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Why Gareth Thomas and Tomasz Schafernaker are alienating me

January 16, 2010

BBC weatherman Tomasz Schafernaker has caused a bit of a stir amongst the Daily Mail and Attitude Magazine readers who also happen to use Twitter and Facebook by stripping to the waist and displaying his simple yet reasonably delectable alabaster torso to the rest of the world. His smoldering look to camera will no doubt make any subsequent weather report a bitter disappointment to those of us for whom such a sight makes us go a little weak at the knees.

Flip the magazine over and those with an interest in rugby, it’s players or the outfits those ripped hulking men look good in will be delighted to see recently out-and-proud rugger wotnot Gareth Thomas splashed across the front cover. The tagline which screams across his crotch a little way up from his jaw-dropping thighs of steel: “I want to be the gay role model I never had”.

The sight of Thomas staring down from a top shelf looking like he “means business” is successfully selling the magazine to a weak and submissive audience only too ready to hand over their £3.99, whilst thinking at the same time they really ought to get the reduced rate by subscribing to the damn magazine.

Recently I’ve taken to reading Attitude magazine because I feel as though it’s met my need for intelligent writing targeted at the “gay audience”. It makes me feel reasonably young whilst playing to the intelligent side I so desperately and continually strive to develop. I find it does the trick, most of the time.

If I’m honest – and I know *most* people will find this difficult to believe – I don’t buy it because of the covers.

I appreciate how the business works however. And, in case you’re wondering, I’m not that much of a twat that I’d turn this post into a total attack on Attitude or GT’s editorial direction. I see that eye candy sells copies. I see too that selling copies is vital to keep a publication afloat. The one publication I wrote for years back (they didn’t ask me again after the second piece of copy was printed) has gone through so many different owners in the past six years I can’t help wondering why they’re publishing the magazine at all. Is it vanity?

So I get what both magazines pretty much have to do to keep afloat in the market. But it’s because I appreciate that (and because I’m a grumpy old man, no doubt) that I find it difficult to ignore the other angle.

Gareth Thomas is the big lead in this edition because he’s recently come out. It was one of those “oh dear God, a real rugby player who has that real-man look – this is a gay man’s dream because it’s a gay man’s reality” stories. It was long overdue. It was a positive story for the gay community, whatever or where-ever that is.

And for Attitude not to pick up the story would have been a crime too. Positive coming out stories are vital in tackling homophobia after all. This is good. This is a good thing, I keep telling myself.

And then I flick through the magazine and see the photo-shoot which accompanies his interview. You might be forgiven for thinking Thomas wasn’t a rugby player at all. Instead he unwittingly carries off a potentially more cliched look.

Glance at those shots – and you’re not going to tell me a gay man is going to read the copy before looking at the pictures – and you’ll see a clubber who’s stepped aside from leaping up and down on the dance floor to take a swig from his water bottle, before offering his pumped and buzzed torso up for the predictable if now tired clone-at-a-club shot

Weatherman Schafernaker achieves the same effect. My first thought when I furtively flick through the magazine in the supermarket isn’t “Oooh, I’ll see what he has to say about good diets to make your workouts more effective”. Instead, I quickly scan his selection of pictures in the magazine. “Dear God almighty, who knew that squirt Schafernaker looked like that?” This swift quality control procedure persuades me to drop my copy into the trolley, something I do proudly before trotting off to get some organic Portobello mushrooms.

As I do so I make a mental note not to do or say anything embarrassing if I end up bumping into him in a lift at Television Centre. “What’s most important”, I remind myself, “is not to say the first thing which comes into your head when you see him. Don’t make the same mistake you did with David Tennant. And for God’s sake don’t say the word ‘tacky’ whatever you do.”

And yet I have to keep myself in check. Is it guilt which makes me think “Jesus, don’t react in the same way as everyone else. Don’t let yourself be driven as overwhelmingly by sex as everyone else. You can see what the machine is doing. They’re using sex to sell a magazine to you. And you’ve bought it????!”

If it is guilt then I’ll hold up my hands and confess. Too much pride and you’re almost certain to fall after all.

I suspect it’s not guilt however. And if it’s not, that makes me feel quite sad.

Sad because I’ve followed the same route as pretty much everyone else. Even more sad because as I scroll through the many fans of Schafernaker on Facebook I find more of my own Facebook friends that I thought I would. Schafernaker has achieved gay cult status. And his appearance in Attitude is the crowning of that status. He’s got his kit off for the lads. And no-one else has stopped to question it and probably wouldn’t stop to question Gareth Thomas’ photo-shoot either. That was us gay guys like after all. We’re always keen to see a well-developed chest or a real man or two.

A few weeks ago I had no idea who Schafernaker was. He was, like many other colleagues of his, someone who I callously dismissed as someone who read a self-prepared script and pressed a button he held in his hand (although even this on occasions didn’t go as he might have hoped it would). Now the prospect of seeing him stripped to the waist has propelled me to buy a magazine in which I can see more of him in various poses.

And in so doing I’m left thinking that at 37 I’d really quite like to not submit to that sales technique again. Instead I’d quite like to read stuff targeted at a gay audience not on the basis I get to see tits and arse, but because the people who are being interviewed have something worthy to say.

But what makes me feel saddest of all is that I know I’m pretty much the only one who feels this way. Or if I’m not the only then us lot are in the minority. And yes I know there’s an argument for saying that being able to write and talk about the things which matter to gay men in an open way is a major step forward from how things were only a few years ago – and it is, believe me I know it is – it’s just so bloody tiresome. It’s so bloody alienating in fact.

  1. I’m sure there was a column in the gay section of Time Out a few years ago that lamented that gay culture seemed to consist entirely of admiring physically perfect male specimens. Whereas lesbian culture has tried to, in a sense, go the other way – although I figure it’ll be a long time before Beth Ditto appears naked on the front cover of Diva magazine.

    and of course, “mainstream” magazine culture is pretty much about showing pretty or famous people on the front cover.

    It can also be pointed out that at 37, you’re not supposed to be reading those kinds of magazines any more. They’re aimed at the 18-34 market, which you and I are no longer part of. Although I’ve yet to drop my subscription to Nuts…

  2. I hadn’t heard of Tomascz Shafer-wotsit until reading this post. This is going to sound like sour grapes/jealousy but I don’t covet that type of body in men. It’s too self-conscious and contrived for me. Gareth Thomas is a rugger guy so fair enough, he works out every day of the week and is built like a brick shithouse which his job requires. But to get a body like Tomascz has, he must be worshipping at the gym shrine of narcissism day in day out for a huge number of hours. He then parades it over the front cover of magazines. Why? Is he atoning for something? I used to go to the gym – 3-4x a week – to stay fit and healthy – but I never looked like that – and I didn’t want to.

    I LOVE real men, but he doesn’t strike me as a real man. That body is far too contrived. He looks like just another gay male bimbo with all the myriad insecurities that lie behind that. Next?

    I’d like to see someone on the front cover of Attitude (have never bought it, incidentally) who is interesting and bright in their own right and who is a great role model. Granted, that alone may not sell copies…

  3. Alice permalink

    This puts me in mind of one of my favourite lines from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes:

    “Can’t you see that a man being rich is like a girl being pretty? You don’t marry a girl just because she’s pretty but, my goodness, doesn’t it help!”

    (I’ll let you extrapolate the relevance for yourself) 😉

  4. cyberguycalif permalink

    “””””As I do so I make a mental note not to do or say anything embarrassing if I end up bumping into him in a lift at Television Centre. “What’s most important”, I remind myself, “is not to say the first thing which comes into your head when you see him. Don’t make the same mistake you did with David Tennant. And for God’s sake don’t say the word ‘tacky’ whatever you do.””””””

    Jon the bigger mental note that should be in your mind is, if you see him walk into a public men’s room, will you follow him in to try and glism anything that wasn’t shown in the magazine?

  5. The answer to that question would be no. And I’m amazed you’re even posing the question.

    • cyberguycalif permalink

      Sorry I didn’t mean to offend you.

  6. Jadzia weedon permalink

    Your take on this seems to “accuse” Tomasz of vanity. Ie…. hours in the gym, too self conscious and contrived etc etc. For your information, his father has worked out at the gym since his teens, and is now in his fifties. He continues to keep amazingly fit and muscular. I also was gym fitness fanatic until such time I had children, and no longer have time for myself. Our motivation for this is health. In the days where I attended a gym regularly, I felt more energetic and healthier.
    The difference is, neither Tomasz’s father, nor myself were approached by any magazine. Tomasz couldn’t care less whether a magazine approaches him or not. I also know that he’s quite happy, that anyone who knows him, knows he’s not a “bimbo” and certainly not uninteresting. It just shows how judgemental you can be. I presume you don’t like others to be judgemental about you?

  7. Cracker Jack permalink

    Jesus wept. What a tedious, trivial, self-obsessed load of pish. You’re only 37, you describe yourself as a grumpy old man, and you write like a 65 year old of indeterminate gender. These are magazine articles for people to glance at and enjoy for five minutes. Get a life.

    • OK then. 😉

  8. To start my comment, I also get weak at the knees at the sight of Gareth Thomas.

    But I tend to agree with you on this one. I often see this T&A targetted to the gay community and I really hope this sort of flesh-peddling is scraped for something that is more cerebral even though the chances of that is astronomical given the topless proclivities of today’s media.

    Same thing with so-called gay-themed ‘art-house’ indy flicks from Asia that wins competitions in Europe year after year.

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