Although Dan Carter may be spending a lot of time in France these days, he is still with us (and all around the world) smiling beatifically in his underpants from those Jockeys posters â€“ a multi-story colossus like something out of a Nazi-era Leni Riefenstahl film or Bruce Weber photograph. Wherever these goliath examples of perving material go up, there is rubbernecking and the inevitable car prangs. Well, can you blame them, heâ€™s gorgeous. Even the most staunchly beer-drinking, red-blooded, one hundred percent heterosexual on the Kinsey Scale Kiwi male, breathlessly adores and is slightly in awe of Carter, and would probably offer up his wife or girlfriend in tribute without a second thought. This may sound somewhat counter-feminist, but given Carterâ€™s appeal it would probably have been the wife/girlfriendâ€™s idea in the first place.
Being that I live in Christchurch, I have once seen the elusive Carter; like the Loch Ness Monster or Moby Dick, a once in a lifetime event. He was collecting a couple of pizzas. He was surprisingly a lot smaller and skinnier than I had imagined, and I have to say (sorry, Dan) he doesnâ€™t have the best skin in the world; but you wouldnâ€™t know it from the posters. Poor lamb, he must get mobbed by idiots all the time.
Athletes being portrayed and displayed in this way are nothing new. The museums of Europe are chocker with Greek statues of discus-chuckers, javelin-throwers, boxers and charioteers. But nowadays you canâ€™t move for flashes of flaunted firm flesh. David Beckham is the obvious (and rapidly becoming tedious example) posing in Armani underpants (brazenly showing off that which Posh likened unto a tractor exhaust-pipe) or with a mobile phone dangling between his nipples. The more aesthetically pleasing members of the Italian 2006 World Cup team stripped to their smalls and oiled up for a Dolce & Gabbana underwear campaign. Dutch footballer Freddie Ljungberg coquettishly simpers in Calvin Kleins. Curiously both Becks (in 2002) and Ljungberg (in 2006) have posed on the cover of British gay magazine Attitude.
Itâ€™s all so Footballerâ€™s Wives, but we expect this sort of preening nancy-boy evolution of metrosexuality we expect in soccer â€“ they practically snog and start heavy-petting when they score a goal for Godâ€™s sake â€“ but itâ€™s not quite what we associate with that bastion of masculinity, rugby. Danny boy is only one of many. And while such sporting celebrities may be thinking to themselves that they are merely advertising underpants that some star-struck men will want to buy, the marketers are completely comfortable with the knowledge that a lot of women and more than a few men want to get in â€“ or quite possibly be â€“ those underpants. Never before has rugby (a sport popular from early colonial days when there were few women about) been so complicity homoerotic. Consider the legendary stark naked Dieux du Stade calendars put out by the Paris-based Stade FranÃ§ais rugby team â€“ heads gently resting on a team-mateâ€™s shoulder, the smouldering glances, tastefully placed rugby balls, tattooed buttocks worthy of a Polynesian, every conceivable hint of mate-on-mate action. Danny Cipriani (England) and friends shed the white and red uniform and pouted for charity (prostate cancer, I think. I wasnâ€™t paying that much attention, to be honest â€“ which shows the fatal flaw in the plan). Pneumatic England player Ben Cohen (married, father of two, hair like Wembley Fraggle) has spoken in the press of â€œembracing his gay fansâ€ (lucky them); while Becks and one time Heat magazineâ€™s â€˜best chestâ€™ pin-up Welsh player Gavin Henson (Mr Charlotte Church) have reportedly publically argued over who was the bigger gay icon.
And then there was Parisâ€™ â€˜humorousâ€™ and â€˜ironicâ€™ â€œCapital of Loveâ€ advertising campaign for the 2007 Rugby World Cup featuring a scrum-load of kissing. Maybe itâ€™s the ridiculously tight new uniforms?
But the Dan, D.C., Dezzy, phenomenon, with his symmetrical boy-next-door face and artfully casual tonsure, is not even all that new in New Zealand. Back in the 1980s Steinlager produced a series of All Black posters that were so over the top with the tight shorts and blue steel, that filmmaker Peter Wells declared them â€œludicrously homoeroticâ€. It was this which inspired Wells in 1990 to make the short film A Taste of Kiwi, in which a gay porn flick was deftly edited together with All Blacks footage. It was banned by the New South Wales Film Censorship Board in 1992. And lest we forget All Black 1st 5/8 Carlos Spencer got his kit off for Toffee Pops, and Anton Oliver paraded his callipygian delights in an oil painting.
Of course, it would be grossly inappropriate to importune anything about the sexual lives of these athletes. Their public images are plasticene in the hands of PR companies with their own agendas, not the playerâ€™s own â€“ a decidedly Faustian pact. However, given the thousands who have donned the black jersey over the years, it seems statistically unlikely that not one of them has had steamy thoughts in the changing shed, that not one rugger was a bugger. Perhaps when commentator Murray Mexted announced in all seriousness that, â€œthereâ€™s nothing that a tight forward likes more than a loosie right up his backsideâ€, he was unconsciously offering us an insight. And look, I completely managed to get through without once alluding to Hopoateâ€™s digit impudicus, or that incident in Inglewood, Taranaki back in 1992, or even the lurid 2006 allegation in the British tabloids regarding a number of English soccer aces involved in a fevered gay orgy in which a number of excruciatingly expensive limited edition mobile â€˜phones were used in ways inappropriate and contrary to the manufacturerâ€™s recommendations. That would be crass.
Feminist art theory has always told us that the equation has always been men look and women are looked at; that the make gaze is active, acquisitive and objectifying. Iâ€™m not so sure about that, because it implies that when a man is looking at a turnip or a woman, he is thinking exactly the same thing â€“ that seems to me reductive. However, not since the Renaissance has the supple, defined, toned and young male body held so much symbolic meaning in society.Â Once upon a time the athletic body was pure, Platonic, exaggerated to almost being asexual â€“ a symbol of discipline, health, productivity and order, popular with the sculptors of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Soviet Russia, and to a lesser extent, the United States. In New Zealand (and Australia) marble and bronze were replaced with rugby; masculinity-as-verb. Dan Carter is the apotheosis of that. Now that the rest of us are all so fat and lazy, couch potatoes with our arse-hair fused to the cushions, they have become erotic icons, sex symbols, eye candy.