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  THE MOISTURIZED MAN: A USER'S MANUAL.  
   
  The book arrived in my mail slot at work, a month before its publication date, addressed to my predecessor, who had walked out on the job almost a year before. How did it find me? How did it know that I, too, buy Diesel jeans, spend $40 on Kiehl's moisturizer and wash my hair with korres, an organic shampoo imported from Greece?

Because it could hear the carefully practiced, faux-casual condescension in my voice when I name drop/carpet bomb these facts on the editors of this site while watching football. They snicker.

You could call me a metrosexual. They just worry I'm gay.

But the book will back me up. It's The Metrosexual Guide to Style, by Michael Flocker, book publishing's most obvious attempt to capitalize on a fleeting trend since A Field Guide To the Urban Hipster (whose author is writing a book about Friendster next.) The New York Times resurrected the word "metrosexual" as a way to describe, in its June take on the subject, budding yuppie narcissists with similar shopping profiles to gay men but who are really straight.

That's because your typical metrosexual "has clearly taken himself as his own love object and pleasure as his sexual preference," Mark


 

Simpson explained this summer in Salon.com, nearly a decade after he first coined the term.

Three months and a thousand trend pieces later, no one can seemingly agree on what a metrosexual is, not that anyone cares as long as they can cash in with, at last count, one TV show (Queer Eye, of course), three men's shopping magazines in the works (Cargo, Vitals, and a Time Inc. skunkworks project) and now this book.

But it's certainly not aimed at me. The Guide's subtitle is "A Handbook for the Modern Man," which implies that we have collectively lost the instructions

 
 

that came with the box. It's not a bad assumption, but in the case of metrosexuals, it's the wrong one.

The book itself is arranged more or less along guidelines familiar to anyone who's seen a Queer Eye episode. There are chapters on food and drink, etiquette, fashion, grooming and health, the arts and pop culture, interior design, and, near the end, "sex and romance."

Each is then painfully explicated in the gentlest prose possible: how Chardonnays differ from Cabernets (and which goes with beef); glossaries of cooking terms (raise your hand if you don't know what risotto is); a paragraph-sized introduction to French impressionists; Chet Baker; Fellini; Cary Grant; The Great Gatsby, and thumbnail descriptors of fashion labels like Ralph Lauren ("Absolute tops if you're going boating.")

Speaking of boating, the Guide is everything that the Preppie Handbook -- the consummate blend of high-IQ mockery and social climber pornography -- is not. Published at the beginning of the '80s, the Preppie Handbook was ostensibly an outsider's guide to the most insider world yuppies could then imagine. But the joke was that all the in-jokes depended on the reader's having been born into that world or craved its acceptance with fetishistic zeal.

But the Guide's page-after-page of earnest explanation misses this formula completely, and I suspect intentionally so. I could rattle off a few dozen more examples of its assumed cluelessness ("Calvin Klein: Famous for its underwear...") but one list gives the ideal reader away.

In a brief section on travel, Flocker list the "Top Ten Metrosexual Destinations," i.e. the "international hubs that are in a class of their own and should be on every metro-man's lifetime must-see-list."

The list promptly begins with New York, followed by London, Paris, Barcelona, Los Angeles, Miami, Milan, San Francisco, Amsterdam and Marrakech. Why New York? "Because it is unlike any other city." And that's why most of America's metrosexuals are already living there.

Simpson's revised definition of the metrosexual for Salon (quoted near the front of the Guide) says he lives "in or within easy reach of a metropolis -- because that's where all the best shops, gyms, and hairdressers are."

He doesn't mean St. Louis. Or Cincinatti, Phoenix, Atlanta or even Chicago. The straight metrosexual man, like the many gay men he borrows his consumption patterns from, is an inhabitant of coastal cities in blue states. He doesn't visit New York, Los Angeles, Miami or San Francisco. He lives there. He flies to London on the weekends, knows exactly which restaurants in Paris are impossible to get a table at, and maybe would visit Miami Beach, but only if they can get a decent suite at the Shore Club at the last minute. And the fact that the words "Shore Club" or the name of its owner, Ian Schrager are absent from this book (and I might have chosen from a million insignificant, but telling, details like these names) suggests that the Guide isn't for metrosexuals at all -- they're too busy reading Wallpaper or (for bonus metrosex points) bemoaning how much better, how much more metrosexy it used to be under the old editor.

The Guide utterly lacks a sense of knowing-ness in its tone, and it is this lack which I think exposes as false its later assumptions that metrosexual men have fluid sexual identities. "The heterosexuality, bisexuality, or homosexuality of anyone else does not concern him, unless of course he is romantically interested in that person. Then he needs to know."

Although I have been openly mocked by colleagues for my non-existent sense of gaydar, I would venture to guess that one of the hallmarks of being homo- or bi-sexual is an acute self-consciousness and a hyper-awareness of social norms and mores, which stereotypically include taste. (The standard issue man can float through life secure in his ignorance that he is just like everyone else. This is not a feeling that anyone attracted to a member of the same sex can probably attest to.)

The Guide seems to assume a total lack of self-consciousness in its readers; otherwise, why would they need it to instruct them? Speaking as a metrosexual man myself (one with the almost embarassing credential of being straight while working at Women's Wear Daily), I'm confident that the Guide's actual customer is the Sex And The City-addled girlfriend of some unsuspecting schlub.

I have a friend who once dated a girl like this, one who aspired to fabulousness herself and thought that it wasn't too much ask that he learn how to dress himself. He needed remedial coursework, and she would have immediately looked to the Guide for this, I'm sure. It was no coincidence that he's from the Midwest and she was from Jersey -- New York is something of an unnatural place to him, and to the possibly tens of thousands of men who might turn to this book for instruction in the not-so-hip neighborhoods of Detroit and Denver. (New York is a great place to visit, after all, but who would want to live there?)

But they won't learn its lessons, of which only one is really important, in the grand, marketing-driven scheme of things: spend.

In the last chapter, "The Metrosexual Mind-Set," this helpful maxim is tucked into a helpful bullet point list of items for achieving inner peace: "Oustanding debt doesn't preclude you from enjoying your life." Hell, no.

This nut of wisdom aside, all signs point to metrosexuality being the fever dream of marketing consultants looking for one last ultimate score -- the huge sums of money to be made if men can be convinced to buy into the beauty myth.

Marian Salzman, the chief strategy officer of Euro RSCG, has been the real proponent of contemporary metrosexuality all along. "They're the style makers," she told the New York Times. Translation: they're manufacturing trends we can identify and mass produce.

How do they do that? "Particular professions, such as modeling, waiting tables, media, pop music and, nowadays, sport, seem to attract them but," Simpson wrote in Salon, "truth be told, like male vanity products and herpes, they're pretty much everywhere."

As a metrosexual embedded in the media-industrial-complex, I can vouch that what all of these fields have in common is a keen understanding of how image-making machinery works, and how much it costs. The efforts of Salzman and others to export metrosexuality to the heartland is an attempt to get rank-and-file men to pay retail for the overpriced goods that those in the know can find at the sample sale.

If you have to ask: "How can I become a metrosexual?" -- you'll never know. And it's probably better for your wallet that you don't.

 

*BT*