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Men Talk Pretty These Days

Beth Gottfried

Cosmetics and cosmetic surgery isn't just for the girls, anymore.

Youth is Wasted on the Young.
-- George Bernard Shaw


Like many people, I read my share of American celebrity tabloid magazines while waiting in line at the grocery store. Sometimes I even buy the cheaper ones. Usually they'll run some stock feature on, this year, anyway: Lindsay Lohan, Nick & Jessica, Paris Hilton, or the Olson twins. I'm convinced that these headlines are recycled as they always seem to follow a familiar formula, no matter the celebrity; someone has an eating disorder, someone is sleeping with someone else's boyfriend, someone had their breasts augmented, someone spends $800 a session on colonics, etc. Our celebrity culture is comprised of, save for one or two exceptions (Paul Newman and his charities, Bono and his various causes), a rather vain and self-involved bunch. Yet as an audience we feed off their narcissism. In some ways we even live vicariously through them. Through their lives as we perceive them, we aspire to be hip, fashionable, and, as their pretty faces are replaced by more pretty faces, year in and year out, eternally young.

With the assimilation of cosmetic enhancement techniques into our mainstream culture, plastic surgery is no longer a practice of privilege, or celebrity. On the contrary, with the advent of greater technology and less costly procedures comes more pressure on the part of the everyday person to look their absolute best. Breast enhancement, face lifts, collagen treatments, eyelifts, and nose jobs are still among the most common practices for women, but as the pressure mounts cross-gender, male consumers are starting to invade the cosmetic world and not simply via plastic surgery. Jean-Paul Gaultier, a fashion designer primarily known for his haute-couture, has developed a make-up line for men to be launched this year. Products include mascara, rouge, and lipstick. Will there be a market for this? Experts believe so.

Mike Gilman, co-founder of The Grooming Lounge in DC, a male grooming speciality store that offers services such as the "Hot Lather Shave" and "Cleansing Face Treament", seems to think so. "The sale of men's grooming products is expected to surge 67 percent to 20 billion by 2008," he says. Still even with the male grooming industry booming, how susceptible will the average hetero male be to purchasing eyeliner? It's all in the marketing, claims CBS Sunday Morning. On a an episode that aired on Father's Day, CBS Sunday Morning featured a segment on how more "manly" men (such as a former wrestler and businessman) are turning to skin care products in lieu of traditional Father's Day gifts. A store manager from the L'Occitane en Provence, a French skincare boutique, attributes the surge in sales of their male product line, Cade to men coming to the realization that it's "important to have the same amount of upkeep as women." (Source: PittsburghLive.com) Still, there are others that seem to prescribe to the Dorothy Parker's "I shall stay the way I am because I don't give a damn." Adam Michel, a business owner, is hesitant to the growing pressures: "People think it's a necessity when it's not. It's an unnecessary evil.

While Michel's attitude might reflect a faction of the male population, as increased rates in plastic surgery among men suggest, his might be a waning sentiment. In a more drastic measure to stay competitive in the race to stay youthful and desirable, middle-aged men in the US are increasingly turning to plastic surgery procedures. In fact, as much as we heed special attention to speculation surrounding those female celebrities (Joan Rivers, Kirstie Alley, Lindsay Lohan, Pam Anderson) who may or may not be getting botox injections, face lifts, breast enhancement, and liposuction, the plastic surgery rates amongst men often supercedes those of women. In the US alone in 2003, men's use of botox injections for facial lines went up 88 percent, while women's Botox use went down eight percent (Source: CBSnews.com). And youth seems to be the major motivation for both genders as 44 percent of men polled and 57 percent of women polled by their plastic surgeons list "looking younger" as their primary motivation for cosmetic procedures.

Interestingly enough, however, plastic surgery is becoming a popular pastime of the very demographic it tries to emulate: youth. In Shmuley Boteach's book, Hating Women: America's Hostile Campaign Against the Fairer Sex, the author points out that "Americans under the age of 18 accounted for 223,594 cosmetic and plastic surgery procedures in 2003." The show I Wanna Famous Face on MTV capitalizes on this trend. The premise: chronicle teenagers who want to reconstruct their bodies and faces to mold themselves into a Hollywood "ideal" (such as Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston). Other shows like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy illustrate that as much as heterosexual men are still inherently clueless when it comes to grooming practices, they still have a deep-seated desire to look as good as they can; such is evidenced by the straight guys' willingness to subject themselves to the often humiliating and humbling makeovers of the 'Fab 5.'

Corporate America is seen as the root of this ever-growing desire amongst men to look youthful. In order to stay competitive in the business world, appearance is key. Increasingly, as the Baby Boomer generation is aging, they are seeking new ways to retain their youthful glows. This cross-gender trend is often attributed to Baby Boomer wives putting pressure on their husbands to do their part in maintaining their appearance. After all, this was the generation that protested for equal rights and actually embraced Ziggy Stardust. If nothing else, male eyeliner shouldn't be such an anomaly.

In June 2004, CBS interviewed a few of these male baby boomers on their decision to get plastic surgery. These men came from varying social backgrounds, careers, and parts of the country. Jose Aponte, a 52-year-old real estate developer from New Jersey, decided after he turned 50 that he wanted to erase his furrowed brow and get rid of eye puffiness. To address these concerns, he paid $15,000 on cosmetic procedures. "I would spend the money again. It made a tremendous amount of difference in the way I walk, the way I look at people. A buddy of mine looked at me and said 'Time has just stopped for you.'"

This desire to reverse the aging process, or perhaps simply stall time, led a 53-year-old airline pilot from Georgia, Chris Bourgeois, to undergo a similar procedure. He also opted for some liposuction. His response: "I just wanted a more professional look. I wanted the people who fly with me to feel safe." Still one can't help but wonder if vanity wasn't the motive behind Chris' decision. William Menzel, a 57-year-old owner of a restaurant and food consultant firm, was more upfront about his choice: "I just want to look good, I didn't like getting old." Perhaps in the instability of our post 9/11 world in which we can no longer claim ignorance on the inevitability and unpredictability of our own mortality, Jose, Chris, and William are simply trying to grasp some form of control by waging a mini-war on the aging process.

Real-life coverage of "average" stories like those of Jose, Chris, and William are scarce. It's possible they don't make for captivating TV or magazine fodder or that the media is more preoccupied with vanity procedures like breast augmentation in women. Not surprisingly, the number for breast lifts or tummy tucks are much higher in women than breast augmentation. Yet, when I turn on the TV, chances are there's some Extreme Makeover show with a woman getting her cup size enhanced. Even when I do a Google search on "plastic surgery rates in women", the top articles all refer to breast augmentation. Evidence like this would seem to suggest that every woman in America is entertaining a boob job; that every woman aspires to have breasts made of silicone; that every women is primarily guided in her actions by an overriding desire to be first and foremost male sexual object and be reduced to buoyant parts. The statistics confirm that most middle-aged women, like their male counterparts, are opting for measures such as tummy tucks, breast lifts, and botox-ways of preserving their youth.

If age is a tricky bastard, perception is its dastardly demon. One second we look in the mirror and we're void of lines and wrinkles, our breasts bounce, our brow has a cute crinkle and not a furrow. As my 60-year-old dad once said, "When I look in the mirror I still see myself when I was 30." How does that happen? Does your mind not register those subtle lines that slowly creep their way onto your dermis and engrave themselves into your once tight skin? In the song "Chariot" Gavin DeGraw sings, "Staring at a maple leaf / Leaning on the mother tree / I said to myself we all lost touch / Your favorite fruit is chocolate covered cherries and seedless watermelon / Nothing from the ground is good enough." His lyrics beg the question: Have technological advances in science rendered us incapable of accepting our human limitations? Or have we simply exceeded our ability to appreciate our earthly status?

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star Salim Shaheen, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people.

"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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