If magazines profiled men like women

John Birmingham




Guy Manfellow is waiting for me at the bar of a stylishly obscure bar. It is quiet, perhaps only half the seats are taken, but every head in the stylishly obscure bar is turned just a little way towards Manfellow, every eye drawn to his long legs, carefully crossed at well turned ankles. It's the legs you notice first.

Guy Manfellow's legs are long and his ankles, if you could see them beneath the black dress socks poking out from beneath the cuffs of his perfectly pressed Ralph Lauren pants ... well, those ankles are perfect.

Guy Manfellow smiles when I mention his perfect ankles.

''Everyone says that,'' he smiles, and his smile is kind, if a little weary at fending off compliments all day. ''But I'm about more than my ankles.''

Yes, yes he is. Guy Manfellow is a very important man who does things - important things involving other things. But none of those things are as important right now as the powerful thighs I see stretching the fabric of his pants like old redwoods wrapped in Indian cotton, or perhaps his calves, which are famously so geometrically perfect that evolutionary scientists and intelligent designers both cite them in arguments in favour of their position.

We meet because Manfellow's important thing that he is being important about is more important during the next two weeks than it would be at most other times of the year, when he remains important but without something to sell.

It's winter, but there is no chill anywhere in this bar because Manfellow is steaming it up. His very presence raises the ambient temperature, but in one of those meta-fame moments that must frame every day in the life of a man as important as Manfellow, his image appears on the wide flat screen of one of the televisions suspended over the bar.

There is Manfellow, hovering over Manfellow, steaming up the pages of Man Monthly Magazine's February issue with a super-sexy photo shoot that features the important and powerful man we know as Manfellow in little more than his underpants.

Somebody starts clapping and a woman across the bar wolf-whistles.

''You'd be surprised how often that happens,'' says Manfellow.

No, no, I would not, because I am sitting across from Guy Manfellow and I cannot keep my eyes off him. My eyes are drawn up the inverted V-shape of his flat stomach and wide flaring shoulders, they hurry past the genuinely shocking symmetry of his face. The same small, wry curve bends his lips up on the left as it does on the right. He has two eyes and they are the same colour. His brow, which furrows when he thinks about all the things for which he is important, is perfectly balanced, like a problem of logic, that can only be solved by the furrowing of Guy Manfellow's brow in this exact fashion.

He is handsome, of course. But you knew that. You knew it because the truth of it leached into you from a thousand magazine covers, and a million online photos and hundreds of YouTube videos. What you didn't know is that Guy Manfellow's particular type of handsome is closer to the sublime, to a force of nature, like a tsunami of handsome sweeping down his face and across the subject-object division that separates you from him and him from the imperfect world in which he must exist as the sole example of handsome perfection.

''Are we going to talk about my thing?'' he asks, all business. Say one thing about Guy Manfellow, and if it is isn't something about his ankles or thighs or rock hard abs, it's that Guy Manfellow is all business. In an industry of high-stakes deals about things, Manfellow wears his carefully tailored image as a man who does important things as carefully as the carefully tailored shirt that barely hides the barely hidden power of his powerful upper body. His full head of hair is both soft and hard, because he is a man of contrasts.

His partners, and there have been many, have been women of contrasts: millionaire ad ladies and celebrity florists. He never talks about them, but it doesn't matter because we do and will in a separate breakout article for each of the best looking women to have been associated with Manfellow, or even rumoured to have been associated with him. Even if we made up the rumour ourselves.

They're important, these women, because when it comes to important men doing things, we cannot help but be preoccupied with their image, their age, their weight, whether they have had children or not, and whether they regret not having children.

Manfellow doesn't buy into it. He's the age he is and he's looking good. The women he dates are also looking good. So good they make him look even better, as if this were possible. His face shows no sign of cosmetic surgery; rather, he simply looks like someone who takes good care of himself. He walks with a self-confidence that says ''I take good care of myself.'' And as if to make that point, last year, he wore a black tuxedo to the Thing Awards and he looked good. Very good.

''I'm no male model,'' he says. ''I have wrinkles. But being a man who does things, it hasn't been an issue and I've not been made to feel like I need to go to the nearest plastic surgeon. Who cares at this point? This is me.''

Yes, yes it is. This is Guy Manfellow. He does things.


The storm of controversy began early. Much earlier than the moment at which the first gust of wind tugged at the trending topics; well before a few drops of forboding rain spotted a single Facebook timeline. What started it? Well, somebody said something wrong on the internet, we know that much for sure. Or maybe somebody did something wrong and somebody said something about it on the internet? And it was #notcool and they wouldn't even apologise. Or something. What mattered was... it had begun.

The storm of controversy.

Or rather #TheControversy.

And also #TheThing, which was a little bit smaller and less important to everyone except those poor souls who came late and didn't realise #TheControversy was the thing that was happening today and having committed to #TheThing they could hardly then move to #TheControversy because all of their best snark and the retweet they got from the celebrity who liked their snarky comment about #TheThing would be lost.

From this small, almost infinitesimal nothing, a great maelstrom grew. A vast, angry world-spanning storm, drawing in millions, then hundreds of millions as it roared and raged. A storm of controversy so vast and destructive that it would generate memes – Yes, actual memes! – before its savagery was spent. And those memes would tear across the face of the world, sucking up thousands of Retweets and Likes like a giant stormpocalypse, even before Mr Bolt at Mr Murdoch's electronical newsheets hunkered down under the lashing fury and mounting snark to courageously hoist up a blogpost condemning #theirABC for the whole thing.

Oh. My. God. Omigod omigod omigod.

So sexist.

So racist

So homophobic.

Oh no! He did not!?! gasped the internet, eyes squeezed shut, head turned away from the horror of the page views.

Oh yes he did, howled the internet, and it was all undeniably Mia Freedman's fault. The storm of controversy was reaching peak fury now, cutting snark and gross outrage sheeting in horizontally as tumblers launched that very day crashed against Wordpress blogs creaking with age and festooned with mouldering banner ads, but captained by old salts who'd seen it all before. They knew what to do. They turned right for the towering black wave of increased traffic. Their meme generators redlined to pump out the lulz. Their hardiest trolls slaved down in the engine room, stoking the fires of controversy with oily barrels of incendiary bile.

But their efforts were as nothing compared to juggernaut of Buzzfeed which not only caught the rising storm of controversy and whipped it up with secret algorithms and 24 Insanely Simple Ways To Whip Up a Storm of Controversy, but surfed the dangerous surge right past the Venerable Old Masthead, which was so firmly anchored to the bedrock of its traditional heritage that its poor befuddled master editor didn't even know #TheControversy was happening. Already leaking readers and losing younger members of the crew overboard, many of them paddling frantically after the receding Buzzfeed, the Venerable Old Masthead gamely persisted with its important coverage of a local council plan to introduce paid parking to a street which didn't always have paid parking.

Those poor brave bastards never knew what swept away their readers.

It was the storm of controversy. Now grown to such ferocity that GetUp launched a petition and Helen Razer was forced to rage-quit Twitter again so that she might find a quiet and safe harbour in which to write a very, very long op-ed piece about how the ferocity of the controversy was fundamentally misdirected because it missed the underlying economic fractures which actually divide all from all. Feminists were appalled. Activists were appalled. GetUp launched another petition and Razer was forced to defend Triple JJJ's playlist while the storm of controversy raged around them all.

Of course, this could only make things worse. Horribly, horribly worse, and at this critical point in the storm of controversy the only thing that could have made things even more worserer (which is an actual internet word, so shut up you) was Mia Freedman tweeting something.

At that very moment, at the shrieking height of the storm of controversy, Mia Freedman tweeted something.

Oh noes! And now, even though it was just a retweet and a Facebook link to MamaMia.com's article "24 Insanely Stupid Things We Did To Whip Up a Storm of Controversy", it was every man for himself, which opened a new storm front in the storm of controversy because of the gratuitously sexist and offensive implications of not letting every woman be for herself. The Men's Rights Movement suddenly hove into view, and pulled their fighting socks all the way up from their sandals to decry the blatant misandry of everything.

The storm of controversy now calved little stormlets, fractal tempests within the greater tempest. A gay man from Africa made the very important point that as a gay man from Africa he thought the plight of gay men from Africa had been completely written out of the narrative of #TheControversy. The most important blogger in the Fat Acceptance movement wrote a post that proved the fat-hate of the thin-privileged, which had been lurking just below the surface of #TheControversy was an even more important controversy than the original controversy. Tony Abbott refused to say anything about the controversy which only showed yet again that he is the worst Prime Minister in Australian history. Kochie caused a laff-riot on Sunrise by tricking Sammy into doing another pole dancing thing because, er, controversy, grinned Kochie.

Finally, nearly twelve hours after the storm of controversy broke, the drenching spittle ceased to fly, the hot air cooled down, and #TheControversy slowly slipped below the horizon of trending topics and popular posts. Because something else was on the telly.

But none who lived through it would ever forget the storm of controversy until a day or two later, three at the most, when somebody said something wrong on the internet, or they did something and it was #notcool and they wouldn't even apologise. Or something. What mattered was... it had begun. 


John Birmingham’s book Stranger Thingies is published by NewSouth in September 2017.

If laughter is the best medicine, I’m claiming this book on Medicare – Wil Anderson