Laddism is utterly passe," he said. "It started as a joke and it was irresistible for a while, but the joke has worn completely thin."

The problem with new lad, like new man, was that he was too one-dimensional to survive. Thus the term that replaces laddism in the anthropological lexicon may well encapsulate a more complex being. Mr Soutar, now managing director of Kiss FM, suggests new bloke. "I see him as someone who has the best of all worlds, who can go out and do appalling things with his mates but can be decent and caring once he gets home."

It remains to be seen whether the lads will retreat without a fight. But as a species, they have been doomed from the start. For the female sexual appetite is not whetted by the spectacle of the leering, drunken male. And lads, it must be remembered, are awfully keen on sex.