3 min

Come on, get shallow

Sometimes beauty is intriguing enough

Credit: Xtra files

A friend says gay men don’t watch the Rolling Stones. But I’ve always been fascinated by Jagger’s mix of sex and swagger, and I couldn’t resist watching at least a bit of the SARStock concert on TV, in between attending to other more compelling tasks, like brushing my teeth. Sure, I’d have been better off catching old mega lips at his flamboyant peak circa 1969 at the Altamount concert, immortalized on film as Gimme Shelter, but I didn’t want to miss his wonky Dorian Gray number.

Problem was, midway through the televized mini-set, I realized I didn’t need to hear “Satisfaction” ever again (was this song ever controversial?) and all I could concentrate on were Mick Jagger’s upper arms. The guy is 60, for God’s sake, and he was wearing a sleeveless muscle shirt. For most guys past the first brief twinge of twinkdom, this is not, as they say in Jeanne Beker land, a smart fashion move. I don’t care how often you work out. If you’re over 40 you don’t wanna be showing your uppers. Not unless you want to make like a goose and flap your wings. But there was Jagger looking as lean and sinewy as the latest incarnation of Demi Moore. Not since Linda Hamilton in her Terminator period have I seen such a splendid example of grit and determination, and I really wanted to dial the station and ask for the name of his personal trainer.

Now you might think this was a superficial concern, but c’mon, it was this or count the porta-potties. Besides, I’m beginning to agree with Oscar Wilde, who once remarked: “It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.”

Mind you, I’m the kind of guy who watches Sex And The City not for the sex tips (been there, done that), but for the design hints. How is Carrie hanging her pictures this year?

And I’m quite prepared to ignore politics in favour of more pressing issues. Sure the fag fashionistas on Queer Eye For The Straight Guy are walking, talking stereotypes, but who cares? Ya gotta love the fashion tips. You’re supposed to apply the hair product from the back – who knew?

Now, maybe they can address other important issues, too, like how to roll the rim on a baseball cap (essential for the Sultry Stranger look), or the best way to get a military-style cut at the barber – the number 1 or the number 2 blade?

Being superficial isn’t easy and it doesn’t get any easier with age. Treat your appearance too casually, and you’ll look like Rip Van Winkle, wearing the wrong duds in the wrong decade. Treat it too seriously and it turns into armour. Check out the local martini bars. They’re chock a block with guys so well put together that nobody goes near them.

To succeed, shallowness must pose on the tipping point between seriousness and silliness, which is, I guess, why the young do it so well. They haven’t had a chance to become stuffy and self-important. More and more I’m grateful to the twinks who change their facial hair every second week and their hair colour every third – the kids who mouth songs that will be forgotten a week Tuesday. It’s glib and it’s shallow and it adds immeasurably to the necessary illusion that life can be made up on the spot.

Gay men have always got this right. “Let’s be superficial and pity the poor philosophers,” said Noel Coward in one his plays. But I don’t think we’ve ever realized how important it is.

In a world where seriousness slides all too easily into fanatic-ism, shallowness is a way of re-introducing play. It’s a reminder that there’s more than one answer to any one question and that the best way to find a good one may not be the heavy-handed route of power politics or military might. It’s a counterpoint to dogmatism and a breeding ground for the humour that puts a crazy world in perspective. (For an example of the opposite approach – smug and humourless and devastating in its effect on the world – check out the Bush White House.)

In the midst of one of the last century’s great wars, the gay novelist EM Forster reportedly found refuge in the perfumed pages of A Rebours, a decadent French novel that had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with exquisitely calibrated, private sensation. “Oh the relief of a world which lived for its sensations and ignored the will,” wrote Forster. “Was it decadent? Yes, and thank God…. The waves of edifying bilge rolled off me, the newspapers ebbed.”

Forget the big issues. It’s the trivial but pretty things that will get you through the day. So do your bit for God and country. Flex your triceps.