Christina Patterson: A sorry tale of sex and the single songbird

Wednesday 02 July 2008 00:00 BST

They're yelling to be heard above the cacophony around them. They're crumbling under the stress of urban life. They're nervous, knackered and incoherent. Yes, this is the urban male in 2008. The urban male songbird. "By trying to sing over the sound of the city, birds are risking vocal injury," said Dr Sue Anne Zollinger from the University of St Andrews. "This could have serious implications on how fit and attractive they're perceived to be by females."

If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, the human male should be flattered indeed. It can, in fact, be only a matter of time before our cinema and TV screens are filled with moody black and white images of ruffled-looking robins tramping rain-soaked urban streets in search of salvation or (but it comes to the same thing) a shag. The films could be called things like The 40-year-old Virgin Marsh Warbler or Nested Up – or perhaps A Complete History of My Sexual Failures.

Yup, masculinity is in crisis – again – and boy, do we know it. We know it from the vials of vitriol poured on the suggestions of a female cabinet minister that (I'm paraphrasing slightly) competent, nice men should be ousted by a breed of hysterical half-wits, or (to use the words kindly used of me in response to a piece I wrote on the subject last week) by "self-pitying", "spoilt", "greedy", "selfish" and "mediocre" women. We know it from the mass male response to the evolution of that new Aryan master race, the über-coiffed, über-buffed, über-demanding Sex and the City singleton – a response best summed up, perhaps, by the single word, "retreat". And we know it from our entertainment. Indiana Jones is all very well, but what we really want is empathy. Action hero gets gorgeous girl? That is so last century. No, what we really want is shambling loser bumbles around, gets dumped, can't get it up. That, surely, will make us feel better.

On the evidence of two films I've seen in the past few days, it might. The first opens with a shot of a hairy naked bottom. The bottom belongs to a straggly-haired, unshaven, unemployed young scriptwriter and he is masturbating in front of a photo of his flatmate's girlfriend. Who then walks in. The second opens with a shot of a straggly-haired, unshaven, unemployed young film-maker, chatting to someone on the phone. "I just recently got dumped," he tells the voice at the other end of the line. The answer is a single shriek: "Again?"

The first grungy, greasy-haired young guy goes online in search of a (New Year's Eve) midnight kiss. The second grungy, greasy-haired young guy goes online in search of a relationship, while also launching a "project" to interview his exes in search of the truth about why he's always dumped. The first is fiction and the second, ostensibly, is documentary. With lashings (yes, lashings, in a dominatrix's dungeon as an attempt to counter erectile dysfunction) of irony.

Mortification, it seems, is the name of the game, and while the game may be postmodern (subverting, like, the accepted norms of, like, masculinity) the pain is not. A Complete History of My Sexual Failures (the so-called documentary) is disingenuous and played for laughs, but it is also brave. In Search of a Midnight Kiss begins as an abrasive social comedy but turns into something which feels moving and true. And which doesn't, unlike the "documentary", have a happy ending.

The crisis in avian masculinity, according to Dr Zollinger, "will eventually lead to complete isolation". Let's hope that the prognosis for humans is better.

The pride and the prejudice

Last week, I had a text from a friend in the army, exhorting me to buy Vogue. "It's the first edition ever to feature all black models," said his text. "Vogue is expecting it to be their worst selling edition ever!! Make sure you buy it." Since my friend gets his jeans for a fiver in Dalston market, I was a little surprised.

Yesterday, the wife of a colleague who lives in Brixton was stopped at her local garage. "Do you still work at Vogue?" said the man behind the till. "Everyone's asking for it!" The edition that "everyone's" asking for is, alas, hardly available here. It's the July issue of Italian Vogue, one featuring only black models.

That proud, fierce, viral text says more about race relations in our culture – feeling invisible, fearing shame – than a report from any think-tank. Or, indeed, any journalist.

* For a nation whose idea of enthusiasm extends about as far as weak whispers of "Come on, Tim" at Wimbledon (yes, even when the player is Andy Murray), it's quite hard to understand the passion that Americans bring to politics. But the nation that peruses First-Spousal cookie recipes with as much attention as post-invasion exit strategies (considerably more, in fact) can certainly teach us a thing or two about political engagement. Not only have Americans been turning out en masse for the biggest show in town, and putting their own hands in their own pockets, but they're also showing their political solidarity in more visible ways. A growing number of Americans are, apparently, adopting the middle name Hussein, in solidarity for their hero. Solomon Hussein Cohen. Chuck Hussein Ryan. Fernando Hussein Sanchez. Poor old Gordon can only observe – and weep.

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