Sharon McElroy Artist and Filmmaker
THE BOGUS MAN:
THE CONSTRUCTED NATURE OF MASCULINITY AS PERFORMED BY BRYAN FERRY IN THE 1970’s
I am investigating the way that Bryan Ferry expressed a number of versions of masculinity through stage clothing, gesture and vocal style. I am researching the ways that he simultaneously re-enforced and disrupted hegemonic notions of masculinity in his stage performances during the early 1970’s’ through Judith Butler’s theories on the constructed and performative nature of gender, semiotic theory and historical re-construction. I will conclude that Bryan Ferry’s collaboration and shared artistic sensibility with his clothes designer and friend Antony Price, resulted in the singer portraying conventional and alternative versions of masculinity through a range of signifiers which resulted in the singer having a complex performance style. Throughout the era, Ferry uniquely maintained a single persona which came to define whilst he navigated between costume, gestural and vocal styles.
I'll find some way of connection
Hiding my intention
Then I'll move up close to you
I'll use you and I'll confuse you
And then I'll lose you
Still you won't suspect me
Bryan Ferry Ladytron, 1972
This paper examines the notion of masculinity as a construct. I will be looking at how the singer/songwriter and cultural icon Bryan Ferry highlighted the constructed and ‘performative’ nature of masculinity (Butler, 2008 p.185) through his stage performances during the early 1970’s. I will assert, in the context of Judith Butler’s theories on the ‘performativity’ of gender (Butler, 2008 p.xv) and Semiotic theory, that masculinity is an unstable construct that can be negotiated, re-negotiated and destabilized. I will examine the cultural origins of certain gender codifications and the way, according to Butler’s theories, that they have become assimilated into culture (Butler, 2008).
I have focused my research on this era, as it was when Ferry emerged on the British Music scene. It marked the beginning of my lifelong fascination with Ferry, his visual and vocal styles resonating so strongly with me that it has profoundly influenced my own artistic sensibility and my art practice ever since. The early 1970’s was Ferry’s most interesting era as he was at his most experimental then, both visually and musically. I will demonstrate that Ferry navigated through a series of diverse masculine styles and will highlight how the socio-political context of the time enabled Ferry and others to experiment with their identities and transgress convention (Auslander, 2006). Furthermore, I will demonstrate that, through a shared artistic sensibility with his collaborator, the clothes designer Antony Price, some of Ferry’s onstage masculine identities paradoxically appeared to embrace establishment respectability. By referring to three of Ferry’s stage outfits, a Glam outfit, a GI look and a three-piece suit and certain gestural and vocal tropes that Ferry adopted, I will assert that Ferry’s myriad masculine styles demonstrated the instability of gender that Butler describes (Butler, 2008). I will also observe that when Ferry maintained a single persona throughout these changes of outfit by repeatedly performing certain behaviours which ultimately defined him, it aligned with another of Butler’s theories in which she states that an unchallenged repeating of gender signifiers eventually assimilates them into society and establishes them as normal (Butler, 2008).
Ferry’s performances of masculinity will be examined within the context of a wider debate concerning Glam’s reaction to the ethos of earlier countercultures, including its position on androgyny and the notion of authenticity within rock and pop music. This will include comparing Ferry’s challenge to the prevailing ethos with David Bowie’s and aligning both of their challenges to hegemonic masculinity with the effeminacy and unconventional behaviour of 18th century ‘Macaronis’ (Hoare, 2005).
The socio-political implications of these actions and the reaction of the wider audiences in both eras will be considered here. Finally, I will maintain that Ferry and Price’s appropriation of clothing, and Ferry’s gesturing and voice signifiers resulted in the singer having a complex performance style, which simultaneously endorsed and challenged society’s concepts of what it means to be a man.
When Ferry appeared onstage with Roxy Music in 1972 he confused and angered the wider audience by his overt transgression of societal conventions in terms of what was considered masculine. His glittery faux animal-print jacket, satin trousers, gold platform boots and make up (as shown in Figure1) and his behaviour overtly contravened contemporary acceptable manifestations of maleness. According to the Semiotic theorist Ferdinand De Saussure, clothing, gestures and voice act as signifiers, with each having its own meaning. In order to interpret the signifiers, their codes and the codes’ origins must be understood (Barnard, 2005). Judith Butler, who aligns herself with the writer Simone de Beauvoir, states that the system of codes and rules governing what Ferry, as a man, should have worn and how he should have behaved was ascribed by society according to his biological sex rather than deriving naturally from his biological sex (Butler, 2008).
 Privileged young men who undertook a cultural ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe during the 18th century and adopted unconventional behaviour and dress style on their return
 Performing at a concert at The Royal College Of Art
Bryan Ferry in the jacket he wore on-stage at The Royal College Of Art.
When Ferry’s glamorous ‘exoticism’ (Bracewell, 2007, p.307) was first made public, it was the beginning of his flirtation with gender and his oscillation between varying interpretations of masculinity. As part of the ‘second wave’ of Glam (Auslander, 2006, p.152), Ferry followed the innovative Bowie into this genre of music, which although controversial, was made possible due the recent decriminalization of homosexuality (Auslander, 2006) and consequently more liberal attitudes towards gender and sexual identity were in place in society. Collaborating with the ‘Image Maker’ (Pih, 2013), his friend Antony Price, a common sensibility and a mutual interest in cinema enabled Ferry to embrace both theatrical and cinematic ‘exaggeration and artifice’ in the realization of his vision for himself and the band (Pih, 2013). Like Bowie, Ferry combined the theatrical and the rock performer (Auslander, 2006) by utilizing multiple costumes and choreography to construct alternative masculine identities. Ferry differed from Bowie by maintaining a single persona throughout these costume changes, as Bowie’s persona changed according to the costume he wore. However, both illustrated the artifice and constructed nature of gender to which Butler refers, and celebrated this central tenet of the Glam movement and Butler’s assertion that gender is ‘free-floating’ and can be negotiated (Butler, 2008 pp.9-10).
As I have stated, Ferry and Price demonstrated her notion that gender is unstable (Butler, 2008). Despite wearing make-up Ferry could not be located within any established genre such as the gender parodying female impersonators found in Music Hall acts. In addition Ferry could not be defined in terms of the binary gender norms to which Butler refers (Butler, 2008), unlike Bowie who played a stereotypical female submissive role opposite Mick Ronson’s sexually aggressive and equally stereotypically macho guitarist (Auslander, 2006). British audiences and the wider society were perplexed, particularly as Ferry, as an exponent of Glam, would not have shown any allegiance to the gender politics of previous counter-cultures either. The Hippie ethos that androgyny was a ‘natural state’ and an expression of men’s more feminine side (Auslander, 2006. p.66) was seen by the Glam movement as problematic. Despite challenging aggressive stereotypes and the hyper-masculinity found within military contexts, it perpetuated the very binary model within a heterosexual framework that Glam was reacting against  (Auslander, 2006).
Ferry queered his performance further through his voice, underlining his existing challenge to gender and sexual norms by adopting a falsetto singing voice (which is also associated with the 18th century Castrati) and his mixing of vocal styles within one song complemented the gender play of his costuming (Auslander, 2006). I will be returning to the way Ferry used these vocal signifiers in Sections 2 and 3. Ferry’s subversion of gender norms exceeded that of the Hippies, by alluding to the possibility that he might be bisexual or gay (Auslander, 2006). This was viewed as potentially threatening to the stability of the dominant heterosexual reproductive culture although it should be noted that this allusion was as inauthentic as that of most of his Glam contemporaries, which again separated him from Bowie. The heterosexual Ferry utilized Glam as a provocative and eye catching performance style (Bracewell, 2007), whereas Bowie authenticated his allusion to a queer sensibility by publicly declaring his bisexuality. Whether authentic or inauthentic in origin, communication of these kinds of ideas allows for more flexible models of gender and sexuality to be considered (Butler, 2008), and binds like-minded individuals together.
Parallels can be drawn between Ferry’s challenges to acceptable masculine style in the 1970’s, with that of young men such as Horace Walpole and John Chute who had undertaken The Grand Tour during the 18th century. This ‘rite of passage’ exposed privileged young men to a variety of cultural experiences and sexual possibilities, and many embraced the cross-dressing and gender experimentation of the Venetian carnival and adopted outlandish, effeminate dress and behaviour on their return. (Pih, 2013). Like Ferry, these so called ‘Macaronis’, were seen as subversive and were treated with suspicion by the wider society for their ostentation and challenges to contemporary ideals of masculinity. The Macaronis’ penchant for French and Italian styling provoked ‘anxieties’ over how refined taste should be expressed (Claro, D. 2005). Their affectations and effeminacy conflicted with the heroic and Classical male beauty that had become popular as a result of an 18th century neo-classical revival (McNeil, Karimanas, 2009). The Macaronis’ self-indulgence and the satirizing of them as being purely façade aligned them with Ferry and the Glam ethos, although in some respects the ‘otherness’ that was created by their soft feminized voices and refinement aligned them more closely to the Hippies rather than the Glam movement. Likewise with their demeanour, as 18th century effeminacy, unlike its 20th century counterpart, carried no assumptions in terms of a man’s sexuality (Claro, D. 2005). Within a fashion theory context, it is clear that both Ferry’s and the Macaronis’ glamorous appearances aligned them more with females, whose purpose it is to attract a mate, rather than their own sex. Paradoxically, in the wider animal kingdom overt displays of fur and feathers form an integral part of male sexual display (Barnard, 2002, p. 57.
Ferry always embraced individuality, and when Glam Rock hit the mainstream, he rejected it and sought a new image (Barnard, 2002). A white Tuxedo referencing the Hollywood matinee idol appeared more conventional, and was a look that Ferry utilized frequently during his solo career. However, when fans started imitating him at Roxy Music concerts by wearing similar outfits, Ferry decided it was time for change…
 The hyper-masculinity observed within the U.S military during the Vietnam conflict
 John Chute was the owner of The Vyne (now owned by The National Trust) between 1754-1756 and set up the Committee of Taste with several male friends including Horace Walpole, after meeting Walpole on the Grand Tour.
For Your Pleasure
When I first saw Ferry and Roxy Music onstage at London’s Rainbow Theatre in 1974, there were clear cultural references to Elvis Presley and the 1950’s Hollywood action hero that immediately resonated, and as a sixteen year old, I could appreciate the homage to these familiar heterosexual archetypes (Bracewell, 2007).
My own understanding of those contexts then was according to my own culture, which codifies the military uniform as ‘masculinity at its highest potency’ (McNeil, Karimanas, 2009 p.117). The notion of Ferry as a romantic man of action and the allure of uniforms pre-dates Hollywood considerably however, and the associations I made between Ferry’s soldierly dress and masculine ideals originated in the late 18th/ early 19th century following Nelson’s and Wellington’s military successes. By the 19th century, most European armies had regiments of glamorous Hussars who became fashion icons, with their romantic reputation superceding any military prowess (Craik, 2005). An 18th century neo-classical revival had popularized physical exercise and so a small waist, broad chest and a toned, but not overly muscular physique became the masculine ideal. The heroic, the erotic and the muscular then became conflated when the honed athletic bodies of soldiers were encased in tight fitting inflexible wool uniforms; stiff collars, the positioning of armholes and the cutting of the fabric a size smaller than the man’s measurements enforced an erect stance in the wearer pushing his head up, chest out and his arms back with the intention of imbuing a superiority in him. (McNeil, Karimanas, 2009). Stylistic details such as trims, facings, the alignment of buttons and rank insignia further enhanced the silhouette. Such decorative features had been utilized as far back as the 15th century, which led to Hungarian elite light cavalry soldiers being idolized for their appearance (Craik, 2005).
Bryan Ferry in the GI outfit he wore on The Country Life Tour 1974/75
Although Ferry’s GI style initially suggested a familiar and hegemonic narrative and appeared more conventional than his earlier Glam dalliance, closer inspection reveals that the designer and performer implicitly subverted established codes both in terms of the design of the uniform and the way that Ferry wore it. This invites alternative interpretations and readings of the specific clothing signifiers that Price employed and the manner in which Ferry interpreted and performed them. Price appropriated long established military codes when he emblazoned Ferry’s sleeve with a woven cloth badge displaying the band’s name, however, any initial inferences to the establishment and military tradition were misleading. Semiotic theory suggests that Ferry’s insignia was more likely to align him with a subculture rather than a military corps. An unbuttoned collar, loose tie and rolled up sleeves signals informality, (Barnard, 2002) and Ferry became the antithesis of the disciplined combatant by teaming this with greased back, shoulder length ‘rocker style’ hair. With hands on hips, the singer re-enforced the subversive act further with a swaggering, hunched, stooped stance, which clearly opposed the gravitas of the straight shoulders and erect posture typically observed in a martial performance (Auslander, 2006).
When Price and Ferry destabilized the reading of military signifiers in this way, it inferred that other connotations relating to gender and sexuality might also be subverted within the same context. Ferry not only occupied a transitional space in terms of his gender, as Butler describes (Butler, 2008), but there is also an acknowledgement of the existence of an underlying homoerotic subtext whereby the heroic Ferry did not have an exclusively heterosexual appeal. As I mentioned in Section 1, when Ferry used a falsetto voice he alluded to a ‘queer sexuality’ as this unnatural, feminized male voice suggests deviant sexual behaviour (Auslander 2006, p. 167), which clearly conflicted with the self-control and discipline associated with the military. Ferry underlined this ambiguity by carefully choreographing performances, in which his pirouetting slender form equally bore more resemblance to a stereotypically feminine performance than that of a military archetype (Barnard, 1996).
Ferry also used melodrama in the form of trance-like stares and contorted facial expressions, which again highlighted the artificiality of his gendered performance in the way that Butler describes (Butler, 2008), and located him within the theatrical context, distancing him from the formality of a military context. Paradoxically it was by adopting this set of unchanging gestures, expressions and vocal styles throughout the era that Ferry authenticated his identity and while he toyed with a variety of costumed gender identities. Ferry’s repeating of the behavioural traits I have mentioned came to define who Ferry was in the same way that a repeating of masculine signifiers over centuries established society’s expectations of what being a man is (Butler, 2008).
Editions of You
Despite minor shifts in design and texture, the structure of men’s suits has hardly changed since the modern standard was set around 200 years ago (Hollander, 1994). Ferry’s suit as seen in Figure 3, like his GI outfit, first appeared to conform to recognizable conventions. However, as I have stated, in order to fully appreciate the suit’s meaning it is necessary to understand the origins and implications of these conventions but also an appreciation of the codes governing how the outfit’s constituent parts are designed and assembled. Implications arise from any deviation from this standard (Barnard, 2002), but Feminists believe that the inception of these codes, which originated in the 18th and 19th centuries, was politically motivated and made the male appear to be superior over the female (Butler, 2008).
The man’s suit developed from the military tailoring techniques that I referred to in Section 2, but the ensemble subsequently became imbued with certain connotations as a result of the 19th century industrialization of Britain. Attributes that were seen as representative of new middle-class values that celebrated the new work ethic, such as seriousness, conscientiousness, moderation and reliability, by association, elevated males above females, as this class of female did not work. Within this hegemonic framework women were subjugated, and as their clothes were read as frivolous, the inference was that they should not be taken seriously either (Barnard, 2002).
Bryan Ferry in 1972 wearing a three piece suit
(Musgrove, E. 2009 p. 153)
Butler asserts that these codifications have been repeatedly performed over centuries, unchallenged, and so became assimilated into culture, which makes them ‘normative’ (Butler, 2008 p.xxi). For this suit, Price chose textures and tones of fabric that reflected the sobriety and restraint of the post-industrial middle class man’s wardrobe, which had been inspired by the clothing of 17th century religious and law practitioners’ apparel due to its similarly admirable connotations. Consequently, here there are overt differences with the Glam outfit within a fashion theory context, as Ferry’s suit supported the accepted purpose of men’s clothes, which is to ‘enhance social status’ (Barnard, 2002, p.57). Price also highlighted the associations between virility and architecture that derived from the previously mentioned 18th century neo-classicist athleticism (Hollander, 1994), and the jacket in particular demonstrated an alignment with this aesthetic and with traditional tailoring techniques in the sculptural nature of its construction. It appeared then that Ferry was to be viewed as possessing the worthiness and respectability that the suit came to represent.
However, as I indicated in the previous section, Ferry and Price often simultaneously confirmed and subverted existing meanings within one outfit through its signifiers, and again there was a destabilizing of the suit’s perceived conventionality. By incorporating exaggerated wing-like lapels into the design, and pairing a waistcoat with a double-breasted jacket, Price combined style features that defied convention and disrupted the reading of the whole ensemble according to Semiotic theory (Barnard, 2002). Similarly, when Ferry selected a black satin shirt from the paradigmatic set of shirts rather than the white ‘business’ shirt shown in Figure 3, to wear onstage, it also destabilized the suit’s codification, and suggested a sleazy, louche image, rather than the initial signaling of seriousness and reliability.
When Ferry repeatedly ‘performed’ the suit’s codes by wearing it, he reinforced and validated the codes, and strengthened their meaning in the way that Butler describes (Butler, 2008). On one level, therefore Ferry can be seen as having used the suit to convey an integrity and credibility that both supported the dominant culture and enabled him to assimilate into it. Closer scrutiny reveals that, both the suit’s authenticity and, by association, Ferry as the type of man who would wear it becomes undermined.
Ferry also challenged the authenticity of identity by parodying eclectic musical styles, as well as using contradictory vocal signifiers within one song. Not only did this destabilize the counterculture’s bands’ claims of being authentic because they had a signature style, but as he navigated through a variety of musical styles, emotional states and attitudes he again illustrated the artifice and instability of identity to which Butler refers (Butler, 2008). Ferry therefore moved among these identities as he had done through costuming (Auslander, 2006) whilst remaining within a constant persona.
From looking at Bryan Ferry’s onstage appearances during the early 1970’s in relation to Judith Butler’s writings and Semiotic theory, I have ascertained that Ferry used a complex range of signifiers in his act. The singer used clothing, gesture and voice to simultaneously confirm and subvert conventional hegemonic codes, and with Price, collaborated to destabilize the garments’ meanings through their design, the way that they assembled the component parts and the way Ferry wore them. Also using Ferry’s posture and body language, as well as his vocal style and hairstyle, designer and performer highlighted the artificiality and constructed nature of masculinity to which Butler refers by appropriating and altering recognizable signifiers. Ferry’s overt allusions to a queer identity in the Glam phase made a significant contribution to the gender politics debate at the time and when he used the artifice of Glam in his performances it represented a more obvious challenge to society’s heterosexual framework than the other two outfits I have discussed. However, perhaps Ferry and Price’s covert manipulation of established codes relating to seemingly conventional and traditional outfits, through the uniform and the suit represent a more subversive and interesting challenge to society’s stability system because of their subtlety. In all cases there is a message of affirmation to a community of men who did not identify with the dominant culture. I have shown that Ferry’s complex performance styles demonstrated that masculinity is a construct that can be negotiated and re-negotiated by the individual in the way Butler describes (Butler, 2008).
Despite the changes of clothes, and hybrid vocal styles, the singer maintained a single persona. I have shown that is possible to navigate through a variety of masculine identities whilst maintaining one’s individuality, as Ferry did.
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Permanent Collection. The National Army Museum. London.
Permanent Collection. The Royal Marines Museum. Southsea.
The Military History Weekend. 2013. Shoreham Fort. 2 June. The Fort Cumberland Guard, The Queen's ( Royal West Surrey) Regiment, The Royal Sussex Living History Group.
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