Monday, August 07, 2006

The arms race

While in the US, my hotel had a gym on the 15th floor, which I visited a couple of times. It was in a very urbanised area, and I soon realised that a very large part of the clientele was gay. Or metrosexual. Or both. There was a lot of steroid abuse going on. And the changing room would require a complete reworking of Berger's "Male gaze" theory: men who look at men who look at men who look at the original men. Hanging out at the weights room were a couple of very butch-looking numbers - who managed to keep up a constant stream of inanely camp babble in Paul Lynde voices, singing along to the vapid disco soundtrack and talking about Stella Got Her Groove Back and other macho topics while lifting weights that would require a normal person to use a forklift truck. And they weren't the exceptions. Everywhere I looked where these tanned men with superhero chests and white teeth, who smiled and made eye contact a little too much. And clearly, the gays were the hegemony here. In a very crowded, silent steam-room, two acquaintances who resembled Tom of Finland models started a conversation which began with "I saw your ex-boyfriend last week..." Nobody batted a (false) eyelid.

On the one hand, it was wonderful. For someone like me (who constantly keeps my poor fella at a foot width's distance when walking), to see that level of confidence in one's sexuality, was eye-opening. On the other hand, the fact that every single person there was contributing towards the "arms race" (the bigger your arms, the more popular you are), made me wonder whether one form of oppression has simply been traded in for another. I mean, do men really need those muscles these days? Isn't that we invented machines for? To do the heavy lifting for us? Shouldn't we all simply be relaxing on expensive Conran sofas instead? Instead, the muscles are "presentational" - like peacock feathers. Almost pointless, but they consist of a form of sexual display in a very competitive arena. Although the juxaposition of a huge male body with a camp gay sensibility feels somewhat incongruous (even though there's no reason why it should - it's just my social conditioning).

I've been thinking a lot about "false needs" at the moment. I think it was Marx who theorised that capitalism works by creating these false needs in people, so we end up enslaving ourselves - thinking that amassing material possessions and looking good will make us happy. When in fact, all we do is end up on a treadmill where the standards and fashions continually have to be shifted so that only a very tiny percentage of the population can keep up and we all keep on buying stuff. Is the gay desire for big arms, chest, legs etc really a false need, created by advertising? Or is it something evolved? Or is it due to over-compensation for gay men being told they're deficient males? Or is it just about competition? Ironically, steroids can cause growth of breast tissue, shrinking of the testicles, low sperm count and loss of the ability to have an erection - there's always a price to pay.

I guess that the situation can only really get more extreme. I don't see anyone starting a backlash. Gays have got their rights (or some of them) and so now they're free to establish their own little hierarchies and force them on everyone as soon as they step out of the closet. And I'm just as complicit in it as anyone else. I go to the gym too. I've liked the compliments I've had recently since I stopped being vegetarian and my exercise program seems to be having an effect. I just wonder - is being a real man simply about doing what everyone else does? And you know what, I don't think it is.


matty said...

Wow -- there is a lot going on in this post! Love it. What defines "a man"? ---- Not sure, but it isn't anything about the gym. I think the definition would apply more to humans. To be able to take responsiblity for your actions and to be responsible in the way one behaves toward others and the world. I think that is what matters.

I think the concepts of "beauty" change every 30 years or so. Right now we (men) are supposed to be all hard and lean. I, too, try but not as hard as you. No gym. I've done that before and for years but could never stick to it. Now, I am more about not eating food. LOL!

I don't know.

Here in the US I do think our government is using "distractions" like trying to suppress or cut back on civil rights so that the bigger part of our population is not focused on things like Bush's WW3 or the rape of the environment. In this respect, I see GLBT losing some ground in the US. I am expecting the right to marry in MA to be taken away within the next 2 years. I think we will all have that right but not for a while. Middle America is being told to worry more about gay people marrying than the mindless killing/destruction of people/countries all in the name of money/power hidden behind belief systems.


Oh no. Now, you've got me to thinking and I need to be focused on which Madonna mix to pipe thru the office!!! Oh, dear!

Castle of Stink said...

You nailed it, Lubin. I mean, there are certainly health benefits to aerobic exercise, and you can justify several exercises for their benefits (i.e., sit-ups build up those core muscles so necessary for a healthy back)... but, most of what is done in the gym is purely aesthetic. Don't get me wrong, I love to look at those muscles--but, if I'm in a relationship, I would rather my boyfriend maintain a healthy (vs. obsessive) relationship with the gym so that we could spend more time together...

Lubin said...

Sorry Matt - I'd recommend anything which heavily features Madonna's early 90s hits which were my faves :)

Yes Castle of Stink - lest I appear too "legitimating" of gym culture, I should point out that my fella is someone who has to be literally dragged to the gym and is about as far from the muscle-bunny stereotype as they come. Thankfully, real love isn't concerned with tape measures or scales.

jetpack said...

think of those poor people like myself who find it very hard to get excited about a body that's not hard and lean and developed - it's a curse I tell you, especially when you don't live in a metropolis