First Tadzio, then DiCaprio, now Chalamet: Hollywood’s obsession with the figure of the ‘lolito’ | Culture | ICON

“His fragility was very beautiful on camera.” This is how the director of casting from Death in venice (1971), Margareta Krantz, the attractiveness of Björn Andrésen. The Swedish actor played Tadzio at age 15 in Luchino Visconti’s adaptation of Thomas Mann’s novel and now, at 65, he is starring in the documentary The most handsome boy in the world, released a month ago in Spain through Filmin. The title refers to the nickname with which Visconti crowned the boy during the presentation of the film at the Cannes festival and that, months later, accompanied his face on a cover of Andy Warhol’s magazine, Interview.

Tadzio was an ephebo or, as he is called in the gay community, a twink. A “handsome young-looking man, thin and pale,” according to the Cambridge dictionary. The first records of the noun date from the early sixties, although its origin is not clear: there are those who link it with twank (as they call the clients of prostitutes in the UK), with twinkling (brand new, new) or, according to the dictionary of homosexual slang Gay-2Zee, with the Twinkie: a tender, blond, sweet, non-nutritious bun filled with cream. In Spanish we could call them lolitos if we pass to the masculine what the RAE defines as lolita: “A seductive and provocative teenager.”

Originally, the twink O lolito He was only so in that he was observed (and desired) by a man older than himself: no one would proclaim himself as such. And the connotation of the term, moreover, was explicitly sexual.

In 2018, almost five decades after proclaiming Björn Andrésen the most handsome boy in the world, the same magazine, Interview, wondered if Hollywood was suffering from “an invasion of twinks”Led by Timothée Chalamet. According to journalist Trey Taylor, Leonardo DiCaprio had inherited from River Phoenix the title of “twink official ”of the cinema and now Chalamet was“ the new young and sexy actor who has captured our imaginations ”. Chance has wanted Andrésen and Chalamet, who will premiere next week Dune, go through time and space to coincide on the Spanish billboard. What has changed in the figure of the lolito during these 50 years?

Image of ‘The Most Beautiful Boy in the World’ from the filming of ‘Death in Venice’ with Luchino Visconti and Björn AndrésenSundance Institute

Also in 2018 The New York Times published a report entitled “Welcome to the era of twink”On the occasion of the premiere of Call Me By Your Name and the internet obsession with Chalamet. The article shared a premise with another by Kyle Buchanan in Vulture that a few months before he had reviewed the coincidence on the summer billboard of several young people lolitos as action heroes: Tom Holland in Spider-Man, Ansel Elgort en Baby Driver, Dane Dehaan and Valerian and Harry Styles in Dunkerque.

The media reaction addressed the issue on all possible fronts. Philip Ellis predicted in Men’s Health that the term, marginal gay slang for decades, was going to jump into mass culture after the repercussion of that report while, in another piece for Repeller, Ellis himself denounced that equality should not be achieved by objectifying men as it has been done for decades with women. Spencer Kornhaber asked in The Atlantic Yes, given that fixation with the paleness of the lolitosBlacks couldn’t fit into that category (Asians, apparently, can get the nickname). Dominic Cadogan criticized in Dazed that the text of The New York Times he was proposing the usual: “Be gay, but straight.” Bryan O’Flynn ended the debate in Vice sentencing that “it has always been the era of lolito”: Slim, young white men have been in fashion for centuries.

The first lolito of popular culture is Ganymede, a shepherd who, according to Greek mythology, Zeus kidnapped because he was the most beautiful of all mortals and therefore deserved the honor of living on Olympus. Although Ganymede is not the first boy to appear in a myth, he is the first whose identity and story only exist because a mature and more powerful man has fallen in love with him: Zeus’ plans for Ganymede were for him to spend eternity serving him came.

“Plato said that the myth of Ganymede had been invented in Crete because the Cretans liked youngsters,” explains the art historian Carlos Delgado. In any case Ganymede represented the aesthetic obsessions of Greek culture, the first to consider athletic plenitude a divine gift. But the canon of the ephebus, as we conceive it today, is due to the German scholar Johann Winckelmann. “Winckelman is considered the creator of art history as a discipline,” says Delgado. “In the 18th century he traveled to Rome and fell in love with the statue of Apollo at Belvedere. Winckelmann’s ideas about beauty would cement a canon of young, athletic, and proportionate male beauty. And it remains until today ”.

José Luis Manzano, Eloy de la Iglesia's muse with a tragic destiny and one of the few male 'sex symbols' who left the cinema in the late seventies.
José Luis Manzano, Eloy de la Iglesia’s muse with a tragic destiny and one of the few male ‘sex symbols’ who left the cinema in the late seventies.

According to the consensus of those who have analyzed the archetype, a lolito he loses his wings when he turns 25 or becomes aware of his own nature (whichever occurs first), but this conception of the ephebus as a young man ignorant of his attractiveness provokes an unequal power relationship. Ganymede would not be one of them without Zeus, Bjorn Andrésen also without Visconti, in the same way that in the eighties José Luis Manzano acquired his status as a young Iberian erotic icon when Eloy de la Iglesia took him off the street at 17 and gave him the leading roles of Navajeros, Peak O The Vallecas pond. When the report of The New York Times intended to transfer the figure of lolito to mass culture, it did so while ignoring its social, sexual, economic and class connotations.

In 1995 a Calvin Klein campaign was labeled “outrageous” by Bill Clinton and eventually banned. The ads featured youthful-looking models being interviewed by a mature male voice in what, by all accounts, looked like a casting for an old porn movie. “Today twink is a term that has to do with the marketing: if you like a certain type of person, you click on that word and you get to that product “, says Luis Venegas, editor of magazines such as Candy O Electric Youth!, the latter specialized in the cult of male and young beauty. With the turn of the century, the internet offered a massive consumption of pornography and, once the bodies are neoliberalized, it is necessary to create categories so that the consumer can easily find the product they are looking for. Now twink It is also a tag for the search filter in gay dating apps.

More than sexual objects

Fashion artists reject this reductionism of the lolito as a mere sexual object. In recent years, designers such as Raf Simons or Hedi Slimane have used the figure of the desirable young man as the protagonist in several campaigns. After starring Ready Player One, Tye Sheridan was the face of Prada. In 2018 Loewe launched a capsule collection with printed photos that Wilhelm von Gloeden took in the early 20th century of the naked teenagers of Taormina. “It is super accepted in fashion, but the other way around would be unthinkable,” says photographer Pablo Zamora. “It would not be allowed to do challenges like this with girls ”. Does this mean that the lolito, an object of sexual desire in origin, does it exist today as an aesthetic that can be stripped of eroticism?

“The concept may have a sexual origin, but it has been losing it and now it is eminently aesthetic,” says Zamora. “As a homosexual man, I can identify the moment of adolescence in which a girl begins to form physically into the adult woman that she is going to be. I see it as a precious and ephemeral moment that for me is not linked to sexuality ”. Venegas agrees and quotes several artists (the designer Palomo Spain, the photographer Kito Muñoz) who capture lolitos in your projects. “It was young people doing things with young people for young people. The age gap we have it very recorded but it seems to me a stereotype, it is no longer like when Calvin Klein did it at 50 years old. The same was true a lot in the seventies and eighties, but not now. Now it is about creating images that are exciting to behold ”, he concludes.

Leonardo DiCaprio, a "lolito" who passed on his status to become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood history, photographed in 1994.
Leonardo DiCaprio, a “lolito” who passed on his status to become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood history, photographed in 1994.Terry McGinnis / WireImage

But as Call Me By Your Name began to grow in popularity, many questioned the romanticization it made of a relationship between an adult and a teenager. Although Armie Hammer was 26 and Timothée Chalamet 20, their physical and social differences (Oliver was traveling in Europe on his own, Elio was still living with his parents) drew attention to a part of the public that was not familiar with the subculture. twink. Is the myth of the ephebus, as Plato said, a spiritual, poetic or intellectual alibi for the desire for youngsters?

According to Enrique Aparicio, journalist and presenter of two podcasts about queer culture (Can I talk? And Maricapáginas), desire is traversed by social structures and that includes patriarchal ones. “Tastes do not come from nowhere, they are a response to those structures. The relationship between a wise / powerful older man and an ephebic / innocent youth is a constant in homosexual relationships. For me, it is a consequence of the need to resemble gay relationships to heterosexual ones: for the patriarchy, a couple where there is an older and more masculine boy and one who takes the role is more valid. feminine”, Aparicio points out.

Journalist Danny Polaris wrote that stereotypes of the lolito They indicate that they are not only effeminate but also shy, insecure and without any notion about sex. If Michel Focault said that sexual oppression never disappears but is disguised, gay culture has insisted on treating this paradigm as its own virginal maiden. And they have used it to apply old macho vices against members of their own community.

New conversations around gender are helping the term twink is getting out of date. Two singers mentioned in the report of The New York Times, Troye Sivan and Olly Alexander, have claimed femininity. On Bloom, Sivan sang the benefits of sexual passivity. On Sanctify, Alexander indicated “You don’t have to be straight with me, I know what’s under your mask [en inglés, mask suena como masc, masculino en jerga gay]”. These types of subversions are leaving the term increasingly outdated and indicate its discriminatory connotation.

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First Tadzio, then DiCaprio, now Chalamet: Hollywood’s obsession with the figure of the ‘lolito’ | Culture | ICON